For months, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong has been on record saying that the 2016 recruiting class represents the final piece he needs to help restore the Longhorns to prominence.
There are no guarantees there, but the current cycle is a critical opportunity for Strong to populate the scholarship chart with more of his players.
While the current group of 12 pledges -- a little more than half the class -- features some good prospects, there are still some substantial needs to fill in the three months leading up to National Signing Day 2016 and Strong addressed those needs in early December.
"Well, you always think about recruiting, and you want to make sure that you get all the pieces in recruiting," he said. "And if you look at us, you started two freshmen offensive linemen. We need to get that position -- that's a position where you always recruit the big guys for our offensive and defensive line. We've got to get us more big guys at those two positions."
Texas currently holds pledges from two offensive linemen in likely guards Tope Imade of Arlington Bowie and Denzel Okafor of Lewsville and three defensive linemen in Flower Mound Marcus defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald, Baton Rouge (La.) Madison Prep defensive end Malcolm Roach, and Destrehan (La.) defensive tackle Gerald Wilbon.
All of those recruits are solid prospects who could eventually become key contributors for Texas. However, the knock is that the Horns still lack a truly disruptive force at defensive tackle, at least one offensive tackle, and a Fox end.
Another reality? Finding the big guys to man the trenches isn't always an easy task.
"Skill guys, you'll be able to find them, but we need some more guys there, and I think that once we continue to build those two positions, then we'll be in place and get to where we need to get to," Strong said.
Indeed, Texas has been facing an uphill battle throughout the 2016 recruiting process, having missed on numerous key targets at offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and defensive end.
North Mesquite offensive tackle Jean Delance -- Back in late September, the nation's No. 10 offensive tackle said that two in-state schools, Texas and Texas A&M, were leading for his services. However, one school to watch out for in his recruitment now is Michigan, as the Wolverines are red hot on the recruiting trail and recently pulled defensive tackle Jordan Elliott away from the Longhorns.
Delance visited Ann Arbor last week and though there aren't yet any 247Sports Crystal Ball picks in favor of head coach Jim Harbaugh ahead of his planned Under Armour game announcement, there's some definite buzz in favor of Michigan. And given that Delance hasn't had a chance to meet with new offensive line coach Matt Mattox, the timing of the coaching addition right before the dead period began was not ideal.
However, recruiting coordinator Brian Jean-Mary and Delance share Haitian ties and tight ends coach Jeff Traylor joined the recruiting efforts with the key target on the offensive line some time ago, so the hope is that Texas is still in as strong of a position with him as the commanding 59% lead in his Crystal Ball would suggest.
Copperas Cove offensive tackle JP Urquidez -- The Baylor commit is in the midst of figuring out whether he wants to stick with recent success or go with his childhood favorite after Mattox reached out to him right before the dead period began and then met with the consensus four-star product. An official visit in January is a possibility now and with a dearth of other high-quality options with ties to the Longhorns available at this point, circling back on Urquidez makes tremendous sense.
New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine defensive tackle D'Andre Christmas-Giles -- No longer underrecruited or undervalued by the services, the 6'3, 290-pounder is also no longer pledged to Tennessee after decommitting right after leaving Austin on his official visit. However, the looming presence in his recruitment now is LSU, which immediately became the favorite after offering last Friday.
No other school in the country can dominate a talent-rich state like the Tigers dominate Louisiana, so there's not much the Longhorns can do at this point except continue recruiting him and hoping that he decides to stray a bit further from his home turf.
Snow College defensive tackle Handsome Tanielu -- There are now multiple reports of interest in Texas from Tanielu despite the late nature of the offer. However, the problem is that he plans on enrolling and might have to put off those plans if he visited Ausitn and decided he didn't want to become a Longhorn.
Suffice it to say that extending offers to early enrollees of any type after the dead period begins is not an ideal move, but at least the Hawaiian native is interested.
Manor defensive end/outside linebacker Erick Fowler -- The local product committed to LSU in June, but has continued to listen to overtures from Texas, including camping in Austin in July. A relationship with 2017 quarterback commit Sam Ehlinger could work in favor of the Longhorns, but Strong and company need to get him on campus in January to have a real shot and weren't able to benefit from a coaching change after the Tigers decided to retain head coach Les Miles.
For Texas to finish the class with the type of group that would help launch the program back to respectability, three of the biggest remaining needs are at offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and Fox end, so landing the key targets at those positions will be crucial.
Fail to do so, especially at defensive tackle, and there will be tremendous pressure on the 2017 class to land high-profile, instant-impact talent in the trenches, though the hope is that the Longhorns will have a much more promising future to sell late in that recruiting cycle as the 2015 prospects mature and the new offensive hires make an impact.