Thursday, August 16, 2012

Into the SEC fray

The switch, long anticipated and debated, has been made. Out with the Big 12, in with the SEC. Out with an opponent playing “Boomer Sooner” over and over, in with “Rocky Top” on repeat. Out with the track-meet shootouts, in with defensive slugfests.

It’s hard to imagine the state and the program being more excited about the move. Even if some did, and do, disagree with the change, it is done, and the games are upon us.

The coaches and players are talking about earning respect, knowing how huge the first SEC game, Sept. 8 at home against proud Georgia, will be.

The fans have bought up the full allotment of 46,500 season tickets, the first time that’s happened in program history.

Even old Faurot Field, preparing to host its 87th season of Tiger football, sauntered on down to the stadium beauty parlor and got new turf and freshly power washed seats, ensuring the old bowl will be looking spry for its SEC close-up.

The burning question, of course, is how will Missouri fare in the big, bad SEC? The SEC has won the last six BCS national titles, but the Big 12 was not junior varsity flag football, especially with its round-robin schedule instituted last year. But SEC teams in general play a noticeably different style from most Big 12 teams, with the teams down south favoring pounding ground games and ferocious defenses.

With that in mind, there are three areas to pay especially close attention to this fall.

QB James Franklin’s shoulder

Franklin is showing no effects during preseason camp of his offseason shoulder surgery. But then again, compact-car sized SEC defensive linemen don’t usually fall on one’s shoulder in preseason camp. How well the shoulder holds up to the inevitable big hits, and how well the Tiger offensive line can protect Franklin, will be critical.

Running back depth

With Henry Josey likely out for all or most of the season after last fall’s devastating knee injury, the burden falls on Kendial Lawrence to carry the Tigers’ ground game. But facing SEC defenses, Missouri needs some other backs to step up to help carry the load and take the hits.

Defensive line

While Big 12 offense are in general more known for slinging the ball all over the field, most SEC teams seek to impose their will by smashing into the line with their ground attacks. Missouri’s defensive line will face a stiff test. Big years from the highly-touted Sheldon Richardson and senior Brad Madison would go a long way.

*           *          *

So what’s the verdict? Will Missouri “get stomped on,” as Alabama radio host Paul Finebaum said? Or do that have a surprise for the folks down south?

This is a big year for Missouri, and the next few years may seal coach Gary Pinkel’s legacy, one way or another.

This year, I think the schedule is tough, with many of Missouri’s “swing games” on the road (Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M). I’m calling for a 7-5 season, but if Missouri upsets Georgia in week two, look out for the Tigers.

It will seem surreal to watch Georgia and Alabama run out onto Faurot Field, but it’ll get real quickly when the games start.

And for that, Mizzou fans can hardly wait.

Road to 10 wins: 
Like I said above, I'm thinking 7-5 for this team and this schedule. But, just for fun, if I were to draw up a roadmap to 10 wins for Mizzou, it'd involve going 4-0 in the nonconference games (any scenario where the Tigers don't run the noncon table doesn't compute well). In the four home games, the Tigers would probably need to go 3-1 (upset Georgia, take care of Vandy/Kentucky, lose to Alabama). Then splitting the four road conference games (say, win at Tennessee and A&M, lose at The Other Columbia and the Swamp) would put Missouri at 9-3, and give me a bowl win to make it 10. Yes, I know I'm dodging a bit using the bowl to get to 10, but which of the Bama/at S.C./at Florida am I supposed to suggest? In any event, nothing in the above scenario would be fall-out-of-your-chair crazy. Not saying it will happen (again, 7-5), but if your looking for some August optimism, there it is.

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