SEC football newcomers respectful, not intimidated

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 17, 2012 

SEC Media Days Football

Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin dubbed the SEC a "pretty damned hard league" during Media Days. "We understand it's going to be a difficult but exciting year," he said.

BUTCH DILL — ASSOCIATED PRESS

HOOVER, Ala. — Did you know the Southeastern Conference has won the past six national titles?

That fact came up regularly in questions to the conference's newest members at this year's SEC Media Days.

The questions were asked forward, backward and sideways to the representatives of Missouri and Texas A&M, who left the Big 12 to join the SEC.

By the end of the first day, only Dr. Seuss could have found a new, unique way to ask the Tigers and Aggies about their feelings on joining the nation's premier football conference.

The coaches up at the podium at The Wynfrey Hotel paid their due deference to the SEC.

"We understand that it's going to be a difficult but exciting year," Aggies Coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Missouri's Gary Pinkel echoed: "When you go into a league like this, you're new, you have to prove yourself, earn respect."

But not everyone with a microphone in front of him on Tuesday was ready to feign fainting at the thought of joining the SEC.

Tigers wide receiver T.J. Moe drew quite the crowd as he spouted his thoughts about the SEC, where he quipped: "The girls are prettier. The air is fresher and the toilet paper is thicker."

Moe wasn't ready to concede wins to the SEC elite just yet.

"I know they won the last six national titles," Moe continued. "But all 12 teams didn't win the national championship, just one of them."

Only the third and fourth new members of the conference in 80 years will add some spice and potential contenders immediately, South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said.

"They're going to win a bunch of games," Spurrier said. "Wouldn't surprise me if they weren't in the hunt to win a division or so. I think they may be right up in there."

And even though Pinkel and Sumlin tried to remain respectful of the league, it was clear by the end of their interviews that they were ready to stop talking about joining the SEC and line up against the SEC.

"People act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams," Pinkel said. "We've played in a pretty good league.

"But bottom line, you've got to go out and prove yourself. I'm fine with it."

In the main media room, Sumlin told the story of being on the ESPN bus to start the morning and being reminded four times that he was joining the league that owns the last six national championships.

"We knew that when we took the job," he explained. "We understand the challenges that are ahead of us. We understand that it's going to be a difficult but exciting year."

When Sumlin was asked to assess what it will be like joining the SEC, he laughed.

"What's my assessment? It's a pretty damn hard league," Sumlin said. "That's my assessment."

But just because it's a "damn hard" conference doesn't mean that Sumlin thinks it will mean losses for the Aggies.

"What are my realistic expectations this year? My realistic expectations are to win," he said.

"We talk to our team all the time about two things. We don't need to worry about our SEC schedule, the teams we're playing: Florida, LSU, Alabama yet. We need to worry about us first."

The two newbies will get their chance to start worrying about SEC opponents quite quickly, in the second week of the season (Sept. 8) when Texas A&M plays host to Florida and Missouri plays host to Georgia in what even the skeptical Missouri receiver Moe argued is "the most anticipated game in Missouri football history."

It will be a big deal in Texas, too.

"We get a lot of, 'You're from the Big 12; you've never played football like this before,'" Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter said. "But we can't wait to play."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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