It’s exciting to see Missouri show up with some of the big boys in college football recruiting for 2022. When you’re looking for reasons to believe in coach Eli Drinkwitz and the future of the MU program, the recruiting inspires hope and raises the collective confidence level. It isn’t everything … but it means a lot.

The rankings will be updated and finalized after recruits officially sign on. But as I type this late Wednesday morning, the Tigers were looking good.

Note: The rankings cited here were in place at noon a.m. Wednesday. Missouri could drop a bit in the recruiting “standings” as the day goes on. But that won’t change the primary takeaway: Mizzou’s recruiting success is trending in the right direction, has an encouraging trajectory and is the best it’s ever been.

– At ESPN, Missouri was ranked 10th nationally, with only Georgia (1), Alabama (2) and Texas A&M (3) ahead of the Tigers on the SEC listings.

– In the composite team rankings, Missouri is positioned nicely at No. 13 nationally and sixth in the SEC behind Georgia, Texas A&M, Alabama, Kentucky and Auburn. A No. 6 ranking in the 14-team SEC would be a pretty big deal for Mizzou. Consider this: between 2012 and 2020 MU’s best conference ranking was at No. 11 in 2012. MU was ranked 13th seven times, and 12th in 2015. The outlook didn’t improve until Drinkwitz moved Missouri up to 11th in the SEC in the 2021 recruiting class. Given that bleak history, the rise to fifth in the SEC is a significant leap.

– is less enthusiastic, slotting Missouri at No. 19 overall, and 9th in the SEC. But at No. 19, Mizzou would still have its finest Rivals recruiting grade in program history.

The larger point is this: until Drink took charge of this wobbling program, Mizzou hadn’t come remotely close to producing the quality, eye-opening, back-to-back recruiting classes that we’ve seen over the last two years. Not even when Gary Pinkel was leading the Tigers to consecutive SEC East titles in 2013 and ’14.

The Tigers are trying to establish traction on the field. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 SEC games, have done poorly against opponents ranked in the AP Top 26, and have been pushed around by FBS teams that have a winning record. Mizzou’s average home-game attendance plummeted in 2021. And while there were reasons to explain that – starting with the lingering anxiety over the Covid 19 pandemic – the smaller crowds were a bad look.

And all of this is why recruiting is so critical in the effort to make Mizzou a more prominent presence in the SEC and a more serious factor on the national stage. The ambitious upgrades of campus football facilities is another plus, but talent wins games.

The bonus part of recruiting is creating a positive buzz that can make a difference in how a program is perceived. I’d imagine that recruits – those that aren’t set on signing with an established powerhouse or staying close to home – will feel good about joining a reenergized program that appears to be going up, up and up. That draws attention in the most favorable way.

Drinkwitz has made Mizzou matter again to local recruits, including five-star wide receiver Luther Burden and coveted defensive lineman Marquis Gracial. The most elite players in the area have been heading out of the state in droves. The stay-at-home pitch is Drink’s most important victory so far. But it’s a win to landing any good player – and plenty of them – to lift Missouri’s program.

“The Tigers have won several key battles inside state lines, with commitments from five of the state’s top 15 prospects,” ESPN notes. “Including the top-rated player in Gracial, a big man who has the tools to be an SEC-quality-impact-type player in the defensive trenches. ESPN 300 ATH Ja’Marion Wayne and four-star safety Isaac Thompson were also big in-state pickups. A monstrous win close to home was landing No. 1 WR Burden out of East Saint Louis High School. He is a smooth, explosive target with quick hands who can be an instant-impact performer. The staff did an excellent job of establishing a strong relationship early on with Sam Horn, an accurate passer from Georgia; the ball can jump off his hands.”

Mining the talent on area recruiting grounds is where it all starts. It’s virtually impossible to narrow the gap on SEC opponents until you begin to close the gap in talent.

“At the end of the day, if you’re not beating the teams on the road recruiting that you have to beat on the field, then you’re probably not going to win many championships,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

Last month the Athletic took an in-depth look at Drink’s in-state recruiting approach. His efforts drew heaps of praise from an assortment of high-school coaches in Missouri. Writer David Ubben gave the coaches anonymity so they could speak freely.

Coach One: “I had my first interaction with coach Drinkwitz recently when they visited. They’ve shown they’re invested in recruiting St. Louis. They’ve made a strong push for that. But from what I know from my colleagues, he’s been very open, very engaging, and their staff has been very public about wanting to recruit not just Missouri but St. Louis, in particular, and mend some of the wounds from the previous staff at Mizzou.”

Coach Two: “They do an awesome job. He does a great job. The recruiting guy who covers St. Louis does a great job. I’ve been here with three different Missouri staffs, and they’re by far, head and shoulders above as the best at recruiting this area.”

Coach Three: “I’d say they’ve done an awesome job. From the beginning, he’s made schools in Missouri a priority, even coming in during the pandemic. He made sure every coach got a phone call, and there’s been one point of contact, and they made a point to physically go to every school in the state as well. You’re starting to see some of those relationships and points of emphasis translate, guys committing to the flagship school.”

As recently as 2020, Mizzou was 50th nationally in the 247 composite rankings. After replacing Barry Odom, Drinkwitz did his part to lift the Tigers to 27th in the 247 composite Class of 2021 rankings. And now, before his third season, MU is climbing again.

Just the vision of four-star quarterback Sam Horn going deep to five-star Luther Burden for big-play thrills and chills should motivate fans to buy season tickets.

This is a shot of momentum. But of course, the enhanced talent won’t pay off unless Drinkwitz and staff can coach up the players and make them better. And Mizzou must get going on the transfer portal to strengthen weak roster spots. I don’t know much about Mizzou’s NIL program, but the endorsement game looms large in the recruiting sales talk.

Drinkwitz can definitely recruit, can definitely expand Mizzou’s talent base. His results in talent procurement is valuable in the challenge of changing the view of Mizzou, and setting a new narrative in place. This is the most difficult aspect of the job – at least until the new season begins. Then it’s all about winning. And because of his recruiting conquests, Coach Drink will bring more talent to the SEC competition in 2022.

Thanks for reading …


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