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The SEC isn’t the reason for Texas A&M’s recruiting success

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Or at least, it’s far from the most important one.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest talking points you heard when news broke of Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC was how it would negatively impact Texas A&M, specifically on the recruiting trail. The argument was that A&M will lose the pitch of “we’re the only SEC school in Texas,” and that the Longhorns would see an uptick in recruiting when they joined the conference similar to what the Aggies saw almost a decade earlier.

The recent commitment of four-star safety Bryce Anderson certainly puts an anecdotal ding in that narrative, but then that’s only one recruit (albeit a major one). But I’m here to tell you that A&M’s recruiting success has never been about being in the SEC, at least, not primarily. Yes, it’s a catchy sales pitch, but as is often the case, what ultimately convinces recruits to sign on the dotted line is much more tangible than which conference logo is sewn onto the shoulder of your jersey.

A&M’s uptick in recruiting has much more to do with everything else that has changed with the program: who is leading it, the facilities they’ve built, and most importantly, what they can do on the field. Take a look at A&M’s recruiting class ratings (via 247 Sports) from 2003 to 2021, charted alongside the team’s win percentage from the previous season.

Obviously the win percentage has wilder swings, but the overall trends undoubtedly follow similar paths. When Texas A&M wins more, they bring in better recruits. Our worst recruiting seasons in the SEC are comparable to our best in the Big 12, because our worst W-L seasons in the SEC are comparable to our best W-L in the Big 12.

Yes, you can see a major recruiting jump after A&M comes to the SEC, but that also coincided with the Aggies winning 11 games (including a win over Bama and a Cotton Bowl shellacking of Oklahoma), Johnny Manziel winning a Heisman and Kevin Sumlin becoming the hottest coaching commodity in college football (A&M was fending off rumors of him heading to USC, or perhaps even the NFL, at the time). That was followed up by a locker room renovation, a new weight room and a complete overhaul of Kyle Field. But even with all that momentum, recruiting still saw a downturn in Sumlin’s later years as the shine wore off and the wins dwindled. No amount of sparkling facilities or SEC hype could overcome a mediocre on-field product.

Enter Jimbo Fisher.

Jimbo Fisher brought a new attitude and a championship pedigree with him to College Station, and it has paid dividends on the field with the Aggies just finishing their best football season in more than half a century. He has also managed to reel in the top three-rated recruiting classes A&M has ever had (since those things started getting tracked about 20 years ago).

Perhaps it’s not that A&M couldn’t recruit in the Big 12. It’s just that they couldn’t recruit when they were led by Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman. Consider the following:

2003-2011 (Franchione/Sherman):

  • Four losing seasons
  • Two seasons with 8+ wins
  • One bowl win

2012-2020 (Sumlin/Fisher):

  • No losing seasons
  • Eight seasons with 8+ wins
  • Six bowl wins

Based on that information, should it be any surprise that A&M is recruiting at a significant better clip from 2012-2020 than they did in 2003-2011? No. Because no matter what conference you’re in, wins matter.

Texas and Oklahoma will join the SEC soon, be it in 2022 or 2025, and I’m sure they’ll recruit well, just like they always have. But I caution anyone who thinks they’ll see a huge boost simply because they enter a new conference. Joining the SEC isn’t what improves recruiting, winning in the SEC does. And this Texas A&M team is primed to do a lot more winning in the years ahead.