Two years into their tenures as SEC schools, Texas A&M and Missouri have earned their share of respect and accolades in their new league.
No. 21 A&M (8-3, 4-3 in SEC) celebrated its second Heisman Trophy winner in school history as an SEC newbie in 2012, with quarterback Johnny Manziel becoming the first freshman to take the honor. But No. 5 Missouri (10-1, 6-1) could trump that achievement, at least from a team perspective, if the Tigers knock off the Aggies at 6:45 p.m. Saturday in a battle of Big 12 expatriates in Columbia, Mo.
A victory by Missouri would allow the Tigers to secure the SEC East Division title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game against the winner of Saturday’s matchup between No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) and No. 4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1) to settle the West Division crown.
A&M, a West Division member, fell to Alabama and Auburn in games at Kyle Field this season. Under league tie-breakers, an Aggies’ victory would send No. 10 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2) to the SEC title game as the East representative.
An upset also would keep A&M and Missouri on even footing in the race to see which of the former Big 12 schools is first to play for an SEC championship in their new league. But the bigger motivation, said coach Kevin Sumlin, is keeping alive the possibility for a second consecutive 10-win season if the Aggies beat Mizzou and win their bowl game.
“That’s important to some of our seniors,” Sumlin said. “Certainly, it’s important to this program. In order to do that, we’ve got to play very, very well against a Missouri team that is firing on all cylinders. I think our guys understand what’s at stake and we’ll be ready.”
Such a milestone would be unique at A&M, where the football program has only two stretches when the Aggies have posted 10-win records in consecutive seasons: 1975-76 (10-2 in both years) and 1991-94. The Aggies were a combined 42-5-1 during the 1991-94 stretch, highlighted by a 12-1 mark in 1992.
After falling out of BCS bowl contention with last week’s 34-10 loss to LSU, Sumlin said he has been pleased to see fans and players embrace Saturday’s opportunity to rebound and spoil Mizzou’s title hopes.
“We are going on the road again this week as the underdog and the good news is that people expect us to win,” Sumlin said. “That’s a completely different attitude than when I first got here.”
A&M will face a Missouri team that has rebounded with a vengeance from last year’s 5-7 mark in its SEC debut season. Although the Tigers’ turnaround has surprised others, Sumlin said he was “more shocked” by last year’s struggles in an injury-plagued year. With improved health, coupled with breakthrough seasons from quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey and defensive end Michel Sam, the Tigers enter with a three-game winning streak after falling to South Carolina on Oct. 26.
Missouri reached conference championship games in the Big 12 era but was routed in both by Oklahoma: 62-21 (2008) and 38-17 (2007). Coach Gary Pinkel said his team welcomes the opportunity to secure its first SEC title shot by knocking off the Aggies.
“They’re excited about playing this game against Texas A&M, and we worked really hard to be in this position,” Pinkel said. “We are a good football team, and when you are competing for a championship you have to beat good teams. It’s all about us. Our players get what it takes and it’s about playing well.”
On dealing with title-related pressure, Mizzou’s Franklin said: “I am sure there is a little bit, but we just need to try our best and not think about it. Hopefully, we won’t let the outside stuff affect us.”
The Aggies, on the other hand, would welcome a few Missouri distractions to enhance their opportunity for an upset. Sumlin and Manziel also stressed there are no lingering issues from the thumb ailment Manziel mentioned following the LSU loss.
“That’s been going on for a while,” Sumlin said. “If he couldn’t play, he wouldn’t play. If I thought it was at a point it was going to be detrimental to him or our football team, I wouldn’t play him.”
Texas A&M at Missouri
6:45 p.m. Saturday
Head to head
|Points per game||45.6||39.7|
|3rd down conv.||51.1||48|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||39.6%||35.3%|