The second week of the 2012 college football season is dire. Expect ESPN to endow some form of “upset” branding, since it contains not one matchup between Top 25 teams. The major story should be Missouri and Texas A&M, making their first tentative forays into SEC play.
Conference transition should tax both teams longterm. Preparing for a new opponent slate is hard regardless of the conference. Converting from the Big 12 to the SEC presents a particular challenge. Both teams must reconstruct their defenses, becoming front heavy units that can man up against a power run game rather than nimble, back heavy units to thwart the spread. They must maintain their speed, but get much bigger, an issue that can only be solved through recruiting.
Missouri and Texas A&M face a rough adjustment period this season. The initial games, however, should be attainable for both teams. SEC schedule-makers were far kinder than the Big Ten was to Nebraska. Both begin their SEC schedule at home, against beatable teams.
Missouri vs. Georgia: There are many reasons to like Missouri here. Many of those reasons have to do with Georgia. The Bulldogs have not performed well against good teams recently. They are 1-9 against teams that ended the season in the SRS Top 30 the past two seasons (Missouri has finished in the Top 20 four of the past five years). Their 2011 resurgence resulted from an improved defense and very fortuitous scheduling.
Georgia has not performed well outside its own state. To be fair, the Dawgs won all three road games in the SEC last year, but by smaller margins than expected. They compiled one-score wins against inferior Vanderbilt and Tennessee teams and looked underwhelming in a two-touchdown win over putrid Ole Miss. Throw in their narrow, neutral site win over Florida’s worst team in recent memory if you wish. Georgia went 1-6 outside of the State the season before. Their last impressive scalp outside Georgia was beating an underrated Arkansas team in September 2009. The Dawgs have played especially poorly when traveling to the nation’s middle. A mediocre Oklahoma State team beat them by two touchdowns in 2009. They lost to Dan Hawkins’ Colorado in 2010.
Missouri offers specific problems for Georgia as well. The Tigers run an up-tempo, no huddle, multi-faceted spread offense. This is the antithesis to most offenses Georgia faces. It can make the Bulldogs’ defensive line far less fearsome as they are gasping for air. It can force defenders to stay disciplined and win isolated and often unfavorable one on ones. Both could be problems for a shorthanded Georgia defense. The Tigers are much more dangerous on the ground than Buffalo, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry against Georgia last weekend.
Texas A&M vs. Florida: Kyle Field is a tough place to play, though it is silly to suggest Florida players are unused to playing in hostile environs. The reason to like the Aggies here is the Aggies. They should not be as bad of a team as most people expect. Texas A&M was the reverse Kansas State in 2011. They finished 28th in yards per play offense. They finished 14th in yards per play defense. They had arguably the best pass rush and the best pass protection in the country. It is incredible they did not win 10 games.
Texas A&M’s offense should be well-stocked. Their entire offensive line – a unit that allowed just nine sacks in 13 games last season – returns. They have an experienced senior running back Christine Michael who averaged more than six yards per carry and had eight touchdowns as part of a backfield tandem last year. They have another playmaker at receiver, Ryan Swope, who had 1,200 yards last year. They have a new quarterback. Kevin Sumlin knows how to coach quarterbacks. Defensively is where the Aggies have more issues. They are switching schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3, in addition to facing more physical offenses. That said, they have the talent to generate a pass rush. Their top two sack compilers Sean Porter (9.5) and Damonte Moore (8.5) return, from a defense that led the nation with 51 last year.
Florida is an SEC opponent. They are also an SEC opponent that has been woefully unprepared to face the SEC West and South Carolina, going 0-8 the past two seasons. The Gators raised more questions than they answered last weekend against Bowling Green. Obscenities aside, Brent Pease moved Florida further toward the offense Will Muschamp wants, pounding the ball with senior Mike Gillislee for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Jeff Driskel solidified his starting role and did not make mistakes. That said, their offensive line looked befuddled and they were forced to keep the offensive shackles on against a MAC team. Had Bowling Green not missed two field goals, this game would have been within a touchdown. Texas A&M is better than Bowling Green and they are not travelling to Gainesville.
Over the season, the SEC may overwhelm Missouri and Texas A&M, but we will see that against teams such as Alabama, LSU and Arkansas and on road trips to venues such as Starkville. Lining up against inflated opponents and backed by excited home crowds, both the Tigers and the Aggies have a quite decent chance to emerge unscathed from their first SEC weekend. Both teams may need to, if they plan to reach postseason play.
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