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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

Missouri’s Ready; Is the SEC East Ready?

It’s funny, but not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way. At least not for Missouri, which will close its debut season as a member of the SEC in undesirable fashion: at Florida, at Tennessee and at Texas A&M, a trio of tough road dates this November that should sandwich a home game against the softest patsy the program can find to fill out its non-conference schedule. In fact, Missouri should aim to fill out a trio of open non-conference dates – Arizona State is already locked in – with the easiest road possible, befitting its new place in a league known far and wide for cruising through non-conference play in the easiest way possible.

With a few exceptions. Florida takes on Florida State every year, and Miami (Fla.) every blue moon. L.S.U. has kicked off the last two years with North Carolina and Oregon, respectively, and added West Virginia to its non-conference slate this September. Alabama has done a home-and-home with Penn State over the last two years.

But if any program needs a 4-0 mark outside of SEC play it’s Missouri, which could use a smooth start to life in its new conference environs. Texas A&M? The Aggies are a cocksure bunch; the Aggies roll with confidence, which may or may not be well-deserved – though I’m siding towards the latter.

It’s with a slight degree of trepidation that Missouri takes this leap. On one hand, there’s that old adage: don’t bite off more than you can chew. The program’s taking a huge bite by enlisting in the do-or-die SEC, where historically stronger programs – take Tennessee, for instance – have tiptoed mediocrity, if not worse, over the last half-decade.

But these opportunities comes along rarely, if at all. So you take them, grab on with both hands and don’t let go, because an unsure future in the SEC is light years better than the status quo: under-recognized and overlooked in the Texas-run Big 12. Anything is better than that.

And who’s to say that Missouri should be scared? You can make a valid case that it’s the SEC that should be worried, not vice versa; outside of Alabama and L.S.U., no SEC program can say with a straight face that it’ll own the Tigers over the next decade. L.S.U. and Alabama can probably say that about everyone, except each other.

Take note of the most important aspect of Missouri’s move: the Tigers are joining the SEC East, not the West, and there’s no overstating the difference between the two divisions. One’s a minefield – that would be the West, by the way – while the other’s a wild card, with the division crown fluctuating between three teams in three years.

To put it another way, the SEC East is the Big East compared to the Big 12. A schedule featuring this year’s Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas matches, if not bests, any schedule Missouri will face in the SEC, especially with five of its SEC games against teams from the East. Win eight games in the Big 12 and you can win eight games in the SEC East.

This is a roundabout way of getting to the main point, which is the following: cries over Missouri’s impending demise are sincerely unfounded. This isn’t your father’s Missouri, a fact that seems nearly universally overlooked on a national level. This isn’t even your older brother’s Missouri, when the Tigers scuffled through the Big 12 like Sisyphus, winning eight games every odd year before rocketing back down to Earth.

This is Missouri, 2012, and Missouri, 2012, is unlike any Missouri in program history. Winners of 56 games over the last six years. Winners of eight games this fall with an unknown defense, crippling injuries along the offensive line and a rookie starter under center.

This is Missouri as built by Gary Pinkel, and the Tigers aren’t going anywhere – SEC or otherwise. Only those still living in the past – those who haven’t followed the program’s development over the last six years – think Missouri’s going to get chewed up and spit out by the nation’s premier conference. Those who’ve seen the program climb through the Big 12 know that Missouri’s ready for the challenge.

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Comments

  1. KDRLAX says:

    Nice read, Paul!!

    I like your take! It gives the typical “what’s gonna go wrong now?” MU alum some hope. After all these years, and more than our share of ridiculous ‘what just happened?” occurrences, the anticipation that perhaps we will be ‘just fine’ after all. — regardless of our record.

    Hopefully, the Tigers will have a respectable showing this coming year! Prove that we do belong after all!

    M-I-Z!!!!

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    ” The Aggies are a cocksure bunch; the Aggies roll with confidence which may or may not be well -deserved – though I am siding with the latter.”

    A truly exceptional sentence composed by one helluva writer.

  3. [...] Don’t sleep on Missouri, SEC East fans. [...]

  4. Mike Slive says:

    If I am not mistaken, the SEC West has also been won by three different teams in the last three years, correct?

    Alabama in ’09, Auburn in ’10 and LSU in ’11

  5. DMK says:

    “…outside of Alabama and L.S.U., no SEC program can say with a straight face that it’ll own the Tigers over the next decade.”

    A decade’s a very, very long time in college football. Just a few years ago there was plenty of power in the SEC.

    UGA, UF and Tennessee have had a rough couple of seasons, but that will change. These teams have lots of machinery behind them. It would be tough to argue that, over the long run, Missouri is in a better position than any of these three schools, and averaging a 4th or 5th place finish in the SEC East wouldn’t be too fun. Gamecocks look pretty good these days too.

    Basketball’s a different story entirely.

  6. RSH says:

    While the premise of your story is correct, Mizzou will bring something to the party and be competitive, you might need a little more research before proclaiming the SEC West as the better side. While they have won the last three SEC titles, the East has never been a pushover for the West. Much of this hype was from Arkansas fans desiring to be considered among the “big boys”. They have been decent, but in almost 20 years have never won a title, and only reached the SECCG twice.

    The Big 6 in the SEC are still LSU, Bama, and Auburn in the West; UGA, TN, and Florida in the East. LSU and UGA have the winningest programs since 2000, with Florida, Auburn and Alabama trailing. Those same 6 teams own the most SEC Championships all time if you want to go deeper in history. SC has begun to compete better, but isn’t there yet. All teams cycle up and down over decades but Mizzou better not sleep on the East, they look to be the 3rd best going into 2012, but TN will be back up in a few years and nipping at their heels. Welcome Mizzou, and don’t fall for the media “hot story of the week/season”. Come on in, but the water isn’t always fine. You will have to earn your stripes.

  7. Better at 12 says:

    Seeing that Mizzou is coming from a conference with K State who wrote the book on lining up the easiest NC schedule and Tx Tech who perfected the 4-game preseason schedule, I don’t think it will be that hard of an adjustment for them.

  8. William says:

    Mizzou is also 20-8-1 all-time vs. current SEC teams, consistently beating them in every decade they’ve played. 7-2 in bowls. Won 5 games in a row (including the 38-7 pounding of Arky in the Cotton Bowl a few years ago. Mizzou is 1-0 vs. LSU, Florida and Auburn, 2-1 vs. Bama, 2-0 vs. S Carolina, 5-1 vs. Ole Miss, etc. Mizzou will do fine. One this is certain, with that 3 straight conf. game stretch away from home in November playing in Gainesville, College Station, etc., this will go down as the WARMEST season in Mizzou history. Would be fun to entertain Florida in mid-November in Columbia in the future, however. MizzouRAH!

  9. Burnt Orange says:

    Having watched Missouri for the past fifteen years, I say this with some certainty to SEC fans – they are better than you think they are in football. Same goes for Pinkel and his coaching staff.

    Conversely, they are not as good in basketball as you think they are. Tough at home for sure, but how many conference championships in the past 30 years? They may be good enough this year to break the trend, but I have yet to see a Mizzou basketball team better than the Willie Smith teams of the mid seventies.

  10. Hobnailed Boots says:

    Dude, I respect your ambition, but let me slow your roll just a bit. First, it’s evident that you haven’t really paid much attention to the SEC save for maybe the past couple of years. Comparing the SEC East to the Big East? Really? OK, yeah, I get it, the last two year’s the division has failed to produce a really stellar team, but there’s a reason the division carried the nickname “The Beastly East” for a minute. Florida won two national titles in three years. Georgia was probably a field goal away from winning one in 2007. Tennessee is down for sure, but won’t remain that way.

    The last two years in the Eastern division have been an exception, not a rule. It’s very narrow-minded to take the view that the West is where all the power is. It’d be a big mistake to assume that the East is some soft division that you can just come into and easily navigate.

    Fact is, you’re coming into an East division that is going to be very tough for you to win. Georgia will be a top 10, possibly top 5 team next year, featuring what will be on of the best defenses in college football. South Carolina will be a top 10 team. Florida will be better. Tennessee will still probably suck, but that won’t help you out much if you can’t even get by teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt, who aren’t going to be an easy out for you.

  11. hailtogeorgia says:

    So three teams winning the East in three years is indicative of a weak division, but three teams winning the West in three years is what…dominance? …parity?

    Also, never mind the fact that you failed to include Georgia’s annual bout with Georgia Tech, or South Carolina’s tilt with Clemson. …or that in the past decade, the Dawgs have had home and homes with Oklahoma State, Colorado, and Arizona State, plus two games against Boise. Far be it from me to let the facts get in the way of your argument.

    As for your point on Bama and LSU dominating the conference for the next decade, I’d slow down a bit. In 2008, Florida appeared to be the team poised for a ten year run of dominance. In 2005, it was Georgia. Just two years ago, folks were ready to fire Les Miles at LSU. Circumstances change quickly in the SEC, and no one has dominated the conference for the better part of a decade since Spurrier at UF in the 90s.

    I understand you’re excited about Mizzou’s chances, as well you should be. Before you come into the neighborhood throwing broadsides at the current inhabitants, however, perhaps it would be prudent to do a little more background research, or at least take a little more of a wait and see approach. These words probably won’t taste very good a year from now.

  12. taylor says:

    it will be fun to see a pass-first spread team finally face SEC defenses on a regular basis to see how the offense does against the vaunted SEC defenses. Florida, MSU and Auburn’s spreads are/were (Florida) more run-based, but we finally get to see if the SEC defenses will live up to the hype.

    The SEC defenses should have the capability to keep up, but they may need to add some DB’s to their depth charts. Both Mizzou and TA&M pose pass heavy offenses which, outside of Kentucky, have not been seen in the SEC.

    Mizzou certainly has the ability to win the conference every now and then. I don’t think they will become a consistent power, and who knows what happens when Pinkel moves on, but if they can catch UGA, UF and USC in the off years they’ve had recently, they can win the East and maybe get lucky in the SECCG.

  13. John says:

    Burnt Orange:
    Not disagreeing with you main point, but as to have no teams better than Willie Smith’s teams in the 70′s… I guess you could argue none BETTER, but we’ve had teams at least AS GOOD several times. Most Mizzou fans will tell you the 1982 team was the best in Mizzou history. Norm had a few teams in the early 90′s that spent the majority of the season in the top 5, including the ’94 team that went undefeated in conference play.
    Quin Snyder had some really talented teams in the early 2000′s that were ranked in the top ten and went to the elite eight (the farthest Mizzou has ever gotten). Even Anderson’s 2009 team went to the elite eight, finished in the top ten, won the conference tournament, and finished with the most wins in school history.
    While I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I think it’s a bit misleading to say we were best in basketball in the 70′s.

  14. Lee says:

    Mizz will be a five hundred team in SEC play. Their defense will cost them games.

  15. Burnt Orange says:

    John, I hear you. My reasoning is that of the elite 8 teams, only the 76 team won the regular season conference title which I value more than the conference tournament.

    One thing I know we agree upon is that Pinkel is the best coach you have had since Devine. As I was thinking of all of the guys in between, I remembered what that in 75 Mizzou played at Bama – nationally televised game ( when that meant something) on Labor Day weekend. Bama was ranked like first or second and Mizzou just ran the ball right through them and pulled the upset. Probably the best game I recall a Mizzou team playing.

    You have a fine university, and some basketball issues aside, I always felt like your school tried to do things the right way. Good luck down there.

  16. Lee Boy says:

    Welcome to the big leagues boys!  I think that this article sidesteps the issue of recruiting.  Mizzou will now have to adapt and recruit overall athletes compared to exceptional position players.  In order to win in the SEC you have to be able to recruit freakish athletes and play them where they most fit.  Should be a rough learning curve, but eventually they should catch up. 

  17. Bleed Black and Gold says:

    Good read, and good commentary from the readers. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited and enthralled with anticipation as I am about the 2012 season kicking off. I’m as optimistic as anyone about our potential to compete and win in the SEC East, though no win will come easy. Recruiting will remain a big question mark for several years+ to come. Pinkel could write a book about turning 3 star recruits into top tier draft picks(Spoon, Maclin, A Smith, W Moore). His class quality has improved every year as they have climbed the ladder into a perennial quality program. Yes, I know they aren’t considered a top tier program, but the article title says it all. “This isn’t my father’s Mizzou”. Can’t wait to kick it off against Georgia in The Zou! M-I-Z!!!

  18. Larry1234 says:

    Mizzou recruiting will have to be adjusted and new relationships will have to be built–this may or may not be a painful, time consuming process that may be telling on the field of play. It may take some time but either now or later Mizzou should be able to compete.

  19. Larry1234 says:

    Should also mention Mizzou fans are thankful to be in such a great conference with such quality schools. The administrative challenges that kept us down so long seem to be resolved and we hope to make the conference proud.

  20. Randall says:

    And Georgia lost to Okie. State. And Georgia lost to Colorado. Georgia isn’t on a level playing field with GT, GT takes academics seriously to the detriment of football recruting and everyone understands that. Clemson/South Carolina is valid.

    The SEC east will be a joke until Richt, Dooley and Muschamp are all fired. Spurrier, as usual, is the only decent thing happening in the SEC East.

    Alabama and LSU are all the SEC really has. Auburn was bought a player and was a one year fluke, and Urban Meyer isn’t coming back.

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