July 17, 2012; Hoover, AL, USA; Texas A

SEC Newcomers Missouri, Texas A&M Bring Mystery, Intrigue

For those unfamiliar with Missouri defensive back T.J. Moe before Tuesday’s SEC Media Day might know the name now. His confidence raised eyebrows among media types, if the bevy of stories flooding out of Hoover, Ala. are indicative of popular opinion.

Per The Kansas City Star:

“Recently, the SEC has been dominant,” Moe said. “But again, it’s not all 12 teams that are dominating everybody. It’s one or two (teams) that are steamrolling through everybody, and everybody else is kind of … average.”

Imagine the audacity of…speaking the truth.

The SEC has won six straight national championships. The cream of the SEC crop are the titans of college football that establish the bar every other team is expected to meet. Since 2006, the programs atop the SEC have been an elite few. Alabama has played in a pair of BCS title games. Florida had a run of three SEC title game appearances in four seasons, but the Gators have since hit trying times. LSU has been in the BCS picture twice, and won it once.

It’s a consistent rotation of four teams playing for the conference and national championships, with Auburn, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee each popping in the SEC championship game once in that time. Only Auburn won its appearance.

An interesting caveat of the teams to make one conference title game appearance during its run of BCS championships: all but Auburn lost their bowl game that same season. Arkansas (2006) dropped the Capital One Bowl to Wisconsin. South Carolina fell to Florida State in the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Georgia lost last year’s Outback Bowl.

The last two SEC East divisional champions — the division that MU will call home — finished their campaigns on two-game losing skids. Obviously, South Carolina and Georgia dropped SEC title game decisions to BCS championship-bound opponents. But each then lost their bowl games.

In fact, Florida’s Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati and Tennessee’s narrow Capital One Bowl win against Wisconsin are the only time during this title run that the SEC championship game runner-up won its bowl game — add Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl to the above list to round out the group. Is it anecdotal evidence? Maybe. But it’s evidence nevertheless that the SEC is not infallible, particularly beyond its heavy top.

None of the above is meant to disparage what is rightly considered the nation’s best conference. But the Big 12 is pretty good, too. Last season, a compelling case could be made for it actually being the strongest overall.

And what has defined the Big 12 is an element unique from the SEC.

Seven of the nation’s top 40 scoring teams called the Big 12 home. Four of those ranked in the top 11. So much of the Big 12 style is predicated on go-go-go on the offensive end. The arrival of two programs baptized in this style could shake things up for a conference known largely for defense.

Texas A&M can score points. The Aggies finished in the nation’s top third each of the last two seasons (No. 34 in 2010 and No. 11 in 2011) running a Pro Style offense under Mike Sherman. Disappointment in 2011 led to Sherman’s ouster, a reminder that near-misses are still misses. Indeed, 7-6 is not going to win booster support, particularly with the move to the nation’s premiere football league.

Aggie brass did not sacrifice offense with its new hire. If anything, A&M should light up scoreboards even more. Kevin Sumlin’s air raid resulted in Case Keenum smashing NCAA passing records and Houston ranking Nos. 1, 13 and 1 in points per game over the last three seasons.

It would be easy to dismiss Sumlin’s offense as being the byproduct of one quarterback, though in 2010 with Keenum sidelined, freshman David Piland came on to throw for almost 320 yards an outing to his credit. Prior to Keenum, Sumlin’s scheme facilitated one Sam Bradford. He didn’t turn out too badly.

The air raid will test the much ballyhooed athleticism of SEC defenses, particularly secondaries. The combination of speed and size prevalent in SEC front sevens is what makes those defenses so good — not a knock on the secondaries, mind you. With names like Bacarri Rambo, Tyrann Mathieu, Mark Barron and Mo Claiborne roaming last season, the conference boasted some of the nation’s very best defensive backs.

But forcing opposing coordinators to throw five, sometimes six backs into coverage routinely pulls them from their comfort zones. It’s something that those defensive coordinators will not see frequently, if at all aside from dates against the Aggies.

Innovation works wonders in the SEC, as it does must anywhere. Steve Spurrier challenged the conference with his Fun & Gun while at UF, and the yield was a national championship and perpetual placement alongside the nation’s elite.

Missouri can also score in bunches. Gary Pinkel’s gold standard Tiger team in 2007 put up a shade below 40 points per game. Dave Christensen took his offensive chops to Wyoming and helped the Cowboys to a 26.1 PPG season last year, but current MU offensive coordinator David Yost has kept it going, in 2011 helping the Tigers into 32.9 points per game.

MU employs a style more familiar to the SEC. Yost runs a spread only slightly more bitchin’ than his luxurious blond hair.

Urban Meyer’s immediate success as head coach at Florida was in part because of the spread. Meyer brought a new offensive approach to Gainesville akin to what MU will employ in the coming season. The Tigers probably won’t have the same kind of fortune as Meyer’s Gator teams, unless the second Tim Tebow is in Columbia, or there are future Aaron Hernandezs and Percy Harvins on the roster.

MU needs its top talents already on the lineup to be just available this season. When James Franklin and Henry Josey are healthy, they make for a dangerous and dynamic duo. The spread allows each space in which to operate. Franklin’s passing ability further opens the field, because he has the accuracy to keep defenses honest. And the addition of Dorial Green-Beckham will help in that facet. If healthy, MU is a team that can make noise immediately.

Tags: Dave Christensen Florida Gators Gary Pinkel Georgia Bulldogs Henry Josey Houston Cougars James Franklin Kevin Sumlin Missouri South Carolina Gamecocks Steve Spurrier Texas A&M Aggies TJ Moe Wyoming

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