The college football landscape has evolved in a big way over the past few years. Many programs across the country have changed conference affiliations.
Such is the case for Missouri and Texas A&M, as they defected from the Big 12 for greener pastures of the Southeastern Conference.
Fans and many media members clamored that the conference watered itself down. The perception was that this proud league adopted two teams that couldn’t and wouldn’t compete at a high level within the SEC. In reality of the football world, the Tigers and Aggies were two talented teams that would more than hold their own in the rugged and deep SEC.
No one envisioned Texas A&M taking the conference by storm or an unbeaten Missouri playing for the East title. The reality is that it’s been a better transition to the SEC for these two teams than most would have imagined and the league is better for it.
The Aggies were not a bad football team under the leadership of Mike Sherman. In fact, over the course of their final Big 12 season in 2011, Texas A&M just couldn’t finish games. They lost six times, holding second half leads in five of them. It was time for a fresh start in their new conference.
The Aggies entered their first season in the SEC in 2012 with a brand new coach in Kevin Sumlin. He inherited a very talented Texas A&M roster. There was a renewed energy and enthusiasm surrounding their program. Somewhere that August he decided on starting a red-shirt freshman quarterback in Johnny Manziel.
It was the perfect storm in College Station, Texas.
Manziel was sensational last year. He just didn’t turn heads in the SEC; he became the talk of college football, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Aggies to an 11 win season. They were the only team to beat the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide and that was in Tuscaloosa. Their only two losses were by a combined eight points to Florida and LSU.
It was a special season for this program. Texas A&M immediately made a big statement in year one in the SEC.
All of a sudden, there were real expectations going into this season for Aggies. Sure, it’s the SEC West, home of Alabama and LSU. Still, everyone now knows that this team is talented enough to challenge for the division and play for the conference title.
Manziel and the Aggie offense have picked up right where they left off. They currently sit at 5-2 (2-2), with losses to Alabama (49-42) and Auburn (45-41).
It was a different story for Missouri. The Tigers have an established and well-respected head coach in Gary Pinkel. He took over this program in 2001. Back in those days the Big 12 was a different league. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, and Colorado all finished inside the top 10 while the Tigers had only had two winnings seasons since 1983.
Pinkel had a rough start and it took a few years to rebuild Missouri. Still, they won the Big 12 North or were co-champions in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
The Tigers first season in the SEC was a difficult one. Missouri finished 5-7 (2-6). Injuries took their toll, as nine starters missed at least one game. In the end, starters missed a total of 44 games. All Big 12 running back Henry Josey and guard Travis Ruth both missed the season.
What a difference a year makes. Missouri is now 7-0 (3-0). Three weeks ago they were not even ranked in the AP or Coaches poll. Today they sit at No. 5 in the first BCS rankings.
The Tigers are firing on all cylinders. They have speed across the board. They are playing good defense and led the SEC in sacks (23) and turnover margin (+10). Missouri is balanced on offense. They have four players that have rushed for over 300-yards. Josey is back and impressive, as he has rushed for 518 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging six yards a carry. Their wide receiver corps is as good as any. Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington, and Marcus Lucas have a combined 98 receptions for 1,348 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
Quarterback James Franklin was playing at a high level before injuring his shoulder. Spelling him is red-shirt freshman Maty Mauck, who played very well last week in their win over Florida.
The Tigers aren’t just winning, they are really beating teams. Their average margin of victory is 44.3 to 22.1
Certainly Missouri is taking advantage of the misfortunes in Athens and Gainesville. Both the Bulldogs and Gators have been besieged by injuries while Georgia has issues on defense and Florida has major problems on offense. The Tigers beat these two proud SEC powers in consecutive weeks and now have a two game lead in the East.
Skeptics of Missouri will point to their schedule. Who have they really beaten? They haven’t played Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M. Yea, the perception is they have whipped everyone else and there’s something to said for that. But the reality is that their margin of difficulty is significantly higher over their final five games. They face a big test in the Gamecocks this weekend while their final two games are against the Rebels and Aggies.
Still, there’s no question that Missouri is looking more and more as the team that wins the East and plays for the SEC Championship in December in Atlanta.
People scoffed at the notion of adding the Aggies and Tigers to the SEC. In reality, Texas A&M and Missouri have made the SEC better.
The fact of the matter is that Texas A&M was never that far off.
The Aggies played good football in the Big 12 but just never busted through the ceiling. They joined the SEC. The program caught fire. There’s Johnny Football. The Aggies beat Alabama.
No they didn’t win the SEC or even their division but they took their program to another level. Manziel is back and playing as good as ever. There’s even a new star in wide receiver Mike Evans.
Missouri overcame a rocky year one and now are unbeaten with a two game led in the East. While the schedule has been kind to the Tigers thus far certainly there are land mines ahead. Last week alone showed us that on any given Saturday you can get beat in this league, especially this season. The SEC can sometime eat their own.
Will this team be different? Maybe this is the Tigers year. Everything has aligned for Missouri pretty well – the schedule, their health and matchups. It has certainly worked in their favor to this point. When you have talent, confidence and something to prove, sometimes that can change the locker room. This is what’s happening in Missouri.
Last year the talk of college football was the Aggies. This season the story are the Tigers. The reality is that as of today the transition for both Missouri and Texas A&M has exceeded expectations on all football fronts.
Jamie has been covering college football recruiting since 1992 and is entering his ninth year with Scout.com and FOXSportsNext. He’s currently a National Recruiting Analyst and Manager for the state of Florida. Jamie is also covering the NFL Draft for the network.