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May 6, 2013

Tarp's Monday Thoughts

- Last week, the news that North Shore LB Zach Whitley Jr. was committing to Alabama was overshadowed to a large extent by the news regarding Kyle Field and the SEC Network, especially since neither Whitley or his father ever talked very much about his situation and it was always assumed that the Aggies would win out in the end by virtue of being closer to home.

Last Friday, I posted some things about A&M's situation and mostly zeroed in on how A&M could fill its last remaining linebacker spot within the 2014 class. While A&M will keep recruiting Whitley due to the relationship between his father and A&M assistant Clarence McKinney, the Aggies' has already shifted to other targets, most notably out of state prospects like Louisiana's Kenny Young and Illinois' Nyles Morgan. Young is more of an outside backer while Morgan is a true Mike linebacker. We also discussed Klein Oak's Josh Mabin who is a four star prospect (although more of a tackle to tackle than sideline to sideline type of player) and has had a couple of recent unofficial visits to A&M, most notably for the Friday Night Lights event.

However, one thing that we didn't get into very much was the two middle linebackers that A&M took in the 2013 class, Reggie Chevis and Jordan Mastrogiovanni. Chevis did yeoman work in filling a void that existed at the position during spring practice. Although he's technically not listed as the backup middle linebacker (that honor still belongs to Shaun Ward), Chevis came in, put in the hours in the weight room, and was prepared mentally for the rigors of the position. He held up well during spring ball and you can't ask any more than what he gave the staff.

Mastrogiovanni still has yet to set foot on A&M's campus but he's got length, can run, and is smart. He's also better in coverage than your average Mike linebacker, particularly in terms of reading quarterbacks in zone coverage. He's not as physical as Chevis but he can be a complimentary player at worst to Chevis' skill set.

Although A&M would very much like to take another inside linebacker in the 2014 class, the fact that they took two of them in the 2013 class, that one of them has already had a positive effect, and that Donnie Baggs is around for two more years means that A&M's situation at the position is far from precarious.

-Another thought on recruiting: A&M fans are beginning to get antsy about recruiting because despite a very good start to the 2014 class the Aggies haven't picked anyone up since their junior day in early March. That's when the Aggies hit the jackpot by nabbing commitments from Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Armani Watts, and DeShawn Washington.

Since that time, A&M has reportedly been close on some guys, most notably Katy Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson but nothing has happened. In addition, A&M has lost a couple of head to head battles for guys like Whitley and Cy Falls' Otaro Alaka.

We've talked before about how the recruiting process within the state of Texas was slowing down and how more and more prospects were delaying their decisions and taking a longer look at all of their options. This is not a new trend for A&M; the Aggies actually picked up over two-thirds of their 2013 class after May 1 last year and there's three specific reasons for that.

First off, with the start of the May evaluation period, high school coaches and prospects have every reason to delay a decision until the summer so that college coaches can come in and look at them and they can pick up more offers. In addition, if their prospects remain uncommitted, high school coaches can use them (especially highly rated prospects) to draw in even more college coaches to look at their other kids.

High school coaches also really don't want recruiting to be a distraction to their teams during the season, particularly if their players want to take official visits and potentially miss Saturday morning meetings and weight lifting sessions. They get hired and fired on their records just like college coaches do and they don't necessarily see themselves as a farm system for college programs. As a result, they want their college prospects to make decisions by the time that the season starts so it's not a distraction.

It's no coincidence that the Aggies picked up 11 commitments from high school prospects between May 1 and September 1 last year which was their busiest stretch of putting together the 2013 class. It's also no coincidence that you've got a guy like Jarrett Johnson waiting to make a decision until June until after the May evaluation period is over.

Second, the Aggies landed 15 four stars in the 2013 class and six of them committed after the start of the 2012 football season. In fact, of the three time periods we've discussed (through May 1, the summer, and then into the season and beyond), A&M garnered it's highest proportion of four stars as a portion of the number of commits from August onward. Four stars simply have more options and even three stars like juco linebacker Tommy Sanders can be national recruits and have similar offer lists in comparison to four star ranked players. At that point, schools typically are willing to wait until they fill up and the prospect can take as much time as they want.

Third, many prospects attend camps or take unofficial visits during the summer because they were unable to take any or all of them during the school year; they may also want to see every school twice before making a decision.

Finally, when commitments start coming in, that's when scarcity of scholarships comes into play. It's one thing to be able to take one quarterback and play a couple of guys off against one another for the spot; it's another when you're recruiting five guys for three spots and all five guys have multiple options because they are national recruits.

As a result, A&M is going to start picking up commitments later this month or in June around the time that camps are held. They'll take some and then other prospects will wait things out (depending on their motivations) and perhaps take official visits during the season or afterwards. Either way, even if you'll feel better once some commitments start rolling in, history suggests that you still need to be patient because it's going to take a while to fill out the class anyway.

- We've talked a lot about the SEC Network over the last few days but in closing I wanted to bring up a couple of underrated aspects of it.

First off, SEC commissioner Mike Slive mentioned that the network would have a MINIMUM of three SEC games a week. During the SEC's non conference schedule, that number will increase (the Big Ten Network had eight games on over a weekend early last season and all of them were non-conference bouts). However, on a typical Saturday during conference play, six of the league's 14 teams will be on the network playing games that (at worst) would have bowl berths on the line.

That literally means that if you want to watch SEC football at all, you are going to have to have the network. There's no getting around it. For example, if you took A&M's 2013 conference schedule, the three worst conference games from a 2012 standpoint would be Auburn, Arkansas, and Missouri (none of the three teams were bowl eligible and the Aggies romped in all three games decisively). Are there any of those games that you would not want to see from a matchup standpoint?

EVERY fan base is going to feel the same way that you do.

In fact, given the fact six of the league's teams finished in the top 12 nationally last season, odds are that at least one top ten program will be playing each week on the network. That arrangement creates so much value from a provider's standpoint that it's going to be hard to see them not fall in line and bring the channel on board.

Second, that brings us to the least discussed aspect of the announcement…the SEC Digital Network. Although we discuss footprints and subscribers ad nauseum and what they bring to the table from a financial standpoint in terms of payouts to the individual (and how this has driven the most recent round of conference realignment), what's getting lost in this discussion is that the number of subscribers for cable and satellite services is actually declining. As costs for product has risen, the ability of people to download content or watch it on line has increased exponentially. ESPN and the SEC have positioned themselves to be able to take advantage of this trend. Some day, rather than subscribing to a provider for the SEC Network, we'll simply be subscribing to the network itself either for a season or per event charge much like we do with the NFL Sunday Ticket on a television provider. Although the decline (100,000 out of 100 million from 2011 to 2012) will not be enough to herald a new age of how programming is provided any time soon, revenue streams do change over time and ESPN and the SEC have anticipated that change is coming far in advance of when it actually arrives.


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