Missouri represented the Big 12 well in its final game as a member, stomping North Carolina 41-24 in a game that wasn't close at all. Now as the Tigers prepare to enter the SEC, the focus turns to the recruiting trail. And though teams technically cannot recruit much during the "dead period," fans are very much thinking about what's to come over the next month until signing day on February 1st.
Missouri has a lot going for it in recruiting. Coach Gary Pinkel has been in Columbia for a decade. Coaching stability really matters in recruiting. Pinkel can honestly tell recruits that he loves Columbia and that he and his staff plan to be in town for the long haul. Every coach in the country can say those things, but how many coaches at BCS programs have been in their current job for a half-decade, much less a full decade?
But that coaching stability hasn't always led to great success on the recruiting trail. Missouri's better classes of the last few years have still not been among the 25 best in the country. In the Big 12, that's good for fourth or fifth best in the conference -- similar to where Missouri has been finishing on the field. But if Missouri were in the SEC, a finish outside the top 25 would mean that the Tigers have been out-recruited by six, or even seven other schools.
Of course, recruiting doesn't exist in a vacuum. Missouri wasn't recruiting against SEC teams over the past few years. The draw of playing in the SEC will absolutely help Missouri. Just how much, however, is difficult to figure.
Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune notes that Missouri will tweak its area-responsibilities in response to the SEC move:
Pinkel said during today’s Big 12 teleconference that he’s assigned one assistant to recruit Atlanta and two to cover the state of Florida. MU also has sent marketing materials to high schools in those areas, Pinkel said.
"The foundation of who we are is not going to change at all," he said. "The recruiting and marketing standpoint of it is pretty significant. … All those things, in some respects, you’re just going into territories you haven’t been to and building relationships. There’s a transition process. There’s no question about it. How we do things and what we do, that’s why we win and have success here."
So what area will be less covered? Texas seems the most likely area.
The folks at SB Nation's tremendous Missouri blog, Rock M Nation, have mixed feelings about this. They're understandably excited about the move to the SEC and the potential for better recruits coming out of SEC country, but they're a bit wary of not putting as much attention on Texas -- a state that's been very good to the Tigers in recent years:
1. Talent doesn't get missed in SEC country. I have made this point elsewhere on RMN. A good friend, who had a small scouting service based in Arizona, was the first to lay it out for me. The demographics of the South (especially the Southeast)--think population density, not ethnic makeup--are different than the West. Small southern towns are less physically isolated than comparable towns out West. As a result, Southern-based scouts see virtually all the good players because the travel is not diabolical. By contrast, in Texas, Cali, Utah, or Arizona scouts simply cannot see all the good kids play. That's how a guy like Spooooon! slips through as a two-star. It's one of the main reasons you rarely find quality mid-major programs in SEC states who can maintain across multiple recruiting classes. (Georgia Southern is a powerhouse in the FCS, and a notable exception. I'll return to Georgia in point #5.)
5. Florida and Georgia are the right states to start. Florida is an obvious one because the state is so population dense and football mad. Add to that the traditional powers are down, though FSU may be back on the upswing. I would think of recruiting Florida as less about a head-to-head battle with UF, FSU, and Miami. Those traditional powerhouse programs have such a head start. It's more about recruiting against the directional Florida schools and the traditional Big East poachers (especially West Virginia). Georgia makes a lot of sense as well, because I would say that on the whole it produces the most polished prep players in the region (if not always the best athletic specimens). If anything, my impression is that the state is under-recruited by rivals. As a newcomer Mizzou might not win many head-to-head battles with UGa, but I think we could compete with Georgia Tech on just about every dimension.
(Read the entire piece, as numbers two, three and four are also excellent points)
I agree with the general premise that Missouri needs to stick with what's working and supplement with a few kids from SEC country each year. It would be foolish for Missouri to abandon its roots in Texas and the surrounding states just because it is now in the SEC. The Tigers have been recruiting decently and have produced good seasons now for most of Pinkel's tenure.
Will Missouri win the SEC without a huge increase in recruited talent? Highly unlikely. But remember, the Tigers weren't winning the Big 12. Expectations and perspective are important here.
And one of the most important perspectives to maintain is the realization that there just isn't much talent in the state of Missouri. This year is considered a good year for elite prospects in the state, yet even in that good year, Missouri is still producing only four prospects rated four stars or higher by Rivals.com. Quite simply, an elite team cannot make its living off recruiting the state of Missouri.
Missouri has done a good job of knowing its state better than other programs, however. That means going after some of the lower-rated kids that recruiting services miss, provided they fit the system. And perhaps more importantly, it means passing on some of the higher-rated kids when the program has information that the player might not be as good as advertised, or might not be a fit for the system.
This year, the Tigers have commitments from five of the top nine players in the state, and are still somewhat in it for the other two. The best commitment of the bunch is undoubtedly guard Evan Boehm, who committed to Missouri, then decommitted, and committed again:
At 6''3" and 300 pounds, Boehm is everything a coach looks for in a guard prospect. He's not exceptionally long, but does have a nice frame. Boehm is big for a high schooler, but doesn't carry the weight in a sloppy fashion.
I particularly like that Boehm is comfortable playing in space, because he has the athleticism to do so. But he's not a prospect who is scared to play in the proverbial "phone booth." And that toughness or "want to" is very important at the guard position. Still, if Boehm keeps growing, he could play tackle for the Tigers.
And while Boehm is Missouri's only top commitment at the moment, I also like the JUCO linebacker Markus Golden, out of Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. At 6'3" and 230 pounds, Golden could provide some pass rush for the Tigers.
There are clearly two targets remaining on the board for the Tigers. And these two will be a true test of Missouri's ability to recruit on the national level.
Dorial Green-Beckham is the best high school receiver since Julio Jones and A.J. Green in 2008. He holds offers from every school in the country, and he's from Springfield, Missouri. Missouri is not thought to lead for his services (Oklahoma and Arkansas), but they are certainly not out of the race for his services. Beckham is the best player to come out of the state in a long time, and it would be a huge grab for the Tigers if they can pull this off.
The other top target for the Tigers is defensive lineman Javonte Magee. Magee is out of San Antonio, and is generally regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the country. In-state Baylor is thought to lead, but Magee certainly has interest in Missouri.
Either of those two recruits would be huge gets for the Tigers, and it will be interesting to watch Missouri expand its recruiting footprint in the coming years.
For more on Missouri recruiting, visit Rock M Nation.