Players to compete on both sides
Missouri and Texas A&M will be officially welcomed to the SEC this weekend.
Then again, maybe they will be the ones doing the welcoming.
Both teams bristle at the notion that they will somehow be easy pickings for the rest of the SEC in their first seasons in the league.
But which of the two is most equipped to make the biggest impact this first season?
The pick here is Kevin Sumlin and his Texas A&M Aggies.
With this being Sumlin's first season in College Station, just about everything is new, and that should work to the Aggies' advantage.
Their fast-break offense has a chance to put some SEC defenses on their heels, and yet, they also have a big, powerful running back in Christine Michael who can wear on defenses if the Aggies choose to go that route.
The best thing Texas A&M has going for it offensively is a veteran line, including a couple of junior tackles -- Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- who have an excellent chance to be high picks in the NFL draft. And right in the middle of that line is senior center Patrick Lewis, who might be one of the most valuable players on the team.
It's no secret that you better be really good up front on offense in this league if you're going to have a chance. The defensive lines in the SEC are the closest thing you're going to see to NFL defensive lines. They're big, fast and explosive, and the Aggies have what it takes on their offensive front to stand in there and win their share of battles.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel will be making his first start Saturday against Florida, but he's the kind of quarterback who can improvise and extend the play when there's not a lot there. That's a huge luxury when you're going against SEC defenses.
And speaking of defense, you better have finishers in this league.
There's a reason Sean Porter had 9.5 sacks and Damontre Moore 8.5 sacks last season. They both are relentless pass-rushers. Porter will be playing outside linebacker in the Aggies' new 4-3 scheme, while Moore is shifting from a hybrid role to defensive end.
The Aggies also have a difference-maker on special teams. Dustin Harris led the nation in punt returns last season with an 18.6-yard average. When you can change the complexion of games with a long return or shorten the field for your offense, that's priceless in this league.
There's no way to overemphasize the importance of this Florida game. A win would pave the way for what could be a sizzling start to the season for the Aggies. They get SMU and South Carolina State the next two weeks and then Arkansas at home.
Finishing games a lot better than last season will obviously be a must, but don't sleep on the Aggies in their debut season in the SEC.
They're ready to win now.
Talent is everywhere
Missouri picked the right time to kick off the program's new life in the SEC.
As this new group of Tigers enters its first season in the SEC, it does so with a team loaded with leadership, speed and athleticism. Wide receiver T.J. Moe talked quite a bit about how SEC teams will have to game plan for Missouri's spread offense and he might not be far off.
Everything starts with quarterback James Franklin, who is arguably the SEC's top dual-threat quarterback, then trickles down to his talented, explosive receivers and a quality group of tailbacks. Franklin enjoyed a breakout year in the Big 12 in 2011, where he passed for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 981 yards and 15 more scores.
Now, it'll be much harder for him to duplicate those numbers in the country's toughest defensive conference, but he's sure to give defenders fits this fall.
Making his life easier is the host of receiving talent he has. Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington could both be legit deep threats, while Moe is a scrappy, yet smooth player over the middle of the field. Then there's true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham, who has all the skill to be a real star in this league. He's playing inside and out, and he's creating matchup issues wherever he lines up.
If this offensive line, which has been banged up, can stay healthy, this offense could really go this season. One thing that does appear to work against the Tigers is that they aren't that big up front.
Their offensive linemen average less than 300 pounds, and in this league that could be a recipe for disaster. But Gary Pinkel and his players agree that size isn't a concern. We'll see come mid-October.
The defensive line is the same way, but there is some good athleticism there as well. (Keep an eye on Kony Ealy and Sheldon Richardson.) With solid linebackers and a good secondary led by ball-hawking corner E.J. Gaines, the Tigers won't get pushed over on defense.
It also helps that Mizzou is in the SEC East. Sure, the Tigers have to go on the road to play South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, but only have to play one of the Big Three (Alabama). As we saw last weekend, the East has some work to do this fall.
The race in the East appears to be wide open and Mizzou can't be counted out. It's just too talented.