As the 2012 college football season gets underway, Capital One Bowl scouts begin to travel the country analyzing the Southeastern and Big Ten Conferences’ best teams, fans, stadiums and cities. Last year, the Big Ten welcomed Nebraska to the conference, putting Lincoln on the list of destination cities for our dedicated team selection committee. This year, the SEC adds newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M to the fold. Today, we dissect both the Tigers and Aggies, as well as the cities they call home.
MISSOURI – Columbia, Mo.
Team: Dating back to 2002, Gary Pinkel has sent each of his starting quarterbacks to the NFL (Brad Smith 2002-05, Chase Daniel 2006-08, Blaine Gabbert 2009-10). The Tigers bring back second-year starter James Franklin for their inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference and hope that Pinkel’s spread offense will keep SEC foes off balance in 2012. Check out our full Mizzou preview with SBNation.com here.
Stadium: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium
- Nickname: “The Zou”
- Capacity: 71,004
- Fun Fact: When at full capacity, Memorial Stadium would qualify as the ninth-largest city in Missouri.
Must-see tradition: Memorial Stadium’s most recognizable landmark is the white-washed rock “M” located in the north end zone. Seniors playing in their final home game take a rock to commemorate their careers as a Tiger.
Must-eat: “Shotgun Pete’s BBQ Shack” – If its ridiculous 98% approval rating on UrbanSpoon.com isn’t enough to get you in the door, Shotgun Pete’s Hickory-smoked ribs and newly acquired liquor license should do the trick. Because what goes better with barbeque than an ice-cold beer?
Must-do: “Columbia Star Dinner Train” – Step aboard this vintage 1930’s passenger train and enjoy a fine-dining experience while passing through some of Missouri’s beautiful countryside. The train departs Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays for brunch at 11:30 a.m.
First SEC Opponent: Georgia
Both programs handled their season openers with relative ease last weekend, Missouri dismantling Southeast Louisiana, 62-10, and Georgia taking care of Buffalo, 45-23. The Tigers and Bulldogs square off for the first time since the 1960 Orange Bowl, where Georgia bested Mizzou 14-0.
Each schools’ star quarterback returns this season from successful 2011 campaigns. Mizzou’s James Franklin threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for 15 more last season, while UGA’s Aaron Murray racked up 35 passing touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards through the air during his sophomore season.
The Bulldogs return nine starters from a defense that allowed just 277 yards per game in 2011, and are looking to return to the SEC Championship for the second-straight season.
Gary Pinkel and the Tigers’ offense averaged 475 yards per game last year, including a 744-yard outing against Western Illinois. Their defense was nothing to scoff at either; in that same game the Tigers allowed just 44 yards, resulting in a net gain of 700 yards. With statistical leaders returning in nearly every category, the Tigers are primed and ready to take on the SEC’s best.
TEXAS A&M – College Station, Texas
Team: Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin looks to transition his high-powered offense to a new team and a new conference in 2012. He averaged 42.9 points per game during his four-year tenure at Houston, but will face some of the nation’s toughest defenses in the SEC West. For a closer look at Texas A&M, check out our preview with SBNation.com here.
Stadium: Kyle Field
- Nickname: “Home of the 12th Man”
- Capacity: 82,589
- Fun Fact: Signs at the stadium read “For those of you visiting for the first time, please do not be alarmed. The press box will move during the Aggie War Hymn.”
Must-see tradition: Similar to a pep rally, Midnight Yell Practice takes place the night before every home game at Kyle Field. Five elected “Yell Leaders” teach the student body new cheers and psych up the fan base before gameday.
Must-eat: “Dixie Chicken” – An Aggie staple since 1974, and home to a live rattle snake, Dixie Chicken is the place to be for students and locals alike. Challenge a friend to a game of pool or dominoes while enjoying some ‘Texas Toothpicks’ (fried jalapeno slices) for the authentic College Station experience.
Must-do: “George Bush Presidential Library and Museum” – Step into the mind of the former president by perusing more than 44 million pages of personal papers in the text archive. Also on display are a piece of the Berlin Wall and a replica of the Oval Office where visitors can take a picture behind the president’s desk.
First SEC Opponent: Florida
Everyone in College Station is ready for the arrival of the Florida Gators on Saturday as Texas A&M kicks off its inaugural season in the SEC. Nobody more so than Mayor Nancy Berry.
At a fundraising event this spring, Florida head coach Will Muschamp jokingly asked the audience if they had ever been to College Station, adding “It’ll be the only time you go.” In response to his not-so-ringing endorsement of her city, Berry posted a YouTube video of an edited Muschamp appearing at different locations and events across College Station. She even sent him a gift basket to quell any resentment between the two.
What Muschamp didn’t joke about during the fundraiser was the SEC-like environment he witnessed at Kyle Field as Texas defensive coordinator in 2009. The Gators will encounter what is sure to be a raucous crowd Saturday as they look to extend their streak of seven-straight wins in road openers, all against SEC opponents.
Florida will start sophomore Jeff Driskel at QB, who beat out fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett for the job after an eight-month battle. The Aggies will put the ball in the hands of redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who outplayed a pair of sophomores during fall training camp.
The matchup to watch this weekend is the A&M running game against the Gators’ rush defense. Senior Christine Michael piled up 900 yards and eight TDs last season before tearing his ACL in November and missing the remainder of the year. Florida finished eighth in total defense a season ago, and returns 10 starters on that side of the ball.