First Year in the SEC Was a Tough One

Mizzou in the SEC

The University of Missouri’s football team now has concluded its first season in
the Southeast Conference.  Far from striking fear into the hearts of its competition with the savage roar and bite of its namesake Tigers, the 2012 edition of Mizzou limped off the field after a season-ending, 59-29 dismantling by Texas A&M.

Ironically, A&M was supposed to feel the heat in the SEC more directly than Mizzou in the first year since both teams defected from the Big 12 Conference for the more rewarding turf of the nation’s most powerful college football conference.  After all, Missouri hadn’t had a losing season since 2004 and head coach Gary Pinkel had steadily revived the Tigers’ once powerful presence to the glory days of the 1960s and ’70s in more than a decade in charge of the program.

Missouri’s 2012 slate included games against the likes of Southeastern Louisiana, the University of Central Florida and Syracuse, none of which had done much in recent years on the gridiron.  And its SEC schedule featured games against perennial lightweight Vanderbilt as well as habitual losers Kentucky and Tennessee.

As it turned out, Mizzou failed to win games back-to-back at any time in its
12-game season, finishing with a lackluster 5-7 record.  With fewer than the six victories required for bowl consideration, the Tigers are sitting out any post-season activity until at least next year.

Meanwhile, the 10-2 Aggies, with just two narrow losses to perennial powerhouses #4 Florida and #6 LSU, are heading to a major bowl as a reward for their smashingly successful season.  For dessert, they most likely have the nation’s first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in redshirt quarterback Johnny Mandiel.

With just a few bounces here and there, it could have been a much different season for Mizzou.  The Tigers came very close to beating both #3 Georgia and Florida this season, which surely would have boosted their confidence as well as their national credibility.  Tough, 4th-quarter losses to Syracuse and Vanderbilt also easily could have been in the victory column.  Thus, that 5-7 record might have been 9-3, albeit with resounding losses to #2 Alabama, #9 South Carolina and #10 Texas A&M.

Take a look at that schedule.  The Southeastern Conference has six of the nation’s Top Ten teams in its conference.  That’s the reality Missouri faces as athletic director Mike Alden, Pinkel and his entire coaching staff assess where to go from here.

Actually, Pinkel is somewhat fortunate to still be head coach.  Even though his record at Mizzou is very good, and although he’s revived the moribund football program, it’s a fact that the other four teams at the bottom of the SEC this season (Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee) all have fired their coaches.  You don’t get second chances very often in the intensely competitive SEC, where football is king.

Pinkel will have at least one more year to bring Missouri to respectability in its
newfound conference.  He’ll likely need at least seven victories to survive 2013. 

To do that, he’ll have to come up with an answer to the quarterback problem that vexed the Tigers all season long as incumbent starter James Franklin was besieged with injuries and backup Corbin Berkstresser proved disappointing at the helm.

Alden, Pinkel and other UM leaders believed that Missouri’s future would be rosier and more lucrative in the nation’s most vaunted conference (and it may be more
immediately so with its men’s basketball team, which we’ll discuss in another column).  That might be true, but the 2012 season was a very rude introduction.

Evan Makovsky


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