Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big 12 [Print without images]

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Blog debate: Can Mizzou handle the SEC?

By Edward Aschoff and David Ubben

Missouri
Can Gary Pinkel's squad continue their run of recent success when they move to the SEC?
We introduced Mizzou to the SEC earlier Tuesday, but now it's time to get dirty.

Big 12 blogger David Ubben and Edward Aschoff debate: What awaits Missouri in the SEC?

The decline of one of college football's rising programs? Or new heights in a foreign conference that's college football's toughest?

Let's hash this out.

Edward Aschoff: So, with the Tigers joining the SEC, some are wondering if the Tigers will make more of an impact in basketball, rather than football. After all, the Big 12 hasn't exactly had its way with the SEC lately. But Mizzou does bring back a slew of talent on both sides of the ball and could compete in the SEC East in its first season. David, why should we believe that Missouri will be anything more than just a one-hit wonder?

David Ubben: Gary Pinkel. You'll hear this stat parroted often, but the Tigers are one of just a handful -- six, I believe -- teams in college football to win at least eight games in six consecutive seasons. TCU and Boise State have done it, too, but doing so outside of a power conference is nowhere near as impressive.

The Tigers haven't necessarily won big. The program is still seeking its first BCS bowl appearance but they've won consistently on the back of solid recruiting and even better development. Even in the program's glory years under Dan Devine in the 1960s, it never saw this kind of consistent success.

Players know what is expected of them under Pinkel. He wants to retire at Missouri, a point he's reiterated several times. The fans love him after this six-season stretch that followed some rough years early on, and would love to have him there as long as he wants. He's got the program rolling, and deep enough where a nightmare year of 4-5 wins just isn't going to happen.

Of course, he's done much of this on the back of Texas recruits, a luxury afforded many of the teams in the former Big 12 North after the Southwest Conference merged with the Big 8.

We've already seen them shift some recruiting focus into your neck of the woods, Florida and Atlanta. What does this program have to do to make some recruiting inroads there and continue this success?

James Franklin
How will James Franklin fare against more athletic and tougher defenses?
EA: Well, getting into the Florida and Atlanta areas is a good start, but Missouri can't forget about the entire Southeast. There are some other states that can be Missouri's friends as well. One thing going for Missouri is that St. Louis and Kansas City are pretty close. Both are about two hours away from Columbia and kids just love the those big cities! But the bright lights and the big malls can only take Missouri so far. Missouri has to prove that it can really compete on the SEC's level for an entire season and beyond. Winning just comes naturally in this conference, so Missouri will have to prove that it can keep up for years to come. One thing that will really get the athletes' attentions in the Southeast will be starting things off on the right foot. Playing in the SEC East and returning a good amount of starters should help with that. But make no mistake about it, there will be tons of negative recruiting thrown Missouri's way because of the Big 12 past and the fact that those starters will soon be gone after their SEC introduction.

Missouri's coaches are going to have to get very aggressive when it comes to recruiting over here. It's a rough game in the South. There are no unwritten rules about being respectful of committed prospects. SEC coaches play for keeps down here.

Also, Missouri's coaches are going to have to compete with the distance factor. Columbia is almost 700 miles away. There certainly are players who travel away from the Deep South, but most of them stay home. Can Missouri build enough of that family atmosphere to get these players to venture over to its neck of the woods?

We've hit Missouri's returners, but in order to win in the SEC you have to play well up front. Everyone says this a line-of-scrimmage league and from what I've read it sounds like Missouri's defensive line could have/should have played better in 2011. How do the Tigers make sure they're strong and tough enough up front to compete in this league?

DU: Good points on Mizzou's recruiting trying to spread its wings. The problem? They'll try to maintain those ties in Texas and it'll have to make sure they don't get spread too thin.

These are all issues Mizzou's coaching staff will have to figure out. I'm glad I don't have to.

You're right about the defensive line. They were good in 2011, but not as good as people thought. They'll have to be better. Landing a couple of those big defensive tackles down south would serve the Tigers well. For now, they've got great size coming back in a St. Louis kid, Sheldon Richardson. He's a 6-foot-4, 290-pounder with great athleticism who went to junior college before coming back to Mizzou. Monte Kiffin almost got his hands on him out at USC, but the Tigers have him and need him to have a huge season as a senior in Year 1 in the SEC.

The defensive line lost three starters, but they were deep in 2011 and have good pieces to fill the losses of Terrell Resonno and Dominique Hamilton at tackle and Jacquies Smith at defensive end. The time is now for promising ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy.

Richardson's the biggest piece at tackle. Brad Madison was a Big 12 preseason Defensive Player of the Year candidate at defensive end, but had a disappointing season after playing through a shoulder injury that really limited his effectiveness and flexibility on the line. He'll be hungry as a senior in 2012. Memo to SEC offensive lines: look out for the spin move.

Gary Pinkel
Gary Pinkel's success in coming seasons will hinge on how well Missouri can recruit in the South.
Players like Richardson come down to recruiting, though. The kinds of players Mizzou needs on the defensive lines are much more plentiful in their new recruiting soil. Getting their feet on the ground in junior colleges will be huge.

What about the offense, though? You've seen these SEC defenses up close all season. I'd argue that outside of Alabama, LSU and Georgia, the SEC's defenses were way overrated based on reputation this season.

Will the Tigers' spread offense work in the SEC East? What, if anything, has to change?

EA: Well, you certainly won't make friends down here with that sort of talk. South Carolina fans will surely let you know just how they feel about being left out of the defensive discussion. After all, South Carolina ranked third nationally in total defense and the SEC had six defenses ranked in the top 25, including five in the top eight. But I digress. We've seen the spread work before in the SEC. Florida's 2007 and 2008 offenses were two of the best in the country. The 2009 team put up a good bit of yards too. We've seen elements of the spread in other offenses as well around the SEC and Arkansas does a great job of spreading defenders out with its passing game. Mississippi State also utilized a pretty successful spread offense in 2010.

In order for it to work, the offensive line has to be beefy and athletic. I know, it's an interesting concept, but you won't survive in this league without some real athletes up front. You've said in the past that Missouri's offensive line was a better than average, well that won't cut it in this league.

You also need some elite speed at the wide receiver position and a sound running game. Getting Dorial Green-Beckham out there could be a major get for this offense because of his size and speed. As for running, mobile running backs and commanding the read option are key. Missouri will have to find ways to combat the tremendous speed off the edge from SEC pass rushers every week. That's James Franklin's running ability comes in. Working the option is huge in the spread.

Well, let's wrap this thing up. I think Missouri will be fun to watch next season, but I'm not sure how well the Tigers will do afterward. You've been around Missouri a lot longer, where do you see Missouri stacking up in the next few years in the SEC?

DU: Good point on those SEC defenses being awesome. I know guys like Morgan Newton, Justin Worley and Clint Moseley give defensive coordinators nightmares. Somebody get the Gamecocks a medal for not letting Arkansas score 50 and getting lucky enough to dodge LSU and Alabama on the schedule.

But I'm getting off target here, much like SEC quarterbacks' passes.

As for the Tigers, it's going to be tough when the current players begin to leave. I don't think they'll have as much success recruiting in Texas, but I've got no idea if they'll be able to get a foothold near the SEC East and, like you said, convince some of these kids to come to Missouri.

Neither outcome would surprise me, but I think as the transition happens and the current talent begins to drain out of the program, the Tigers will hit some lean years. Whether they bounce back depends on what everything in college football depends on: recruiting.

Can Mizzou do it? Only time will tell.