Big 12 recruiting shows half-dozen teams hanging around top 25

Theories abound on whether college football’s first early national signing period that begins Wednesday will help the rich get richer or help level the playing field.

A look around the Big 12 and the state shows the more things change, the more they remain the same. Traditional recruiting powers like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are cashing in, and teams coming off excellent seasons like TCU and Oklahoma State are taking advantage.

Texas owns the No. 2-ranked class behind Ohio State, according to the 247Sports composite list, and most will fax in their letters of intent Wednesday. The Longhorns’ 2018 ranking has moved up 23 spots from their 2017 class’ ranking.

Oklahoma is No. 8 nationally, the same spot the Sooners secured for 2017, and at least 16 of its 20 commitments are expected to sign over the next three days. Seven of OU’s pledges are from Texas.

Sooners coach Lincoln Riley, although generally in favor of the extra signing period, finds the timing odd.

“It feels a little strange going into these homes in December, but there is a sense of urgency,” Riley told reporters. “Hell, the state championships in Texas will be played after signing day.”

OU commit Jaquayln Crawford, a four-star receiver from Rockdale, is a prime example. His Tigers play Brock in the Class 3A final Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Riley said it would have made more sense to start the early signing period next season.

“Some of these kids are almost backed into a corner where there’s some pressure on them so sign, but a lot of them haven’t been able to take official visits,” he said. “We should have done the visits first and then the early signing day.”

Perhaps bad for the kids, but most of the top programs aren’t suffering.

Texas A&M ranks 18th, even with two decommits with the coaching transition from Kevin Sumlin to Jimbo Fisher. However, the Aggies might have as few as six signees Wednesday, though they are awaiting decisions on at least three targets.

TCU, fresh off a 10-3 season and Big 12 title game appearance, is poised for its best haul ever, rated 19th nationally. That includes Manor defensive end Ochaun Mathis and Wimberley guard Ian Burnette.

Oklahoma State, which went 9-3, also has a top-25 class at No. 23, up 15 spots from its 2017 class.

West Virginia and Baylor are two other Big 12 teams scoring big with the new signing period. The Mountaineers are up 29 places for this class, from 57th to 28th. The Bears, in Matt Rhule’s first full class, are straddling the top 25 and are expecting at least 15 of their 22 commits to make it official this week.

Three non-Power Five state teams who made bowls — Houston, SMU and North Texas — each are enjoying bumps in the rankings.

Most big-time programs intend to lock up the bulk of their classes this week and then address holes on the second signing day, Feb. 7, 2018. They also want to see which of their current players declare early for the NFL draft in order to target possible replacements in January.

Lesser programs intend to prioritize good players who aren’t ready to sign this week and those who still need to make test scores to qualify. Their pitch could go like this: “Hey, we really want and need you badly. The big-time schools see you as part of the leftovers.”

Texas Tech is in a particularly awkward position. The Red Raiders are in Birmingham, Ala., practicing for Saturday’s bowl game against South Florida. Their staff is concentrating on game preparation. Perhaps not surprisingly, their current crop is ranked 54th by 247Sports, down five spots from their 2017 class.

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