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May 31, 2012

Big challenges for new SEC members

SANDESTIN, Fla. | From a competitive standpoint, the Southeastern Conference's newest member institutions, Missouri and Texas A&M, have their work cut out for them.

Under normal circumstances, Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel would be unfamiliar with just four opponents on his 12-game 2012 schedule. The long days and nights of breaking down players, tendencies, schemes, coaches, etc., are hard enough under that condition. However, Pinkel and the rest of his Tigers coaching staff are having to scout all 12 of their opponents, all of whom are unfamiliar in Missouri's first season in the SEC.

And that's just one of the challenges awaiting Missouri and Texas A&M this football season.

"With us coming in the league, it's just like day one we have to go in and analyze every single school we play against in the SEC, and be very thorough in our preparation," Pinkel said. "That's what we're doing. It's been ongoing for months, and we'll finish this summer. I never thought I'd be doing something like that.

"In the transition there's so many things (to prepare for) that we kind of came up with a master plan in December and January about how this transition has to take place. We study scheme, we study personnel, we study coordinators, we study all of those things. There's really no choice. We better be ready. I don't ever look at it as a disadvantage. If we're not ready from the standpoint of preparation, then that's my fault."

After studying his SEC opponents for months, Pinkel said there are distinct styles of play and that numbers back up the perception that the Big 12 is an offensive league and the SEC is a defensive conference.

"Looking at it statistically, there's some splash of truth to it," Pinkel said. "The number of quarterbacks that the Big 12 has produced just numbers-wise I think in and of itself, those are fact. Some people might say it's a little bit of a clash here.

"I get a lot of questions, 'Are you going to change your offense?' No, we're not going to change what we do. I believe in what we do. But as we do in every football season, you adjust accordingly when you need to. We understand that we're playing a lot of good players and a lot of good coaches."

Besides the added challenges of learning new athletes, coaches, style of play, venues, etc., the Tigers must also learn how to recruit in their new conference landscape.

"In recruiting, where we recruit is going to be important," Pinkel said. "Obviously Missouri is the most important for us. But Texas had become really big for us. We've got 35 players from Texas. We still want to maintain our ties in Texas. But we want to get into Florida, into Atlanta, South Georgia, those areas. We have coaches there now. We're beginning to market there now. I think it will take a couple of years to sort itself out."

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said there will be an adjustment period.

"We have to change every year no matter what we're doing," Sumlin said. "There's some great players in this league and some big, fast guys on both sides of the ball. I think there's a lot of things that have to stay consistent with what we do, philosophically, because that's what we believe.

"We've played Mississippi State a couple of times in the last three years (when I was at Houston), so we've got a decent idea of what we're facing. I look up on Sunday and just about that whole front seven from Mississippi State is playing. Just watching video I see bigger guys. Bigger, faster guys. Speed-wise we're going to be all right. Size-wise is where we're going to have to increase the profile of our team - height-wise and just physically."

Missouri plays its first SEC game Sept. 8, hosting Georgia. Texas A&M hosts Florida the same day.

Reach Aaron Suttles at Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.



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