“It’s like everything you do, you get as much information as you can and you adjust accordingly,” Pinkel said as his school neared its official entrance into the Southeastern Conference. “There’s really no choice. We better be ready. I don’t look at it as a disadvantage. If we’re not ready from the standpoint of preparation, that’s my fault.”
Now it’s finally time to figure out if the Tigers, and Texas A&M, are ready or not. Missouri began its life as a member of the Southeastern Conference on September 1st with a win over Southeastern Louisiana, but that was just a warm-up and not even a very intriguing one at that.
The New Era of the SEC really begins this week when Missouri welcomes Georgia, and Texas A&M welcomes Florida for the first intra-SEC games in their history.
The Aggies did some research of their own before joining college football’s juggernaut. Specifically, first-year Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin sought out old friend Bo Pelini of Nebraska to ask for advice about switching leagues. Pelini and the Cornhuskers left the Big 12 one year earlier than Missouri and Texas A&M and went to the Big Ten.
“I spent a lot of time talking to Bo about it with his transition to the Big Ten,” Sumlin said.
However, the new experiences won’t be limited to just the Tigers and the Aggies. Everyone in the league will have to adapt to new travel, new faces and new offenses and defenses to prepare for.
The Bulldogs have only played Missouri once (a 14-0 win in 1960) and have never traveled to Columbia, Mo. The 734-mile trip will be the longest regular commute on Georgia’s schedule. The Bulldogs’ trip to Arkansas, which they last made in 2009, is slightly longer, but the Razorbacks will come onto the schedule only once every six years under the league’s new scheduling format.
And Georgia doesn’t have it as bad as some. The addition of Missouri to the league means the first 1,000-mile commute in SEC history. Florida has 1,009 miles to travel get to Columbia, Mo.
The Tigers will be chomping at the bit to face Georgia. It was clear at SEC Media Days in July that Pinkel and his players were tired of the perception that they won’t be able to compete in the league that has captured the last six BCS national titles.
“I go down (to a vacation house in Florida) sometimes, people act like we’ve been playing a bunch of high school teams,” Pinkel said. “We’ve played in a pretty big league.”
The reverence shown the SEC has gone overboard, Tigers wide receiver T.J. Moe believes. Moe joked that he heard the league’s girls were prettier and its toilet paper was thicker.
“I don’t mean to take anything away from these SEC teams,” he said. “We know they are that good because they’ve won the last six national titles, but we’re not 5-year-olds running around without a helmet. We think we can compete.”
Moe tipped his hat to SEC defenses but also made a point about the strength of the offensive game in his former conference by pointing out that three of last year’s five most prolific offenses were in the Big 12. (Sumlin’s former team, Houston, was No. 1 in the country in offense.).
“We know the SEC defenses are better than the Big 12 defenses,” Moe said. “They have better athletes, sometimes better schemes. They have been better, but people forget how good the Big 12 offenses are. The three or four best offenses in the country last year were from the Big 12. Part of that is due to the fact that the SEC defenses are better. It’s also due to the fact that the Big 12 offenses are quite a bit better.”
That will be perhaps the most significant football question answered by the integration of Missouri and Texas A&M into the league – are offenses in the Big 12 better on their own merits or because the defenses are worse.
There are other questions, though, that will take longer to answer. For instance, the schedule. League leaders decided this spring to keep traditional inter-divisional rivalries in place, thus limiting the number of rotating Western Division teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule to one.
However, the door was left open to switch to a 6-2 schedule format or even add a ninth conference game in the future. There’s also the question of further expansion. Commissioner Mike Slive didn’t exactly shut the door on that this offseason either. Although Texas A&M athletics director Eric Hyman said another increase is not on the “short-term horizon,” but Slive left a crack in the door.
“We weren’t before and we aren’t now in an expansionist mode,” Slive said. “We are working hard to absorb these two teams.”
Those questions, though, on further down the road. The only thing most Georgia and Missouri fans are concerned about now is Sept. 8.
“Not going to make any predictions. Never have, never will,” Pinkel said. “You have to go out and compete and earn respect and win. Only way you're going to get respect is winning games, okay? That’ the way it's going to happen. I got no problem with that.”
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is eagerly anticipating Georgia’s game against Missouri and believes the Tigers and Aggies have the talent to compete for division titles in their first year, he said.
“I think they’re going to win a bunch of games (in the SEC),” Spurrier said. “Wouldn’t surprise me if they weren’t in the hunt to win a division or so. I think they may be right up there.”
Either way, life in the SEC will never be the same.