Just two months after Dorial Green-Beckham became the final member of Missouri's 2012 recruiting class, Andy Bauer became the first member of the 2014 class.
Bauer said after that visit, he returned home to St. Louis and talked with his parents, his brother and his sister. He even made a call to his high school coach, Pat Mahoney. After the family pow-wow, Bauer realized he was ready to spurn offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Auburn and Notre Dame, among others.
"I'd been all around the country," Bauer said. "I've met a lot of good people and I've seen a lot of great programs. I decided that Missouri felt the most like home and I wanted to be a Tiger."
Bauer has Mizzou in his blood, and with the momentum generated by both the Tigers' four-game winning streak to end 2011 and the move to the SEC (not to mention the DGB signing), he decided he didn't need to wait any longer to make his reservation. In November 2012, Markel Smith of St. Louis' Vianney high school also committed.
These two players both rank in the state of Missouri's 2014 top 6 according to Rivals.com; and these two players would each decommit either during or after the 2012 season. Bauer committed to Ole Miss in March.
Really, it's hard to blame them. Bauer had offers from virtually everybody: Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Wisconsin. He really couldn't go wrong. And while he grew up loving Missouri, you know that he heard from every single recruiter a variation of the following: "Gosh, Gary's a really nice guy, but he's probably not going to make it another year there. You would be smart to keep your options open (and hey, when can we schedule a visit)." When you hear that from tens of coaches, from schools with really big names ... and when you see Pinkel's name on every single Hot Seat list in the offseason ... honestly, you'd be silly not to look around.
Commitments are basically reservations. In fact, we should really consider calling them just that. And if you have as many options as Bauer had, you might miss out on some interesting opportunities if you hold onto your Missouri reservation for too long and Gary Pinkel is fired. So Bauer opened things back up. It actually surprised me that he committed to Ole Miss as quickly as he did because he did have so many other possibilities. (Then again, committing to Ole Miss in March, after the Rebels signed one of the best classes in the nation a month early, probably does make some sense.)
Things came full-circle on Monday, of course. Missouri's 2013 performance has erased Pinkel from every Hot Seat list. He's going to be here for a while. And with that again certain, Bauer re-committed to Mizzou on Monday morning. And honestly, he needed to do so immediately; there might not have been a spot available for him if he waited much longer. There's also a downside to not claiming a reservation.
Here is my statement: pic.twitter.com/y6BEspqFnG— Andy Bauer (@AndyBauer_76) November 4, 2013
It was incredibly frustrating knowing that other coaches were delivering the "Coach Pinkel's not going to be around much longer" line and knowing there was nothing Missouri could do about it until the fall (and knowing there was at least a slight chance that the opposing coaches would be proven correct). It supposedly also interfered with the recruitment of players like Smith and CBC offensive lineman Brian Wallace, who also claims offers from everybody in the area, from Alabama to Ohio State. It seemed that all Missouri could do is prove people wrong and hope to get another look.
It turned out that there was another option, however: Prove people wrong but go ahead and fill up your recruiting class regardless. While kids from the St. Louis area were waffling on the home-state Tigers (not the first time that's happened), Missouri was going out and finding people willing to show faith and claim a reservation regardless. Pinkel and company did not wait around; the Tigers had 24 commitments heading into Monday and have 25 now that Bauer has re-committed. PowerMizzou's Pete Scantlebury says that, thanks to early enrollments, Mizzou will probably sign 28 players in this class. Even if they take on a couple of extra qualification risks or something, they're still probably looking at 29-30, maximum.
Honestly, this approach was the ballsiest thing Missouri could have done. Ballsy is sometimes stupid, too, but I'll say this much: If Missouri's 2014 recruiting class turns out to be a successful one, Missouri is set for the rest of the Pinkel era.
Here's what I mean by that:
1. The diamond-in-the-rough factor
Missouri has not landed that many big-time recruits in recent years; Dorial Green-Beckham and Evan Boehm were the only 2012 signees given better than a three-star rating, and Chase Abbington, who didn't qualify, was the only one in the 2013 class. And Bauer is officially the only four-star commitment for the 2014 class thus far, though that could still change, either from a three-star recruit like Nate Brown getting an upgrade or from another four-star commitment claiming one of the final spots.
Under Gary Pinkel, Missouri has found its success from landing a good portion of the in-state studs, turning two-star recruits into three-star players, and turning three-star recruits into four-star players. Dave Matter pointed out exactly this yesterday.
If the SEC standings were based on teams’ accumulation of four- and five-star recruits, the Tigers would be fighting off Kentucky for sixth place in the Eastern Division. Instead, Mizzou’s evaluation process and player development have never produced better results. Just check out the collection of two-star recruits and overlooked prospects that contributed to Saturday’s win. Wideout L’Damian Washington. Left tackle Justin Britt. Left guard Max Copeland. Right guard Connor McGovern. Defensive end Michael Sam. Defensive tackle Harold Brantley. Linebacker Donovan Bonner. Cornerback Randy Ponder. Safety Matt White. None were widely recruited or recruited at all. Others throughout the lineup have steadily improved under the watch of Pinkel’s staff. Right tackle Mitch Morse. Wideout Marcus Lucas. Strong safety Braylon Webb.
Matter listed 12 players above, 11 of whom were either two- or three-star recruits (the exception: Lucas). Of those 11, five were from Texas (Sam, Bonner, White, Morse, Webb) and a sixth (Ponder) was from Oklahoma. You've got a smattering of other states involved there -- Copeland's from Montana, McGovern's from North Dakota, Brantley's from Pennsylvania -- but Mizzou's current roster is still a reflection of Missouri's long-term diamond mining in Texas and Oklahoma.
These states have treated Missouri well through the years, but ... what if the South treats Missouri even better?
Mizzou has commitments from 19 players who were given either a two-star or low-three-star rating; on paper, this is destined to be Missouri's least successful (on a per-recruit basis) class for a while. But of those 19 players, 11 are from either Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, or Florida. Two of Missouri's higher-rated recruits (receivers Nate Brown and Lawrence Lee) are also from the South.
I mentioned over the summer, as Missouri was racking up commitment after commitment from the diamond-in-the-rough types, that as long as Missouri was loosening up its standards, as long as Missouri wasn't "settling" for lesser athletes, then this was just fine. "We do what we do," as Gary Pinkel says, and if these kids met the standards Missouri had previously set, then the train keeps a-rolling.
But what if they exceed that standard?
If this class succeeds, it will be because of depth, not star power. Like I said, there are only a few obvious stars. But if Ish Witter (low-three-star) or Trevon Walters (two-star) becomes the next excellent back in Missouri's Small Running Backs factory ... if Nate Brown pretty quickly becomes the next excellent wideout in Missouri's Big Wide Receivers factory ... if Paul Adams becomes a better Mitch Morse ... if Finis Stribling IV or Tavon Ross becomes a better Aarion Penton ... if Missouri's diamond mining finds stronger results in stronger football territory, then wow, is Missouri set for the future.
2. A head start on 2015
With so few spots remaining in the 2014 class, Missouri can pretty quickly get started on the 2015 class. And if there are obvious rewards to be reaped from the Tigers' exhilarating 2013 season, they might come in that class. Mizzou has already offered seven in-state kids in the 2015 class, including Rivals four-stars Drew Lock (Lee's Summit QB), Alex Ofodile (Rock Bridge WR), Hale Hentges (Helias TE), and Marquise Doherty (Winnetonka ATH).
The Tigers have offers out in every state in the South, from Louisiana to Florida, as well. They'll be rolling full speed with their pursuit of the 2015 class by January, probably, and they'll be taking a victory lap of sorts instead of facing constant hot-seat issues. If the 2014 class is indeed a success, following all of the rumors and struggles of the 2013 offseason ... if Missouri's evaluation system has found a South gold mine ... then just think what the Tigers might be able to do with wind in their recruiting sails.
There are no guarantees, of course. For all we know, the two-star players in the 2014 class will play like two-stars, and this giant class will be an albatross around the neck of the Missouri football program. That is certainly a possibility; but it's impossible not to be excited about both the momentum this program has generated once again and the season-long affirmation we have received regarding Pinkel's evaluation system. Andy Bauer's commitment is the most visible confirmation of Missouri's momentum, but it's only the latest step.