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Texas, the SEC, and the Value of a Top Recruit

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 14 Big 12 Media Days Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yesterday, multiple high-level University of Texas sources told me that UT Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife wants to see the Longhorns in the SEC for the 2022 season.

What about the small matter of the $150 million dollar buyout that Texas and OU have to pay to the Big 12 if they leave before 2025? Well, they made it clear that Eltife had a plan.

“He believes getting into the league for the 2022 season would help Texas from a recruiting and branding standpoint, and quicken the university’s ascent back to the top of the sport.”

It now looks like that sum could come from the remaining dollars on the Longhorn Network contract that Texas made with ESPN a decade ago, but the sources were clear that the money wasn’t nearly as important to UT brass as getting the program back to the top of the college football landscape.

Since the start of the CFP era, Texas’s recruiting has been all over the map. Tom Herman signed back-to-back top five classes in 2018 and 2019, but the Longhorns have mostly recruited on a level a tier or two below elite since 2014. In a state with as much FBS talent as Texas, that’s unacceptable.

In 2020, UT signed three of the top 10 players in Texas, but half of the top thirteen prospects in the state headed to the SEC. Go back another year to 2019 and you’ll see that only three of the top 20 players in the state decided they wanted to play their college ball in Austin. To make matters worse, hated Texas A&M signed six of the top 13 players in the Lone Star State.

Go look at the top players in Texas in the class of 2021. The #2 player in the state, Ja’Tavion Sanders, went to UT. After him, you have to scroll all the way down to the 26th rated player in the state to find the next player in the class who decided to become a Longhorn. Yes, 2021 featured a staff turnover at Texas and a pandemic, but it’s still jarring to look at. Eleven of the top twenty players in Texas went to SEC schools.

Recruiting at Texas has been inconsistent, and players are leaving to go play at Clemson, Ohio State and the SEC. The power brokers have been growing restless, and the straw that broke the camel’s back may have come in the form of Quinn Ewers.

Ewers is the nation’s #1 prospect for 2022, and he’s the type of quarterback talent that is an absolute necessity if you want to compete for championships in this era of college football. After once being committed to UT, Ewers decommitted from Texas in October of last year. He’s heading north to play his football at Ohio State.

Don’t be mistaken, watching prospects like him play their college ball at places other than Texas is part of the reason why UT no longer sees membership in the Big 12 as a viable option.

My sources at Texas have made one thing very clear this week about Eltife, and that’s that he is much more than a casual fan. “He follows recruiting like you and me,” said one source.

It has been made clear to me many times over the last week that Eltfie knows SEC membership will help the Longhorns on the trail. The quicker the UT staff can pitch future home games against teams like Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida, the better. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of the rivalry with Texas A&M.

The next QB prospect on the level of Quinn Ewers is a guy by the name of Arch Manning. He’s the latest in the line of passers that includes his grandfather Arch and his uncles Peyton and Eli.

He will be the most hyped recruit in the history of college football, and insiders say he’s interested in playing at Texas. The problem is that he’s also interested in continuing the family legacy of playing in the SEC.

Texas would love to sell him on the ability to both play in the Southeastern Conference and for the flagship university of the Lone Star State, which begs a bit of an interesting question. Is a sixteen year-old quarterback in New Orleans and other highly rated prospects like him at least partially responsible for UT’s willingness to shell out $150 million dollars?

By all accounts, Eltife understands modern college football, and that means he understands what entering the SEC with a Manning under center would mean to the program.

Sure, there’s a lot of other factors that Texas has taken into account as they’ve navigated this move. But make no mistake, Arch Manning, and many other highly rated prospects just like him are watching what Texas is doing… the Longhorns are making sure of it.