TULSA — The prevailing notion is that for the Big 12 Conference to be good again, Texas has to be good again.
That very well may be the case. The Longhorns’ brand recognition gives the rest of the league greater credibility across the board.
But one of the ways Texas has gone about getting better under first-year coach Tom Herman is by coming into Oklahoma and recruiting some of the Sooner State’s top prospects.
After five consecutive recruiting classes without signing one prospect from Oklahoma under Mack Brown or Charlie Strong (Millwood defensive back Josh Turner in 2011 was UT’s last recruit from north of the Red River), Texas under Tom Herman has gotten signatures from a 2017 Oklahoma junior college prospect (Jamari Chisholm from NEO) and a 2017 Oklahoma high school prospect (Reese Leitao from Jenks) and verbal commitments from two 2018 Oklahoma high school prospects (Ron Tatum from Putnam City and Casey Thompson from Southmoore/Newcastle).
“Well, we’ve done plenty of work in Texas too,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said during Wednesday’s Sooner Caravan stop at OU-Tulsa’s Schusterman Center.
OU’s success in the Lone Star State goes back to the Bud Wilkinson days in the 1950s. The Sooners have made a living beating Texas with Texas players who were either spurned by the Longhorns or just wanted to play for a nearby contender.
“That’s not the first guy out of Oklahoma to go down to Texas,” Stoops said, stopping short of clarifying which recent future Longhorn he meant. “You can track the track record.”
Mack Brown told me in 2006 he flat did not recruit Oklahoma, but that February he tried to sign wideout Gerald Jones out of Millwood (Jones signed with Tennessee). Three years later, in 2010, Brown signed defensive back DeMarco Cobbs out of Tulsa Central.
But Herman has taken it to a new level: four prospects from Oklahoma in two years — plus he flipped a long-time Sooner quarterback recruit, Cameron Rising, out of California.
Stoops said he doesn’t “have any idea,” if it is Herman’s strategy to take the top prospects out from under his nose or if the surge of south-bound recruits is simply a product of Oklahoma producing more, better college football recruits.
“I feel there’s always been good players in Oklahoma,” Stoops said. “By population, we don’t have great numbers. But the top guys and the guys we’ve had here, I’ve said forever, can play anywhere in the country. We’ve proven that with the greats ones we’ve had that have been national award winners, consensus All-Americans, and Heisman Trophy winners and on and on and on.
“So anyway, to me it’s status quo.”
Although the Big 12 produced a Power 5 conference-record low 14 NFL Draft picks this spring, Stoops doesn’t have to back down over the number of draft picks OU has produced in his tenure. Since 2010, 43 Sooners have been drafted, which ranks seventh nationally behind Alabama, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, Florida State and Clemson.
“We’ve put as many players in the NFL as about everybody,” he said. “For us, it’s pretty much the same.
“We’ve done our share.”
Whether Texas returns to viper status or remains a burnt orange wimp, Stoops sounds encouraged by the overall health of the Big 12 despite the public perception that the league is competing at a disadvantage that only seems to be growing.
“Well, I think if you look at it, talking Big 12, money-wise, we do really well, don’t we? That just came out,” he said, referring to the league’s roughly $28 million per-school revenue distribution, which projects to rank third or fourth among Power 5 conferences from fiscal year 2016.
“Bowl game-wise, we did really well this year, right?” he added of the league’s 4-2 record in bowl games. “We’re talking this year, right? We did our share against the SEC (35-19 over Auburn). Who else? Kansas State did (33-28 over Texas A&M). Who am I missing? Oklahoma State obliterated the runner-up in the Pac-12 championship (38-8 over Colorado).
“We’ve represented well, and we make a lot of money, apparently. I don’t know what the problem is.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.