January 16, 2012

Southeast opens for Mizzou; will Texas close?

An open door is great. Of course, as the old saying goes, when one door opens, another often has closed.

That's the concern at Missouri.

Missouri's impending move to the Southeastern Conference figures to open doors for football recruiting in talent-rich Florida, Georgia and other states in the region.

But the Tigers' departure from the Big 12 raises the risk that doors may close in Texas, a bountiful recruiting area on which Mizzou has relied heavily in the past.

"We will always be in Dallas. We will always be in Houston," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in early December. "But we know that (move to the SEC) gives us an opportunity to get into other parts of the SEC, the north part of Florida, the Panhandle, Tampa through Atlanta into Jacksonville, and certainly Atlanta and South Georgia. There's a lot of players there. It's about evaluating well."

Missouri has done that well in recent years in Texas, plucking out stars such as quarterback Chase Daniel, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, receiver Danario Alexander and defensive end Jacquies Smith, who all went on to earn all-conference recognition.

In fact, the Tigers started nine players from Texas in this past season's Independence Bowl victory over North Carolina, including quarterback James Franklin and All-America tight end Michael Egnew.

But as a member of the Big 12, Missouri recruiters could venture into Texas and reassure prospects that by joining the Tigers they would play several games in their home state during their careers.

The school played two regular-season games in the state of Texas in the past two seasons - and then there were the numerous games they played on TV in the state.

With the move to SEC, Missouri will play in Texas only when it has a road conference game against Texas A&M. And that will be only once every other year, if the Tigers are named A&M's annual inter-divisional rival as expected.

Will a case of being out of sight mean they are out of the minds of top recruits? Brian Perroni, a recruiting analyst who covers the state for Rivals.com, thinks it will. Mainly because he's already seen it happen.

"It has only been a year since Nebraska moved to the Big Ten, but it is already apparent that the Huskers are not going to be able to rely on the state of Texas being their bread and butter anymore," Perroni said. "I think the same thing will happen with Missouri.

[ More Missouri: PowerMizzou.com ]

"Prospects will still look at the school because it is in the SEC, but they will not be on TV every weekend in Texas like they are now. Players from the state sort of view all Big 12 schools as akin to an in-state program. Though Mizzou will have a Lone Star State school in conference, I don't think it will be nearly the same as when close to half of its conference was from the state."

Missouri signed nine players from Texas in 2011 and 2010 and landed 11 in 2008. Thus far, this year's recruiting class includes seven players from Texas. Whether that's a coincidence or the beginning of a declining trend won't be known for several years.

Four-star running back Jonathan Williams of Allen, Texas and three-star defensive tackle Donald Hopkins of Lago Vista, Texas, both backed out of early commitments to Missouri, though there is no indication that the move to the SEC was a factor.

In fact, Williams is now committed to Arkansas.

Should the number of signees from Texas or the caliber of those signees decline, Pinkel feels Missouri can compensate with new opportunities in the SEC areas.

Pinkel reacted quickly to the move to the SEC by assigning a coach to recruit Atlanta and two others to recruit Florida. He's gone to those areas to meet high school coaches and start relationships. Commercials, mail-outs and billboards are planned to help Mizzou gain recruiting credibility in those areas.

"There will be a transition that takes place," Pinkel said. "We've done an analysis of every BCS player in every county in every state in the country. For example, if you go into Atlanta, how many guys leave Atlanta to play in the BCS? How many guys in Atlanta leave to play in the BCS outside their state?

"We've got all this data. We didn't just go in and say, 'Gosh, they've got some people there. Let's just put some (coaches) there.' "

Pinkel won't ignore Texas in recruiting. No big-time program does. The fight there just will be harder.

The SEC also invited Texas A&M into the league in a move designed to - among other things - open the door to Texas for the entire 14-school conference.

Of course, that's the deal with open doors: A lot of people can go through them.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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