`For the last several recruiting classes, the Texas A&M Aggies have loomed as the new in-state juggernaut after moving to the SEC and enjoying the momentum generated by Johnny Manziel's two superlative seasons in College Station.
However, after losing two former five-star quarterbacks in Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray in the space of several days, cratering down the stretch in the 2015 season, and losing the Music City Bowl to Louisville in disappointing fashion, the shine is off the A&M program.
Three straight years of pretty average showings are destroying any narrative of progress and there's no more room for excuses. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has the talent. These are his players. He made staff changes last year.
Sumlin is at the center of the situation now and deserves full blame for the current situation. Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel, and multiple highly-drafted offensive linemen helped buoy his initial offenses, but since then there have been major struggles on his side of the ball, to the extent that he will probably have to fire offensive coordinator Jake Spavital in the midst of the push towards National Signing Day. Another year with staff changes.
Last year, Sumlin didn't do himself any favors with the timeline of his last major hire, as the state's No. 1 player in 2015, Malik Jefferson, ended up enrolling early at Texas in no small part because Sumlin alienated him at the worst possible moment by completely leaving him in the dark about his defensive coordinator search.
As a result, the Horns were able to take advantage and close with the remarkable run to the 2015 class. After Jefferson, no pledges were as important as those of elite cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, the latter of whom seriously considered A&M up to the moment he sent in his NLI to Texas.
Early in the 2016 cycle, A&M was out in front with Nacogdoches safety Brandon Jones as East Texas trended maroon. Numerous visits to Texas in the spring gave way to numerous visits to College Station in the fall for Waco cornerback Eric Cuffee. A similar situation unfolded with former Texas lean Jeffrey McCulloch, the immensely talented Houston-area linebacker known as the "The Shark." In August, the battle for North Mesquite offensive tackle Jean Delance was between the Aggies and Longhorns, with plenty of buzz for A&M.
Now A&M is out of it with Delance and is losing momentum in a big way with McCulloch, Cuffee, and Jones.
Now Texas is more threatened by Michigan with Delance and Notre Dame with McCulloch, but stands in strong position to land both Cuffee and Jones. Having missed on every truly elite safety in the state for multiple years, Jones doesn't rank far behind Delance in importance and there doesn't seem to be another really strong competitor for his services.
Add in Beaumont Central running back Devwah Whaley, who plans on making his decision at the Under Armour game on Saturday, and those five players could form the core of the run towards National Signing Day.
Two other prospects committed to A&M look like major decommitment candidates in the coming weeks. New Orleans (La.) Brother Martin tight end Irvin Smith took his official visit to Texas before the dead period and his close with his teammate, Texas tight end commit Peyton Aucoin.
Just as importantly, he's concerned with the situation in College Station. A headline from GigEm247 says it all -- "Uncertainty at A&M causing Smith to waiver." Even without pulling any of the specific information from behind the paywall, it's not hard to make out what the article is about and what it means for Texas. Now the question is whether anything less than the termination of Spavital would result in a flip from Smith.
Meanwhile, Cibolo Steele defensive end Mark Jackson is having similar concerns, so he'll take official visits to Oklahoma and Texas in January. At the end of January, three 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions came in for Jackson to the Longhorns. An alum of The Opening Finals, Jackson is a pass-rushing specialist who would fill the need for a Fox end in the 2016 class, a position that has been difficult to fill for Strong and company.
So, the opportunity is there for head coach Charlie Strong and his staff as long as forces at Texas can come together to present a united front heading in to the key official visit weekends in January and ensure that the Longhorns have the pieces necessarily to fully return to prominence.
If Texas can land three or four or five or six or even, in a best-case scenario, all seven of those prospects mentioned above, those additions would infuse much of the needed talent in the class, leaving only a defensive tackle or two to solidify a class between 15 and 20 in the national team rankings.