In their first year of SEC competition, Texas A&M was Mozart; Missouri was Salieri. A&M was Tombstone; Missouri was Wyatt Earp. A&M was Shawn Michaels; Missouri was Marty Jannetty.
The Missouri Tigers are linked to the Texas A&M Aggies as the conference’s two newbies, but their first go-arounds could not be further apart.
A&M arrived in the SEC with a College Gameday broadcast in Week 2, a road upset of the eventual BCS champion Alabama Crimson Tide, a Heisman Trophy winner and 11 wins.
Texas A&M fully embraced the SEC, and the SEC fully embraced Texas A&M.
Much less fanfare marked Missouri’s debut season in the SEC. There was no warm more embrace. Instead, there was a forceful tackle to demonstrate what life in the Southeastern Conference meant, after defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson’s assertion that the SEC played a brand of “old man football.”
The refrain became a common one for each loss that mounted on the Tigers.
Wide receiver L’Damian Washington offered a much different assessment of the conference’s style of play.
“SEC is definitely No. 1 — no disrespect to any other conference,” he said. “The SEC has proven it with so many championships in a row. It says something about the conference and the level that the guys in the conference are competing at.”
At 5-7, Missouri missed a bowl appearance for the first time since 2004. Gary Pinkel established the program in the Big 12 Conference in the mid-2000s with six straight winning seasons, a divisional title in 2007 and three double-digit-win campaigns over four years.
Conversely, A&M was floundering. A couple of 9-4 finishes under Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman were momentary spikes amid a decade of mediocrity. Enter first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Questions abound of how spread offenses would work against SEC defenses, and Sumlin’s team answered resoundingly. Those same questions linger on Pinkel’s program, as SaturdayBlitz.com’s Ryan Wooden examined.
Central to solving this equation for MU is quarterback James Franklin. My SaturdayBlitz.com cohort Luke Brietzke considers Franklin the most pivotal play caller to his program in 2013, and with good reason. The success of both A&M and counterpart Johnny Manziel ups the ante for Mizzou.
Franklin was an electrifying play maker in a similar vein as Manziel during the Tigers’ 2011 season.
Injuries took their toll on Franklin, who was largely ineffective in his junior campaign.
“Focus on staying healthy. Not just as me individually, but as a team,” Franklin described as Missouri’ top priority. “We had a lot of key injuries last year.
“We need to work better as a team. We have to have more confidence in each other and build that hemistry. Everybody has to eat to live and when the ingredients mix well together, the food tastes a lot better.”
Among those ingredients are receivers that Washington says combine to form the best corps in the nation.
Washington may be biased — he says as much — but with No. 1 overall 2012 recruit Dorial Green-Beckham and Washington leading the way, the Tigers certainly have a potent one-two punch.
MU was also without its leading rusher in 2011 last season, Henry Josey. The running back who suffered what was initially described as “a one-in-a-million” knee injury could be back for 2013, Pinkel said.
“Some people compared [Josey's injury] more to being in a car accident than what happens on the football field,” he said.
But Josey returned to workouts in the spring, and his comeback could be crucial to the Tigers’ team comeback.
“What a remarkable story…how hard he’s worked,” Pinkel said. “Certainly the [Missouri] medical staff [deserves credit]. But certainly the work ethic of him, how hard he’s come back. It was fun to see the stages of [his progress] in the spring.”
The more offensive reinforcements Missouri can muster, the better. The Tigers’ trimmed a full touchdown off their point per game average from 2011 to 2012, plumetting from No. 30 in the nation to No. 80.