SEC released its initial (somewhat tentative), schedule yesterda
y, putting to paper what the autumn of 2012 should look like for the conference's two newest members.
In case you haven't been following, Missouri will be in the SEC's East Division, home to teams like Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Texas A&M, the other new transplant, will play in the much tougher West Division, which features Alabama, LSU, and Auburn. In other words, Mizzou got lucky.
Of course, the schedule is not quite finalized as of yet, largely due to the Big XII's legal challenge to Missouri leaving for the 2012 season. I think most expect the Tigers to be playing in the SEC this coming fall, but there does exist the possibility things may not go quite so smoothly.
With that in mind, let's take a moment to parse the 2012 schedule for Gary Pinkel's Tigers and see what next season has in store for them.
The Tigers' 2012 season will begin September 1st, with what is right now an open date. The best situation for that date would be to reschedule their nonconference game against the Salukis
of Southern Illinois
, but it's unclear if that will happen. SIU already has a game scheduled for that date
, but the hope -- at least from the Missouri side, which has a financial obligation in the meeting -- is to perhaps move that game and meet the Tigers instead.
One week later the Tigers begin their new life in the SEC with a home game against the Beast of the East, Georgia. The Bulldogs are the cream of the crop in the SEC East and should provide Mizzou with an excellent measuring stick with which to gauge where they fit into the conference. Unfortunately for Pinkel and Co. I also expect Georgia to provide the Tigers with their first loss of the season. It is by no means an unwinnable game, but Georgia is a little better team overall.
The Tigers next game on the 15th is again at home, a nonconference game against Arizona State. This could be a nice revenge game for the Tigers, who lost a heartbreaker to ASU this season out in the desert.
Mizzou travels to South Carolina the following week for their first conference road game of the season. This is a very intriguing contest, as the Gamecocks and Tigers are extremely similar teams in terms of quality I think. Given the home team advantage, though, South Carolina has a bit of an edge in this contest. I would love to see the Tigers smack the smug look off Steve Spurrier's face, though.
Another open date follows, and then the Tigers host Vanderbilt on the 6th of October. Vandy isn't a weak program, but Mizzou should be able to handle their business at home against a somewhat lesser opponent.
Which brings us to the 13th of October, when the Crimson Tide of Alabama rolls into Faurot Field. You want to see what life in the SEC is really going to be like? Watch this game. Alabama plays the kind of fast, hyperathletic defense the conference is known for, and I think the Tigers are in for a very tough afternoon. Again, it isn't an unwinnable game for Mizzou, which has managed to knock off Oklahoma teams of the same quality level over the past few years, but Nick Saban's team is one of the absolute best in all of college football. The home field advantage will help some, but this one is still likely to go in that 'learning experience' column.
The next week is an open date, and I have to believe the Tigers would prefer to schedule their bye week there. Coming off their toughest game of the season and heading into a brutal home stretch, the 20th of October would probably be the ideal spot for a week off.
Homecoming week will see Kentucky visit Columbia and provide another intriguing matchup. I think Missouri is a better team than the Wildcats by a fair bit, but most of the commentators you hear nationally will disagree with me. Kentucky is one of those teams, though, who I believe receives far too much credit for the conference they play in. We'll see which point of view is correct.
I'm not sure who the Tigers pissed off to receive the stretch run schedule they did, but they should probably look into apologising as soon as possible. Their season ends with three straight away games, all against very tough conference opponents, with one open week thrown in there. They visit Florida on the 3rd of November, then travel to Tennessee the following week. Neither team is quite the national powerhouse we've seen those programs produce in the past, but Florida in particular is still a high-quality squad with big aspirations.
Mizzou could win at least one of those two, I believe, with the Tennessee game probably the more winnable. If they want to really make their mark as a force to be reckoned with in the conference, there's really no better chance than those two road games.
Another open week falls on the 17th of November, and then the Tigers close their season by travelling to College Station to take on their fellow Big XII refugees Texas A&M. Finishing up the season against A&M is pretty much perfect in my mind, and I'm really hoping over the next few years we see these two teams develop a real rivalry. There's already a narrative history built in, of course, and facing the Aggies every year would make for great theater, I think. The rivalry doesn't make a ton of sense geographically, but let's face it: there aren't any geographic rivals for Missouri in the SEC. It's a big part of the reason I hated this move in the first place.
Looking over the schedule, Georgia and Alabama are the only games I would already pencil in as losses. South Carolina will be tough on the road, and all three of the closing stretch games we know about will be tests of the Tigers' ability to compete in the SEC. As of now, I would put Mizzou as the third-best team in the SEC East, behind Georgia and South Carolina, but I think it's a virtual tossup between the Gamecocks and Tigers.
We'll know much more about how the season will shape up once some of the open dates are filled in, of course, but for now it looks as if the Tigers will have a tough but not unmanageable road in their first season as members of the SEC.