If someone walked up and asked you to name five-to-ten elite programs in college football right now, no one would expect you to include Texas in that list. After all, despite the fact that they managed to rattle off nine consecutive double-digit win seasons in the early 2000s, they haven't reached that mark since the 2009 season. In that same time, the Longhorns have endured four seven-loss seasons.
After wading through Mack Brown's extended swan song and an unsupported Charlie Strong, the Longhorns finally have the look of a team destined for greatness again under Tom Herman. It likely won't be an overnight fix, but one of the main advantages Texas has always had has been the fact that they're the premier program in one of the most talent-rich states in the country.
Now, one reason that Herman won't have to undergo a complete rebuild is that the Texas brand is still strong enough that they've been able to recruit well all this time despite the on-field disappointment (top-ten finishes in 2015 and 2016, No. 26 in 2017). In fact, the "Herman Factor", so to speak, will eventually likely look something like the "Urban Meyer Factor" at Ohio State. Both schools would be able to recruit at an exceptionally high level without those men, but with them, they ascend into elite territory.
The Longhorn's fifth-ranked 2018 class as of right now includes the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 11, and 18 players in the state (and keep in mind that the No. 18 ranked player is a mid-level four-star). That is what Texas is supposed to do, and that's what Tom Herman will continue to do. Which makes what James Franklin has started to do all the more important.
As we've gone on the journey of covering the 2018 recruiting class with you here at Roar Lions Roar, we've talked a lot about Franklin's work to get his foot in the door with major high school programs in some of the most talent-rich states in the country. We've seen the fruits of his efforts in many forms in this recruiting cycle. There are the verbal commitments he holds from safety Isaiah Humphries and cornerback Trent Gordon. There was the top-group inclusion from four-star cornerbacks Jalen Green (who eventually ended up with Texas) and D'Shawn Jamison (had PSU in his top-10, eliminated them in his top-5). And then there was interest from high three-star cornerback Verone McKinley III.
On the surface, commitments from two three-star players and flirtation from four-star prospects may not seem like a huge sign of progress, but one simply doesn't jump in and take top prospects from whatever state they please. It starts by building relationships, and the best way to do that is to be on the minds of more and more players every day. That's what Franklin has accomplished with this 2018 class, even if it's somewhat difficult to see.
James Franklin says Penn State is being talked about nationally, thus their success on the recruiting trail.— Andrew Lind (@AndrewMLind) July 25, 2017
One of the reasons that Urban Meyer is such a successful recruiter is because he's built so many relationships and has so much name recognition across the country. Look no further than the 2017 class, when Ohio State brought in the Nos. 2, 4, and 6 players from Texas, as well as the No. 2 JuCo player (Jeffrey Okudah, Baron Browning, J.K. Dobbins, and Kendall Sheffield, respectively). Using your home state as the base of your team is necessary, but elite coaches are able to fill out their rosters with top-level talent from all over.
James Franklin and Penn State might not ever recruit at the level Ohio State is recruiting at under Urban Meyer right now- few do. But being able to parlay their on-field success into an expanded footprint in Texas will not only allow them to continue to move up the recruiting food chain, but it will allow them to be one of the few teams that can eventually go toe-to-toe with Herman's souped-up Longhorns on the trail.