When the prospect arose that Mizzou would join the SEC, one of the many questions Tigers fans thought of was: SEC East or SEC West?
Football is a priority for Mizzou athletics and there was a curiosity of which division they would land in. The West seemed liked a daunted group that produced the last three national championships. The East included programs rebuilding and a school that cares more about academics than football.
When it was announced Missouri would join the SEC as the 14th member, conference commissioner Mike Slive told an anxious crowd at the Mizzou student center that the Tigers would play in the SEC East. Texas A&M was the 13th member and would be in the West. It seemed that the SEC didn’t want to break up state rivals Alabama and Auburn, so the team located in the Gateway to the West was set to play in the East.
Many at Mizzou were relieved and excited about this. Avoiding annual meetings with Alabama and LSU could get the football program adjusted to the conference. Auburn and Arkansas were other West teams that are usually ranked.
The East on paper looked much weaker. There was a big three in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Then there was the “other” three in Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
These were the beliefs that came from a consensus of Mizzou fans last November. Now in late September, the opinions have shifted.
Yes, Alabama and LSU are not only the class of the conference, but also two of the best teams in the nation. However, the SEC East is better than the SEC West in 2012.
From top to bottom, it’s a deeper division and tougher to play in on a weekly basis.
The SEC East has three strong teams that are ranked in the top 11 in the AP Poll. Georgia (No. 5) and South Carolina (No. 6) should be discussed in national championship talks and No. 11 Florida is ahead of schedule under second year coach Will Muschamp.
The rest of the SEC East is 0-6 in conference play but they have played the elite in the division. Missouri and Vanderbilt both lost to Georgia and South Carolina. Tennessee and Kentucky each were defeated by Florida.
The SEC West has two of the top three ranked teams in the country. After that who is the third best team?
Arkansas was supposed to be the third team, but the wheels have fallen off in Fayetteville since Bobby Petrino was fired in April. John L. Smith hasn’t been able to motivate the team and the Razorbacks lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers with a humiliating 52-0 defeat to Alabama in between. After the Alabama game, injured quarterback Tyler Wilson called his teammates quitters.
Auburn is just two years removed from a national championship, but Gene Chizik’s coaching seat is getting hotter. The Tigers’ only win this season was at home, in overtime, against the same Louisiana-Monroe that beat Arkansas.
Mississippi State is playing well and is ranked. Its conference win was against Auburn and it will be interesting to watch the Bulldogs later this season when they travel to Alabama and LSU.
Texas A&M was defeated in its conference debut by Florida and has yet to face a serious test in its other two games. Ole Miss is 3-1 with its lone loss coming in a 66-31 blowout to Texas.
The SEC’s two best teams are in the West, but the better division is the East. Missouri has a tougher conference journey this year than Texas A&M. Mizzou might be better off in the SEC East long term, but if fans had a choice to play in one this season, it would be the West.