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Resetting the Table Part I: Let’s talk about Missouri football recruiting

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Recruiting wins have been all candy but I think it’s time we eat some vegetables.

Central Florida v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We are in an unprecedented time right now where Missouri is winning recruiting battles against blue-blood programs and the fan base is feeling....good? Like, actually good?...about their football team.

I’ll be the first to admit that doing well in recruiting - especially when the Tigers are beating Notre Dame and Texas for recruits - is such a novel and awesome feeling and I’m actively cherishing every second of. But recruiting is only one-third of the process of building a great football team. You still need to develop that talent and then deploy that talent on the field in a manner that will win football games.

I’ve had a ton of Twitter interactions over the past week where various individuals have asked me to revisit this interaction...

...and reassess based on the transfer portal acquisitions from the past month.

Reader, it doesn’t change my assessment at all. I don’t see Missouri winning 10 games in 2021. I also don’t foresee them winning 9 games this upcoming season.

But let’s take a step back and look at this from the 5,000-foot view to figure out just where our beloved Missouri Tigers are currently situated, starting with the various additions to the team:

NCAA Football: Alabama at Missouri
Eli Drinkwitz
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting

This has been the catalyst of optimism as of late. Once Eli Drinkwitz was hired and he assembled his staff, their recruiting efforts have risen to levels previously unseen at Missouri. With Drink’s natural energy and charm, Casey Woods’ roster management abilities, and the salesmanship of Curtis Luper, Charlie Harbison, and the entire staff, Missouri has been in recruiting battles they historically had no business being in and earned the commitment of high-profile, blue-chip recruits.

But he didn’t do that in his first, truncated recruiting class, which is the class that is most likely to be active this season. And the best recruiting class we’ve ever seen is not even 100% on campus yet. Oh, and those recruiting battles we’ve been recently winning? Yeah...those guys aren’t even out of high school yet.

The point is that the influx of talent is either, a.) super young, or b.) not on the team. And that’s before you take stock of how Mizzou stands in conference.

Since joining the SEC, Missouri’s recruiting classes have ranked as follows (using 247 composite rankings):

Yikes.

Drink and his staff have woken up the Missouri booster check books, worked their collective asses off, assembled the greatest recruiting class we’ve ever seen in Columbia...and it was good for 11th in the SEC.

Now, the big recruiting wins (as of late) have come from the 2022 recruiting class, where Missouri benefits from having more scholarships to give away than other teams and Drink is riding his hot hand. So where do the Tigers rank at the moment in that class?

Grrrr...

That’s right. 7th in the SEC. And I’m sure Florida, Auburn, and Ole Miss won’t rank in the bottom of the league for long.

Recruiting rankings aren’t ironclad on a per player basis - 2-stars outperform the ratings all the time, 5-stars bust as well - but overall they are super accurate in grading talent and pro potential. Same for team rankings: yes, some teams are better at developing the guys they get or are more tactically sound, but more often than not the teams with a deeper talent pool win games over teams with a lesser talent pool.

The herculean recruiting effort we’ve seen so far will need to be replicated this year, and next year, and the year after that, and the year after that in perpetuity just so Missouri can play with a roster that is the 7th-9th most talented in the SEC, instead of the 13th.

To wit, here are the five-year recruiting averages of the teams that just completed the 2020 SEC season. They are ranked by their 5-year averages (which are bolded) and their total wins over those five years are next to it:

Yikes!

If you are one of the teams in the bottom four of that list - which Missouri clearly is - then you need an elite player development program, a competent teaching staff, and excellent gameday tacticians. Gary Pinkel had that, Barry Odom didn’t. Mark Stoops has that. Dan Mullen had that at Mississippi State. Will Muschamp and Jeremy Pruitt did not.

Clearly Missouri does more with less. So does Kentucky and Mississippi State. But I’m less concerned with the teams starting at Tennessee and moving down and more concerned with the teams at Texas A&M and above (where the real recruiting gap is): winning games is a zero-sum transaction since some team has to not win for another team to win. And if you start the game at a talent disadvantage then you need to guarantee that your player development and tactical acumen can close the gap and compete with that superior talent. Even if you can guarantee that, there are going to be games where you hang for a half and falter late, or the blue blood gets a lucky bounce and steals a win in the last seconds. That’s what happens when a team like Missouri plays elite recruiters like Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M.

Missouri plays Georgia and Florida every year and gets A&M this year.

WONDER TWIN POWERS ACTIVATE
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Transfer Portal

Another set of off-season wins stem from the acquisitions Missouri has gained through the transfer portal and this is definitely worth getting excited over. The transfer portal is like recruiting JUCO players: bringing on a guy who has college experience at a different school to plug a gaping hole in your depth chart. The big advantage the portal has over JUCO is that the guy you get is already at the D-I level, is academically qualified, and has playing experience against D-I opponents. So, at the conclusion of 2020 we all knew that Eli Drinkwitz needed to find some help in the secondary, a linebacker to try and replace all the production Nick Bolton brought, at least one offensive lineman to build depth, and then whatever big talent he could swing back to CoMo.

If you’ve read any Mizzou news in the past six months you know he delivered: he bulked up the secondary with two All-AAC corners who have legit NFL potential, brought in an All-Conference-USA linebacker, a highly-rated offensive lineman from Oklahoma and an FCS All-American tackle, and, of course, convinced Mookie Cooper to come back to his home state.

I have no doubt Akayleb Evans and Allie Green will be dynamite; they’ve shown it consistently over 3 years and should do so again. Blaze Alldredge, however, played 291 snaps over 5 games last year and averaged 2 tackles per game, a step down from his 7 tackles/game average of the previous 3 years. Connor Wood did well in his three years at Montana State but didn’t have a 2020 season. E.J. Ndoma-Ogar played a few series in 2019 but none in 2020 and Mookie Cooper has never played a snap at the college level. The potential is there for all of these guys but it’s going to be a new team in a new conference and the first action that some of them have seen in almost two years. To expect every single one of these guys to max-out their production from the first game through the last is a fallacy; while they will absolutely contribute positively it’s hard to know exactly what we have until the games start.

On Monday Part II will assess the quality of the team that will be taking the field in 2021.