COLUMBIA, Mo. -- I made it out to the new Columbia to check out the new Tigers in the SEC Tuesday. It was my first time visiting the city and school and it was the first time I had ever spoken to coach Gary Pinkel.
Immediately, I could tell that he wasn't afraid of his new surroundings. Not one bit. He's been at Missouri for 11 seasons and after some thought he'd be run out of Columbia before he even figured out where his office was he'll enter the 2012 season with 85 wins at Missouri. He's also taken the Tigers to seven straight bowl games.
So when the coach with 21 years of head-coaching experience was asked about adjusting to the SEC, it was no surprise that he didn't budge much. He gives the SEC a ton of respect, but thinks his team can earn some with the move.
"It's hard to argue with anybody and say the SEC's not the best league in the country, consistently," Pinkel said. "There's no argument.
"I understand we're going into a great league this year, but we go in with some credibility and some success."
The Tigers have reached double-digit wins in three of their past five seasons, so there's no doubt this team will get some respect, but earning it means adjusting to life in a league that lives and dies by line play. That's where things might get a little tricky for the Tigers.
Missouri has to replace six linemen on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Missouri has been without defensive linemen Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson this spring due to injuries. It hurts because both are expected to contribute a lot this fall, but it has helped get younger players more reps, especially end Kony Ealy who should give Madison a real run for his spot when the senior-to-be returns.
On the offensive line, the Tigers were fortunate to get wise, old Elvis Fisher is back after he was granted a sixth year by the NCAA, following a devastating knee injury that end his 2011 season during fall camp. They also return a group of players that might not have started every game, but got good game experience last year.
To the coaches, the Tigers aren't exactly losing three starters on the offensive line. Offensive coordinator David Yost acknowledges that Jayson Palmgren, Austin Wuebbels and Dan Hoch are all gone, but he also considers guard Jack Meiners a starter from last year and Fisher is considered a returning starter as well. It also helps that Justin Britt started at left tackle last year, essentially giving Missouri two left tackles and containing the edges on this year's line. That's big because Missouri doesn't use an attached tight end much.
Speaking of tight end, Eric Waters, who is replacing All-American Michael Egnew, underwent surgery to repair a torn MCL in his knee Tuesday and Pinkel said he's out for three months. He should be ready for the season opener.
As for tweaking the offense and making sure Missouri is fit to run its true spread in the SEC, the players and coaches aren't worried. In fact, they're pretty confident in their scheme and they're not changing from being a true spread team.
"Until you play us, it's different than what other people do and how they do it," Yost said. "We have our system, and we're going to stick with it. Their challenge is to do what they do and have their stuff mesh to what we do."
The Tigers will have to have a balanced attack like they did last year.They'll have quarterback James Franklin back for the opener and think he'll help guide their group of unproven wide receivers. Missouri can also go four or five deep at running back, even without Henry Josey, who likely won't see the field this fall following that devastating knee injury.