Missouri’s Ready; Is the SEC East Ready?
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 14, 2012
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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