Having followed the recruiting process this year for perhaps the first time in my life, I've noticed some really intriguing things that I wanted to posit to everybody and see what you think. Since I'm placing this on a lawyer's site, I'll add a disclaimer: this is an engineering student playing with psychology, so be prepared for a travesty. That having been said, I'm going to present my observations in an argument that does not bode well for UT. Hopefully, the collective wisdom around here can find holes in the argument and counter with reasons why I'm totally out to lunch on this. Then again, if the argument can be improved (so to speak), I'd like to hear that as well. So get your critic's hat on, break out the red pen, and have fun.
First, I will recap the general feel of UT's recruiting season that I've received. Virtually everybody agrees that recruiting is significantly down this year. Most seem to believe that we will experience an uptick at the end, when many recruits finally do make commitments and when a couple of last-minute changes of heart turn our direction. Most also seem to believe that this year is more of a needs-based year because of last year's tremendous class. We're looking more to round out last year's class than to strike a home run with this year, in other words (though more D-linemen would be really nice about now.) There are disagreements with the general sentiment, but that's the norm.
Next, let me put out the assumption that much can be learned of a recruit by the way they handle the recruiting process. For the sake of argument, I will define three general psychological categories of recruits. Since I don't know psych terms, I'll just improvise here.
* The risk-takers These people are the ones who believe they'll succeed just about anywhere. Their main concern in recruiting is to find the school they believe will have the best team. They're not worried about competition for playing time; they believe they'll win the battle even if it's a QB recruit who'll go against Tim Tebow next year.
* The risk-avoiders These people are the ones who look for the place that gives them the best chance to play more than the best chance to win championships. They look at their positional competition and try to find places where the road to starting time is easier.
* The homers These are the recruits who are determined to go to a given school no matter what the situation. Technically, they could fit either of the above categories, but their homerish priorities override the psych tendencies. For the sake of argument, these recruits will not be considered; using them to support or contradict the following argument would be disingenuous.
It's a sliding scale between the first couple of categories, to be sure, but most recruits can be confidently placed in one or the other.
I believe that the risk-takers (RTs) will tend to commit earlier in the season than the risk-avoiders (RAs). They see the present success and hear the media reports on next year's potential, and they make up their mind early. It's a type A personality kind of thing. These are the recruits I believe UT has been missing out on this year. As a corollary, the RAs tend to commit very late - sometimes up to the last day. They wait for all the information they can possibly get and can even waffle in their decision several times during the season. These are the recruits I believe UT is now depending on landing in the final phases.
If I am correct, then this recruiting class will likely be filled with RAs. They will look for the safe bet and the high-probability route, and their style of play will reflect this. They will execute their plays well, and follow directions well. However, they will not be as aggressive as RTs would be. They will stick to assignments and focus on being "in their spot" rather than chasing down plays and going for broke. In short, they will play conservative football.
Given the hyperconservative nature of UT's play over the last few seasons, is it a good thing for UT to end up with RAs? I will assert that the answer is "no". We need more players who are willing to pin their ears back and focus on winning the play more than maintaining the assignment. This is especially true for UT on the D-line; since we will have a decent LB corps and secondary, the line can afford to play more aggressively. Likewise, we have a solid group or WRs who follow their routes well, but not much in the deep threat or field sprinter.
The basic conclusion I assert is this: our team is foundationally solid for next year. In the positions that we do need to fill, we can afford aggressive over conservative, and would benefit more from aggressive play. With conservative players, we may be looking at a bunch of solid, close games where we can't really point to one or two shortcomings of the team, but we can't seem to be as excellent as we hope either. (Sound familiar?)
Well, there it is. Feel free to bury or strengthen the argument. Hopefully, the collective wisdom finds more reason for optimism than pessimism in this year's projected class.