SEC newcomers prepare for first seasons


Missouri coach Gary Pinkel brings his spread offense to the tough Southeastern Conference. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 10:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 10:59 p.m.

DESTIN — Everyone seems to agree Texas A&M and Missouri are a good fit for the SEC.

Great tradition. Strong overall athletic programs. Rabid fan bases. Impressive television markets. Excellent facilities.

Now, the big question is how long is it going take for the Aggies and the Tigers to fit in, especially in the strongest football conference in college football?

The two new SEC football programs have spent a busy past six months breaking down tape and studying coordinators, personnel and offensive and defensive schemes in an attempt to make this significant transition come off as smoothly as possible.

“When you go into a new league, it's all new,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “When you go into a new league, you have to analyze every single school you're going to play against and be very thorough in your preparation.

“That's been going on for months and we'll finish this summer. It's huge. I never thought I'd be doing it. Coaching in the Big 12, it's a different league. It's been good studying the SEC teams. It's been a lot of work.”

Kevin Sumlin and his staff are going through a similar process. Sumlin's is a little different in that he's also adjusting to a new school (and new players) after making the move to Texas A&M from Houston, a Conference USA school.

“It's all new,” Sumlin said. “The experience that we're going to have, it's new to everybody. In a way, it's kind of an advantage because they don't know what's coming either. Because of that, there is a lot of excitement among our staff, players and our fans.

“We're undergoing a lot of change right now. It's a different time at A&M. There's a lot changing. To be part of that, it's hard to compare to anything else. I think that's healthy for everybody.

“We'd like more time. We understand the challenge. We'll probably understand it a whole lot more six months from now. If you're a competitor, you want to be a part of the best — recruit against that, play against that.”

Many are wondering (and speculating about) how the new coaches' offenses will play in the SEC. Sumlin spreads the field and runs a version of the run-and-shoot offense, while Pinkel has spent the past few seasons befuddling Big 12 defenses with a spread offense similar to the one Urban Meyer ran at Florida.

Those offenses are very different to what has been trending in the SEC, where more teams, including Florida, are going to a pro-style attack with a power, downhill running game.

“Time will tell how that goes,” Pinkel said. “Obviously, there are some great defensive coaches in this league and great defensive teams. Our offensive philosophy is you're going to do what you do. We were 11th in the nation in rushing last year in a spread. We like to run the football. We like to be balanced.

“We're very multiple with our offense. We can do a lot of different things. I think you adjust accordingly as you go. We're not going to change what we do on offense or defense. We're going to do what we do. But if you need to make adjustments, we'll make adjustments.”

Sumlin said his approach will be the same. He'll run his offense, and adjust if and when he has to.

“We have to change every year no matter what we're doing,” Sumlin said. “There are some great defensive players in this league, some big, fast guys. There are a lot of things you have to stay consistent with what we do philosophically because that's what we believe.

“When you look at this league and watch the video, it's just bigger and faster guys. I think speedwise we'll be OK. Sizewise is where we're going to have to increase the profile of our team.”

The Aggies and Tigers don't have much longer to wait to find out how they're going to match up in the SEC.

Texas A&M plays its first SEC game against Florida on Sept. 8 at Kyle Field. Missouri plays host to another traditional SEC school, Georgia, on the same day.

Those games are generating a lot of buzz on both new SEC campuses.

“That Georgia game, it's going to be an historic game,” Pinkel said. “It's a game that will be remembered forever. It happens in our stadium in front of our fans. To say they're excited would be an understatement.”

UF coach Will Muschamp has said numerous times this spring that Texas A&M was one of the few schools in the Big 12 with an SEC-type atmosphere. The Gators will experience it soon enough.

“Our fans are excited just about seeing something different, I think, and being part of the best league in the country,” Sumlin said. “It's a two-part excitement — the pageantry that comes with the SEC combined with our place.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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