RRR recruiting: Does it make a difference?

AUSTIN, Texas -- David Ash remembers watching Red River Rivalry games from a church camp in Wichita, Kan.

He remembers the men -- some from Texas, some from Oklahoma -- with the game on down in the basement who were so loud, their wives were afraid to go downstairs.

“There aren’t supposed to be divisions in the church, but there was on that weekend,” the Texas quarterback said.

R.J. Washington remembers watching from the recruits’ section in the Cotton Bowl.

The Oklahoma defensive end from Keller, Texas, knew which school he’d eventually pick. He pretended he was undecided. That way, he could ensure one school was going to get him tickets for the game.

“I can’t remember if I used OU tickets or Texas tickets,” he said, “but either way, I was going to go to that game.”

The players who fill Texas' and Oklahoma's rosters today had their own ways of finding this game. For many, their first impressions of either school were grounded in watching Red River Rivalries of years past. Others admit they’d never watched the rivalry before playing in it.

Those first impressions beg the question: Does the Red River Rivalry make a legitimate difference in recruiting? The answer depends on whom you ask.

“I don’t think it makes any difference in recruiting,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Watching it throughout the years, usually the kids pick the school they want to go to. If you get beat, they’ll say, ‘Well, we’ll get them next year.’”

He’d like to say who wins and who loses has a significant impact on recruits, but Brown knows that isn’t true. After all, Texas lost five straight to Oklahoma from 2000 to 2004 and that didn’t put a dent in recruiting one bit.

Put aside wins and losses and Brown will admit this is always a meaningful weekend for recruits. Those who are lucky enough to attend usually leave satisfied.

“I do think the fact that they are all at this game is one of the reasons they choose the two schools,” he said. “I think this game helps both schools in recruiting.”

But it doesn’t help the way you might assume. In today’s recruiting world, you have to look at it through a different lens. The recruits Texas and Oklahoma will try to win over this weekend aren’t the ones who will sign this February.

By October, most of the best Texas-Oklahoma recruiting wars have already been waged. Now it’s time for the 2014 class.

ESPN 150 defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball) might be the big name in attendance on Saturday, but Texas stopped recruiting him months ago. No, this weekend is about battling for position with the elite juniors in attendance.

More than 15 members of the ESPN Watch List for 2014 have confirmed they’re attending Saturday’s game, and many more are expected. Thanks to the ever-increasing speed of the recruiting process, the game is becoming the battleground for next year’s class. What happens Saturday matters to the juniors and sophomores, not the seniors.

“I’ve just always dreamed of playing in this big game with a lot of fans and a lot on the line,” 2014 recruit K.D. Cannon said. “I know this is a big deal.”

Oklahoma and Texas are considered the favorites to land the Mount Pleasant, Texas, junior receiver. By this time next year, don’t expect him to be coming back to this game uncommitted.

Look at the past five recruiting classes that Texas has signed. Of the 115 that have inked letters of intent with the Longhorns, 96 had already given Texas their verbal commitment before the Red River Rivalry game. At Oklahoma, 78 of its 115 signees had already made pledges before the big game.

Similar recruiting territory? Yes. Similar recruiting approach? In many ways, yes. Both make their hay on junior days and summer camps. Similar recruiting results? Not really.

Consider the starters who will take the field Saturday morning. Texas’ starting lineup features 16 players who gave UT its verbal pledge in the spring of their junior year. Oklahoma has only five starters who made their decisions that early.

There’s no doubt the Red River Rivalry has been a beneficial one for Oklahoma recruiting in the Lone Star State. You can’t overlook the fact this year’s Sooners squad features 52 Texans. The big game in Dallas and the visibility is receives bolsters OU’s efforts.

But in the past five years, no Texas or Oklahoma signee gave either school their pledge immediately following their senior-year Red River game. Not one.

For the juniors, though, the impact of this game is tangible.

“If a guy has a top two with OU and Texas, sometimes which team wins can be the tiebreaker and sometimes it’s not,” defensive end recruit Solomon Thomas said. “I think it’s a pretty big deal for recruiting from a recruit’s eyes. For me, it’s not that big of a deal. But it’s fun to see who wins.”

The 2014 prospect from Coppell, Texas, has been watching this game since the fourth grade. Most years, he roots for Texas. He’s pulled for the Sooners a few times, too.

He’ll be at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. When he ends up making his college decision, it won’t be because of this game.

"It’s a rivalry game, but it shouldn’t change your overall decision as the whole reason you want to go to a school,” Thomas said. “One school could be better in two years. The other team could be back the next year.”

In the end, whether a recruit is on the sidelines, in his living room or even the basement of a church, it’s just one game. A win or a loss might not sway today’s seniors like they used to, but for the recruits of tomorrow the battles have just begun.