Back in June, I wrote a couple of pieces about how recruiting was going. (They were both follow-ups--follows-up?--to my Culture vs Caliber post from the month before.) My first recruiting post envisioned what a "best-case scenario" class would look like for this Mizzou staff. The second looked at how much recruiting rankings have or haven't mattered to Mizzou's success. I figure I can use those two posts as a jumping-off point for gauging the our 2009 recruiting class.
But before I get all analytical about it, I thought I would share my general impressions of this class. And I'm a "bad news first" kind of guy.
Mizzou didn't sign a big-time wide receiver.
Now...L'Damian Washington, Jaleel Clark, or Kerwin Stricker could all hit the big-time--we have no idea. The staff liked them enough to offer them scholarships, and I'm optimistic about their prospects. That said, over the summer a lot of 4-star WRs were looking at Mizzou--Terry Hawthorne, Jheranie Boyd, Marlon Brown, Justin Brown--along with a handful of well-touted Texas 3-star kids--Cobi Hamilton, Josh Gordon, Skyler Scott, Ja-Mes Logan, Neal Barlow (okay, he's from AR), and none of them ended up signing with Mizzou despite the prolific offense and their professed undying admiration of Jeremy Maclin. From a pure football perspective, we have no idea which of these guys will end up stars and which will never see the field, but from a college football recruiting is its own sport perspective, this was a black mark on Mizzou's class. You'd have thought they'd have landed at least one of these guys, and they didn't.
Lucky for Mizzou, geography is in their favor next year, as there are quite a few big-time WRs nearby--Justin McCay, Marcus Lucas, Keeston Terry--and they've all said nice things about Mizzou early on. Because of this, Mizzou has another, more favorable opportunity to land some prime WR talent--it will be very disappointing if we're saying "Mizzou didn't sign a big-time wide receiver" this time next year.
Rivals ranks Mizzou's class below KU's...and NU's, ATM's, Tech's and OSU's.
Simply due to to the whole "22 wins in two seasons" thing, you'd have expected Mizzou to make a jump in the rankings, and it didn't happen. That's some what disappointing.
Of course, it's also irrelevant at this point. In recruiting, the top and bottom rankings matter, but in the middle? Not so much. After those big-time, immediate-impact recruits (who, as we know, mostly go to the same schools), it's all a mushy gray area, and we're left quibbling over the difference between a 4-star recruit with a 5.8 "RR" (Rivals rating) like KU signees Bradley McDougald (who had offers from Louisville, Wisconsin, Cincy, Colorado and Indiana) and Prinz Kande (New Mexico and Wisconsin), and 3-star recruits with 5.7 RR's like MU signees Blaine Dalton (Simone Award winner for best player in KC area) and TJ Moe (StL area offensive player of the year) or a 5.6 RR like Chris Freeman (who chose Mizzou over supposed offers from Florida, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA, Nebraska, West Virginia, Wisconsin, etc.). Is there really a difference between a 5.8 recruit and a 5.7? Or a 5.5 and a 5.4? Probably not. It's all guesswork. Coaching and development will determine which of these kids ends up playing the best, and Mizzou has, to date, developed a pretty good track record in terms of development and scouting.
And besides that, who cares if KU ranked better--Mizzou whooped KU head-to-head for kids. But we'll get in the "good news" section.
See how I slipped silver linings into the bad news? I rule.
Along with those silver linings, there were some very positive trends in this year's class.
Mizzou nailed down Sheldon Richardson
We've talked a lot in the past about how the 5-star talent goes almost entirely to a handful of schools, and Mizzou is not one of them. It's VERY important that, when a 5-star kid is in the backyard and Mizzou's got good connections, they seal the deal. That was the case with Richardson, and Mizzou sealed the deal. They've now signed two five-star kids (Richardson, Blaine Gabbert) in the last two recruiting classes, as many as the rest of the North combined (CU and NU each signed one in 2008). In all, Big 12 schools have signed 11 five-star recruits in the last two years--three to Texas, three to OU, two to Mizzou, and one to NU, ATM, and CU. Overall class rankings obviously derive from the class as a whole, but in competition for the best of the best, Mizzou is ahead of everybody not named OU or Texas.
We'll have to wait and see how "diamond in the rough" talent like L'Damian Washington, Kerwin Stricker, and Matt Whte perform at the WR/DB positions--maybe there's great talent there, maybe not--but one thing's for certain: Mizzou signed some BEEF. Sheldon Richardson (6'4, 275-290, depending on the day) was obviously the big name here, but I'm excited about a few others too.
First you've got potentially GIANT bookend tackles in Chris "Le Barge" Freeman (6'8, 350) and Big Jack Meiners (6'6, 315). You've got two rural MO biggies as well in Justin Britt (6'5, 270, stud wrestler) and Mark Hill (6'6, 260). Odds say not all four of those guys will work out, but two of them almost certainly will, potentially three. This is a very solid O-line class, even without Darris Ford, who apparently isn't going to qualify and therefore didn't even sign yesterday.
Then you've got my two favorite "sleeper" candidates of the class--DE/DT hybrids Marvin Foster (6'2, 265) and Ty Phillips (6'3, 260). I will say that I'm thrilled about the possibility of their putting on 20-30 pounds and serving as Lorenzo Williams-style quick DTs, but you obviously never know in advance how much weight a guy can gain. One of them may potentially be maxed out--who knows--but if these two pan out, then with last year's crop of DEs we've potentially got the deepest D-line we've ever had under Pinkel over the next few years.
In all, the most evident difference in athleticism between OU/Texas and Missouri came in the trenches, and I'm excited about the speed and athleticism we seem to have stockpiled in the last two classes. The future is bright with underclassmen like Jacquies Smith, Richardson (unless he becomes primarily a TE, which I doubt), Aldon Smith, and Marcus Malbrough (plus other signees Brayden Burnett and Michael Sam) at DE, and Terrell Resonno, Dominique Hamilton, Jimmy Burge, Phillips, Foster, and hopefully George White at DT. That's a big pool from which to pull 4-5 stud players.
The signal callers
We don't need both Blaine Dalton and Ashton Glaser to pan out in a major way--we just need one of them to go head to head with Blaine Gabbert and make sure we've got a good QB over the next few years. Between a pure winner in Dalton and a "knows the spread like the back of his hand" guy in Glaser, the odds of that happening are pretty favorable.
The JUCO DBs
As with the QBs, we probably don't need both Jarrell Harrison and Jasper Simmons to work out well, but if one of them can step in and perform at the level of a Nino Williams or (blasphemy, I know) Pig Brown--both of whom were 3-star JUCO DBs--then this secondary just became a lot less shaky. Add to that last year's batch of redshirts and super-athletic guys like TJ Moe and apparently Matt White, and again, that's a big batch of players from which to find a couple of studs. Whereas I'm worried a bit about a dropoff in run defense, I'm actually optimistic about the pass defense, which as we know, probably wasn't as bad as the raw numbers suggested.
Head to head, we still kicked KU's behind
I do respect the job Mark Mangino did in putting together a strong class. I respect it even more considering how poorly he still does recruiting head-to-head against a geographic rival in Gary Pinkel. By my count from the Rivals database*, there were six players offered by both Missouri and Kansas, who actually chose either Missouri or Kansas. They were Kendial Lawrence, Alex Sanders, Jack Meiners, Brayden Burnett, Josh Tatum, and TJ Moe. I also seem to recall Sheldon Richardson mentioning a Kansas offer as well. What do those 6-7 players have in common? They all chose Mizzou.
* Insert all relevant "Rivals doesn't catch or record every offer--it's only a recruiting service, not the official record" disclaimers here. You blog with the tools you have.
For what it's worth, Mizzou also went 2-for-4 against Nebraska (NU got Andrew Green and Chris Williams, Mizzou got Chris Freeman and L'Damian Washington). In other words, of the 11 kids for whom Mizzou fought Kansas and/or Nebraska, they landed 9 of them. You can take all the higher rankings you want as long as we're beating you head to head for the kids we want.
Meanwhile, poor K-State went 0-for-4 head-to-head against Missouri (Richardson, Brayden Burnett, Ashton Glaser, Donavan Bonner) and 1-for-7 against Kansas. This was why the talent on Bill Snyder's teams started sliding the first time around--he was getting beaten for the Chase Coffman's and Tony Temple's of the world--and it's going to be his biggest obstacle this time around as well. KSU will clearly be infinitely better-coached now, but they still have to have talent.
Like I said earlier, in Part Two we'll take a look at what the analysis I did last summer says about what ranking maybe should have been expected from this class or, more importantly, what can be expected from this class on the field, but for now I'll say that my initial impressions of this class are positive. I didn't expect a ton out of some of the kids we missed--Ronnie Wingo, Bryant Allen, etc.--and while missing out on them maybe hurt our recruiting ranking overall, I'm confident in the class we've signed, and I'm downright giddy about the potential of a few of them.