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September 29, 2011

The SEC effect on recruiting Texas



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Amid all the rumors about a possible move by Missouri to the SEC, there's been one common question:

What's going to happen with the Tigers' recruiting efforts in Texas?

Since Gary Pinkel became Missouri's head coach before the 2001 season, his staff has made a consistent effort to recruit the Lone Star State. According to Rivals.com, Missouri offered 13 Texas prospects in 2002, and that number increased every year until 2008. In 2010, Missouri offered 58 recruits from Texas. All told, in those 11 seasons, Missouri offered, on average, 35 recruits from Texas each year.

(Note: This is according to Rivals.com and isn't an exact number -- there are offers out there that aren't reported. While the numbers may not be exact, they are still meaningful.)

The Texas pipeline grew throughout the first decade of the 2000s. Now, including the current 2012 verbal commitments, Missouri has averaged nearly eight Texas commitments a year. The high-water mark came in 2008, when 12 recruits from the Lone Star State signed with the Tigers.

Could those days of recruiting success end with a jump to the SEC?

It's hard to project that possible move onto recruits. Already, PowerMizzou.com talked to the majority of Missouri's 2012 commitments -- including the Texas recruits -- and the response has been nearly unanimous in favor of a move to the SEC. During the summer of 2010, when Nebraska and Colorado jumped from the Big 12 and Missouri's future was in doubt, PowerMizzou.com talked to recruits' parents and coaches in Texas, who explained -- in their opinion -- that because Missouri had built such close relationships with Texas high school coaching staffs, a move wouldn't likely change much.

Now, however, we have two case studies in recruiting economics. The Buffaloes and Cornhuskers left for the Pac-12 and Big 10, respectively. While members of the Big 12 (and Big 8 before), both teams recruited athletes from Texas. Since 2008, Nebraska signed 25 players from Texas, with a high of nine in 2008. This year, however, Nebraska has one commitment from a Texan -- Cibolo Steele QB Tommy Armstrong.

What's interesting, however, is that Nebraska has offered only fifteen Texas recruits this year. Between 2008 and 2010, Nebraska offered, on average, 60 Texas recruits a year. In 2011 -- when Nebraska had applied and was accepted into the Big 10 -- the Huskers offered just 29 Texas recruits. Correlation doesn't equal causation, but it's something to note.

Perhaps more important to any future recruiting dilemma that a conference move presents is Colorado. Between 2008 and 2011, the Buffaloes signed 11 recruits from Texas. They offered, on average, 21 recruits from Texas a year. In 2012, Colorado already has five verbal commitments from Texas, and they are actually recruiting the Lone Star State harder. Colorado has already offered 39 recruits from the state, its highest total in the Rivals.com era.

A move to the SEC would likely place Missouri in the league's West division, alongside LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State and new member Texas A&M. Recruiting Texas isn't a new idea to those first four teams. LSU has signed ten Texas recruits since 2009. Ole Miss and Mississippi State haven't had nearly as much success, but they've offered (on average) 13 and 11 Texas prospects a year (respectively) in that same timeframe.

The most apt comparison to Missouri, however, is Arkansas. Missouri's national relevance compares most to that of Arkansas since 2005 (although Arkansas has been to a BCS bowl in that time frame). Arkansas borders Texas, so geography plays a part here, but the Razorbacks have made the Lone Star State one of their first recruiting destinations the last three years.

In 2009, Arkansas offered just 15 Texas recruits, eventually signing eight. Since then, it has offered (on average) 51 Texas recruits a year, and has signed 13 total Texas players.

There are no conclusions in this ongoing story, and there won't be any answers even when Missouri makes its intentions known. Each program is different. Missouri has recruited Texas harder than any school in the Southeastern Conference, other than the Aggies. National prominence and annual success plays a part (see the difference between the results of LSU and Mississippi State as proof). In addition a conference move could open up talent-rich states such as Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida to some extent.

In a few years time, there will be more concrete answers. Right now, it is up in the air which conference the Tigers will call home. But Big 12 or SEC, Missouri won't stop recruiting Texas. That much is certain.

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