COLUMBIA — Football is a copycat business.
The read-option offense swept its way through the NFL after San Francisco, Washington and Seattle used it to varying degrees of success. In recent seasons more and more college teams, including Missouri, have switched to up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. And teams around the nation are starting to catch on to Missouri’s ability to bring in under-the-radar prospects on the recruiting trail and develop them into productive college football players.
"We think that, in our player development program, we do it as good as anybody in the country and better than most,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said last month. “We really sell that now. If you come in here, we will make you the best you can be. You've got to work hard, have a great attitude. But we will make you the best that you can be."
All-American defensive end Michael Sam is the most recent example of a low-star recruit becoming a star at Missouri, but Sean Weatherspoon was listed as a two-star recruit, Jeremy Maclin and Aldon Smith were both three-star recruits. All three went on to become first-round NFL Draft picks.
Back in August, Missouri’s recruiting class looked like any other in recent years. It was littered with three-star players with four-star offensive tackle Andy Bauer as the gem of the group.
Now, those three-star players are starting to pick up more attention from other schools, and the Tigers have had some competition in recent weeks leading to some drama on National Signing Day on Wednesday.
Two years ago, Missouri fans were glued to the television waiting to see which hat Dorial Green-Beckham, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, would put on his head. Signing day won’t bring that type of excitement this year. The major networks will spend the day talking about how dominant Alabama was once again and will focus on the five-star players signing throughout the country.
For Missouri, it’s more about what happens after Wednesday.
There’s a system in place. Pinkel and his staff look for certain types of players and identify them early. It’s not about a star rating or how highly regarded their class is by ESPN. It’s about finding players that fit what Missouri does and trusting the coaching staff to get the most out of them.
What does this class have?
As recently as a month ago, it looked as if Missouri could be trouble at defensive end. Sam is graduating, and Kony Ealy decided to leave for the NFL Draft a year early. Then, Missouri lost its top defensive end recruit, Jhonny Williams, to Notre Dame.
Markus Golden and Shane Ray are more than capable of stepping in and producing in 2014, but depth is an issue. That's why Missouri made a late push on the recruiting trail to add some defensive end talent to the board, and the Tigers are still in the running for a handful of interesting prospects.
Walter Brady, a two-star defensive end from Florence, Ala., is 6-foot-4-inches and 242 pounds, fitting the mold of some of the best Missouri defensive ends to come through the program in recent years. The Tigers are also still in the running for Rocel McWilliams and Spencer Williams, both from Florida, and Jaylon Ferguson from Louisiana. All three are three-star players, according to 247 Sports.
Speaking of Florida, Missouri could end the day Wednesday with as many as eight players from the Sunshine State in the 2014 recruiting class. Missouri's recent success in the Southeastern Conference could be opening a new pipeline for recruiting.
Missouri recently spent a week in Texas capped off by a win in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. More than 30 players on Missouri's roster got to wrap up a successful 2013 season with a win in their home state. Texas has long been one of Missouri's best pipelines under Pinkel. Back when the Tigers were playing in the Big 12, recruits were drawn to the idea of being able to play in their home state even if they went north to play for Missouri.
The SEC has changed things a bit. Missouri is only expected to have three players from Texas in this recruiting class, according to 247 Sports. While the pipeline hasn't completely dried up, Missouri was used to having twice the number of prospects from Texas when the team played in the Big 12.
Missouri also won't be bringing in a quarterback in 2014. Marvin Zanders, a three-star recruit from Florida, played quarterback in high school but is listed as an athlete and could get looks at other positions on offense because of his size and speed. The Tigers already have an experienced sophomore quarterback in Maty Mauk. His two primary backups, Eddie Printz and Trent Hosick, will both be redshirt freshmen in 2014. The program seems high on both.
Where's the drama?
While five Missouri recruits have already officially signed letters of intent and up to 20 others could be considered locks to do so Wednesday, there's plenty of reason to pay attention to the action on National Signing Day.
For starters, three-star safety Tavon Ross has gotten late interest from Georgia and Alabama among other schools since committing to Missouri back in August, according to 247 Sports. He, along with defensive end Rocel McWilliams, could flip their initial commitments to Missouri on Wednesday.
The Tigers have made some late pushes of their own, though. Three-star defensive tackles Poona Ford and Daniel Cage are giving late consideration to Missouri, according to 247 Sports.
Don't count on Missouri getting all of the national headlines Wednesday, but landing a few of these prospects who are on the bubble could turn an already solid recruiting class into one of the better ones in years and help Missouri hit the ground running with the 2015 recruiting class.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.