Around Signing Day, we talked a lot about what recruiting class rankings tend to mean for Missouri, and I wrote about the Tigers' 2005 class, which both a) came directly after the terribly frustrating 2004 season and b) basically saved the Gary Pinkel era in Columbia. I noticed something as I was going back through Mizzou's recruiting rankings, and I didn't know what to make of it at the time, so I sat on it.
Missouri's Recruiting Class Ranking (via Rivals.com):
Mizzou's 2005 haul ended up a bit disappointing, with a few interesting (at the time) names bailing because of the disappointing 2004 season. But really, one could make the case that the season's biggest impact was felt on the 2006 class. Mizzou scored commitments from 25 players, but 10 received a two-star designation, and one (Charles Gaines, transferring from Lincoln U.) received no designation at all, and only one received greater than three stars.
Of the Top 15 players in the state of Missouri, Mizzou landed just three. The No. 1 and 5 players went to Kansas State, No. 2 went to Iowa, No. 6 and 10 went to Notre Dame, No. 7 went to Minnesota, No. 9 went to Kansas, No. 11 went to Illinois, No. 14 went to Northwestern, and No. 13 and 15 went to Nebraska. I believe Mizzou had offers out to all of them and landed almost none of them. The Tigers were forced to load up on unheralded Oklahoma and Texas kids, along with a handful of JUCOs, to fill out what was at the time considering a terribly discouraging recruiting class. All of the inroads Mizzou had made in-state were wiped out by not only the 2004 season, but the long, arduous 2005 offseason as well. (And I'm not going to mention the role Aaron O'Neal's death may have played in recruiting St. Louis. It is a touchy subject, and none of the answers are going to be clear, anyway.)
Gary Pinkel has done a pretty strong job of keeping the borders as sealed as possible through the years, but it takes wins. And Mizzou didn't get many of those last year. And now, the "hot seat" talk has risen just enough to make things pretty shaky for the Tigers on the recruiting trail at the moment.
That's the thing about recruiting: When you're on the hot seat, recruits know it. You can tell them things are going to be looking up soon, but until you get a chance to prove it on the field, it's basically you telling a kid "Things are fine," while 20 other schools are telling them, with all of the sincerity and empathy they can muster, "Gosh, I don't know, I don't think Coach Pinkel's going to make it there much longer. You should probably keep your options open."
(A digression, but the recruiting echo chamber always reminds me of the Chris Rock "I know you did it, just admit it" routine, and it goes without saying that this link is NSFW. "'It'll be alright if you just admit it. It'll be alright if you just admit it.' You start to lose your mind and think, 'Maybe it'll be alright if I just admit it...'")
Needless to say, this echo chamber is probably even stronger in the SEC than it is in the Big 12 or anywhere else ... and it's pretty strong anywhere else. In this way, you almost have no defense if you're in Missouri's situation. What can you say, really? "Yuh huh, we're doing just fine"? You have to prove it, and you can't prove it for another five months. You can overcome this somewhat by having some super-slick, Trooper Taylor-esque recruiters on staff, but let's just say that those guys often come with a different set of baggage.
Last calendar year, Mizzou secured commitments from two really interesting, highly-ranked in-state recruits. First, big-time lineman Andy Bauer, the No. 92 player in the country according to Rivals, committed in early April. Then, in November, running back Markel Smith also committed. To score two potential Top 5, in-state guys before the previous recruiting cycle even ended was quite a coup. But Bauer decommitted late last year and committed to Ole Miss in February. And yesterday, via Twitter, Smith decommitted as well.
But all accounts, Missouri is still in the running for Smith, who "just wants to make sure he's making the right choice." And that's good. And all is not lost -- Mizzou still has three commits on-board: Hickman tight end Grant Jones, Blue Springs South tight end Kendall Blanton, and Springfield Hillcrest receiver Darnell Green-Beckham. But none of those three are considered to be among the top names in the state, and none had a serious offer list, at least not yet. Mizzou offered them based mostly on athletic potential (and lord knows they've had some success in doing that over the years). At the moment, Mizzou does not have a commitment from anybody with solid sets of offers.
Honestly, that's probably just the way it's going to be for now. Whereas last year was about locking down as many local commits as possible in the spring, attempting to capitalize on Dorial Green-Beckham's signing, another bowl campaign, and the SEC move, this year will need to be the opposite. Early commits are probably not going to go Missouri's way, and Gary Pinkel and staff almost just have to hope that they can convince as many kids as possible to wait on committing anywhere until they can prove they have bounced back on the field (if they have indeed bounced back).
Thus far, Mizzou has offers out to 14 Missouri kids. Three have committed to the Tigers, and three have committed elsewhere -- quarterback Rafe Peavey to Arkansas (which happened a long time ago), Bauer to Ole Miss, and running back Dalvin Warmack to Kansas State. Of the 10 to have received a rating from Rivals thus far, six are still on the board.
In all, the 5-7 season simply couldn't have come at a worse time. Mizzou is attempting to establish itself in a new recruiting area, and the best way to do that is both with wins and with proven stability. The Tigers aren't riding a ton of either right now. Meanwhile, SEC programs have taken greater notice of the state of Missouri as well; it probably isn't a coincidence that Bauer committed to an SEC competitor. But again, until Mizzou can prove that last year was an anomaly, this is pretty much the way it's going to be. Recruiting is going to stink until Mizzou gets a chance to turn things around on the field.
If you're looking for a silver lining, though, there certainly is one. That 2006 class that was so terribly regarded? It produced 11 starters for some really, really successful Missouri team. The lone four-star signee? Jeremy Maclin. The lowest-rated recruit in the class (not counting Gaines)? Danario Alexander? The third-lowest rated recruit? Sean Weatherspoon. One of the forgotten JUCO transfers? Pig Brown. Mizzou has pulled rabbits out of its hat in recruiting before, and while you'd prefer they just land the really highly-touted, higher-odds-of-succeeding guys, the odds are good that they'll figure out how to land some athletes either way. And as long as the product on the field in 2013 improves, the Markel Smiths of the world still might end up coming back into the fold. All you can do right now is cross your fingers.