What will the effect be of Texas A&M moving to the SEC?
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has helped make Texas A&M an attractive destination for recruits.
That question was on the mind of every Texas A&M fan, and many other college football fans in general, two years ago when the Aggies announced they would be leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. The SEC has been the dominant conference over the past decade, winning the past seven BCS national championships.
The Aggies were leaving the Big 12 on somewhat of a low note, having finished 7-6 in the 2012 season with what was arguably the school’s most talent in quite some time. Many pundits, as well as the majority of Aggie fans, expected the first season (or two or three) to basically be a disaster.
What nobody expected was the emergence of quarterback Johnny Manziel. The sensational redshirt freshman threw and ran his way to become the first-ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner and led the Aggies to an 11-2 finish in not only college football’s toughest conference but also the toughest division in that conference. Texas A&M was the only team to defeat eventual national champion Alabama and it did so on the road in Tuscaloosa.
Not many people expected a huge surge in recruiting momentum for Texas A&M right away with the move to the SEC. However, the conference move combined with a top five finish was enough to make the Aggies into a real powerhouse on the recruiting trail.
In the previous four recruiting classes prior to the 2013 cycle, Texas A&M’s average national ranking was 24. Despite being in the most fertile football state in the country, the Aggies finished in the top 25 of the team rankings only twice in that period.
Things have changed in College Station now, though. Texas A&M finished the 2013 recruiting cycle with the nation’s No. 8 class. The Aggies signed eight players that participated in either the U.S. Army All-American Bowl or the Under Armour All-American game. They signed two players – five-star athlete Ricky Seals-Jones and four-star defensive end Daeshon Hall – that were once committed to in-state rival Texas.
Now, Texas A&M currently sits at No. 2 in the national team rankings for the class of 2014. The Aggies have the second-highest average commitment ranking of any school at .9259. They have one composite five-star committed in linebacker Hoza Scott and are the favorites for another in defensive end Myles Garrett.
“Their national brand has expanded coast-to-coast because of Johnny Football and the Aggies' entrance into the SEC was nothing short of a perfect storm,” Taylor Hamm of GigEm247 said.
Top100 prospect Nick Harvey says that "25 to 30-percent" of the reason he chose Texas A&M was because of the SEC.
Other than winning, there are a couple of other factors that have helped lead to a big change in Aggieland.
Texas A&M in the SEC has allowed prospects from the state of Texas to stay at home and play in that conference.
“Probably the biggest factor is one that many critics overlooked when analyzing A&M's's choice to head east and that was the exclusivity for in-state prospects to stay close to home and still have the opportunity to play in the nation's most premier conference,” Hamm said.
“There's also been an overwhelming show of support by Texas high school football coaches as well as recruits about A&M's ability to use separate themselves from every other in-state program.”
Four-star cornerback and Texas A&M commit Nick Harvey, the nation’s No. 64 overall prospect, is one player that has stressed the importance of the SEC in helping him make his decision.
“I always wanted to play in the SEC,” Harvey told 247Sports. “I’d say them being in the SEC had about 25 or 30-percent to do with my decision.”
Head coach Kevin Sumlin has brought a newfound excitement to the program. He has tried to make Texas A&M a fun trip for any prospect and has succeeded in doing so.
“Early on, Sumlin and his staff proved they were talented recruiters, so when you combine the traditions, incoming facilities, attractive offense and the easy sell to elite defensive players to the SEC, it's a scary combination for success on the recruiting trail,” Hamm said.
The national exposure of the program with the win over Alabama and Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy has been huge too. Texas A&M rarely used to venture outside the borders of the Lone Star State to recruit but the Aggies signed players from seven different states in 2013. California wide receiver Sebastian LaRue was a one-time USC pledge that decided to sign with the Aggies very late in the process. Fellow wide receiver signee Jeremy Tabuyo hails from Hawaii.
In addition to the Aggies’ success on the field, in-state rival Texas has struggled the past few seasons. Mack Brown and the Longhorns had been used to landing pretty much every in-state player that they offered. Texas A&M’s move to the SEC and successful first season coincided with struggles in Austin and, for the first time in a long time, prospects from the state were not automatically committing to the Longhorns when offered.
That is especially true with the class of 2014. Texas currently leads the country with 14 pledges while Texas A&M has 10. Half of the Aggies’ early commitments have offers from Texas while only five of the 14 Longhorn commitments hold offers from A&M. The Longhorns recently won a head-to-head battle with Texas A&M for four-star linebacker Otaro Alaka but the Aggies have managed to snag the likes of some toss-up recruits like Harvey, four-star linebacker Josh Walker, four-star safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner and composite four-star defensive tackle DeShawn Washington.
“Having Oklahoma and Texas go through dry spells on the gridiron further accelerates A&M's momentum,” Hamm said.
Texas A&M would still be considered the leader for several other uncommitted prospects such as Garrett, defensive end Qualen Cunningham, defensive end Jarrett Johnson, linebacker Zach Whitley and offensive tackle Koda Martin. The Aggies also hosted Baylor commit and Top100 prospect Davion Hall this past weekend and made up big ground on Texas with Top100 safety Jamal Adams
If the Aggies continue their winning ways this coming season, the excitement of a highly-ranked team combined with a chance for players from the state of Texas to play in the SEC should keep Texas A&M high in the recruiting rankings for some time.