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Morning Coffee Talks 2010 and 2011 Recruiting Narratives

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Horns_bullet_mediumIs the 2010 recruiting class the greatest of all time? For a shot period of time before and directly after the 2010 recruiting class officially signed, before every Texas fan began obsessively worrying about the future of the offensive line, the most common question on the lips of Longhorn recruitniks was whether or not the 2010 group represented the greatest recruiting class to ever become Texas Longhorns.

In terms of historical groups, the Worster Bunch of 1967 is most commonly referenced. Led by namesake Steve Worster, a bruising fullback who would go on to star in the Wishbone attack conceived in 1968 by Emory Ballard, the group set the standard for every recruiting class that would come after, both in terms of the hype that accompanied the class to campus and the eventual success of the group. Just how highly regarded were they?

A confidential poll of SWC Head Coaches taken for Texas Football for the 1967 recruiting class revealed that Texas has signed seven of the top eleven recruits for 1967 as well as 12 of the Top 22 recruits. People like Eddie Phillips, Cotton Speyrer and linemen Jim Achilles, Mike Dean and Bobby Mitchell, as well as defensive players like Bill Zapalac, Scott Henderson, Bille Atessis, and Greg Ploetz. Defensive back recruits included Danny Lester and Freddie Steinmark.

Billy Dale, a member of the class, summarized some of the Worster Bunch's accomplishments:

The record of the "Worster Bunch" during our four years at Texas was 35-2-1. This class produced 14 All-Southwest Conference members, two Academic All-Americans, five consensus All-Americans, six inductees into the Longhorn Hall of Honor and one Heisman Trophy candidate.

Compelling success, no doubt, but missing the most important number associated with the group -- two. That would be the number of championships won by the group, in 1969 and 1970, accounting for half of the national championships won by the Longhorns and making the '67 and 68' clases the only two in Texas history to win two national titles, a feat future classes are not likely to match.

There are multiple problems with comparing recruiting classes across such a great span of history, particularly because of the changes in scholarship limits and the fact that the game was still mostly segregated in the late 1960s. As a result, it's probably worth simply saying that the on-field success of the 1967 class has been unrivalled. All told, the Worster Bunch is essentially incomparable.

In the modern era, the easy comparison is is the 2002 class that produced a handful of major contributors to the 2005 national championship, most notably Vince Young. In fact, it's the simple presence of Young that makes the class so hard to compare with any others. Of course, it's not fair to simply remove Young from the equation in any comparison, but at the same time, his transcendent talent seems to negate any comparisons whatsoever, presenting some serious problems in this endeavor.

The other problem is with the rest of the class. Should it be taken as a whole or should some of the colossal failures also be taken into account? Of the six five-star players in the class, wide receiver Marquis Johnson never made it to campus, cornerback Edorian McCullough transferred after one season due to academic problems, and Brian Pickryl was forced to give up the game after sustaining multiple shoulder injuries, derailing a career that started spectacularly as a true freshman.

Other players, like four-star defensive tackle Marco Martin, also failed to contribute to the program. Martin eventually declared for the 2006 NFL Supplemental Draft after having made only one tackle during his Texas career. Players like Garnet Smith and Robert Timmons, who were both also four-star prospects, contributed little, if any, to the national championship team.

The stark contrasts in the successes and the failures in the one class highlight the problems of evaluating a recruiting class. Is a class evaluated based on the overall ranking in the country, on the average star ranking, on the prognostications of so-called experts before any of the players even take the field in burnt orange? Or is about the end results, the number of games won, the championships won?

The hope is that Mack Brown and his staff have honed the recruiting process to the extent that they are no longer taking risks on players like McCullough and Johnson and that more effective evaluations will limit the number of players who wash out from the 2010 class -- some recent examples like Brandon Collins suggest otherwise, but claiming overall improvement hardly seems like a stretch. The high rate of talented players leaving the program for various reasons from the 2002 class illustrates why evaluating a class before they ever step onto the field is essentially fruitless -- talent and potential is one thing, but in terms of the ultimate goal, those two elements of talent and potential that often lead to success mean nothing until there is actual success on the field backing up those projections. Ultimately, then, the most important criterion for the success of the 2010 Texas recruiting class is whether or not they ever win a national championship. Anything else is just semantics -- a final verdict will not be handed down until then and any other method of evaluation is simply projection.

Horns_bullet_mediumThey are with us. Throughout much of January, the banging drum eventually in tune with the late commitments of Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks, and William Russ was that of the marching 2010 class, headed, inexorably, Longhorn fans hope, towards future success. The five-star prospects and the kicker faced the choice of being part of that success or facing the possibility of having to go against the mighty Longhorns in a national championship. As players like DeMarco Cobbs, Mike Davis, and Darius White all decided they were with the Longhorns, the possibility of winning such a match up decreased.

And all those decisions, all those top players heading to Austin set up the 2011 narrative as being eerily similar...

Horns_bullet_medium2011 Narrative: With Us Or Against Us, Part II. With all that momentum, all that ridiculous, incredible, unbelievable momentum, the difficult task is to sustain it. Building upon it probably isn't even possible in fantasy worlds completely divorced from reality, but sustaining it may be possible. After all, the 2011 class is faced with the same decision -- the quarterback is in place and the defense is in place and the skill position players are in place, so these 2011 kids can be with the Longhorns or against the Longhorns. Their choice.

With the first Junior Day on Saturday, with several players most likely making it in to Austin to visit with Mack Brown on Friday evening, the great majority of offers will be out by this time next week and the recent past suggests a handful of commitments emergin on Saturday and Sunday. The evaluations have been done by the staff and though Brown might decide whether or not to offer a player as they discuss where Texas stands with that particular recruit, most of those decisions have already been made. The formerly derisive moniker of Coach February may no longer define Mack Brown, but it's still a huge part of what has made him the second most successful head coach in the history of Texas football.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe elephant in the room. Or lack of elephants. So, to address the concerns that loom large over the class. Despite Brown saying that the 2010 class covered every position, that's only true if he consider Trey Hopkins a tackle, which is a stretch -- the talented North Shore lineman could end up there because of his length, but it's unlikely. Later in his Signing Day press conference, Brown admitted that Texas probably should have gone after another tackle besides Matthews.

It's impossible to know what happened behind the scenes in terms of the evaluations made by Mac McWhorter, Greg Davis, and Brown, so speculation in that direction isn't particularly productive. What is more slightly more productive is predicting the future with the available information. This much is true -- Michael Huey, Kyle Hix, and Tray Allen, all players who were unable to redshirt and have generally been disappointments -- will all graduate after the 2010 season, along with Britt Mitchell, leaving only eight scholarship linemen on the roster in 2011, not including the 2011 class. The obvious problem is that of being able to field a two-deep depth chart without burning a redshirt, a tactic that significantly hurt the development of Huey, Hix, and Allen.

At this point, all the hand-wringing about prior decisions should take a back seat to the evaluations that are currently going on. As much as Jake Matthews would have been a great addition to the class or Luke Joeckel or Cedric Oguehi or whomever, the looming reality is that none of those linemen will ever play for Texas. Spencer Drango might. Or Christian Westerman. Trey Hopkins and Dominic Espinosa are both incredibly important to the program and will play for Texas. The 2010 evaluations were crucial, but the 2011 evaluations will be even more crucial and those will have some definite answers in the next several weeks.

Horns_bullet_mediumAll this also known as: OMG we need tackles!!1! More on that later this week.