Philadelphia, PA – Climbing the FBS ranks comes with its share of challenges. For Missouri and Texas A&M, those challenges are magnified as they head into the deep end of the college football pool and join the SEC, whose teams have captured six straight national championships.
The Tigers finished their last season in the Big 12 at 8-5 and will compete in the SEC East this year, but to expect a seamless transition is unreasonable.
Missouri comes in with a strong resume, ranking ninth among BCS programs in wins since 2007 -- with 48 -- but a strong resume doesn't always translate, especially in the SEC, where teams just seem bigger, stronger and faster.
Coach Gary Pinkel is no novice, starting his 12th season in Columbia. He knows by making the jump to the SEC, his program will be under a different kind of scrutiny each and every week.
"We're excited about obviously joining the league," he said. "There's been a transition that's taken place, will take place probably for some time to come, certainly different areas of it. We've been working hard since January in our preparation for the football season. Our players have been working very hard this summer. Excited about being a part of this great league, and understand, too, when you go into a league like this, you're new, you have to prove yourself, earn respect, and that's what we're going to work hard to do."
Pinkel's squad comes into the league with some real talent, including junior quarterback James Franklin, who could be tailor-made for the SEC. One of the nation's premier dual-threats, Franklin burst on the scene in 2011, showing his skill at moving the football with both his arm and legs. The 6-foot-2, 225- pounder completed just over 63 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for just under 1,000 yards (981) and 15 more scores.
In a league in which defenders get up the field and disrupt things, having a quarterback that can adapt on the fly could come in handy.
Pinkel's squad gets Southeast Louisiana in its opener Saturday, but will jump into the SEC fray immediately after that with a Sept. 8 showdown against Georgia at home - not exactly easing its way into SEC action.
The Tigers also get Vanderbilt, Alabama and Kentucky in Columbia in-conference, while traveling to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Wins in the SEC won't come easy and competing for an SEC East crown in 2012 probably isn't a realistic goal.
Texas A&M's ceiling is even lower. After posting a 7-6 record in their swan song in the Big 12, the Aggies will compete in the SEC West, a division that has laid claim to each of the last three national titles.
A&M also will be breaking in a new coach to go along with its new conference, as Kevin Sumlin takes over. Sumlin comes to College Station after a successful four-year stint leading the Houston Cougars, who finished 2011 with 12 wins and their highest BCS ranking ever.
An offensive-minded coach, Sumlin has enjoyed unparalleled success on that side of the football, with Houston and at Oklahoma as an assistant before that.
First-year offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will be tasked with trying to move the football, a job made that much harder by the fact that A&M will be starting a freshman at quarterback in Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to start an A&M opener since 1944.
The thought of playing in the SEC is something Sumlin looks forward to with guarded optimism.
"What's my assessment? It's a pretty damn hard league. How is that? That's my assessment (laughter)," he said. "You look at that, you see the talent level. I think the combination, somebody we were just talking about, the main difference that I see is the combination of size and speed. I've been a part of some pretty fast football teams over the last few years. Our speed level at Texas A&M is pretty good. I think the combination of size and speed, particularly in the West, but in the SEC, is the difference-maker, and the depth in the front.
"You add up those three things - size, speed and depth - over the course of the 12 ball games, injuries and attrition matter. It's a damn difficult league because of talent, but also because of coaching. You can argue all you want, but there's some of the best coaches in the country in the SEC. Combine that with big, fast guys, some of the best players in the country, it doesn't get any better than that."
Stacking the chips against Texas A&M even more is the fact that Thursday's season opener against Louisiana Tech has been rescheduled for Oct. 13 due to Tropical Storm Isaac, which first hit the United States as a Category 1 Hurricane. That leaves the Aggies with no bye week and a 12-week gauntlet that includes a murderous three-game road trip at Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama, spanning late October and early November.
The home slate this year in-conference is daunting as well, starting with the now-season opener against Florida next weekend. Other SEC foes coming to College Station include Arkansas, LSU and Missouri. The new schedule will put Sumlin's statement regarding injuries and attrition to the test.
There is certainly a lot to be excited about in College Station with a new head coach, a young roster and a new conference. Similarly, Columbia is a place brimming with anticipation for what is to come.
Unfortunately, excitement needs to be tempered by a move to the upper echelon of conferences, as both the Aggies and Tigers dive head first into the shark-infested SEC waters in 2012.