They haven’t taken a conference snap yet and they’re already causing a stir.
After a long wait and the kind of bombastic hype that would make Don King blush, Texas A&M and Missouri, the two latest additions to the SEC, will finally square off against their first conference opponents on Saturday. Florida travels to College Station to take on the Aggies at Kyle Field while Mizzou hosts No. 7-ranked Georgia.
And while the games are expected to be pretty good, it is the rock-throwing that has raised the most eyebrows.
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In Gainesville, a Clear Channel billboard near campus appeared this week that that read, “Howdy Gainesville: You’ve been annexed by Aggie Nation, The Best Academics & Cleanest Program in the SEC. WHOOP! Real Football. Real Tradition.”
It’s gone now, and Texas A&M spokesperson Jason Cook couldn’t put out a statement denying any connection to the school fast enough.
“This billboard was not placed by Texas A&M University, and it is certainly not reflective of how we have handled our transition into the SEC,” said Cook in a statement. “We are investigating aggressively, as we believe that our institutional trademarks have been infringed upon. Texas A&M has tremendous respect for the University of Florida, and we look forward to hosting the Gators in our first SEC football game this weekend.”
But the damage was already done.
Then, there was Missouri, a team that beat Southeastern Louisiana in their opener. Most of the Tigers said all the usual pap when asked about their SEC opener:
“We’re glad for this win (last week). Tomorrow we’re going to start focusing on Georgia,” defensive end Michael Sam told the Columbia Daily Tribune.
One game at a time.
Glad to get this win.
Tough challenge ahead.
Looking forward to facing them.
All the scripted lines recycled through every locker room in the country.
But defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson must have missed the memo. He admitted to watching a little of the Georgia-Buffalo game last Saturday. Then he said, “I turned it off.” Had he stopped there, or had a coach intervened, there wouldn’t have been a story. But Richardson didn’t slow down.
“It’s like watching Big Ten football,” he told a scrum of reporters after the game. “It’s old man football. (Georgia) has got a Heisman candidate at quarterback. OK. So we’re going to get some and do what we’re supposed to do. We create our own pressure. That’s it, man. Don’t nobody put pressure on us. We come out there for every game. We do what we’re supposed to do. If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us. Period.”
But insulting Georgia wasn’t enough for Richardson. He went after the SEC as a whole, and even threw in the defending national champions for good measure.
“They make it seem like we came from the WAC or something or never played against Oklahoma or Texas Tech and everyone else who plays for national championships,” said Richardson said.
“It’s about that time we show them who we are,” Richardson continued. “We could have played Alabama today. It don’t matter, man. We’re coming out here every game like this, high-intensity football.”
Like the Aggies, Mizzou officials have tried to minimize the damage, offering glowing praise of their SEC neighbors and commending Georgia on their outstanding defense.
But you can’t un-ring a bell.
For all the glad-handing photographs and welcome-to-the-party balloons, Mizzou and Texas A&M have, in essence, walked into a Southern man’s home, insulted his wife and kicked his dog.
And in the process, they’ve fired the first shots of a feud which they are almost certain to lose.
Sure, Georgia’s defense looked pedestrian against Buffalo, but those cobwebs have been dusted. You can rest assured that the Bulldogs’ coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have one of the nation’s best defenses ready for the Tigers.
The Gators looked anemic against Bowling Green as well, but the billboard almost certainly put some bite into this week’s practice.
Will Muschamp will have the Gators ready to go to College Station.
Sophomore Jeff Diskel is now Florida’s clear starting quarterback, and the defense will be far less vanilla than they were in the opener.
Georgia also answered several questions, most notably at tailback where 6-foot-1, 220-pound freshman Todd Gurley gained 227 yards on 10 touches and shared SEC Freshman of the Week honors with Alabama standout T.J. Yeldon.
The Tigers and the Aggies had their hands full without giving their opponents pinup material for the bulletin boards.
“For us as a coaching staff, the challenge will be that we don’t know how our guys are going to react,” Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. “In certain circumstances, we haven’t been around this team. That will be the interesting part of the game, particularly because there’s adversity in every football game.”