Mizzou, A&M ready for their close-up
Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson's outburst last week about Georgia playing "old man football" probably wasn't the smartest thing he's ever done.[+] EnlargePatrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M fans started flying the SEC flag last season. They'll get their first taste of their new conference when the Aggies host Florida Saturday.
But can you really blame the guy?
After all, from the time Missouri and Texas A&M were even mentioned as strong possibilities to become the newest members of the SEC, we've been hearing about how daunting this transition would be for the two Big 12 defectors.
It's as if they were going to be fishing for perch one day and great white sharks the next.
Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies' first-year coach, summed it up best.
"All I've heard since I've been here is that we're going to get our brains beat out," Sumlin said.
And maybe they will.
But at least Saturday, we get to see for ourselves. More importantly, the Aggies and Tigers get to see for themselves when No. 24 Florida visits College Station and No. 7 Georgia visits Columbia in what will truly be a historic day for the league.
All I've heard since I've been here is that we're going to get our brains beat out.
--Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin
How ready are the newbies for the grind of the SEC?
One game isn't going to answer that question. For that matter, one season won't.
But as we embark on this new era in the SEC, it's always intriguing to see what new blood can accomplish in a league that collects national championship trophies in football the way many Americans have collected debt.
"It's finally here, and we're all excited. It's our first SEC game. It's a part of history," Missouri quarterback James Franklin said. "But in the end, it's just a football game. We're not focused on what other people are saying.
"We're focused on playing our best and have prepared just like we always have. I still have to read defenses and execute the offense. The offensive line has to block, and the receivers have to get open and catch the ball, and those are things you have to do no matter who's on the other side of the ball."
The Aggies haven't had to show their hand this season. Their opener against Louisiana Tech was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac.
And not that betting lines are the end-all, but Texas A&M is a slight favorite against Florida, while Georgia is favored by just a couple of points over Missouri.
The Eastern Division race, in particular, could get crazy in a hurry if Missouri and Texas A&M both protect their home turf Saturday.
"It will be good for us to get on the field and see where we stack up, just from an athletic standpoint," said Sumlin, who will utilize the same fast-break offense that short-circuited scoreboards while he was at Houston.
This first game will be a good gauge, because this is a Florida defense that returns just about everybody from a unit that finished eighth nationally in total defense last season. The Gators have size, speed and explosive playmakers.
"Florida has elite speed, like all SEC teams," Sumlin said.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has no problem with the Tigers going out and proving over time that the SEC made the right choice in inviting them.
"What I tell my football team is that you have to go earn respect, and I have no problem doing that," Pinkel said. "That's the way I was brought up and the way it should be. You're not going to have it handed to you.[+] EnlargeScott Kane/Icon SMIJames Franklin will get to see for himself how Missouri stacks up against SEC defenses when the Tigers host Georgia Saturday.
"We're going to be evaluated every Saturday afternoon."
He's right about that. The Tigers and Aggies will be dissected, and the first place everybody will look is how they stack up at the line of scrimmage. That's been the common denominator in the SEC in terms of winning national championships. The elite teams have big guys up front on defense who can run, and they have lots of them.
The reality is that Missouri and Texas A&M need a couple more years to recruit to that level and continue bringing in the kinds of athletes up front on defense that have separated this league from others.
But those results won't be in for a few years. What we can do now is look back at the previous two teams to join the league.
Arkansas and South Carolina came aboard in 1992. The Gamecocks lost 28-6 to Georgia in their first SEC game. The Razorbacks beat South Carolina 45-7 in their first SEC game after being shocked by The Citadel in the opener, a loss that cost Arkansas coach Jack Crowe his job.
South Carolina finished 3-5 in the SEC that first season, and Arkansas was 3-4-1. Arkansas made its first SEC championship game appearance in its fourth year in the league (1995). It took South Carolina 19 years. The Gamecocks made their first title-game trip to Atlanta in 2010.
More than two decades have passed since that 1992 expansion, and both teams are still feverishly chasing their first SEC title.
Missouri and Texas A&M join the chase Saturday, and they have no plans of starting at the back of the pack.
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