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Will Texas, Texas A&M or Oklahoma’s QB have the best 2022? Ask the Texpert

Readers offered so many great questions for our July mailbag that I couldn’t get to them all. So here’s a bonus edition of Ask the Texpert.

Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Who do you think will have the best season out of these three: Quinn Ewers, Dillon Gabriel or whoever starts for Texas A&M? — John B.

Give me Gabriel. He’s the most proven of the bunch and is paired with Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who he played for at UCF. Lebby’s offenses typically put up big numbers, and there’s no doubting Gabriel’s talent. He showed some real leadership this offseason too, getting OU’s quarterbacks and wide receivers together for a retreat to build on- and off-field chemistry.

That’s not a slight against the Texas and Texas A&M quarterbacks. Ewers’ pure talent may be the best of everyone in this group, but he hasn’t thrown a pass in a live game since 2020. That hiatus, plus adjusting to Steve Sarkisian’s offense, is sure to take some time for the redshirt freshman. But once he figures it out, he has the potential to make Texas’ offense even better, especially with the additions at wide receiver Texas made this offseason.

A&M’s Max Johnson, Haynes King and Conner Weigman are all capable, and they should raise the level of play at the position for the Aggies this year. King is entering his third year in Jimbo Fisher’s offense and is a superb athlete. Johnson brings bona-fide SEC starting experience. Weigman, though young, is a gifted dual threat. But none of the three have been a full-time starter under Fisher for an extended period, so there will be a learning curve. King would have had that chance last year if not for his season-ending injury in Week 2.


Texas A&M’s Haynes King lost most of the 2021 season to a leg injury in Week 2. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

Can Baylor ever convert on-field success to top recruits? I know blue bloods will always rule the roost and a top-25 class in 2023 is great for BU, but is it ever possible to land the big fish? And can it hold on to the fast-rising prospect it currently has? — Michael D.

The Bears recently answered the second part of your question with a resounding yes when heavily pursued four-star quarterback Austin Novosad affirmed his commitment. That was a big win for Baylor, which fought off Ohio State, Texas A&M and Notre Dame. Credit quarterbacks coach Shawn Bell, who worked tirelessly in recent months to strengthen his already-solid bond with Novosad while the quarterback assessed his other options.

Novosad isn’t the only blue-chip recruit that Baylor landed recently. It closed out the 2022 class with four-star receiver Armani Winfield, a former Texas commit who was just outside the national top 200, and four-star offensive tackle Isaiah Robinson, who’s No. 225 in the 2023 class, committed on July 4. Novosad, Winfield and Robinson are the three highest-ranked commitments the Bears have landed in the post-Art Briles era, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Bears’ 2023 class is currently ranked 15th. Clearly, the Bears are moving in the right direction.

This doesn’t mean that Baylor will start landing five-stars left and right. But if Baylor can establish itself as a consistent power in the Big 12 — something that is feasible given where the Bears are currently positioned as Oklahoma and Texas prepare to exit — it is possible to land top-100 prospects again. Baylor has proven it can win conference titles, contend for the College Football Playoff and send players to the NFL Draft (six were chosen in 2022).

Even so, coach Dave Aranda and his staff will continue to be selective, preferring personality fits for his program. “If there’s 10 kids within the state of Texas that are playing football and have the grades to go to college, probably three of them fit at Baylor,” Aranda said last month. “When you start there … it becomes a really tight pool that you’re working with.”

I doubt Baylor will ever recruit at a top-10 level consistently. But recruiting at a top-25 level consistently is certainly possible. No Baylor class in the modern recruiting era has ranked higher than 25, per the 247Sports Composite.

How good can Texas’ defense realistically be this season? A lot of hype around the team’s recruiting seems to have spilled over into on-field hype for this season. I think the offense will be fantastic, but the defense has a chance to be equally as poor. — Chase F.

The biggest issue is whether the unit can be more consistent. As Sarkisian cited on Tuesday, there were stretches in which Texas played good defense last year. The first half of the Baylor, Oklahoma State and Iowa State games come to mind. But then the wheels fell off in the second half.

“We can’t let one drive or one play all of a sudden dictate our behavior or our morale and things all drop,” Sarkisian said. “Last time I checked, I didn’t see a team go 12 games without giving up a touchdown. We’re going to have to be able to respond to some of the adversity that we get faced with.”

Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski noted when mistakes happened, players often “freelanced” or pressed and tried to do more than they were asked.

Coaches, both at Texas and around the league, have said the talent is sufficient. Will the unit be tougher, both physically and mentally? The Longhorns focused heavily on the defensive front in their 2022 recruiting class, signing eight linemen and edge rushers. But success or failure will be determined largely by the six returning defensive linemen — Keondre Coburn, Moro Ojomo, T’Vondre Sweat, Alfred Collins, Vernon Broughton and Byron Murphy — and an upgraded pass rush. Ovie Oghoufo returns, but the rest of the rotation consists of new faces.

Texas had the third-fewest sacks in the Big 12 last year and fourth-fewest tackles for loss. Asked by reporters on Tuesday about Texas’ pass rush, Kwiatkowski shot back, “What pass rush?”

Linebacker depth is “OK,” Kwiatkowski said, and a reason why Texas took Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey in the transfer portal. Texas needs Jaylan Ford to capitalize on his strong offseason and DeMarvion Overshown to become a factor as an edge rusher. Sarkisian also expressed a desire to play tighter coverage in the secondary.

It’s not a talent issue. When things go poorly, the Longhorns must keep it from snowballing.

What’s a reasonable expectation for where Texas Tech’s recruiting class finishes? It was on top early only because its class was mostly finished before the blue bloods started getting their commits, now they’re in the mid-teens. Is a top-25 class a realistic possibility when it’s all said and done? — Benjamin D.

A top-25 class is absolutely possible. Currently, Texas Tech is 17th in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. Though the Red Raiders have 23 commits, they could still add a few more. If they do, and hold on to the top recruits in their class, a top-30 finish feels like a virtual certainty. The average recruit ranking in their class (87.33) puts them in a similar range as the top 30-35 teams finished in the 2022 rankings.

And even though they lost out on one of their blue-chip recruits, four-star cornerback Calvin Simpson-Hunt who flipped to Ohio State, the Red Raiders haven’t given up. They’re still communicating and maintaining that relationship, holding out hope that they can flip him back at the 11th hour.

SMU is finally getting mentioned in conference realignment talk. Do you think it’s speculation, or are things happening with the Mustangs moving up? — Mitch G.

Why does the Big 12 not feel that SMU would add future value? Is it a misconception that it hurts other schools in recruiting (Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech) when Texas is a national recruiting ground for a lot of schools? — Themanebro

SMU leadership has been active in trying to sell itself to other conferences (the Dallas Morning News reported that school officials spoke with leaders at the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 last month).

Though the Ponies, in the AAC, were bypassed in the 2021 round of realignment, there’s more optimism on the Hilltop this time around. Fundraising took a huge leap in the past year. The $73 million that athletics brought in, led by Garry Weber’s $50 million donation for the new football end zone complex, showed willingness from donors to fuel SMU’s climb. Football just had its most successful three-season stretch since the 1980s. And its location in a large city certainly helps in any realignment pitch. If the Pac-12 or ACC decided to add, SMU is one of the most attractive remaining Group of 5 candidates out there.

The hard part is it’s largely out of SMU’s control. It can pitch itself effusively, but the power conferences will dictate the timetable. And a school’s brand seems to matter more now than simply TV markets because of the change in fans’ viewing habits and how television is structured. SMU was on the outside looking in for so long in part because it struggled on the field post-Death Penalty until the past decade.

As for the Big 12, adding SMU makes sense geographically, but then the league starts to slightly resemble the defunct Southwest Conference. Personally, I love that idea because it was a fun conference, but the league’s footprint residing entirely in one state at the end of its life span was a big factor in accelerating its demise. Schools and conferences at the time expanded geographically to reach more TV households nationally. With media rights deals being so intertwined with realignment, it seems unlikely that a league with four schools in the state adds a fifth.

Plus, there’s the recruiting piece, which was a reason why the original Texas Big 12 members resisted adding Houston until it became almost necessary to do so last summer. SMU has shown that it can recruit at a high level occasionally, and putting the school on a level playing field would strengthen its ability to go toe-to-toe with Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech.

How large do you expect 2023 class signings to be with the temporary rule allowing schools to over-sign the traditional limits? — Daniel D.

Some classes will be larger, but I doubt we’ll see tons of schools suddenly signing 40 recruits in a cycle. There might be some places where that happens, like schools that make coaching changes, which usually produce a high rate of roster turnover. Or if a team has a bad season and tries to run off players to flip the roster. But the key to the rule is that teams still have to stay under the 85 scholarship limit, so room still must be made for the extra newcomers.

I polled some recruiting and personnel staffers across the country this spring on this topic, and the opinions varied. Some said it will enable power programs to churn the roster and cut players with higher frequency. Others said that it will be a welcome change for programs that often struggled to reach 85 because of the 25-man cap and increasing defections via the transfer portal. One I spoke with said he felt programs used the loopholes that already existed to churn the rosters to their liking anyway.

Overall, instead of classes that hover around 25-28 signees, you may start seeing more classes reach into the low 30s.

Would you be willing to rank the FBS coaches in order of most likely to least likely to still have their current job as of Dec 31? — Caleb S.

1. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
2. Dana Holgorsen, Houston
3. Joey McGuire, Texas Tech
4. Sonny Dykes, TCU
5. Rhett Lashlee, SMU
6. Dana Dimel, UTEP
7. Jeff Traylor, UTSA
8. Dave Aranda, Baylor
9. Steve Sarkisian, Texas
10. Seth Littrell, North Texas
11. Jake Spavital, Texas State
12. Mike Bloomgren, Rice

Fisher and Holgorsen signed new contracts and seem to be stable. If Fisher didn’t leave after the strong overtures and eight-figure annual salary offer from LSU last year, it’s hard to envision him leaving. He has a guaranteed 10-year deal, and A&M just signed the No. 1 recruiting class. Holgorsen is poised to lead Houston into the Big 12, is coming off an impressive 12-2 season and appears genuinely happy at the school.

McGuire, Dykes and Lashlee may as well be a tie. They’re all new head coaches, so barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s unlikely they depart their schools after Year 1.

Dimel just took UTEP to its first bowl since 2014, and things are looking up in El Paso. Traylor also just signed a new deal and is probably at UTSA for at least a couple of more years, given the buyout structure.

Though Aranda is low on this list, he’s a great fit at Baylor and also signed a new deal. With his president and athletic director each signing 10-year contracts recently, I doubt Aranda goes anywhere after this season. There were great opportunities to bolt last season, but he seemed content. Still, if the Bears continue to succeed, other programs will certainly inquire.

As long as Texas improves this year, Sarkisian should be secure. But if it doesn’t and with the SEC move looming, would Texas consider a change after just two years?

Littrell, Spavital and Bloomgren all enter critical years. North Texas getting on the right side of .500 would be huge. Getting to a bowl game would be a big boost for Texas State and Rice. All three teams have a chance to improve this year. But if they don’t, those coaches would be on the least stable footing.

(Photo of Quinn Ewers: Mikala Compton / USA Today)

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