HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference kicked off its annual media days Tuesday by putting front and center the newest members of the league, Missouri and Texas A&M.
They played some big-boy football in the Big 12 but are now in the powerhouse SEC, which is perceived as a major step up by many.
The league has won the past six national titles and when their football coaches and players talk, fans perk up and reporters listen.
“There’s 1,100 media members here,” Missouri wide receiver T. J. Moe. “When I got here, security escorted me to the elevator. Things are just different.”
How their won-loss records might look in the conference will be debated between now and Sept. 8.
Georgia travels to Missouri and Florida plays at Texas A&M that day in what SEC commissioner Mike Slive calls “signature home games,” for the debut of the teams in the expanded 14-team SEC.
“If you ask me, it’s probably going to be the most anticipated game in Missouri football history,” Moe said.
“I’d be disappointed if we were intimidated,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We played in a pretty good football league ourselves. We understand the great league we’re coming into. It’s all going to play out. How is Missouri and Texas A&M going to do in the SEC? There’s going to be an analysis every single week.”
Texas A&M first-year coach Kevin Sumlin will have the welcome mat out for him as a newbie in the SEC West.
He’s got to play the past six national champions (Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Louisiana State University) this season.
“What’s my assessment?,” Sumlin said. “It’s a pretty damn hard league.”
Missouri has won an average of 9.6 games the past five years while Texas A&M has won more than seven games only once in the past five years.
Pinkel has a home in Florida, where he hears from folks that aren’t exactly believers.
“People act like we’ve been playing a bunch of high school teams,” he said.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was more generous with his take on how the newcomers might fare.
“I think Texas A&M and Missouri are going to be extremely competitive,” he said. “I think they’re going to win a bunch of games. Wouldn’t surprise me if they weren’t in the hunt to win a division or so. I think they may be right up in there.”
Still, Spurrier called the opening SEC games for both teams” very interesting for all of us,” calling them “crucial.”
Missouri’s last game against a team in the SEC was a 38-7 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2007 season. It beat Ole Miss in 2007 and 2006 and South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl and lost to Arkansas in the 2003 Independence.
Texas A&M has lost each of the past three seasons to Arkansas (42-38 and 24-17 the last two years), lost 41-24 to LSU in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2010 season and 44-20 to Georgia in the Independence Bowl in 2009.
“We took a little team from Houston over to Starkville and won once,” said Sumlin, whose Cougars team last year led the nation in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense. “So we’ll see where we are offensively. But certainly we’re comfortable with how we do things in the system that we have in place.”
Missouri’s Moe had 146 catches the past two seasons in the Tigers’ spread offense playing in the Big 12.
Someone jokingly told him that the SEC has 260-pound cornerbacks.
“They’ve also got prettier girls,” Moe said. “The air is fresher and the toilet paper is thicker.”
It’s not like Missouri and Texas A&M are going from the outhouse to the penthouse, but the SEC did boast five of the top eight teams in total defense: Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
“We’ve played very good teams,” said Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter. “I’ve been in college for four years and I’ve played some intense games. I played some games against Oklahoma when they were ranked pretty high. I played against Texas for four years straight, Nebraska. We played against some very good teams. When people say the caliber of play is going to change so much, I’m just ‘I don’t know how much better it can get.’ I don’t think it’s going to be overwhelming for us if that’s what you’re asking.
“I think we’ll be ready for it.”