published Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Georgia, Florida hit the road to face SEC rookies

Are the Gators on the verge of being "gigged"? Will the Bulldogs fall prey in the "Zou"?

Two games for the history books will take place Saturday when Texas A&M hosts Florida and Missouri hosts Georgia. The two Southeastern Conference newcomers were rewarded with home games to open their inaugural league slates, and the matchups at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, and Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo., have been sold out for months.

"What is going to be important for us is to use the emotion of this weekend but not get caught up in it," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was calling the Georgia game "mammoth" in the spring, and he is not shying away from that description this week.

"I think that it is going to go down in history," Pinkel said. "They are always going to point at it and talk about it, look at it and how it came out, but then we are also playing a great football team. We are not just playing this average team from the SEC -- there are not many average teams anyway -- so we understand that we are playing a great football team and a well-coached team.

"A combination of this obviously makes it very, very big."

Sumlin and Pinkel have been pressed since the start of the year, beginning with recruiting adjustments their staffs had to make. Then came spring practice, which was especially taxing for Sumlin since he was new to the Aggies, and video study.

After years of watching the Big 12 likes of Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas Tech, the two new SEC coaches were having to get familiar with 12 new teams, but the switch has been worth it.

"Our fans have embraced the move," Pinkel said. "Season tickets have sold out for the first time since I've been here and for the first time in many, many years, and we had $200 million earmarked for facilities and renovations within the first six months of the announcement of joining. There are a lot of things that have happened in a positive way."

The newcomers join at a time when the previous newcomers -- Arkansas and South Carolina -- are enjoying their most successful stretch in the league. The Razorbacks and Gamecocks struggled in their 1992 debuts, and they were mostly inferior programs for the rest of that decade.

Arkansas and South Carolina have yet to win the SEC, but the Razorbacks have played in three league championship games and won 21 games during the 2010 and '11 seasons. The Gamecocks claimed the East two years ago and won a program-record 11 games last season.

"The two new teams from 1992 have come a ways," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I think we've probably come further than Arkansas, because when I got here, we had never beaten Florida and had only beaten Tennessee once. Arkansas has a strong football tradition from years back when Coach [Frank] Broyles was there, so it was a matter of rekindling some strong tradition there."

Texas A&M was a member of the Southwest Conference from 1915 to '95 and the Big 12 from 1996 through last season. The Aggies arrive with a student body known as "The 12th Man," a "Midnight Yell" before each home game that draws more than 25,000 students and fans, and a desire to "Gig 'em."

A gig is a sharp-pronged tool used for hunting frogs, and an expression birthed before a 1930 game against the TCU Horned Frogs now is used on a weekly basis.

Kyle Field seats over 83,000 and is considered among the nation's toughest venues. During the 1980s, Texas A&M lost just four times at home.

"It's an SEC-like atmosphere," said Florida coach Will Muschamp, who was previously the Texas defensive coordinator, "and it's going to be very similar to a lot of the stadiums we walk into."

Faurot Field, also known as "The Zou," has a capacity of 71,004 and has that familiar "M" painted on white rocks beyond one of the end zones. Missouri was in the Big Eight before joining the Big 12 and may not have as many traditions as Texas A&M, but the Tigers have rolled to 49 wins under Pinkel since the start of the 2007 season.

Georgia, one of the SEC's most successful programs on an annual basis, has 46 wins since '07.

"To play Missouri at Missouri in the opening game in league play is not the best draw, but it is what it is and we've got to play it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We're going to get after it, and I know they will, too."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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