Six years ago when Missouri played in the Cotton Bowl, much of the pregame chatter centered around the massive impact the game could have on the Tigers’ recruiting efforts in Texas.
For good reason, too. Missouri’s roster is filled with impact players from the Lone Star State.
The Tigers’ starting quarterback, senior captain James Franklin, and all three of its top running backs — juniors Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy and sophomore Russell Hansbrough — are from Texas.
Two of that trio’s primary blockers this season, right tackle Mitch Morse and tight end Eric Waters, are also Texas natives along with Missouri’s fourth-leading wide receiver, Bud Sasser.
Six key contributors on defense also have Texas roots, including five of the team’s top 10 tacklers this season.
SEC defensive player of the year and unanimous All-American defensive end Michael Sam is from the Houston area, while senior linebacker Donovan Bonner, both starting safeties, senior Matt White and junior Braylon Webb, and two part-time starters in the secondary, sophomore Ian Simon and freshman John Gibson, also hail from Texas.
It’s been a key recruiting battle ground through the years for Missouri, but it’s no longer the single most important territory for the Tigers.
“We’ve done really well in Texas,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “As we make gains in Georgia and Tennessee and Florida, we won’t have as many as Texas, but I would like to think we have a real good reputation there and we’ll get our share of guys from there.”
The Dallas/Fort Worth area remains particularly vital for the Tigers.
“That’s, other than the state of Missouri as far as an alumni area, it’s the second-largest and Chicago’s after that,” Pinkel said.
Only two players from the current list of 2014 commitments are Texas players — Stepfawn Hughes, a projected wide receiver from Fort Worth, and Roderick Winters, a linebacker from Arlington.
Missouri’s class includes six players from Florida, three from Georgia and three from Tennessee, which reflects the program’s new emphasis on fertile recruiting areas in SEC country.
Still, especially with Texas A&M having joined the SEC two years ago with the Tigers, Texas remains an important piece to the recruiting puzzle. The buzz from the Cotton Bowl can’t hurt Missouri’s cause from that standpoint.
“We’re not allowed to do anything (recruiting-wise),” Pinkel said. “They’re allowed to come watch us practice. They’re allowed to do that, but we’re not allowed to talk to them or anything else. Just being there, and all the publicity and all the news, it’s obviously a real plus for us.”
Ironically, playing in the SEC Championship game hurt Missouri’s recruiting efforts.
The number of weeks football coaches are allowed to make in-home visits was reduced this season. The contact period opened Dec. 1 and now includes a dead period from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15, which means the Tigers missed a week on the recruiting trail because of its participation in the SEC title game. .
“The good news is you’re one of those few teams in the country that’s playing in one of those championship games,” Pinkel said. “The bad news is you lose one week of recruiting when there’s only two with the new calendar. I don’t know who came up with that, but there’s not a whole lot of common sense there.”
There is, however, plenty of common sense in Missouri not abandoning Texas as a recruiting hotbed.
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