COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A year ago, Missouri coaches huddled around a television on signing day, listening intently on whether they would be able to nab Dorial Green-Beckham, one of the best recruits in the country.
This year’s class was much more of a ho-hum affair.
Chase Abbington highlighted the Tigers’ 11 in-state recruits, part of a 20-member class the school announced Wednesday. A 6-foot-2, 205-pound tailback from O’Fallon, Mo., Abbington rushed for 939 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, adding 10 catches for 142 yards and another touchdown to lead Fort Zumwalt South High School in scoring.
Having so many Missouri signees has been a rarity for Pinkel, who is preparing to coach his 13th season for the Tigers. In five of its past seven classes, the school signed more players from Texas than from any other state.
Pinkel says he’s content with Missouri’s recruiting despite signing the smallest class in the Southeastern Conference and one that doesn’t feature any household names.
“We never look at any rankings. It’s never happened,” he said. “We do what we do. And I think over the years, it’s proved that it’s worked in a very, very positive way for us in recruiting to bring players in here that can help us win a championship.”
After finishing its inaugural season in the SEC with a disappointing 5-7 record, Missouri made a few staff changes, promoting Josh Henson to offensive coordinator and Andy Hill to quarterbacks coach.
Dave Yost, hired to coach inside receivers at Washington State, voluntarily left the Tigers and ended his 17-season relationship with Pinkel, who admitted that he had to get through the “void” left by Yost.
Twenty-seven returning players and three signees on Missouri’s roster still hail from Texas, but the team is shifting its recruiting focus to the Southeast after leaving the Big 12 last year.
Pinkel said he assigned one assistant coach to recruit Georgia and two to recruit Florida, but three coaches remain in Texas.
The school signed one player each from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida, and three from Texas.
Pinkel says the transition will be similar to when he started recruiting in the South when he arrived at Missouri in 2001.
“It wasn’t like that when we were here 10 years ago; nobody even knew us,” he said. “It’s constantly building relationships, it’s getting out there, it’s winning, it’s all those things. And I think that we’re going to do the same thing.”
One thing the school had to overcome was the end of its school-record seven consecutive bowl seasons. Hill acknowledged that not reaching a bowl game could have affected recruits’ confidence in Missouri, and that other schools could use the fact against the Tigers.
That didn’t stop the school from signing Chase Daniel after its last losing season in 2004; Missouri won 32 games from 2006-08 with the Heisman Trophy finalist starting at quarterback.
“The bottom line is, if you get the right guys and you bring the team back together and they compete together and all that, then you’re back talking about going to bowls,” Hill said.
Hill will benefit from having both incoming quarterbacks, Trent Hosick and Eddie Printz, enrolling a semester early as they adjust to the program before fall camp. Hosick attended high school in Kansas City, Mo., and Printz did so in Marietta, Ga.
“When you start football practice in August, when really it’s for real with the upcoming games on the line, then you’re trying to compete,” Hill said. “You’re not just trying to learn, just trying to get your feet underneath you.”
Henson says Missouri needs to move on from last season, but he hopes to apply the lessons learned to this year’s team. He took solace in the Tigers’ play on the road against Florida and Tennessee late in the season, saying that there was no “unknown” factor this year.
“I think there’s that factor of just experiencing and learning, and you get to that point to where it’s just football,” he said. “It’s a better brand of football, no doubt. But it’s just football. And I think confidence-wise, I felt good the way we ended the season.”
Aside from new competition, the Tigers struggled to keep finding replacements last season for their decimated offensive line.
The team’s projected starters on the line heading into fall camp made only 30 of a possible 60 starts during the season. All five missed time rehabbing from injury, while left guard Travis Ruth missed the entire season because of a torn left triceps tendon.
The Tigers signed three offensive linemen and six defensive linemen, but Pinkel joked that “we needed like 20 offensive linemen and 20 defensive linemen.”
Ultimately, wherever and whomever Missouri recruits, Pinkel noted that former players are the best salesmen the Tigers have.
“I think that ultimately what sells our program, whether it’s in Dallas or it’s in Kansas City or St. Louis, is your players that go back home to their high schools, and they graduate and they’ve had success and they win and they go to bowls. That’s the biggest selling that you’re going to get.”