The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.
Missouri or Texas A&M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in SEC play for 2012?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Both teams have questions beyond how they adapt to the SEC. Missouri will spend its summer concerned about the health of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey while Texas A&M is breaking in a new coach. Kevin Sumlin has a lot to like about his offense with a veteran offensive line, Christine Michael and Ryan Swope, but he’ll need a new quarterback. In general, I’d give the edge to Missouri with a returning quarterback and returning coach, plus playing in the East division, which should be the weaker of the two. However, Missouri still has to face Alabama and will visit Texas A&M. Neither Missouri nor Texas A&M will threaten for the division title, but we’ll have a pretty good idea about how the season will go on Sept. 8 when Texas A&M plays host to Florida and Missouri plays host to a Georgia team depleted by defensive suspensions. I’d still give Mizzou the leg up.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
After all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding two high-profile defections to the SEC, the battle for newbie supremacy will likely come down to two former Big 12 teams playing in a former Big 12 stadium. The Texas A&M-Missouri game in College Station on the final weekend of the regular season will likely be a battle for 3-5 in SEC play and will likely give the winner a trip to a bowl game while the loser is left to sit at home and stare at the Big 12 standings. Missouri won this overtime fight in front of the 12th Man last year and is in overall better shape heading into the more physical SEC. They have much-needed stability at two key positions — head coach and quarterback — where the only certainty for A&M is uncertainty.
That said, the Aggies are built more like an SEC team than is Missouri — meaning they are strong along the offensive and defensive lines. Both teams have to face the defending national champs in Alabama. And both will struggle to beat divisional opponents picked ahead of them. With Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State on the schedule for TAMU, along with home games against Florida and Mizzou, the Aggies upside looks like four wins. Missouri’s best chance at a home upset is against a short-handed Georgia Bulldogs team in Week 2. Missouri’s final three SEC games this fall will feature daunting trips to Knoxville, Gainesville and the aforementioned College Station. Vanderbilt and Kentucky look like the only sure wins on the Tigers’ schedule — meaning an upset at Tennessee AND Texas A&M would get Mizzou to four wins. My guess is that both teams enter the season finale at 2-5 in SEC play with the winner heading to a bowl game. No pressure. for either.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Moving to the SEC is certainly going to be a challenge for Texas A&M and Missouri, but both programs aren’t going to be easy outs for the rest of the conference in 2012.
The Aggies return 11 starters, but will be breaking in a new quarterback and will be playing in the tougher division. Kevin Sumlin was a terrific hire as Texas A&M’s new head coach and he hired an impressive staff. Sumlin needs to find a way to cure Texas A&M’s late-game issues that appeared last year, as the Aggies were a better team than their 7-6 record indicated. Although the quarterback position is a question mark, there are some nice pieces surrounding the new starter, particularly on the offensive line and in the running back corps.
The Tigers bring back 10 starters, but the health of quarterback James Franklin is uncertain, as he underwent shoulder surgery during the spring. Running back Henry Josey is also dealing with an injury (knee), but is not expected to return in time for the 2012 season. If Franklin misses any conference games, Missouri could slip to sixth in the division. The Tigers should be solid on defense, but stopping the run could be an issue with three key linemen departing.
If Franklin returns at full strength, I like Missouri’s chances to win more SEC games in 2012. With an easier division, the Tigers should be able to pull off an upset or two and finish with four wins in SEC play. I see the Aggies beating Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri in conference play, but a home date against Florida on Sept. 8 could be the deciding factor between three or four conference wins.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Tough call. If I had to place an over/under on both of these teams’ win total in league play, it would be 4.5. They are both solid teams that will have to tackle difficult schedules in their new league. Texas A&M has a slightly more difficult schedule because the SEC West is the better division, but Missouri has to be play Alabama, easily one of the top two teams in the West.
There is a lot to like about the A&M roster, but there is one big issue — a new starting quarterback. The offensive line is solid, and the Aggies are well-stocked at the running back position. And take a look at last year’s results: This team lost two games in overtime and three other games by four points or less. Add the energy provided by a new coaching staff and some better late-game execution and some of those close losses could easily turn into wins.
I’d feel better about Missouri if we had a better read on some of the Tigers’ ongoing injury concerns. James Franklin, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation, is dealing with a shoulder injury that could linger into the fall. And Henry Josey, who was one of the most productive running backs in college football before his injury in 2011, likely will not be able to play in the fall.
Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Texas A&M and Missouri are both in for an interesting ride in 2012, and I think that Missouri will enjoy more immediate success than the Aggies. You win in the SEC by taking care of the ball, running the ball and playing defense. Texas A&M's defense routinely ran out of gas in second halves last season, and it's losing quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray. Plus, A&M now lives in rough neighborhood in the SEC West.
Missouri may not be better-suited for long-term success, but it will have success in the short term. The East still is far behind the West; and assuming James Franklin and Henry Josey are available to start the season, the Tigers will enter the SEC and immediately contend for the division title. Georgia is the East favorite based on its schedule, but several key contributors on defense will miss the SEC opener at Missouri in Week 2. If the Tigers top the Bulldogs, it will blow the SEC East wide open—and could open the door for Missouri to make a run at the Georgia Dome.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think both teams will be in the 4-4, 3-5 range in league play, but Missouri looks like the better bet in this one. The Tigers have played solid defense over the last few years, and that will suit them well in the nation’s toughest conference. There are major concerns in Columbia over the health of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, but Gary Pinkel has built up a tough program that can withstand some adversity. Texas A&M has a ton of talent on the roster, but everything seems new in College Station from the coaches to the schemes to the conference. It may take Kevin Sumlin and staff some time to find an effective replacement for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, improve the defense and cut down on the football-related discipline issues (100th nationally in penalties per game, T-106th in turnover margin) that plagued the Aggies last season. Both new league members will have an adjustment period, but I believe Missouri’s coaching stability gives the Tigers an early advantage over the Aggies in trying to play above .500 ball in the rough-and-tumble SEC.
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