Texas A&M, Missouri embrace SEC challenge

Texas A&M, Missouri embrace SEC challenge

July 18th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

HOOVER, Ala. -- In the nearly 30-year history of the Southeastern Conference's annual media days, cowboy boots haven't had much of a presence.

Turns out the league added to its wardrobe when it added two teams.

SEC newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri made the media rounds Tuesday afternoon with the first season in the league less than two months away.

"It's different football, and it's fast," said A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who wore Texas-style boots along with receiver teammate Ryan Swope. "It's almost like NFL ball. But I think we can compete."

The Aggies and Tigers officially made the jump to the SEC on July 1, and Tuesday was the first foray into the crowded media rooms inside the Wynfrey Hotel. Both programs are coming off bowl wins and open SEC play on Sept. 8, when Missouri hosts Georgia and Texas A&M hosts Florida. After those games, both sides will have only slightly better answers to how life is in the SEC, which has been a repetitive question since the move was announced.

"I've been to six weddings this summer, and every family member I have and every extended family member I have, my cousins, everybody wants to know what I think about the SEC," said T.J. Moe, Missouri's leading receiver from 2011.

"It really doesn't matter what I think. It matters how I perform."

That was Tigers coach Gary Pinkel's take on the move from the Big 12. In his 12th season in Columbia, Pinkel led Missouri to three appearances in the Big 12 championship game in the past five seasons. He said the analysis of how his program will adjust to a new, more daunting league is simply part of such a move.

"It's going to happen," he said. "Bottom line, you've got to go out and prove yourself. I'm fine with it. I have no problem with it. You have to go out and compete and earn respect and win. Only way you're going to get respect is winning games. That's the way it's going to happen.

"I'd be disappointed if we were intimidated. We played in a pretty good football league ourselves. We understand the great league we're coming into."

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M's new coach, is making perhaps the biggest jump of anyone. In four seasons at Houston's coach, Sumlin was 35-17 and was Conference USA's coach of the year in 2009 and 2011. The Cougars went 13-1 last season with a prolific offense that Sumlin brings to a defensive-minded league.

"I'll tell you what made it real to me ... was when we had our first head coaches' meeting back in March or February," Sumlin said. "When you walk into a room with 13 other head coaches in the SEC and [commissioner] Mike Slive, they close that door behind you [and] it's just you guys in there, that's when you know it's real. For me it's probably been a little bit quicker there with that.

"It's a [darn] difficult league because of talent, but also because of coaching. You can argue all you want, but there's some of the best coaches in the country in the SEC. Combine that with big, fast guys, some of the best players in the country, and it doesn't get any better than that."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he expects both teams to be "in the hunt" in their respective divisions. Texas A&M faces Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Florida, the four programs that have combined to win the past six national titles. Missouri has road trips to South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee in its opening tour.

"I don't think they should come into our games expecting to win automatically," Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter said. "They should come in ready to play just like every other Saturday in the SEC. We don't plan on being at the bottom of this league.

"If we're playing a good team, I'm going to tell you, 'We're playing a good team.' That doesn't mean we're going to go in scared and nervous about it. We're ready for the SEC, and we plan on winning games."