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TIGER KICKOFF: Missouri football dead on arrival in SEC? Not so fast

Thursday, November 10, 2011 | 11:30 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Anyone who owns a computer, television or cell phone has probably run across the following statement, or some possibly more colorful variation of it.

"Missouri football is going to get its butt kicked in the SEC."

Numerous voices have questioned Missouri's move to the SEC, claiming it will be a negative for its football program. "Missouri will never compete for an SEC title!" they cry. "How can we compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU?" they ask. "Why would we do this when we've been doing so well in the Big 12?" they wonder.

But in the words of popular ESPN College GameDay host Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend."

It’s time to evaluate the relevancy of some of these claims.

The biggest complaint from the Missouri faithful about their football future is that Missouri won't have any chance to win the SEC. But did the Tigers ever have a chance to win the Big 12?

Missouri reached the Big 12 championship game twice. The first time, with one of the best teams the program has seen, the Tigers lost by three touchdowns to Oklahoma. The second time, the Sooners steamrolled Missouri 62-21.

Although it's an accomplishment to make the title game, the Tigers never came close to winning it.

The story of Missouri's recent run of relative success (not including this season) is that the Tigers have beaten the teams they should beat and, with one notable exception, fallen short against the traditional powers.

Under Gary Pinkel, Missouri has a combined record of 1-11 against Texas and Oklahoma. If Missouri fans are satisfied by that (and it seems they are, based on how many of them talk about the team's success in the Big 12), wouldn't it be all right for the Tigers to go 1-11 against Alabama and LSU?

The schedule in a 10-team Big 12, where Missouri would have to play Texas and Oklahoma every year, wouldn't exactly be easy. The scheduling in the SEC looks a little different:

1. Schools play teams in their division annually. For Missouri this means Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

2. Schools have one "cross-division" rival from the opposite division that they play annually (e.g. Alabama-Tennessee, Florida-LSU, Auburn-Georgia). Although it's yet to be finalized, Missouri's cross-division rival is expected to be Texas A&M.

3. Schools have one remaining game with a team from the opposite division that will be scheduled on a two-year home-and-home cycle. For Missouri this could mean games against Arkansas the next two years, then Ole Miss the following two years, etc. Potentially, Missouri’s first conference game against LSU or Alabama might not be until 2020.

That schedule, at least with the current state of the SEC East, is reasonably favorable for Missouri.

Taking a look at the Sagarin Computer Rankings, a formula used to help calculate the BCS standings, Missouri has played the toughest schedule in the nation thus far this season. The SEC East is 23rd in average strength of schedule. That's certainly not a cakewalk by any means, but it might not be as bad as everyone is making it out to be.

Although Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has said he won't address anything related to the SEC until after the season is over, one Big 12 coach who is as qualified as anyone to discuss the topic was willing to talk about it.

Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who coached at Ole Miss and Auburn for a combined 14 seasons before taking over the Red Raiders, said Monday that he thought Missouri would be just fine in its new league.

"With Missouri going to the SEC, they'll be able to compete," Tuberville said. "They'll be in the upper echelon of that league. Just watching, I hear people saying they won't. They will be."

Tuberville said that in the SEC, because the powerhouse teams are consistently so good, the other teams have to gear their recruiting toward a particular season. Tuberville was able to do that, going 13-0 and winning the SEC championship at Auburn in 2004. It was the school's first title since 1989.

"There's three or four teams in the SEC every year that are going to be strong. I think you can pretty much nail those," Tuberville said. "The rest of them, you try to work your recruiting around trying to hit that one year when you're going to be able to compete for a championship — or two years in a row."

Missouri simultaneously assembled talent in 2007 and 2008, with the 2007 team featuring current NFL players Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, William Moore, Ziggy Hood and Martin Rucker. If Missouri could compile talent like that again, it could do just as well in the SEC as it did in the Big 12 that year.

And if the Tigers don't attract the talent, they won't compete in any conference.

Taking a calculated look at the future of the Missouri football team instead of an emotional one shows the Tigers might not be dead on arrival in the SEC after all.


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Comments

Ellis Smith November 11, 2011 | 6:35 a.m.

A few actual football games are worth more than 20,000 words worth of speculation.

Did Joe Paterno say that? No, I just did.

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