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Texas Bowl Matchup to Watch: Talent vs. Culture

Top-15 recruiting classes vs. 19 years of consistency



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

The headline was worth stopping a scroll and taking a click, “Texas A&M officially lands best football recruiting class ever.”

It’s been a year since the Aggies had the best recruiting class in history, according to On3. Texas A&M’s 2022 recruiting class featured eight five-star prospects, ranked as the best in the country by every major outlet. The Aggies’ Texas Bowl opponent, Oklahoma State, has had one five star ever, according to 247Sports — Bobby Reid in 2004.

But a year after A&M signed that class both teams are still in the same place, except OSU’s roster with no five-star recruits actually has the better record at 9-4, compared to A&M at 7-5. And the Cowboys also still have the same coach, and have for the past 19 seasons.

A&M fired Jimbo Fisher with two weeks still left in the regular season after six years leading the program. Associate head coach Elijah Robinson took over as interim head coach for the rest of the season, including the Texas Bowl. However, Robinson will be leaving College Station to become the defensive coordinator at Syracuse when his tenure as interim head coach ends. A&M has already hired former Duke coach Mike Elko to replace Fisher.

So, where Gundy’s Cowboys don’t have as much star talent, they have culture to fill in the cracks. But how do you quantify culture? Gundy echoes the “Cowboy Culture” constantly and anyone who watched this 2023 OSU football team would agree it’s evident this group cultured its way from 2-2 to a Big 12 title game appearance and a bowl victory away from a 10-win season. And while that Big 12 title game may have been proof culture can get a team only so far, the Aggies are proof that the same could be said about talent alone, as well.

Before we get further into this, there’s no question OSU also has talent and A&M has culture. The Cowboys do have the best running back in the country, after all. And the Aggies fired their coach and attract such talent because their culture demands such expectations. But it’s fair to say both are still lacking the other.

OSU’s most recent recruiting class currently ranks 64th nationally and 11th of 14 in the Big 12 after the start of the early signing period, with nothing higher than a three-star recruit, according to 247Sports. It’s honestly, on paper anyway, a dud of a recruiting class so far for Gundy and Co. after securing six four-star recruits and ranking behind only OU and Texas last year in Big 12 rankings.

Even with the turnover, A&M still has the No. 15 recruiting class in the country this year. The Aggies have been outside of the top 15 in 247Sports’ national recruiting rankings only twice in the last decade, and just barely (17th in 2018 and 18th in 2016). OSU has never cracked the top 15 of 247Sports’ national rankings.

But just like predicting your future based on astrology, recruiting stars are also only projections. Although usually pretty accurate, having all that talent still doesn’t always equate to wins, hence why even though the Aggies have had top-15 recruiting rankings, their teams have not had the same kind of rankings during the season.

In that 10-year timeframe we looked at for recruiting, plus this season so far, A&M has a 86-52 record and 62.32 win percentage. OSU is 98-44 with a 69.01 win percentage. Although a victory in the Texas Bowl would give the Cowboys their fifth season with at least 10 wins in 10 years, the Aggies have never met that mark during that time.

It’s a tale of both extremes in the Texas Bowl. Gundy preaches finding players that buy in and even at one point this season told players to hit the road if they didn’t believe the Pokes could turn around a 2-2 start. You want to jump in the portal and leave Stillwater for a new home? Oh well, Gundy will find someone who wants to be there.

There is no solidified culture for a team that will have three different leaders in one calendar year, though. Even Gundy said he can’t predict what OSU may see from the Aggies because of all the turnover, which includes 13 players in the portal compared to OSU’s nine (two of which were walk-ons and another that wasn’t even a part of the team this season).

That Big 12 title game shouldn’t be the final experiment of talent vs. culture. Under Steve Sarkisian, Texas has both now, which is why it’s competing to play for a national title compared to being 5-7 only two seasons ago. That 5-7 team still had talent, but again, a Gundy team cultured its way into another win over a “more talented” team and finished that same season 12-2.

The Texas Bowl will be a matchup of the epitome of both culture and talent. An extreme of both. But yet there’s no real way to quantify either, except for maybe the score.

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