In 2003, Gary Pinkel's third in charge in Columbia, Mizzou had gone 8-5 and made its first bowl game in five years. In 2004, they would return nine defensive starters, and despite a terribly inexperienced offensive line and mostly unproven receivers (possession man Thomson Omboga was the only returnee with more than 27 catches in 2003, though freshman Will Franklin was an exciting prospect and youngsters Brad Ekwerkwu and Greg Bracey were burners), a terrific backfield would be enough for Missouri to take another step forward.
Junior Damien Nash, Pinkel's first true breakthrough signee, returned at running back and would be joined by Pinkel's latest breakthrough freshman, Tony Temple. And, of course, there was Brad Smith. The junior-to-be had logged a 2,000-1,000 (passing yards and rushing yards) season as a redshirt freshman and came a few yards shy of 2,000-1,500 as a sophomore. As defenses began to adapt to his terrifying legs, Smith had spent the offseason fine-tuning his passing abilities. He was becoming the perfect package at quarterback, and people were noticing. Mizzou began the season ranked 18th in the country. Phil Steele picked the Tigers to win the North. Everything was looking up.
When the wheels come off, the odds are pretty good that you didn't see it coming. After all, if you did, you'd have tightened those damn wheels. But over the course of two months in the fall of 2004, the wheels indeed came off for the Missouri football program. It turned out you cannot teach instincts. Smith's foray as a pocket passer* did not go well; instead, Smith held onto the ball too long, forced some panic throws, and openly fought his fight-or-flight instincts with negative results. The line struggled. Damien Nash was only decent (and still feeling the effects of a previous knee injury). Tony Temple wasn't ready. The receiving corps provided almost no help.
* It's worth mentioning, by the way, that while "He tried to turn Brad Smith into a pocket passer!!!!" is one of the favorite lines of the Pinkel-hating crowd (or, at least it was in the 2005-06 range), people were beside themselves in excitement about the thought at the time.
On five different occasions, Mizzou missed an opportunity to seize control of the Big 12 North. The Tigers saw a comeback attempt fall just short in Austin against an excellent Texas team. They built a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma State and lost, 20-17. They encountered a bumpy flight on the way to Lincoln and, in windy conditions, tore Tony Temple's redshirt off and had Brad Smith throw 56 passes in a 24-3 loss. They built a 21-0 lead against Kansas State and lost, 35-24. They laid a complete egg at home against Kansas. Win any of those games, and you win the North. Missouri did not.
The Bad Season Checklist dictated what followed: Missouri's 2005 recruiting class did not go so well. Mizzou missed out on three of the state's top five recruits. Four-star Rockhurst receiver D.J. Hord chose Notre Dame. Four-star Hazelwood East receiver Chris Brooks decommitted from Mizzou and ended up at Nebraska. Three-star Rockhurst linebacker Allan Smith went to Boston College. Three-star Hazelwood Central running back A.J. Jimmerson went to Michigan State. Three-star St. Joseph safety Justin Thornton chose Kansas. A deep in-state class didn't end up actually benefiting Missouri all that much.
In the end, Mizzou inked the No. 39 class in the country according to Rivals.com. They have certainly signed better (2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012) and worse (2001, 2006, 2009, 2011, probably 2013), but considering the potential Missouri had heading into 2004, and considering the fact that Pinkel had nailed down three straight Top 30 classes, it felt like there was no salvaging things after the disasters of October-November 2004. (That Aaron O'Neal passed away the following summer brought increased stigma and negativity to Missouri's recruiting efforts on the eastern side of the state.)
In the end, here is the class of 23 signees Missouri brought to Columbia in 2005.
- Four Stars (JUCO): DB Darnell Terrell
- Three Stars (5.7): QB Chase Daniel (Southlake, TX).
- Three Stars (5.6): TE Chase Coffman (Peculiar, MO), OL Dain Wise (Midwest City, OK).
- Three Stars (5.5): RB Connell Davis (Portland, TX), OL James Stigall (Blue Springs), DE Evander Hood (Amarillo, TX), DE Jaron Baston (Blue Springs), DE Tarell Corby (Kansas City), DT Kurtis Gregory (Blackburn, MO), LB Brock Christopher (Kearney, MO), DB Chad Washington (Lancaster, TX), DB Hardy Ricks (Brentwood).
- Three Stars (JUCO): OL Matt Russell, OL Louis Pintola, DE DeMarcus Scott, DE Chad Marshall, DE Jamar Smith.
- Two Stars (5.4): DE Herman King (Lancaster, TX), DT Jason Townson (St. Louis), K Matt Casaday.
- Two Stars (5.3): TE Jon Gissinger (Poway, CA).
- Two Stars (5.2): TE Chris Hudgins (Van Vleck, TX).
The class ranked eighth in the Big 12 (and would have ranked 12th in the SEC) and featured not a single four-star freshman and only one high three-star. Coupled with on-field struggles, it was not the most exciting, successful recruiting class ever signed. And all it did was produce a Heisman finalist, a Mackey Award winner, a first-round draft pick, and 37 wins over the next four years.
By no means was this the deepest class ever. While we always like to talk about the diamonds in the rough Gary Pinkel has uncovered (the Danarios and Weatherspoons of the world), this class really had none. None of the two-star signees made an impact outside of special teams. Of the five junior college line transfers, only two cracked the rotation for an extended time. You have to go to the "*** 5.5" level to find any stars. Of Mizzou's nine 5.5's, three were multi-year starters (Hood, Gregory, Christopher), and two others were multi-year rotation members (Baston, Ricks). Dain Wise never quite lived up to his hype, and while Darnell Terrell was a starter, he wasn't really a four-star player (which I would define as "all-conference or close to it").
In and of itself, this was a reasonably thin class with a lot of star power up top. But it is very instructional to think about the way this class had an impact on the good Missouri teams that followed. In Mizzou's 2007-08 stretch of 22 wins, the two-deep was filled with quite a few upperclassmen from the earlier Top 30 classes (Tony Temple, Martin Rucker, Will Franklin, Adam Spieker, Tyler Luellen, Lorenzo Williams, William Moore), along with some fun youth from the 2006-07 classes (Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Sean Weatherspoon, Carl Gettis). But the 2005 class both bridged the gap between the two and provided the aforementioned star power.
As an illustration, here's the two-deep from arguably the biggest game in Missouri's history, the 2007 Kansas game. The members of the Class of 2005 are in bold.
|QB: Chase Daniel (Jr.)
Chase Patton (Jr.)
|DE: Tommy Chavis (Jr.)
Jaysen Corbett (Jr.)
|RB: Tony Temple (Sr.)
Jimmy Jackson (Jr.)
Derrick Washington (Fr.)
|DT: Ziggy Hood (Jr.)
Charles Gaines (Sr.)
|WR-X: William Franklin (Sr.)
Jared Perry (So.)
|NT: Lorenzo Williams (Sr.)
Jaron Baston (So.)
|WR-H: Jeremy Maclin (RSFr.)
Danario Alexander (So.)
|DE: Stryker Sulak (Jr.)
John Stull (RSFr.)
|WR-Z: Tommy Saunders (Jr.)
Jason Ray (Sr.)
|SLB: Van Alexander (Jr.)
Steve Redmond (Jr.)
|TE: Martin Rucker (Sr.)
Chase Coffman (Jr.)
Jon Gissinger (Jr.)
|MLB: Brock Christopher (Jr.)
Luke Lambert (Fr.)
|LT: Tyler Luellen (Sr.)
Chris Tipton (Sr.)
|WLB: Sean Weatherspoon (So.)
Connell Davis (So.)
|LG: Ryan Madison (Jr.)
Monte Wyrick (Sr.)
|CB: Darnell Terrell (Sr.)
Castine Bridges (Jr.)
|C: Adam Spieker (Sr.)
Tim Barnes (RSFr.)
|CB: Carl Gettis (Fr.)
Paul Simpson (Sr.)
|RG: Kurtis Gregory (So.)
James Stigall (So.)
|FS: William Moore (Jr.)
Hardy Ricks (So.)
|RT: Colin Brown (Jr.)
Dain Wise (So.)
|SS: Justin Garrett (Jr.)
Del Howard (So.)
Six high-quality starters (including Coffman, who should absolutely have been considered one) and six backups from a class of 23 is damn strong. If Mizzou's signing class of 2013 can do that, no matter where it ends up ranked, it will more than suffice, even if it doesn't produce a couple of national award winners. Again, there will be pressure on Pinkel and company to bring in a lovely 2014 class; of that, there is no doubt. And hell, the more we compare this class to 2005, the more pressure this class will face. But if nothing else, a look back at this storied class should prove both that a) a team can overcome signing a class with a lower ranking and b) a class can sometimes dramatically overachieve its ranking. You certainly don't want to rely on (b) happening, but it is certainly possible.
Throughout today's posts, I've tried to make something very clear: This class isn't as good as we hoped it would be. Considering how often I get accused of spinning things in a positive light simply to spin things in a positive light, I felt I should emphasize that one last time. But what I've tried to do for most of today is both discuss the impact (good and bad) a single disappointing class can have and move beyond team rankings to look at individual needs. Mizzou's class ranking could still find its way into the 30s if Ezekiel Elliott signs, and it could still produce stars no matter where it ranks, but with development and improved recruiting in the future, Mizzou can survive either way.
And doing a little bit of reminiscing about Daniel, Coffman and company is always a good thing.