July 17, 2012

Nice to Meet You

HOOVER, AL--On November 6th, Mike Slive welcomed Missouri to its new home. On Tuesday, the Tigers met the extended family. Some eight hundred reporters will fill the Wynfrey Hotel for SEC Media Days this week and the Tigers took their turn on day one.

"Everybody wears suits and sundresses to games. Look at me," said T.J. Moe, decked out in a black suit, white shirt and gold tie. "There are like a thousand reporters here. Security escorted me to the elevator. Everything's just different here."

Indeed, everything about Monday was brand new. The Tigers are new to the league and the league is new to the Tigers. It is a subject that has been hashed, rehashed and rehashed some more over the last few months. And it won't stop soon.

"How are A&M and Missouri going to play out this season in the SEC? That's the big question," Gary Pinkel said. "The analysis, the last month and a half, two months, three months, and they're going to keep analyzing it every single week. I'm not going to get all caught up in that."

Pinkel may stay above the fray, but everyone else has jumped in with both feet. Months of debating whether Missouri can compete in the SEC has come to a head with the season a month away. Some national analysts are picking the Tigers somewhere near the league cellar. When the all-conference pre-season teams were announced, not a single Missouri player was listed on the first two teams.

So does Missouri use it as motivation or do the Tigers take their cue from their coach and ignore it?

"(Missouri SID) Chad Moller gave us some stuff to read on the way here and I was joking with E.J. (Gaines) and I said, 'You know if they made 22 football teams, Phil Steele doesn't think you'd start on any of them.' You know, I don't understand," Moe said. "How can you be first team all conference in one conference that was considered maybe the second best conference and now you wouldn't start on any team? There's 14 teams, they're all better than E.J. That's what some guy thinks. I disagree with that one quite a bit. Same thing with the receivers, we don't get much respect and that's fine. Apparently Ryan Swope is a god because he can come in and get first-team all-SEC. But that's fine. There's good players everywhere. But the receivers in the Big 12 are the best in the country. I know there's a lot of good athletes over in the SEC but there's a reason the Biletnikoff comes from guys in the Big 12 every year. We're not too worried about it. It's kind of fun to see that stuff and maybe open up some eyes once we start the season."

So, short answer, T.J., it's motivation?

"Yeah," he said with a grin. "I guess you could say it's motivation."

Missouri does understand the skepticism.

"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of doubters out there until we play our first game. I don't know why there wouldn't be coming into a new conference and things like that. It's something we have to deal with," E.J. Gaines said. "The Big 12 is definitely a tough conference and I think people know that. I think we are stepping up to a different challenge in the SEC, but I don't think it's nothing we can't handle."

"I know it's out there, I can't help but notice. Everyone's on social media, everyone's on the news. It's just something that I just listen to and brush off my shoulder. A lot of us understand, you can't really control what the media puts out there, you can't really control what anybody else says or does. The only thing you can control is how you come in and prepare," Elvis Fisher said. "Granted, there's no question you're going against better talent in the SEC just because all the teams are at a little bit higher level, but I've been against some great players in the Big 12. I'm not trying to knock anybody, but I've been against some excellent players in the Big 12 that I think are the best ones I've ever played against. We'll see, coming into the SEC, we'll see who's out there."

There is little doubt the SEC has earned its spot as America's best conference. Four teams have won a combined six consecutive national titles. But the Tigers didn't exactly join the SEC from a football wasteland.

"When you come into a league like this, obviously there's great pride, great respect without question," Pinkel said. "We played in a pretty good league too. Okay? We recognize that. We didn't play a bunch of high school kids the last few years."

Later, at the interview podium, Pinkel made a reference to the Big 12 being compared to junior varsity football.

"I've played JV football," Gaines said. "It didn't look like that."

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