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REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
Is SEC already boosting Mizzou, Texas A&M?
National College Columnist
The answer seems obvious.
Texas A&M and Missouri have a reasonable shot at assembling their highest-ranked recruiting classes since the current version of Rivals.com formed in 2002, just as each school prepares for its inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference.
Membership in the conference that has produced the last six national champions is clearly the reason why each school is recruiting so well, right?
"Everybody wants to be in the SEC," said Southlake (Texas) Carroll dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill, a Texas A&M verbal commitment and the No. 178 overall prospect in the Class of 2013.
Well, that's certainly part of it. But it doesn't quite tell the whole story.
As much as Hill touted Texas A&M's membership in the SEC, he also credited the hiring of Kevin Sumlin as a major reason for his decision. Plenty of other Texas A&M recruits also have said the new coaching staff was every bit as much of a factor in their decision as the possibility of playing in the SEC.
While Texas A&M is benefiting from a coaching change, Missouri is capitalizing on momentum.
"The talent is deeper in the state of Missouri than I've ever seen," Rivals.com Midlands recruiting analyst Brian Perroni said. "They have a ton of in-state pledges. That's a big thing that's helping them. I'm sure the SEC angle is helping as well, but the in-state talent is the big reason for their high ranking right now."
As of Wednesday morning, Texas A&M was fourth in the Rivals.com 2013 team recruiting rankings with verbal commitments from 20 players, including nine four-star recruits. Missouri was 17th and had commitments from 13 players, including three four-star prospects.
Texas A&M's top finish ever in the Rivals recruiting rankings was eighth in 2005. Missouri has ranked in the top 25 just twice, including a best-ever 21st-place finish in 2010.
The recruiting upgrades are absolutely essential as each team gets ready for the SEC. Consider that two of the three teams ahead of Texas A&M in the 2013 recruiting rankings are SEC rivals Alabama (No. 2) and Florida (No. 3). Missouri's current No. 17 position places the Tigers ninth out of 14 SEC programs. Arkansas and Kentucky are the lone SEC schools outside the top 25.
"Right now things are going as well as they've [ever] gone for us in recruiting," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "The SEC has played a huge part in that. There are other factors, too, for us."
Pinkel cited Missouri's graduation rate and recent success on the field as other factors. Missouri generally ranked at or near the top of the Big 12 in football graduation rates, and the Tigers have won at least eight games each of the last six seasons.
Texas A&M, on the other hand, is coming off a 7-6 season that resulted in the firing of Mike Sherman. That hasn't stopped Sumlin's staff from winning over recruits, even ones who never expected to play for the Aggies.
"A year ago, I didn't see myself committing to Texas A&M," Dallas (Texas) Bishop Dunne offensive guard and Rivals250 prospect Ishmael Wilson said. "It surprised me as much as it did everyone else."
Wilson originally wanted to play away from his home state and had his eye on the SEC. Then he started thinking about how it would be tough for his mom to see him play if he lived so far away. Texas A&M's move to the SEC provided the best possible scenario, as Wilson would get the chance to face the nation's best competition while his mother would have an easier time watching his games.
But he still might not have picked Texas A&M if Sumlin hadn't taken over the program. Wilson appreciated Sumlin's straightforward approach and liked the idea of playing for him.
"If Coach Sumlin wasn't there, I doubt I would have committed," Wilson said. "And if they weren't in the SEC, I doubt I would have committed."
Other Texas A&M recruits also mentioned the importance of the new coaching staff.
Texas A&M hired Sumlin away from Houston, which went 13-1 and set FBS team records in total offense and passing yards last season. Hill said Sumlin's pass-oriented offenses appealed to recruits, and Texas A&M's class does indeed include two four-star quarterbacks (Hill and Kohl Stewart) and three receivers (Derrick Griffin, Laquvionte Gonzalez and Quincy Adeboyejo). Griffin, the nation's No. 2 wide receiver and No. 25 overall prospect, is the highest-rated recruit in Texas A&M's class.
Dallas (Texas) Jesuit offensive tackle J.J. Gustafson said he developed a quick rapport with Sumlin's staff and got the sense they wouldn't lie to him. He also pointed out that those coaches mentioned the benefits of joining the nation's toughest conference, but they didn't get carried away in discussing the SEC angle when making their pitch to recruits.
"They obviously have 'SEC' embroidered on everything and it's hanging up everywhere," Gustafson said, "but the coaching staff as a whole didn't really talk about it a whole lot."
A look at the Texas A&M and Missouri classes shows the two schools haven't necessarily expanded their geographic reach since joining the SEC. They're just doing a better job of protecting their base.
Texas A&M landed a commitment last week from Rivals250 cornerback Noel Ellis of New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr, who told AggieYell.com afterward that he'd always wanted to play in the SEC. But he's the only non-Texan in the Aggies' entire 2013 class.
Missouri doesn't have a single 2013 commitment from a traditional SEC state, but the move to the SEC has helped the Tigers fare better with in-state recruits.
The surge started on National Signing Day when the Class of 2012's No. 1 recruit -- Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- chose Missouri over Arkansas. In the Class of 2013, five of the state's top six committed prospects have chosen Missouri.
"The guys I've talked to who are going to Missouri, we all want the same thing," St. Peters (Mo.) Fort Zumwalt South athlete and Rivals250 recruit Chase Abbington said. "We want everybody to stay home, have a big career at Missouri and hopefully win the national championship, which we have a chance of doing with the guys we have coming in.''
To take the next step, Missouri probably will need to land some quality players from traditional SEC states.
But landing most of the nation's top in-state recruits is a pretty nice start.
"There's no question about it," Pinkel said. "Kids now in the state of Missouri, this part of the country and Big Ten country like Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, those kids have great respect for the SEC. Our location puts them in a position where they have a chance to play in the SEC and get a chance to compete. That's a real positive for us.
"There's no question in the state of Missouri and the surrounding areas, the SEC has been tremendously positive -- the stability, the winning, all that goes with the SEC and the respect that they have,'' Pinkel said. "We're just getting into the Southeast recruiting. We signed a couple of kids out of Florida [in 2012]. We're going to get into Atlanta, get into south Georgia and things like that. We will eventually put a footprint in there."
Maybe that will happen with Texas A&M as well.
For now, the Aggies are just doing fine, putting together a recruiting class comprised almost entirely of Texans. Although seven of the top eight committed prospects from the Lone Star State chose Texas instead of Texas A&M, there's plenty of talent in the state to go around.
And many of those other recruits are intrigued by the Aggies' coaching change and conference switch.
"Anytime there's a new staff, there's always excitement over the unknown," Perroni said. "New staff. New conference. There's a buzz."
Which of those new elements has proved more beneficial in luring recruits? That's up for debate.
"I think it's both," Gustafson said. "I know that everybody loves the coaches. Coach Sumlin really put together a great group of guys. Everybody loves the coaches. But also, all the commits committed because of the SEC. Everyone I know that I've talked to, they want to play the best, same as I do.
"I think the combination just sold it for me. I can't imagine a better place for me."
The 2013 team recruiting rankings suggest Texas A&M and Missouri are both benefiting from their move to the SEC. Here's a look at each team's current ranking and where both have finished in the team recruiting rankings each year since 2005.
IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Year Missouri Texas A&M
2005 39th 8th
2006 47th 26th
2007 33rd 43rd
2008 25th 16th
2009 40th 22nd
2010 21st 17th
2011 48th 27th
2012 31st 15th
2013 17th 4th
Texas A&M and Missouri need to assemble outstanding recruiting classes simply to keep pace in the SEC, which has 12 of the top 25 teams in the class of 2013 team recruiting rankings. Here's a look at each SEC team's national recruiting ranking for 2013 as of Wednesday morning.
Texas A&M 4
South Carolina 12
Ole Miss 19
Mississippi State 24
* - The Rivals.com team recruiting rankings only go through 50. Kentucky isn't one of the top 50 teams.