ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s agreement to move next year’s Nebraska game to a Thursday night will lead to much more exposure than just that ESPN time slot.
In exchange for playing the Big 12 opener on Oct. 8 — five days later than originally scheduled — coach Gary Pinkel said the two-time defending North champions will get two more games nationally televised by ESPN in the first five games.
Missouri expects its game at Nevada on Sept. 26 to be moved to a Friday night slot, and the opener against Illinois on Sept. 5 is also set to be televised.
The Thursday night slot is the first for the school to host since 1992, when portable lights had to be shipped in for the Tigers’ 6-0 loss to Colorado.
“That’s like Monday Night Football; it’s as good as it gets,” said Pinkel, in town Wednesday night for a recruiting function.
Next year’s schedule has an opening Sept. 19 to replace part of a two-game series against SMU that was canceled to make room for the Tigers’ annual neutral-site game against Kansas. The school is trying to find a team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
The search for players never ends. Only one week after 25 players committed on national signing day, headed by heralded blue chip defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of Gateway Tech in St. Louis, next February was already on Pinkel’s mind.
“The second signing day is over, you’re so excited about building for the next year,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun.”
Before speaking with boosters, Pinkel used part of the two-hour drive from Columbia to revisit the process and brainstorm ways of improving.
“We got back from the Alamo Bowl, and we evaluated everything from the time we started practicing,” Pinkel said. “We evaluated everything, and you always learn.”
One thing the Tigers have long known is there’s no resting easy on signing day until the signature is on the dotted line. Kids have been known to change their minds, so the wooing goes on until the finish line.
“Here’s the reality: It’s a reservation,” assistant coach Dave Steckel said.
Assistant coach Cornell Ford, who handles St. Louis, recalled Richardson informing him that Rivals.com had rated him the fourth-best recruiting prospect in the country.
“I thought, ‘Great,’” Ford said.
Richardson kept his commitment to Missouri after a visit to Miami on the final weekend created some anxiety.
“Literally, everybody in the country wanted this young man,” Ford said. “We are blessed and fortunate that we have a hometown stud staying right here.”
Some commitments, of course, are more solid than others. Steckel was convinced defensive end Marvin Foster of Fort Worth, Texas, would not be waffling after a visit in the North Crowley High School parking lot.
The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Foster also had been considering Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Stanford, TCU and Baylor.
“Seniors get their own parking spot, and their tradition is they paint their parking spots,” Steckel said at a recruiting function in St. Louis. “He says ‘Coach, I’ve got to show you something! So, he backs his car up and ... there’s the Tiger head.
“So I don’t think I have to worry about my man Marvin.”
Missouri leaned on natural resources to land two junior college stars. Former Tiger defensive back R.J. Jones coaches the secondary at City College of San Francisco and persuaded Jarrell Harrison and Joshua Tatum to give Missouri a look.
“He sold them on Missouri,” Tigers defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “He pounded Mizzou into their minds.”
Harrison was rated one of the top junior college defensive backs in the country and Tatum, who originally signed with Southern California, was rated the No. 12 JUCO player at any position by Rivals.com.
Pinkel was one recruiter short after offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was hired as head coach at Wyoming, before adding Josh Henson to the staff. The hire was announced Tuesday, but Henson, who had coached tight ends and coordinated recruiting at Louisiana State for the previous four years, said he “unofficially took the job a few weeks ago.”
Henson’s input contributed to the signing of wide receiver L’Damian Washington of Green Oaks High School in Shreveport, La.