Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Climbing the FBS ranks comes with its
share of challenges. For Missouri and Texas A&M, those challenges are
magnified as they head into the deep end of the college football pool and
join the SEC, whose teams have captured six straight national championships.
The Tigers finished their last season in the Big 12 at 8-5 and will compete in
the SEC East this year, but to expect a seamless transition is unreasonable.
Missouri comes in with a strong resume, ranking ninth among BCS programs in
wins since 2007 -- with 48 -- but a strong resume doesn't always translate,
especially in the SEC, where teams just seem bigger, stronger and faster.
Coach Gary Pinkel is no novice, starting his 12th season in Columbia. He knows
by making the jump to the SEC, his program will be under a different kind of
scrutiny each and every week.
"We're excited about obviously joining the league," he said. "There's been a
transition that's taken place, will take place probably for some time to come,
certainly different areas of it. We've been working hard since January in our
preparation for the football season. Our players have been working very hard
this summer. Excited about being a part of this great league, and understand,
too, when you go into a league like this, you're new, you have to prove
yourself, earn respect, and that's what we're going to work hard to do."
Pinkel's squad comes into the league with some real talent, including junior
quarterback James Franklin, who could be tailor-made for the SEC. One of the
nation's premier dual-threats, Franklin burst on the scene in 2011, showing his
skill at moving the football with both his arm and legs. The 6-foot-2, 225-
pounder completed just over 63 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards and 21
touchdowns, while rushing for just under 1,000 yards (981) and 15 more scores.
In a league in which defenders get up the field and disrupt things, having a
quarterback that can adapt on the fly could come in handy.
Pinkel's squad gets Southeast Louisiana in its opener Saturday, but will jump
into the SEC fray immediately after that with a Sept. 8 showdown against
Georgia at home - not exactly easing its way into SEC action.
The Tigers also get Vanderbilt, Alabama and Kentucky in Columbia in-conference,
while traveling to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Wins in
the SEC won't come easy and competing for an SEC East crown in 2012 probably
isn't a realistic goal.
Texas A&M's ceiling is even lower. After posting a 7-6 record in their swan
song in the Big 12, the Aggies will compete in the SEC West, a division that
has laid claim to each of the last three national titles.
A&M also will be breaking in a new coach to go along with its new conference,
as Kevin Sumlin takes over. Sumlin comes to College Station after a successful
four-year stint leading the Houston Cougars, who finished 2011 with 12 wins
and their highest BCS ranking ever.
An offensive-minded coach, Sumlin has enjoyed unparalleled success on that
side of the football, with Houston and at Oklahoma as an assistant before that.
First-year offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will be tasked with trying to
move the football, a job made that much harder by the fact that A&M will be
starting a freshman at quarterback in Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to
start an A&M opener since 1944.
The thought of playing in the SEC is something Sumlin looks forward to with
"What's my assessment? It's a pretty damn hard league. How is that? That's my
assessment (laughter)," he said. "You look at that, you see the talent level. I
think the combination, somebody we were just talking about, the main difference
that I see is the combination of size and speed. I've been a part of some
pretty fast football teams over the last few years. Our speed level at Texas
A&M is pretty good. I think the combination of size and speed, particularly in
the West, but in the SEC, is the difference-maker, and the depth in the front.
"You add up those three things - size, speed and depth - over the course of the
12 ball games, injuries and attrition matter. It's a damn difficult league
because of talent, but also because of coaching. You can argue all you want,
but there's some of the best coaches in the country in the SEC. Combine that
with big, fast guys, some of the best players in the country, it doesn't get
any better than that."
Stacking the chips against Texas A&M even more is the fact that Thursday's
season opener against Louisiana Tech has been rescheduled for Oct. 13 due to
Tropical Storm Isaac, which first hit the United States as a Category 1
Hurricane. That leaves the Aggies with no bye week and a 12-week
gauntlet that includes a murderous three-game road trip at Auburn, Mississippi
State and Alabama, spanning late October and early November.
The home slate this year in-conference is daunting as well, starting with the
now-season opener against Florida next weekend. Other SEC foes coming to
College Station include Arkansas, LSU and Missouri. The new schedule will put
Sumlin's statement regarding injuries and attrition to the test.
There is certainly a lot to be excited about in College Station with a new
head coach, a young roster and a new conference. Similarly, Columbia is a
place brimming with anticipation for what is to come.
Unfortunately, excitement needs to be tempered by a move to the upper echelon
of conferences, as both the Aggies and Tigers dive head first into the
shark-infested SEC waters in 2012.
The Sports Network