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Big 12 recruiting received huge and needed boost on Friday

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Three commitments late last week instantly became the highest-rated pledges in their respective classes in a conference that has struggled recently to land top-flight talent.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Guide

The Big 12 conference entered Friday morning without a single five-star recruit among the 10 member institutions. The top talent from Texas, the state most Big 12 schools rely upon, continues to head to the SEC. Not only that, but the Texas Longhorns were the lone Big 12 program ranked in the national top 20 in the 247Sports composite team rankings. In other words, things weren't going particularly well on the recruiting trail for those 10 programs, especially traditional recruiting powers like the Oklahoma Sooners and the aforementioned Longhorns.

Then, in one huge day for Big 12 Conference recruiting, three schools added five total pledges, three of which instantly became the top-rated recruits for those programs. And each one of those three prospects could positively impact the rest of the recruiting cycle as well as recruiting cycles to come.

Malik Jefferson, Mesquite (Texas) Poteet linebacker

6'3 | 215 | ***** | No. 14 player nationally | No. 1 outside linebacker | No. 1 player in Texas | Texas Longhorns

On Friday morning, Jefferson pledged to the Longhorns over the Aggies and Bruins, giving head coach Charlie Strong his first signature pledge at Texas. His close friend and teammate, four-star wide receiver DeAndre McNeal, preceded Jefferson in committing to Strong and his program.

What it means on the field

Texas is losing starting weak side linebacker Jordan Hicks, leaving a void at a critical position for 2014. Considered an instant-impact player because of his football intelligence and his immense physical skills, Jefferson is expected to be a player capable of earning the starting job when the Longhorns take the field for the 2015 opener against the Fighting Irish. The fact that he will enroll early only increases those odds.

A rush linebacker in the 3-4 Poteet scheme, there may be an adjustment period for Jefferson as he gets used to playing a more traditional weak side role, but it would be a surprise if that adjustment takes longer than the practices he will get during spring drills and fall camp.

What it means for recruiting moving forward

The positive recruiting momentum for Texas is already being felt after a commitment that could change the entire future of the program. A grounded and charismatic figure, Jefferson has relationships with many of the top prospects in the state, including five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack of Gladewater (Texas), who decommitted from Texas A&M in the hours after Jefferson ended his recruitment.

Later on Friday, 2015 Gilmer (Texas) cornerback Kris Boyd and his younger brother Demarco Boyd, a 2016 linebacker, both made the "hook 'em horns" sign after a win in the state title game. The elder Boyd later revealed that he will announce his decision on Christmas.

And on Saturday, Cedar Hill (Texas) wide receiver Damarkus Lodge told that he will take an official visit to Texas. Close friends with Jefferson, Lodge had been committed to Texas A&M during the summer and hadn't shown any interest in Texas since the Longhorns decided not to retain wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt when Strong took over last January.

The commitment also ended any questions about whether Strong could land the top prospect in the state, a feat the Longhorns had not accomplished since the 2010 recruiting class when Texas inked defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

Jarrett Stidham, Stephenville (Texas) quarterback

6'4 | 190 | ***** | No. 25 player nationally | No. 2 dual-threat quarterback | No. 4 player in Texas | Baylor Bears

Stidham had been committed to Texas Tech since March but opened up his recruitment on Dec. 4. At that time, the news came out that he had taken a secret trip to Waco a week before. Another visit to Baylor the day after his decommitment seemed to place the Bears in the leading position in his recruitment.

Aided by the ties of head coach Art Briles to Stephenville, where he was a high school coach from 1988 to 1999, Baylor then landed Stidham's pledge on Friday afternoon over Oregon.

What it means on the field

The success of Texas Tech freshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes may have contributed to Stidham's decision to end his commitment to the Red Raiders, but at Baylor he will have a chance to compete for the stating job with the graduation of star quarterback Bryce Petty.

Like Jefferson, Stidham will enroll early, which will give him a chance to learn the Baylor offense during the spring. He'll compete with Seth Russell, a third-year sophomore who ably replaced Petty during two separate occasions during the 2014 season when the starter missed time with injuries.

Considering that Stidham played wide receiver as a sophomore before making the full-time move to quarterback, he's remarkably advanced as a passer for a dual-threat quarterback. However, Russell probably has the edge because of his experience after three years in the program and his athleticism -- he's listed by Baylor as having a sub-4.5 40 time and a vertical leap of more than 40 inches.

What it means for recruiting moving forward

Since the Bears have four commitments from players listed as athletes and two prospects listed as wide receivers, Stidham's pledge won't lead to a flurry of skill-position talent pledging to Briles and his staff, as often happens with quarterback commitments.

In fact, the Bears have recruited so well at wide receiver in recent years that they clearly don't need any help. Baylor landed elite pass catchers KD Cannon and Davion Hall in the 2014 class. It could use 2015 Temple (Texas) star quarterback Chad President at wide receiver when he arrives on campus. The Bears also already have a pledge from 2016 Navasota (Texas) wide receiver Tren'Davian Dickson, who set the set the national record for touchdown catches this season with an absurd 39.

More importantly, Stidham proves that Briles can land top-flight quarterback talent. The Baylor head coach has rightfully earned a reputation as an exceptional developer of talent. Robert Griffin III grew from a raw prospect to a Heisman winner, Nick Florence emerged from obscurity to become a productive passer, and Bryce Petty went from a three-star prospect with offers from Nebraska, New Mexico, and Virginia Tech to a Heisman contender.

Some spread offenses struggle to land elite quarterbacks. Those players perceive such offenses as a detriment to their potential NFL futures, preferring instead the pro-style attacks that presumably better prepare them for the next level. For Stidham, a prospect with definite NFL potential, that was not a concern, so his decision could help Briles convince future quarterback prospects of his caliber that the path to the NFL leads through Waco.

Ricky DeBerry, Mechanicsville (Va.) Atlee linebacker

6'3 | 240 pounds | **** | No. 71 player nationally | No. 7 outside linebacker | No. 2 player in Virginia | Oklahoma Sooners

With around 50 offers from many of the top national programs, DeBerry chose Oklahoma after taking official visits to Alabama, Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Tennessee.

What it means on the field

Even though DeBerry is listed as an outside linebacker, the position that he will play at Oklahoma, he spent a lot of time in high school lined up in a three-point stance as a pure 3-4 defensive end. As a result, he has a better understanding of how to play the run at the point of attack than most high school prospects who line up at the linebacker level.

With starting senior outside linebacker Geneo Grissom's career now over because of injury, younger players like junior college transfer Devante Bond and redshirt freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will have opportunities in the bowl game against Clemson to position themselves to win the job next fall.

Since the Sooners will have some experienced talent in front of DeBerry when he arrives in Norman, the Virignia product may not be able to win the starting job when the 2015 season begins. However, his instincts and athleticism should at least earn him a role on special teams in the early going.

What it means for recruiting moving forward

The Sooners have mostly been shut out of California this recruiting cycle after becoming heavily reliant on landing prospects from that talent-rich state in recent years. That's made it imperative that Oklahoma find other national prospects or return to a focus on the Lone Star State to the south.

So the pledge from DeBerry provides important evidence that the program still has enough national cachet to land top-100 prospects even though the defense struggled at times in 2014, raising questions about the future of several staff members.


The other two commitments for the Big 12 on Friday were hardly inconsequential, either.

Jefferson's teammate DeAndre McNeal could quickly become a matchup problem for opposing defenses because he can line up inside or outside. His speed makes him a tough cover for linebackers, while his physicality is too much for most cornerbacks. Throw in his after-the-catch ability and the Longhorns may have found a future All-Conference H-back if he continues to grow and hones his blocking technique.

Waco (Texas) Midway safety Kahlil Haughton, meanwhile, gives Oklahoma what has become an increasingly rare pledge from a Texas prospect. Stealing talented players away from the Waco area has also gotten more difficult for other program as the Bears have risen over the course of the last few seasons, as the recruitment of current Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings proved in the 2013 cycle. Ultimately, however, a desire to leave the Central Texas area benefited the Sooners.

Overall, the five pledges added some previously missing high-level talent to the commitment lists of three Big 12 programs at a time when Texas, and to a lesser extent Oklahoma, have struggled to achieve the success expected from the two tradition-rich programs. And while Baylor has made a BCS bowl and narrowly missed the playoffs the last two seasons, the school is still working to achieve major recruiting success across the board.

The conference is still struggling to land the number of blue-chip prospects it takes to win a national championship, but Friday was an increasingly rare step in the right direction.