Leave Feedback

no avatar

Texas A&M and Missouri make an impact in SEC

By Kate Hairopoulos Dallas Morning News (MCT) • Dec 15, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Just two years ago, Texas A&M and Missouri were finishing up middle-of-the-pack seasons in the Big 12.

On Saturday, the BCS No. 5 Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) will host the No. 21 Aggies (8-3, 4-3), familiar, final barriers to the SEC championship game next week in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Not bad for the new guys.

Two years since ditching the Big 12 for the SEC, both programs have already made an impact in the big, bad conference that many speculated may be too much for them. Mizzou is playing for the highest stakes. A&M, coming off its worst lost in coach Kevin Sumlin's tenure last week at LSU, is aiming to improve its bowl destination and with a sliver of a chance to resuscitate quarterback Johnny Manziel's bid to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.

"We've got to go on the road again, to a 10-win team that's hungry to go to Atlanta," A&M running back Ben Malena said. "We have other plans on our mind. Not necessarily redeeming ourselves, but playing to the level we know we can play."

Missouri entered this season with extra verve after struggling in its first SEC season, going 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the league.

"We're used to winning here," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "To have a year like that and be criticized that we can't play in the SEC, not good enough to be in the SEC, all the things that went with that ... It starts with the seniors, and without question there's an extra drive these guys have. ... They're responsible for Mizzou football."

Sumlin said injuries devastated the Tigers last season, particularly by the time A&M played them in the final regular-season game, which the Aggies won, 59-29, in College Station.

"When we played them, they'd lost half their team," Sumlin said "Gary Pinkel has a track record of winning. ... I didn't see that changing. ... When you establish that and move (conferences), it's a heck of a lot easier to continue or bounce back when you have that culture."

Missouri's only loss this season came in double overtime, 27-24, on Oct. 26 at home against South Carolina. It's the Gamecocks who would represent the SEC East in the league title game vs. the Alabama-Auburn winner if A&M were to knock off the Tigers.

Mizzou survived losing starting quarterback James Franklin this season for four games to a shoulder injury. He returned in last week's win at Mississippi.

While Mizzou is soaring, A&M has come back down to earth a bit after last season's breakout. A&M went 11-2, 6-2 in the SEC then, still finishing tied for second in the West division, but beating No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and unleashing Johnny Football on college football along the way.

Manziel played perhaps his worst game in last week's 34-10 loss to LSU _ the league's top offense shut down. Missouri, which leads the league in sacks (35) and interceptions (18) and stars imposing defensive ends such as Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, will try to make it two in a row for Manziel mediocrity.

This could be Manizel's final regular-season game at A&M if he heads to the NFL, as expected, after this season.

While many pundits have declared Manziel's campaign for his second straight Heisman over, the Heisman race is jumbled going into the season's final two Saturdays.

"I don't think it's completely over," said Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman winner, who captured the trophy for Ohio State in 1974 and '75. "He didn't have his best game, but neither did the team. It's going to be interesting. The race is still very wide open."

Griffin said even if Manziel, who was the first freshman to win the Heisman, doesn't repeat, eventually there will be another two-time winner.

"I've been saying somebody would win twice," Griffin said. "Now that you see freshmen winning, there's even the possibility that someone will win it three times."

That's the big picture. But for Saturday night, the focus is zeroed in on a blacked-out Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo., where Mizzou will try to make history. A&M can still have something to say about it.

"I won't be offended at all," A&M senior receiver Travis Labhart said, "if we go spoil it for them."

Recommended for You