- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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While Missouri and Kentucky continue to zoom in opposite directions on the playing field, both appear to be having relative success off the field.
In the realm of recruiting, where futures are made -- and crushed -- Missouri and Kentucky are succeeding at an exciting pace, and for very different reasons.
For Missouri, it's quite simple: The Tigers have bounced back from a dreary 5-7 SEC debut in 2012 to become one of the nation's hottest teams. Mizzou is 9-1 (5-1 in SEC play) and sits at No. 9 in the BCS standings. At one point, the Tigers were unbeaten and as high as fifth in the BCS.
The Tigers control their SEC Eastern Division destiny and have a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl game. Because of that, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who entered the year with a relatively warm seat below him, said he's seen a spike in interest in Mizzou on the recruiting trail.
"I don't think there's any question about that. Yeah, it's been very, very positive," said Pinkel, who is 99-62 in 13 seasons as Mizzou's head coach. "That's a benefit that happens with success.
"It's nice to have a lot of people interested in us."
Don't just take his word for it, either. At the beginning of the month, Mizzou had zero ESPN 300 commits, but in the past week has gained verbals from two -- offensive tackle Andy Bauer (St. Louis/De Smet Jesuit) and linebacker Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central). Those two commitments helped the Tigers leap into ESPN's class rankings at No. 32. Since the season started, Mizzou has received six verbals to up its number to 26.
Pinkel welcomes this recruiting momentum, but he isn't shocked by the interest. To him, Mizzou has always had the appeal, even with last season's roadblock.
"We had a great reputation for winning and a consistency of winning, graduation, APR ranking and all those other things," Pinkel said. "It's not like a brand new staff that's just showed up somewhere."
At Kentucky, there is a new staff in town. In Mark Stoops' first year as Kentucky's head coach, he's seen he share of recruiting success without the wins. With only a couple of months to work with, Stoops snagged ESPN 300 members Jason Hatcher and Ryan Timmons -- along with junior college standouts Za'Darius Smith and Javess Blue -- in his first class. Smith leads Kentucky with 5.5 sacks, while Blue and Timmons are one and two, respectively, in catches and receiving yards.
But despite a 2-7 (0-5 SEC) season and no bowl game for the third straight season, the Wildcats are 17th in ESPN's class rankings with 25 commitments, five of which are ESPN 300 members.
Kentucky has had only two commitments since the season began, but Stoops said he feels confident that a class as good as this -- which could help solve the playmaker issue with the No. 7 quarterback, two running backs and five receivers -- can stay together come signing day, even with the on-field losses piling up.
"These guys know," Stoops said. "Most of these recruits knew we were going to be in for a tough year this year. They know we're progressing and working toward the future."
Both programs are trending up in recruiting, but neither job is done. For Mizzou, it's all about maintaining popularity in states such as Georgia and Florida, while keeping Missouri and Texas talent in check. Pinkel and his staff made Atlanta and southern Georgia a major priority with their billboard/letter-sending strategy last year, and he expects to keep making inroads in such a fertile area.
"It's important, I think it is," Pinkel said of recruiting in the heart of the Southeast. "It's great high school football. Obviously, you want to have a place in the geographical areas in which you play your games. That's why that was very important to us."
For Stoops, he just wants to hammer home is message that better days are coming. So far, a rough first season hasn't dented Stoops' recruiting success and he doesn't think it will in the waning recruiting months.
"I think anybody who is a fan of our program or involved in our program -- in any shape or form -- or in the future of our program would like to see us win some more games, but nobody is deterred," he said. "Everybody knows where we're headed and we're moving toward good things."
6hSam Khan Jr.