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Missouri and Texas A&M open SEC play this Saturday.
Missouri and Texas A&M technically joined the SEC on July 1, 2012, but Saturday will be the official introduction for both programs into their new conference home. While it won’t be easy to win championships in the SEC, it’s a conference with more stability and neither program will have to worry about a home in future realignment.
Both teams have the necessary resources to win division titles and compete for BCS bowls, but there will be a transition period to the SEC. Texas A&M made one of the top hires of the offseason, pulling Kevin Sumlin away from Houston to lead the charge into the SEC. Missouri is better equipped to win right away, especially with the return of quarterback James Franklin and the arrival of No. 1 recruit Dorial Green-Beckham.
What should Missouri and Texas A&M expect on Saturday and into the future with the move to the SEC? There’s no doubt the competition will be tougher, but both teams will also have to adapt to a different style of play.
Here are five things to watch as Missouri and Texas A&M kickoff their SEC openers:
1. Increased Competition
The Big 12 is no slouch when it comes to competition, as it is arguably the No. 2 conference in college football. However, Missouri and Texas A&M move from a conference with just 10 teams to one with 14. The SEC had nine bowl-eligible teams last season, including LSU and Alabama – the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation. In the final BCS standings released last year, the SEC had four teams in the top 10, while the Big 12 had two. Recruiting is a key part of any successful program, but it’s an even bigger deal in the SEC. Thirty-four of the top 100 recruits in Athlon’s 2012 Consensus 100 signed with an SEC school. It may sound cliché, but the best recruits want to play in the No. 1 conference and that only adds to the pressure of coaching staffs to reel in the top talent. The Big 12 is a tough conference, but the SEC is the best of the best.
2. Different Style of Play
In the Big 12, it’s all about offense. Seven Big 12 teams ranked in the top 35 of scoring offense last season, each averaging at least 31 points a game. There are a few exceptions (Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State), but most of the teams in the Big 12 base its offense around a pass-first approach. The SEC had four offenses in the top 35, with Arkansas leading the way with an average of 36.8 points a game. However, only two teams (Arkansas and Tennessee) had more rushing attempts than passing attempts last season. While spread offenses like the ones Missouri and Texas A&M will be running can work in the SEC, the conference places more emphasis on the rushing attack and winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Tigers and Aggies will both see more 3-4 and 4-3 looks from SEC defenses, as opposed to the 4-2-5 alignments some Big 12 teams have been using.
3. Tougher Defenses
This aspect relates to the style of play, as the SEC is home to some of the best defenses in the nation. Alabama swept the four main defensive categories last year, while LSU allowed just 11.3 points per game. The defense didn’t end with those two teams, as only three SEC teams ranked outside of the top 50 in scoring defense. One of the reasons for the SEC's dominance on defense is the depth and talent in the front seven. For instance, LSU could have five players drafted from its defensive line over the next couple of seasons. That type of depth in the trenches just wasn’t there in the Big 12. Instead of recruiting skill players to run four- and five-wide sets, the SEC places a heavy emphasis on speed and depth on defense. Missouri and Texas A&M are bringing in a variation of a spread offense and while both options can work in the SEC, expect the Tigers and Aggies to find less room to maneuver on offense this year.
4. The Week-to-Week Grind
Just as we mentioned with the increase in competition, the SEC will present a tougher week-to-week grind for Missouri and Texas A&M. It won’t be a huge difference, but there are no easy games in conference play. In a six-game stretch of conference games in late September-October, the Aggies play four games on the road, including matchups against Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. Even though Ole Miss is down, the Rebels are capable of pulling an upset. The Big 12 was tough, but the SEC’s week-to-week grind and a slight disadvantage in depth will be something to watch for Texas A&M and Missouri.
5. The SEC…Its Just Different
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin had the perfect analogy to describe just how important the SEC is. “There are three conferences that matter in football, the AFC, NFC and the SEC.” It’s difficult to describe, but life in the SEC is just different than it is in other conferences. The fan support and commitment to facilities and winning is the best in college football. And we can’t forget the message boards either. The SEC is home to most of college football’s most rabid fanbases, and the conference will only kick that up a notch with Missouri and Texas A&M coming into the fold.
Georgia at Missouri – One Key Matchup to Watch
Can Missouri’s offensive line block Georgia’s defensive front?
The Tigers have suffered a few injuries on the offensive line since fall camp, so this unit has had to do a little shuffling. The tackle spots are set with Elvis Fisher and Justin Britt, but the interior of the line will be under attack from Georgia’s massive tackle duo of John Jenkins (358 pounds) and Kwame Geathers (355 pounds). Center Mitch Morse has only one career start, right guard Max Copeland is a former walk-on and also has only one start in his career, while true freshman Evan Bohem is expected to start at left guard. Jenkins and Geathers aren’t just difficult to move as both players are active against the run and can wreck havoc in opposing backfields. In addition to finding ways to slow down Georgia’s defensive line, the Tigers will need to keep tabs on linebacker Jarvis Jones, one of the nation’s top pass rushers. With an inexperienced offensive line, expect the Bulldogs to throw a few different looks at Missouri to create pre-snap confusion.
Florida at Texas A&M – One Key Matchup to Watch
Can Florida take advantage of Texas A&M’s young cornerbacks?
The Gators struggled to establish any consistency on offense last week, recording only 145 yards through the air and 27 points against Bowling Green. Florida has settled on Jeff Driskel as its starting quarterback and he should have an opportunity to take advantage of Texas A&M’s young cornerbacks. True freshman De’Vante Harris will start on one side, while sophomore Deshazor Everett will man the other spot. Driskel showed he has a long ways to go as a passer, but he should be able to exploit an Aggies’ secondary that allowed 276.3 passing yards per game last year. The Gators can’t blame Driskel for all of their struggles through the air, especially with inconsistent play from the receiving corps and offensive line. Expect Texas A&M to counter with pressure to help protect the cornerbacks, especially linebacker Sean Porter who led the team with 9.5 sacks last year.
by Steven Lassan
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