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Eli Drinkwitz is having unprecedented success on the recruiting trail

Rivals has been ranking recruiting classes since 2002. Missouri never had a top 20 recruiting class until Drinkwitz arrived on campus.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football programs. We’ve heard it for years. And it’s more true in the SEC than anywhere else in the country.

Look no further than last year’s recruiting rankings when seven of the top 10 classes belonged to SEC programs. In other words, half of the SEC recruited at a top 10 level. To take it a step further, the only SEC programs who didn’t recruit at a top 30 level were Arkansas (41), Ole Miss (46), Vanderbilt (49) and Missouri (54).

That last data point might stand out a bit. The 54th best recruiting class in the country? Really? Yeah, not great. It was rated as the worst Missouri recruiting by Rivals since they started tracking classes in 2002. That’s what happens when you make a late coaching change. It happens. The hope at the time was it wouldn’t become a trend.

Good news, Mizzou fans. It didn’t. In fact, it became quite the opposite.

At the time of this column, Missouri has 20 known commitments. Rivals ranks this class as the 20th best in the country. That would be the best team ranking by any Missouri football recruiting class in Rivals’ database. The 3.15 average star rating for Missouri’s commits would be its second best of any Missouri class in that database, behind only the 2015 class that included the likes of Terry Beckner Jr., A.J. Harris and Drew Lock.

Mizzou Football Recruiting Rankings (Rivals)

Year: Total Commits: Average Star Rating: Class Rating:
Year: Total Commits: Average Star Rating: Class Rating:
2021 20 3.15 20
2020 18 2.89 54
2019 22 3 34
2018 26 2.85 39
2017 25 2.8 49
2016 22 2.9 47
2015 25 3.2 27
2014 28 2.79 34
2013 21 2.95 41
2012 19 3.11 31
2011 17 3.06 48
2010 23 3.3 21
2009 25 2.8 40
2008 24 2.88 25
2007 27 2.89 33
2006 25 2.52 47
2005 23 2.83 39
2004 25 2.56 29
2003 23 3 28
2002 23 3.04 29

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

My biggest question when Drinkwitz was hired was whether he was ready to recruit at this level. It’s hard to do. Even in the SEC East you’re going up against the likes of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee who each consistently rank among the top 15 recruiting classes in the country. Competing with that is tough. Heck, competing with South Carolina and Kentucky has been a struggle for Missouri in recent years.

Drinkwitz has been up for the challenge. He’s a natural salesman. His first big recruiting win came by way of Ennis Rakestraw in last year’s class. It’s not everyday a 3-star cornerback from Texas chooses Missouri over Alabama and Texas. Drinkwitz somehow convinced Rakestraw, though.

We didn’t know it then, but it was a sign of things to come.

Missouri has four 4-star recruits committed in the 2021 class. The last time that happened was the aforementioned 2015 class when Missouri was coming off back-to-back SEC East titles. Much of this class signed coming off of a 6-6 season. Not quite the same circumstances. Oh, and Drinkwitz is doing it in the middle of a pandemic while the program is still serving its punishment for NCAA violations relating to the tutor scandal in 2015 and 2016. Pretty impressive stuff.

It wasn’t long ago I wondered if recruiting would be Drinkwitz’s biggest flaw as a coach. I’m starting to wonder if it’s going to be his greatest strength. Missouri’s high school coaches are taking notice. Five of Missouri’s 2021 commits are from the greater St. Louis area. Both of the Tigers’ way-too-early 2022 commits are from in-state.

This momentum feels real. And it’s starting to feel sustainable. As Missouri fans we’ve been trained to wait for the other shoe to drop. It’s rare we let our guard down and celebrate a victory. This feels like one of those moments when it’s going to be okay to do so.

In his first calendar year on the job Drinkwitz instilled a new culture within the program, beat the defending national champions, ended the drought against Kentucky, kept the Battle Line Trophy in Columbia and put together a top 20 recruiting class. Not too shabby, coach.

The early signing period ends next week. That’s plenty of time for Drinkwitz to add another player or two to this class. Drink up, Mizzou fans. This is going to be a heck of a ride.