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What the commitment of Houston transfer WR Matthew Golden means for Texas

Steve Sarkisian has a proven No. 1 receiver for next season.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Houston Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Texas Longhorns secured a huge commitment from Houston Cougars transfer wide receiver Matthew Golden, one of the top players at his position in the NCAA transfer portal.

Golden pledged during an official visit to the Forty Acres.

Here’s what his commitment means to the Longhorns.

A potential No. 1 receiver

Texas entered the crucial December transfer window with one major known and several important unknowns at the wide receiver position. Senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington is off to the NFL after his fifth season on the Forty Acres — that’s certain. Less clear is whether junior wide receivers Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell will enter the 2024 NFL Draft, though the trajectory and draft projections for both players leave little doubt that both will declare and forego their remaining eligibility.

Since Isaiah Neyor entered the transfer portal after catching only one pass for the Longhorns, the only projected returning production at the receiver position is freshman Johntay Cook, who has eight catches for 186 catches.

So there was a considerable pressure on Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian and first-year wide receivers coach Chris Jackson to land a proven, impact player at wide receiver.

When the news broke that Golden intended to enter the portal, he quickly became the clear top target for the Longhorns because of his proven production and fit in Sarkisian’s offense as a receiver with the top-end speed to threaten a defense over the top and the dynamic ability after the catch to feature on run-pass options and the screen game.

In fact, given Golden’s injury issues in 2023, there’s some definite untapped upside on top of his proven ability that instantly slots him as the program’s potential and likely No. 1 receiver next season.

Special teams standout

Sarkisian hired Jeff Banks as his special teams coordinator because of his reputation as one of the nation’s best in the third phase. On kickoff return, that trust finally paid off in a big way on kickoff returns when Keilan Robinson opened the second half of the regular-season finale against Texas Tech on a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown, the first score on a kickoff since Sarkisian and Banks arrived on the Forty Acres.

Landing Golden should upgrade the position — the former Houston star had kickoff return touchdowns against TCU and West Virginia this season. For perspective, only three players in Texas history have two or more kickoff return touchdowns for their respective careers.

With a better scheme and better players on the kickoff return unit, Golden has a chance to become one of the best kickoff returners in school history.

Righting recruiting wrongs

Much of the discourse surrounding the NCAA transfer portal is regressive, reactionary posturing about college football degenerating into free agency. From the perspective of programs looking to fill needs, the portal represents an opportunity for programs like Texas to make up for misses in the high school recruiting process.

In the case of Golden, the former Klein Cain star was offered by the Longhorns late in the 2022 cycle following his decommitment from the Horned Frogs, but at that point the Cougars had been recruiting him for about 15 months and the hometown school won out.

The evaluation from former Longhorns wide receivers coach Andre Coleman was late, the type of mistake that caused Sarkisian to fire Coleman a year after retaining his services from the previous staff.

Since then, Texas employed Brennan Marion at the position before hiring Chris Jackson from the NFL this year after Marion accepted a promotion with UNLV as the program’s offensive coordinator.

The Longhorns don’t often lose in-state recruiting battles to schools like the Cougars, but the transfer portal provides the chance to correct those mistakes and to do so by taking players with proven ability at the college level.

Another culture win

While Golden’s original commitment to Houston was a result of multiple factors, his pledge to Texas was the result of a well-vetted decision that exits in an entirely different paradigm than his initial choice.

When Sarkisian and his staff belatedly entered Golden’s recruitment out of Klein Cain, they were selling the hope that Sarkisian’s well-documented offensive acumen and personal growth after his public downfall at USC would coalesce into a program leader capable of competing for and winning championships.

Winning the Big 12 Championship and earning a spot in the College Football Playoffs left no doubt about Sarkisian’s ability to accomplish his objectives at Texas and live up to the expectations placed on him by university leadership.

More than the on-field results, however, the vetting by Golden assessed his culture fit on the Forty Acres, a process perhaps most influenced by his former high school teammate, Texas sophomore running back Jaydon Blue.

The outcome of Golden’s transfer portal recruitment provides some stark evidence that Blue spoke highly of the culture for the Longhorns even though he had to battle for playing time as the fourth-string running back and only broke out late in the season thanks to injuries in his position room.

Consider this take here — if an immensely talented player who nonetheless was on transfer watch throughout much of the season was able to successfully sell Golden on the culture at Texas, an argument that seems clear and easy to make given the outcome, Sarkisian is really building something that Golden didn’t see as clearly two years ago.

And Golden, one of the top receivers in the portal, took only one visit and made his decision quickly in an indication of how strong he considered his own fit with the Longhorns.