Mizzou has no clue about life in SEC
Maybe it was the looks on their faces – the slight flash of anger in their eyes and the small hint of a smirk that crossed their lips when the subject of how tough life is in the SEC came up. But almost everyone at SEC Media Days got the sense that Missouri has no idea what they're in for.
For starters, Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel showed up in Birmingham with no real idea about the magnifying glass under which every coach on the SEC operates.
There can be no other explanation for what he said about Joe Paterno.
"Joe Paterno's a friend that I got to know professionally, and you can't take away the greatness of this man," Pinkel said to a room full or reporters ready, willing and more than able to blow up his remarks beyond all sense of proportion.
"He was a great man. However you analyze this, you can't erase all that this guy's done. You can't do that. Nobody can do that."
Pinkel might as well have lit a cigarette at a gasoline refinery.
Not only did the furor over his comments overshadow almost everything else that Pinkel said, he even riled up politicians in his own state.
Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Sara Lampe pounced on the statement, saying, "Coach Pinkel's defense of the indefensible indicates that he holds the same attitude that allowed the reprehensible situation at Penn State to occur; the attitude that building a successful football program is more important than everything else, including protecting innocent children from rapists."
This was not the way to kick off an SEC coaching career.
From a football perspective, Pinkel's comments about Paterno were probably a blessing in disguise. They overshadowed the laissez faire attitude he seems to be bringing to the toughest conference in college football.
"I've got a place down in Florida, and (when I) go down there sometimes, people act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams," Pinkel said. "We've played in a pretty big league. We understand the great league we're coming into… Everybody is going to analyze that the way they want. I'm not going to try to come up here and prove ourselves…The Georgia game is going to be a big game. But there are going to be a lot of big games."
None of the Texas A&M representatives made those sorts of gaffes. Perhaps it's because the Aggies have played Arkansas and then seen how the Hogs fared against teams like Alabama and LSU. Whatever the reason, the A&M guys said all the right things and showed the kind of respect one would expect from a newcomer.
Mizzou brought a bucket of pig slop to the picnic.
"They've got prettier girls," Missouri receiver T.J. Moe said, knowing full well that he was giving one of the lines of the week. "The air's fresher and the toilet paper is thicker."
As big a laugh as that elicited, most attendees perceived Moe's comments as a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the conference.
Offensive tackle Elvis Fisher was far less subtle, repeating his coach's "high school" line.
"(The SEC) is the best conference, don't get me wrong, but we weren't playing high-schoolers in the Big 12," Fisher said. "Brian Orakpo (from Texas), he's no joke; Aldon Smith on my own team, he's no joke…In the Big 12, there were probably one or two on a D-line that you had to focus on. Now, in the SEC, it's across the board. You just have to be prepared for more week-in and week-out."
And that is the part the Mizzou folks don't seem to understand. A single week of fast, hard-hitting football is one thing: playing quick, strong, enormous, and depressingly deep SEC opponents one Saturday after the next is going to give the Missouri faithful something to ponder throughout the fall.
By Halloween, Pinkel and his players will probably have a much different attitude than they did in Birmingham. And they will likely rue the day they made light of the conference that is going to chew them up alive.