Posted: 2:55 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013
By Jack Blanchat
A year ago this week, the SEC maybe didn't look so smart.
New additions Texas A&M; and Missouri both were handed losses by Florida and Georgia, and it seemed like the new conference members were in for a long season. After all, the Aggies were debuting a freshman QB and a new coach.
But a year later, this week is all about the SEC. And more specifically, all about new member Texas A&M.;
Consider the question posed in our panel discussion this week:
5. The media this week is going to be all Bama/A&M;, all the time. Does it matter to Arkansas who wins?
In the short term, it doesn't matter to Arkansas who wins. Not because both teams totally suck and we already hate them anyway, but because, in the long term, the entire SEC wins. Matchups like this are what people want to see. And maybe someday soon, millions will tune in to see the Hogs play Alabama or A&M; in a battle of top five teams.
But there's a broader implication behind that panel question, and that broad question is worth asking: should Arkansas have any buyer's remorse about adding Missouri and A&M; to the SEC? A&M; is hogging headlines and bringing attention to the conference, but does that truly benefit the Hogs?
After all, the Razorbacks are perhaps the one school most affected by these two additions to the conference - they'll play the Aggies in conference every year, and it appears that Arkansas' Thanksgiving matchup with LSU has been sacrificed in lieu of a Thanksgiving game against Missouri.
That's worth stopping and pondering for a moment. (Also full disclosure: Arkansas is playing an 0-2 Southern Miss team and I didn't see the game last week, so I'm not exactly a font of information about the Hogs at this exact moment.)
So far, I think it's safe to say that these two additions have been a net positive for the conference - and adding A&M; might have been the best move in the history of conference realignment.
In one fell swoop, the top conference in the country added inroads to a fertile recruiting base, a team with one-of-a-kind traditions, and possibly he most divisive player in SEC history. (Well, maybe the most divisive player since Cam Newton. Or Tim Tebow. Okay, bad example.)
All in all, the SEC stays winning. The King stay the King. Even if the Bama-A&M; game was an SEC-Big 12 matchup, people would want to tune in to see that game, but now that game just happens to be branded with those three dominant letters: SEC. Best of all, the Big 12 is left wondering how they traded a Heisman winner/the most exciting player in college football for the ongoing tire fire that is Texas Longhorns football. They also got a faceful when the Aggies beat Oklahoma within an inch of their lives in the Cotton Bowl.
That conference-wide positive effect also extends to the Razorbacks in particular. Arkansas was already signed on to play the Aggies when they were still Big 12 members - but now it counts as a conference game - so adding A&M; to the SEC ends up being only a nominal difference for the Hogs. And the Razorbacks get to play against a team from Texas year in and year out, which certainly benefits the Razorbacks' recruiting efforts in the Lone Star State.
On the other hand, though, there's Missouri. The other formerly disgruntled Big 12 team so far has brought less to the conference than the Aggies thus far.
While the move has benefitted both schools - A&M; and Mizzou are planning huge stadium expansions, for example - the Tigers haven't made much of a splash in the SEC. (Although Tennessee fans might be happy that Missouri has joined the conference. The Vols' loss to the Tigers was essentially the final nail in Derek Dooley's coaching career in Knoxville.)
However, I think Missouri could wind up being a great addition to the SEC, especially with relation to Arkansas. With the Arkansas athletic department looking like it wants to pare down the amount of Razorback games in Little Rock, it seems like Missouri would be a prime candidate to play in the Rock.
The Little Rock tradition is fun, different, and unique to Arkansas football - and it'd be a good way to introduce a new "rivalry" into the equation. All of the other "traditional" SEC west rivalries can be played in Fayetteville, while simultaneously integrating Missouri into the schedule in a way that makes sense. If a battle for the SEC west comes down to a Little Rock game against Missouri, War Memorial will be packed and Tigers will quickly be accepted into the conference by Arkansas fans. Because even if (God forbid) the Hogs lose, the rivalry will be cranked up to a point where Razorback fans will begin to really care about beating Missouri. That's a pretty quick way to make this team fit into the SEC.
Altogether, one year after the new neighbors have moved in, it seems like the Hogs should be pleased with the additions. Even though the SEC's moves have shaken up the schedule and induced ESPN to drone about Johnny Football at a manic pace, the Hogs perhaps should be the team happiest about the expansion - maybe even happier than Missouri and A&M.;