Tuesday, November 8, 2011

SEC-bound Tigers mess with Texas

“S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!”

The chant rose up from Baylor fans last Saturday in Waco after their Bears had sealed a 42-39 win over Missouri, mocking the Tigers’ efforts to join the Southeastern Conference even as their on-field Big 12 Conference performance has faltered this season.

The loss, in which Baylor did pretty much whatever it wanted on offense, rolling up a school-record 697 yards of offense, dropped Missouri to 4-5, including 2-4 in Big 12 play in its last season competing in the conference.

Sunday morning brought the long-awaited official confirmation from the university that Missouri would leave the Big 12 for the SEC, effective July 1, 2012. After more than a century in the Big 12 and its forerunners (Big Eight, Big Six, Missouri Valley), Missouri’s schedule will no longer include longtime adversaries Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Kansas.

I certainly see why Missouri went to the SEC: stability, perhaps more money and a chance to get away from the seemingly dysfunctional Big 12. I am excited to watch Missouri against the tradition-rich, passionate SEC programs. But my nostalgia wishes it would have worked to stay in the Big 12. Kansas has said it won’t schedule nonconference games with Missouri, and the loss of the Border War rivalry is a crushing blow to the soul of Mizzou and college sports in general. Life goes on, but the end of the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi River is a shame, regardless of whose fault it is.

As for the immediate future, the conference realignment hysteria can’t entirely overshadow the struggles Missouri is having on the field this season. The Tigers seem like a competitive bunch, and yet they’ve trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter in five of six conference games this year.

Now 4-5, Missouri must win two of its last three games to be bowl eligible at 6-6. Next up is Texas at home (11 a.m. Saturday on FX). It makes for fascinating timing, given that Texas’ overwhelming influence has been blamed in some circles for driving Big 12 teams away. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said, “We don’t keep up with the Joneses. We are the Joneses.”

Tiger fans can hope Missouri’s announced departure won’t give Texas any extra motivation, because the Longhorns have been playing pretty good football. After a 5-7 disaster last season, Texas is 6-2 and could finish third in the Big 12. They aren’t great yet, but they seem to be improving.

After the young Longhorns were blown out by more experienced Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout, Texas has bounced back, playing a competitive game with unbeaten Oklahoma State and then dominating Kansas and Texas Tech at home. Texas is a rare Big 12 school that can actually play good defense. They also have a punishing ground game led by running backs Fozzy Whittaker and freshman Joe Bergeron.

To win, Missouri must avoid falling behind yet again, because coming back against a defense and run game combination like Texas has could be too much to ask.

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