SEC newcomers diverge at the start

In its first season in the SEC, Texas A&M posted an 11-2 (6-2 in the league) record, was the only team in the nation to defeat Alabama, saw its quarterback win the Heisman Trophy, routed Oklahoma by four touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl and ranked No. 5 in the nation in the final polls.

In other words, the Aggies fit right in.

Then there was Missouri, which accompanied A&M from the Big 12 to the SEC. The Tigers posted a 5-7 (2-6 SEC) record, lost to Alabama by 32 points, saw its quarterback and offensive line struggle through an injury-riddled season, failed to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2004 and went winless (0-5) against ranked opponents.

And in a tidy synopsis of the teams’ divergent debut seasons in the SEC, there was this final score on Nov. 24: Texas A&M 59, Missouri 29.

The teams open the 2013 season with expectations shaped by what happened last season: The Aggies were picked in the league’s preseason media survey to finish second in the Western Division (behind only Alabama). The Tigers were picked to finish next to last in the Eastern Division (ahead of only Kentucky).

“There’s a lot of expectations on our program,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “For us, that’s a good thing. I think you want to be a part of a situation where you have some relevancy in your own league (and) some relevancy in conversations around the country.

“It’s great for our students, former students, fans and community to be excited about this football season, to be excited about being in the SEC. But as a team, we have to hit the reset button (for a new season).”

Missouri is eager to hit its own reset button, with last season having placed coach Gary Pinkel on the occupational hot seat and the program in the position of needing to prove it can compete in the league of seven consecutive BCS championships.

“Last year obviously was a difficult year for us,” Pinkel said. “We’re used to winning. We had some adversities we didn’t overcome. … People ask me, ‘What did you learn from the SEC after your first year in it?’ The SEC is what I thought it was going to be. It’s a line-of-scrimmage league.

“We’re proud to be a member of the SEC. It’s remarkably competitive; that’s why I’m glad we’re in it. Our fans have embraced it. They understand, I think, the league.”

James Franklin, Missouri’s senior dual-threat quarterback, didn’t downplay the Tigers’ difficult transition to the SEC.

“Honestly, it was a huge difference,” he said. “The guys that were bigger also were faster.”

After passing for 2,865 yards and running for 981 as a sophomore, Franklin dipped to 1,562 yards passing and 122 yards rushing last season — some of that attributable to multiple injuries that kept him out of three games and some of it attributable to SEC defenses. He envisions a bounce-back season.

“Injuries affected us more mentally, kept us from doing some things we could (have),” Franklin said. “We’re motivated after the disappointing season we had.”

A&M’s hurry-up offense, led by quarterback Johnny Manziel’s magic and a stellar offensive line, topped the SEC in scoring last season. Manziel set an SEC record with 5,116 yards of offense — 3,706 yards (and 26 touchdowns) passing; 1,410 yards (and 21 touchdowns) rushing.

“If you want to stop him, you might want to put 22 men on the field,” A&M defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said.

As far apart as the SEC’s new members seemed last season, it bears noting that Missouri beat Texas A&M in Big 12 games in both 2010 and 2011. (That, of course, was pre-Manziel and pre-Sumlin.) The Aggies and Tigers will play again Nov. 30 — this time in Columbia, Mo., after a scheduling quirk put each of their three previous meetings in College Station, Texas.