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November 15, 2011

Guest Commentary: The SEC Experience





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Ol' Mizzou, you're not in Kansas anymore. Or Iowa or Oklahoma, for that matter. You're leaving the cornfields, the wheat fields, and yes, the dust, the Big 12 for high cotton here in the Southeastern Conference. It's a time to celebrate!

Don't be scared of the big boys (four different SEC team have won the last six national titles). South Carolina won one conference title (ACC, with four losses) and ZERO bowl games before joining the SEC in the early 90s. A you've probably read over and over, Mizzou has a remarkable 20-8-1 record all-time against the SEC, including winning records against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida. Joining the SEC will force Mizzou to elevate its football program. No doubt about it.

As a Mizzou grad who has covered SEC football for almost two decades, I can testify that Tiger athletics are now in the big leagues. Though some naysayers argue that Mizzou will never be able to compete week in and week out with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn, there's convincing evidence that the Tigers will rise to the new challenge.

The SEC membership means more money, a higher profile and a bigger platform. Interest in Mizzou football should skyrocket. So should success in recruiting. Playing on the biggest stage, in the grandest and most-storied stadiums and against the best competition provides the Mizzou football program with the best chance to jump from Top 25 to elite status.

Recruiting, the lifeblood, of the game, will increase. In the Big 12, Mizzou got its share of in-state talent and got good Texas players that the Longhorns, Aggies and others didn't want. By joining the SEC, Mizzou has a better shot at the Monte Balls and Ronnie Wingos that got away, not to mention the homegrown talent ranked as the nation's top prep player this year. Mizzou needs to find a way to stay relevant in Texas while making in-roads in the Deep South and finding top regional players who want a shot at playing in the SEC.

College football is a way of life, a religion in its own right, in the SEC. Calendars (forget a Saturday wedding during the fall) are planned around football games - home and away. Cars and vans are purchased in school colors. Flags on the front porch champion athletic programs. Fans wear their colors to school, to work and following a victory, to church on Sundays.

The entire University will profit. Alums and boosters will be energized, so expect donations to increase to the school and the athletic department. Publicity will increase. So will admissions applications. Everybody - well outside the Big 12 - wins.

SEC fans follow college football year-round. They spend their free time on web sites or watching old games on cable TV. Winter isn't basketball season, it's recruiting season. By this time next year, expect Alabama fans to know more about Mizzou football than many of you do right now.

No, this isn't a time for Mizzou fans to be intimidated. It's a time to rejoice in the future. The big boys of college football, the game's most-heralded programs, will be coming to Columbia on a regular basis. We'll see Bama and Auburn, Georgia and Florida, Tennessee and LSU.

It's time to buckle up, Mizzou fans. You're heading for an exciting college football world you haven't been exposed to yet. I never traveled to Mizzou games in Ames or Stillwater, Lincoln or Manhattan - how many Mizzou fans did? But I'm looking forward to games in Baton Rouge and Oxford, Knoxville and Athens, Gainesville and Tuscaloosa.

Here are a few things to put on your list for SEC road trips in the next few years:

There's the Bear Bryant Museum and film of the Bear himself on the scoreboard at Bama's Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Expect to be greeted by pots of gumbo and red beans and rice as well of taunts of "Tiger meat, Tiger meat" for an eerily exciting night game at LSU.

There's no place like The Grove at Ole Miss. Unless, the finest in luxury tailgating and the most beautiful girls (the whole SEC shines in this category), dressed up in their weekend best, don't interest you.

At Georgia, you'll see the biggest doghouse in the world, occupied by the most-famous bulldog, near the most-famous ring of hedges, in the world. The fans will be barking soon after the lone bugler finishes his pre-game rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation" from an upper corner of Sanford Stadium.

Steve Spurrier made the Swamp famous in Gainesville and he's moved his reclamation act to South Carolina, where the stadium has actually shaken due to excitement in the stands.

Tennessee has the Vol Navy docked just outside the gate at 107,000-seat Neyland Stadium, swaying to the beat of "Rocky Top."

Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium has the most beautiful bluegrass and a loyal, if realistic fan base.

Mississippi State has cow bells.

Auburn features the pre-game entrance of an eagle, and perhaps and a fan base that takes a back seat in devotion to nobody, including hated rival Alabama.

Even perennial doormat Vanderbilt offers a trip to the capital of country music.

So what should Mizzou expect in the SEC? The best college football in the nation, featuring the finest in history and pageantry, beautiful women and college towns that live for football Saturdays, which often begin before sun-up and end in the wee hours Sunday. Fans arrive early in the morning for set up, which includes everything from food and drinks to satellite TV (you have to watch the other SEC games before and after your team's game). Fridays are spent watching high school football and making sure all the college flags, magnets and stickers for Saturday are properly attached to the family SUV.

Mizzou fans, gone are the days of hoping 50,000 will show up on a glorious fall Saturday in Columbia to watch the likes of Iowa State or Kansas State. No more searching for the proper FOX subchannel for an 11 a.m. telecast on the road. If Mizzou doesn't pack Memorial Stadium for every SEC game - it will - opposing teams' fans will. So get used to games on CBS and ESPN. Forget playing mid-majors at home. Those days of walking into a hornet's nest at Troy or Bowling Green are over.

Mizzou is now in the big time. Tiger fans, you're going to love it.

John Brasier, a native of St. Peters, Mo., grew up listening to Mizzou football while sitting on the steps near an old Philco. He graduated from the Mizzou School of Journalism in 1985 and covered SEC sports from 1992 through 2010 at newspapers in Columbia, S.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and Anderson, S.C. A longtime Heisman Trophy voter, he also was a voter in the 1997 Associated Press football poll, which featured Mizzou's first top 25 finish in 15 years.

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