The Missouri Tigers, in only their second year in the SEC, are sitting atop the East division. The Tigers are coming off a big 41-26 victory over Georgia and with a win over Florida on Saturday, would be in complete control of the division.
At first glance, it doesn't appear the on-field success has transitioned to recruiting success. After all, Missouri is the only SEC school not ranked in the top 40 of the team recruiting rankings. But that may be a little misleading.
Before moving to the SEC two years ago, the Tigers' primary recruiting focus was Big 12 country -- Texas, Oklahoma and, of course, Missouri. With the switch to the SEC, coach Gary Pinkel has shifted his attention to the Southeast, primarily Georgia and Florida.
The Tigers have commitments from nine prospects from either Georgia or Florida. In the previous five signing class combined, they signed six.
Missouri's associate athletic director for communications, Chad Moller, said recruiting the home state of Missouri will always be the primary focus for the Tigers but there has certainly been more of an emphasis in the South.
"With the move to the SEC, our coaches certainly are still continuing to recruit Texas and rely on those previously-established relationships to keep doors open, but they are also adding emphasis to the Southeast corridor and have put a lot more time and effort into Georgia, Florida and Tennessee initially," Moller said in an email. "The Texas success didn't come right away, it took time to build trust and also to start winning games on the field. Same with the new areas, it will take some time to build relationships/trust, but thankfully there's a track record of on-field success they can sell right now which didn't exist when they first came here."
Making an effort to recruit these talent-rich states is one thing, but actually landing commitments from prospects is completely different. Some prospects, such as wide receiver Nate Brown (Suwannee, Ga./North Gwinnett) and running back commit Trevon Walters (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee), come from heavily recruited areas and may get overlooked by some larger, more established SEC schools.
"I do think the football in Georgia and Florida -- there's nothing like it anywhere else except maybe in Texas," Brown said. "I mean, it's highly competitive and there are a lot of guys that can play in the metro-Atlanta area that may not get noticed as much because of how many guys there are."
In terms of on-field success, Brown also understands that building a consistent winner in the SEC isn't going to happen overnight.
"They have always been a good team," Brown said. "But the transition from the conference they were in to the SEC -- I mean, it's shocking how many people expect immediate results. I realize it's a process and building a team the way coach wants. I think they are really starting to click right now."
For Brown, specifically, Missouri's innovative and wide-open offense was a big reason he decided to leave home and head to Columbia, Mo.
"I was really impressed with the way they ran their offense," Brown said. "It was a combination of a lot things and then how I fit into their offense. We run the spread at my high school and they do a great job of spreading the ball around to different receivers. The fact they pass the ball more than they run is always a plus for receivers."
It appears that other prospects feel the same. Six of the nine commitments from either Florida or Georgia are at skill positions.
The team's lone four-star recruit at this point is WR Lawrence Lee (Pensacola, Fla./West Florida Tech.), a 5-foot-10 playmaker.
Whether it's because of the team's success on the field or its presence in the SEC, Missouri is making inroads with skill players in the Southeast. The Tigers might not be able to compete with the conference's recruiting juggernauts like Alabama, LSU and Florida, but they're just getting started. Back when Missouri was in the Big 12, it took time to gain a foothold in Texas. But in the program's past five recruiting classes, it averaged seven Texas recruits per year.
With continued success on the field, Pinkel and his staff will continue to open the eyes of recruits from all over SEC country.
And while in-state recruiting will always remain a top priority for the Tigers, competing for conference championships could translate into competing for blue-chip recruits in football hotbeds such as Georgia and Florida.