Missouri coach Gary Pinkel speaks to reporters at his first SEC Media Days on Tuesday after the Tigers joined the powerhouse conference this past offseason.
HOOVER, Ala. — The coaches and players at Missouri and Texas A&M have said repeatedly they’re proud to be the newest members of the Southeastern Conference.
They also mentioned being excited, honored and appreciative.
But one thing they are not is afraid.
The two newest members of the Southeastern Conference made their debut at the league’s annual Media Days on Tuesday, a three-day event that hosts more than 1,000 credentialed reporters.
Neither program seemed particularly bothered by the carnival-like atmosphere, instead relishing the challenge of joining a league that produced the past six BCS national champions.
“We don’t want to be overlooked,” Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope said. “We’re here to win football games.”
Both Texas A&M and Missouri officially joined the SEC in July, leaving many of their traditional rivalries in the Big 12. Swope said there was some disappointment in not playing heated games against schools like Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, but there was also excitement about replacing them with the likes of Alabama, Florida and LSU.
“We’re very anxious to get this thing started,” Swope said. “We just can’t wait for kickoff.”
Texas A&M’s schedule during its first year in the SEC is particularly brutal.
The Aggies were thrown into the SEC Western Division, which includes the last three national champions. First-year coach Kevin Sumlin returns 14 starters from a team that finished 7-6 last season, but must find a replacement for Ryan Tannehill, who was a first-round pick by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in April.
But Sumlin wasn’t making any excuses, saying his “realistic expectations are to win” despite acknowledging the difficult task ahead. Sumlin comes to Texas A&M after leading Houston to a 13-1 record in 2011.
“You can argue all you want, but there are some of the best coaches in the country in the SEC,” Sumlin said. “Combine that with big, fast guys, some of the best players in the country and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Missouri appears to have a slightly easier schedule this year. The Tigers are in the Eastern Division, where there’s no obvious favorite. They’re coming off an 8-5 season, including an Independence Bowl victory over North Carolina.
Missouri offensive lineman Elvis Fisher said the Tigers are aware of the talent in the SEC — and called it a “great opportunity” — but said the difficulty of the transition was slightly overblown.
“Nothing’s really changed from the standpoint of a player,” Fisher said. “You’ve got better competition to go against, but you’ve still got to go out there and play football.”
The Tigers return 15 starters, including junior quarterback James Franklin, who accounted for 3,846 total yards and 36 total touchdowns last season and bring in the nation’s top recruit in receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Franklin had shoulder surgery in March. Pinkel says his trainer said a couple of weeks ago that the dual-threat quarterback is expected to be 100 percent.
Pinkel said his program’s experience in the Big 12 was plenty of preparation for the SEC.
“People act like we’ve been playing a bunch of high school teams,” Pinkel said. “We’ve played in a pretty big league.”
But the 60-year-old, who is entering his 12th season at Missouri, said he understands why people are speculating. He’s just ready to get on the field and figure out some tangible results.
“Bottom line, you got to go out and prove yourself,” Pinkel said. “I’m fine with it. I have no problem with it. I’m not going to make any predictions. Never have, never will. You have to go out and compete and earn respect and win.”