Gary Pinkel is entering his 12th season as coach of the Missouri Tigers.
However, it will be his first as coach of a Southeastern Conference program. In football, that makes all the difference.
Despite finishing the 2007 regular season 11-1 and topping the AP Poll before fumbling away a shot at a national championship by losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, as well as sporting an 84-54 record at Missouri, the general consensus is Pinkel’s program is finally squaring off with the big boys after years of playing in a lesser league.
There will be new challenges, he admitted, but while his staff and players respect the league they are set to enter, there is no room for fear in his program.
“I’d be disappointed if we were intimidated,” he said. “We played in a pretty good football league ourselves. We understand the great league we’re coming into.”
Missouri will be thrown into the fire from the start. Following a season-opening cupcake against Southeastern Louisiana, Missouri’s real schedule begins when the Tigers welcome Georgia to Memorial Stadium on Sept. 8.
“I think the Georgia game, it’s big,” Pinkel said. “Normally never talk about a game other than your first game ever, but we also understand historically for the University of Missouri it’s going to be a big game. It’s going to be the first SEC game; the first SEC home game for our university.”
In recent years, home cooking has been sweet for the Tigers. Playing in ‘The Zoo’ as it is known, Missouri went 5-1 at home last season.
“It’s a great place to play college football,” Pinkel said. “Our fans are excited about it. We’re going to play some great teams that come in there. We’re excited about teams coming in and having them play us in The Zoo.”
The key to Missouri’s 2012 success will rely largely on the arm of junior quarterback James Franklin.
A dual-threat passer, he will be looking to ignite a Missouri offense that most believe will struggle having to face SEC defenses on a weekly basis.
Franklin is recovering from offseason surgery but is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
“We expect, without question, for him to be 100 percent,” Pinkel said. “It will be interesting to see in August as he’s throwing more consistently over and over again, repetition-wise to see his accuracy, which I think really improved a whole lot last year as the season went on.”
Unlike Franklin, running back Henry Josey is not expected to be ready for the beginning of the season, if at all next year.
The speedy tailback tore his ACL last season and has had multiple surgeries to repair the damage.
Newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver recruit, will look to offset the loss of Josey. He has been compared to former Missouri star Jeremy Maclin early in camp.
“He’s been working hard all summer,” Pinkel said. “Some of the players that come by my office, they talk about Dorial. They talk about what a great kid he is. I think that’s really the reason why he has a chance to become a great player. He’s humble; he wants to learn; he’s a great competitor.”
Opposite of Green-Beckham on offense will be T.J. Moe.
After an exciting day in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, Missouri fans will be hoping Moe can provide as much excitement on the field as he has off it.
Moe lightened the mood by dropping one-liners such as: “They say girls are prettier here, air’s fresher and toilet paper is thicker.” He also questioned the depth of the SEC saying: “It’s not all 12 teams who are dominating everybody. It’s one or two. The rest are kind of… average.”
With the addition of characters such as Moe and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, along with LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu and others, the 2012 season is sure to be anything but average in the SEC.
Even Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines sported a bleached mohawk for his media session, adding the SEC “was not used to our [Big 12] speed.”
Stay tuned, folks.