The Missouri Tigers roar into their first SEC season with the confidence that they belong in the nation’s top conference. Mizzou already has a winning program and an excited fan base, but they may be in for a culture shock.
The Tigers football program has been consistently good in recent history, with 10 or more wins three out of the past five seasons and eight or more for six years in a row. A Cotton Bowl victory and number one ranking in 2007 are the major highlights of their recent success, along with the achievement of three Big 12 North Division championships (2007, 2008, & 2010).
The Tigers do have enough talent to transition to the SEC successfully. They run a spread offense, but with higher level players than most typical spreads. As far as impact players, quarterback James Franklin could put up big numbers as a dual threat. Last year, he racked up 3,846 yards of total offense and 36 total touchdowns.
The main target for Franklin will be wide receiver T.J. Moe. Moe compiled 1,694 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Highly rated recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham, is a tall receiver that should contribute early on as well. Despite the loss of running back Henry Josey to injury, the tailback position is still solid with expected starter Kendial Lawrence. Lawrence had two 100 yard rushing games and three touchdowns his last four outings in 2011. Tigers also have an offensive line capable of performing in the SEC.
Where the Tigers are lacking experience, and have some serious catching up to do in order to compete with elite SEC teams, is on the defensive line. The linebacking core is the most ready to adapt to the conference, and the Tigers bring back experience at the cornerback position, led by E.J. Gaines. Gaines was fourth in the NCAA with 18 passes defended in 2011. Overall, the defense, that was 44th in points allowed per game last season, will probably not improve and will have a tougher challenge competing in the SEC than what the offense will.
However, the talent of the Big 12 is not as big of a drop off as many SEC fans and pundits let on, but on the flip side, there is a huge drop off in the fandom of the Big 12 compared to the SEC.
The Tigers were 5-1 at home last season and have won 77 percent of home games since 2002. Coach Gary Pinkel, 85-53 with Missouri, said, “We call our place ‘The Zoo.’ It’s a great place to play college football…Our fans, to say that they are excited about us being in the SEC would be a complete understatement. They’ve become fanatical about it. It’s exciting to see. I think that says so much for the great respect nationally that the SEC has.”
Faurot Field is a wild raucous stadium, but “The Zoo” lacked SEC like fan attendance in 2011. Home attendance last season averaged 62,095 at just 87.5 percent capacity. Last year, only one SEC team filled their stadium with a lower capacity percentage and that was bottom-dwelling Vanderbilt with 82.65 percent. Eleven SEC stadiums averaged 92+ percent capacity last season and five averaged 100 percent or more.
What I am saying is that Mizzou fans may have been an exceptional breed in the Big 12, but they are nothing special compared to the already rabid fans of the SEC. Tiger fans better be prepared to level up the intensity and fill up “The Zoo” this season, or they will be seeing their opponents’ colors decorate the stadium.
The home schedule is tough enough with Georgia and Alabama both playing at Faurot Field, but winning at home will not be enough for Missouri this season since they have a difficult away schedule. They play conference games at South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.
To sum it up, Mizzou should transition well into the SEC and will probably garner around seven to nine wins this season if Franklin stays healthy. The shock for the Tigers will be that there is a completely different level of football in the SEC, which resides in the culture more than any other aspect. Missouri will figure out, if they have not already, that it is not about how they play football, but how they live football. Because SEC fans eat, drink, breathe, and bleed college football.
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