College football’s traditional National Signing Day passed Wednesday without a single Big 12 recruiting class finishing among the top 20 in the 247Sports Team Rankings. It marks the first time in the 247Sports era that the league failed to produce a top-20 class.
Mark it down as the latest consequence of conference realignment.
The Big 12 is growing by two members for the 2024 season, swelling to 16 teams, but only one of them (Texas Tech at No. 24) finished with a top-30 class. Former Big 12 schools Texas (No. 6), Oklahoma (No. 8), Nebraska (No. 18), Missouri (No. 19) and Texas A&M (No. 22) all rank ahead of the present-day Big 12’s highest-ranked high school class.
As Oklahoma and Texas depart for the SEC, the conference gets an infusion of four new teams from the Pac-12 in Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. While each have either significant recent success or proud pasts to draw upon, high school recruiting prowess is lacking among the new members.
Of the newcomers, Arizona State’s high school class is the best at No. 47. Bringing up the rear is Colorado’s class, which is ranked No. 118 under coach Deion Sanders.
The signing day statistics aren’t great for the Big 12, but high school recruiting mediocrity in the revamped league is not necessarily a death warrant. The conference is full of schools invested in football, and many of them boast successful track records. That will give the league ample opportunity to seize national relevance in the 12-team playoff era.
Working the portal
Pursuing transfers may prove to be the preferred method of talent acquisition for many Big 12 programs in the new era. Take Colorado, for example. The Buffaloes’ shockingly lean high school recruiting crop stands out, but it can be explained by Sanders’ emphasis on transfers. Colorado’s incoming haul of 24 transfers ranks No. 5 nationally.
TCU has 19 transfer commitments comprising the nation’s No. 13 portal class class. Arizona State is bringing in 23 commitments for the nation’s No. 20 transfer class. Houston (No. 24) and UCF (No. 28) also have top-30 transfer classes on the way.
When factoring in transfers, the Big 12’s outlook improves a bit. The league has five classes ranked among the overall top 40, versus just three when only high school commitments are considered.
The league’s diminished high school recruiting profile is also no surprise given the exits of the Longhorns and Sooners. The two typically signed stronger classes than their conference peers in the Big 12. However, that never guaranteed championships, especially in the case of Texas. The Longhorns struggled to parlay recruiting victories into on-field triumphs for years until finally breaking through in 2023 for their first conference title since 2009.
Era of parity
TCU reached the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to close the 2022 regular season without signing a top-20 class in the five prior years. Oklahoma State won double-digit games eight times in the last 14 seasons while routinely signing high school classes ranked outside the top 25. Similarly built programs now dot the map within the league’s 16-team footprint, giving the Big 12 a unique sense of parity.
The SEC has its historically dominant programs with significantly more resources than other league members. The same is true in the Big Ten and even the ACC, where the budgets of programs like Clemson and Florida State dwarf those at schools like Boston College and Wake Forest.
But National Signing Day underscored what makes the new-look Big 12 different and potentially more interesting than its peers. It’s not a conference of flashy recruiting buzz in which an exclusive circle of booster-backed kingdoms try to keep the masses at bay by throwing seven-figure NIL deals at five-star high school prospects.
Rather, it’s a relatively level playing field of schools in which coaching, culture and continuity are going to have an outsized impact. It’s different than the rest of big-time college football, and that could prove to be an asset, even if it means signing day is a bit sleepy.