Gary Pinkel and his colleague at Missouri football really aren’t getting the kind of praise that they should for the program’s routine overachievement. I’m not pointing fingers here; I’m as guilty of overlooking their accomplishments as anyone.
I came to this realization when a Twitter follower responded to the Friday Q&A, in which I crowned Gus Malzahn’s Auburn staff the best in the SEC, thanks to this offseason’s addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator.
— TigersCards(@MarkCManning) May 5, 2015
Surely the case for Auburn is there, but one can make a pretty damn strong argument for Gary Pinkel and his crew. Missouri did score 42 and 36 points on Muschamp’s Florida teams each of the last two seasons, after all.
Those Tiger defeats of Florida contributed to each of Missouri’s SEC East championships, which are much bigger points in favor of Gary Pinkel than simply averaging 39 points per game on Muschamp’s talented Gators defenses.
Missouri has made the transition from Big 12 to SEC seamlessly, and done so with a strategy that counters what logic would dictate is necessary to compete in the conference.
The SEC is all about recruiting. With Alabama routinely pulling in the nation’s No. 1 or No. 2-ranked classes, the rest of the league is forced to play catch-up if it hopes to compete. And indeed, the rising Tide elevates all ships, evident in the SEC boasting eight of the top 19 ranked recruiting classes for 2016 by 247Sports.
That’s sure to improve as we inch closer to national signing day.
Missouri is not among those eight teams; nor was it one of the 10 SEC teams to finish in the top 20 last national signing day. Gary Pinkel thrives with a class of unheralded gems, occasionally surrounding a single, cornerstone star. This year’s class was 5-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner, the figurehead signee of a class comprised almost exclusively of 3-star prospects.
Gary Pinkel and his staff have a knack for getting the most out of those 3-stars, and not just within the confines of his system. First-round selection Shane Ray, one of the Tigers’ six NFL draftees this season and 12 in the last three years, was one of those 3-star recruits.
Ray is also the second straight Missouri Tiger to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year, joining Michael Sam. In that regard, Dave Steckel has a resume that trumps that of Will Muschamp.
For every bit of credit Steckel and the rest of the Missouri coaching staff has earned, the Tigers coaches won’t get their due until their first season without “yeah, buts.” Perhaps that’ll never happen, but factors outside of Missouri’s control have taken some of the punch out of the Tigers’ SEC East.
Aaron Murray and a bevy of receivers were hurt in 2013. Todd Gurley was suspended in 2014. The Tigers let a home game slip to South Carolina in 2013, which would have sent Missouri into the SEC Championship Game undefeated.
Missouri has also lost each of its two SEC title game appearances by a combined 46 points, establishing a trend that dates back to the Tigers’ last Big 12 Championship Game appearance: a 38-17 shellacking against Oklahoma, when Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
To that end, Missouri’s overachievement under Gary Pinkel may have a clearly defined ceiling. The Tigers might need a few more Terry Buckners sprinkled into the recruiting mix to give Missouri that extra push over the top into the upper tier of college football.
When that happens, dunderheads like myself might give Gary Pinkel his due.