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February 5, 2014

Commentary: No star-gazing allowed



National Signing Day 2014 has come and gone. And for Missouri, outside of its own fanbase, it was probably met with a collective yawn.


The Tigers signed a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks as the 35th best in the country and the 12th best out of 14 in the SEC (thank Vandy turned Penn State coach James Franklin for elevating the Tigers from 13th in the league).


The SEC, despite Auburn's loss to Florida State that snapped a run of seven consecutive national championships, is the undisputed king of college football. And never is that more apparent than on National Signing Day. Alabama signed the nation's No. 1 class for the fourth year in a row and the sixth time in seven February Wednesdays. As of my writing this, the conference has three of the top five and seven of the top nine Signing Day hauls in the country. The SEC and NSD is the embodiment of the rich getting richer.



And there's Missouri, with two four-stars (tied for the least in the conference) and eight two-stars (tied for the most).


The arguments don't really need to be restated. We heard them all a year ago. The Tigers simply can't compete if they don't raise the level of recruiting.


Let me be the first to say this: Maybe it's true. But it's a giant maybe. Because last year, Missouri absolutely made us all doubt the statement. The Tigers have made a living of making a mockery of recruiting rankings.


"I think if you look at our success--eighth winningest program in the nation in the last seven years--and our academic success," Gary Pinkel said. "Probably they ranked us average of 30th in recruiting in that time. The numbers don't match up. They don't fit. I would suggest that if you do the math you can kind of figure that out."

Last year, Mizzou had five recruiting classes that averaged a 36.2 national ranking. That included a 2013 class that finished 12-2 and fifth in the final polls. In the 13 years Rivals.com has kept team recruiting rankings, the Tigers have never finished higher than 21st. And yet they have finished at least that high in the national rankings five times.

Recruiting rankings are not worthless. They often are a decent reflection of success on the field. For proof, look no further than the Crimson Tide. But perhaps more than any other program in America, Missouri makes the argument that winning in February simply doesn't translate all that well to winning in the fall.

Certainly Gary Pinkel is not concerned with the rankings. It took him exactly 99 seconds into his opening comments on this Signing Day to take a thinly veiled shot at the rankings and those who compile them.


"As always, we believe in our evaluation system. We do what we do," Pinkel said. "We don't reflect on any stars. It's never come up on any player we've ever recruited. I know some programs and staffs kind of really look at that and they're really aiming to hit high in perception of their recruiting classes and the strength. But we don't ever do that and we're pleased with the results of what we get and the kids that we want. These kids are the kids that we wanted."

No coach has ever stood in front of the media on this day and said that he wasn't happy. No coach has ever said he thought he signed the eighth or ninth (or even second) best class in the conference. That's not what this day is about. But at Missouri, it's even less about that.

For the skeptics, for those beholden to the stars, I'll acknowledge your argument. If Missouri can win this much with two- and three-stars, how much could it win with four- and five-stars? And the 2010 class--the one that was ranked 21st--was a big part of that success a season ago. That class featured 11 starters (including three all-conference players) and 14 significant contributors to the 12-2, SEC title game, Cotton Bowl season.


With that class gone, perhaps we will find out that the Tigers aren't some smarter-than-everyone-else exception to college football's rules. Maybe they can't compete against teams reeling in the glitz and glamor in February by making five-star meals out of two-star leftovers mixed with some more highly regarded ingredients.


But maybe they can. After the last few seasons, who's going to be surprised if they do?

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