published Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Missouri, A&M fans pumped for SEC play

The Missouri Tigers will play their first SEC opponent as an SEC member on Sept. 8, when the defending East Division champion Georgia Bulldogs visit Faurot Field.
The Missouri Tigers will play their first SEC opponent as an SEC member on Sept. 8, when the defending East Division champion Georgia Bulldogs visit Faurot Field.
Photo by Associated Press.

If being fervent for college football in April is a requirement for Southeastern Conference membership, then Missouri and Texas A&M should fit in just fine.

Missouri opens its 2012 season at home against Southeastern Louisiana, but it's a date the following week against visiting Georgia that has the program ablaze. Tigers coach Gary Pinkel was asked Tuesday about the Sept. 8 matchup against the reigning SEC East champion and quickly made clear it would not be any other game.

"It will be mammoth here," Pinkel said. "Our fans are so excited about being a part of the SEC, and that being the first [league] game is going to be a big, big game here. People are talking about it already, and rarely do they ever do that."

Texas A&M opens at Louisiana Tech before delving into league play with a home date against Florida.

"There is a big buzz here about our game against Florida," first-year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. "That's down the road for us as a football team, but everywhere I go, there is nothing but excitement and anticipation."

Texas A&M is the more tradition-rich program of the league's newcomers, but it is Missouri arriving with the momentum. The Tigers have racked up a 48-19 record the past five seasons under Pinkel and won Big 12 North Division titles in 2007 and '08.

Missouri ended last year on a four-game win streak that included a 12-point whipping of Texas and a 17-point thumping of North Carolina in the Independence Bowl, so it's little surprise the Tigers are pumped for Georgia's monumental visit.

"It's going to be a great challenge for us from a psychological point of view," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said, "but in the meantime, we've looked at a little film of Missouri's offense and defense. They are very impressive, and you can look at their overall record with Coach Pinkel and his history of success, the players he's had and the big games that they've won and know it's going to be a big challenge for us.

"But we'll be excited about it, too."

Texas A&M won a national championship in 1939 and played in two of the first three Big 12 title games, winning it in 1998 with a riveting, double-overtime upset of Kansas State, but the Aggies never played on that stage again. They are 33-31 the past five seasons.

The Aggies' SEC baptism features matchups with Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU, teams that have combined for seven of the last nine national championships.

"I don't think any game is bigger than the other when you get in the SEC," Sumlin said. "With our schedule and with the road trips we've got to take, we've got our work cut out for us every week."

Both newcomers are playing just two of the 12 teams they faced in the regular season last year. Missouri will play Arizona State and Texas A&M again, while the Aggies have repeat games with Arkansas and Missouri.

"There are a lot of things involved in this transition, and one is not knowing any of the personnel and the schemes we are playing," Pinkel said. "Obviously we know all the Big 12 teams very well, so we're having to do a lot of analysis not only of Georgia but of all of the teams we will play this year. That's been going on since the end of February, and it will go on until the end of August.

"We have to do a lot of homework."

Missouri quarterback James Franklin underwent shoulder surgery last month after a spring-practice injury, but Pinkel said his range of motion five weeks after the procedure is "really remarkable." Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 981 yards and 15 scores as a sophomore last season.

He is expected to be fine well before the Sept. 8 clash, but his mending shoulder is sure to be tracked by Tigers and Bulldogs fans alike.

"We've had some remarkably big games here," Pinkel said. "A couple of years ago, we played Oklahoma when both of us were 7-0, and we had a big night game here. We've had a bunch of big games over the years, just like Georgia and all the other teams all over the country.

"This is a beginning of a new era for Missouri football for forever, and we're happy to be playing Georgia in our opener for that. There is a real enthusiasm for it, and historically it will go down as the first game, so to say it's just a normal conference game -- it's really not."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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