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SEC Expansion: Can Missouri And Texas A&M Compete In Their New Divisions?

Missouri's officially headed to the SEC East, while Texas A&M will join the West. How will each team fare against its new division schedules, based on recent history?

After over a month of rumor, innuendo, curator meetings, accidental website postings and alleged press conferences that never occurred, Missouri was officially announced as the Southeastern Conference's 14th program Sunday. It's time to look at what that means for the conference as a whole, at least as it pertains to competition and scheduling

Like South Carolina and Arkansas, Texas A&M and Missouri are not going to immediately compete for conference and/or national titles in their new location, but they add quality depth. As I've written previously, Missouri holds up to other once-rumored members (Virginia Tech, Clemson) in terms of five-year performance; and Texas A&M has allegedly been ready to break through for a decade now. How would they have done in recent SEC play? Let's take a look at my good old friend, the F/+ rating, to give us an answer. We have collected F/+ ratings back through the 2005 season; here are the new East and West divisions as they would have taken shape with Missouri and Texas A&M.

East West
No. 10 Georgia (10-3)
No. 16 Florida (9-3)
No. 25 Tennessee (5-6)
No. 42 South Carolina (7-5)
No. 50 Missouri (7-5)
No. 61 Vanderbilt (5-6)
No. 98 Kentucky (3-8)
No. 5 LSU (11-2)
No. 8 Alabama (10-2)
No. 12 Auburn (9-3)
No. 45 Arkansas (4-7)
No. 49 Texas A&M (5-6)
No. 93 Ole Miss (3-8)
No. 94 Mississippi State (3-8)

After an incredibly disappointing 2004 campaign, Missouri bounced back a bit in Brad Smith's senior season; they went 6-5, then beat future East rival South Carolina via second-half comeback in the Independence Bowl. They would have in no way threatened for an East title in 2005, but they probably would have still reached bowl eligibility in an SEC that had a rather mushy middle. Texas A&M, meanwhile, stagnated in Dennis Franchione's third season, and they probably would have done the same in the SEC.

East West
No. 1 Florida (13-1)
No. 15 Tennessee (9-4)
No. 23 South Carolina (8-5)
No. 25 Georgia (9-4)
No. 33 Missouri (8-5)
No. 50 Kentucky (8-5)
No. 59 Vanderbilt (4-8)
No. 2 LSU (11-2)
No. 12 Arkansas (10-4)
No. 18 Auburn (11-2)
No. 37 Texas A&M (9-4)
No. 42 Alabama (6-7)
No. 73 Mississippi State (3-9)
No. 76 Ole Miss (4-8)

Both A&M and Missouri took nice steps forward in 2006; the Michael Goodson/Jorvorskie Lane combination earned the Aggies some close wins and a 9-4 record (the high point of the Franchione era), and sophomore Chase Daniel led Mizzou to an 8-5 campaign that included a home romp over Ole Miss. Missouri would have found a tough go in a suddenly rugged East, but once again, both teams should have enjoyed middle-of-the-pack finishes and bowl bids.

East West
No. 4 Florida (9-4)
No. 10 Missouri (12-2)
No. 11 Georgia (11-2)
No. 17 Tennessee (10-4)
No. 27 Kentucky (8-5)
No. 28 South Carolina (6-6)
No. 66 Vanderbilt (5-7)
No. 2 LSU (12-2)
No. 14 Auburn (9-4)
No. 26 Arkansas (8-5)
No. 39 Alabama (7-6)
No. 46 Mississippi State (8-5)
No. 56 Texas A&M (7-6)
No. 74 Ole Miss (3-9)

Here's where things get interesting, at least if you are a Missouri fan. Depending on home-road scheduling, they very well might have won the SEC East this season; as it stood, they reached No. 1 in the country late in November and came within one half (the second half of the Big 12 title game) of the BCS Championship. Their loss to Oklahoma, in fact, opened the door for LSU to face Ohio State in the title game. Missouri's presence would have given the SEC four of the top 11 teams in the country and six of the top 17. A&M, meanwhile, limped to a 7-6 finish despite high expectations, and Dennis Franchione was let go.

(How was Florida No. 4 in 2007 despite four losses? Their offense was the best of the F/+ era -- better, even, than 2010 Auburn; it was so good that they managed a top five finish with a defense that ranked 71st in Def. F/+.)

East West
No. 1 Florida (13-1)
No. 13 Georgia (10-3)
No. 17 Missouri (10-4)
No. 35 South Carolina (7-6)
No. 44 Tennessee (5-7)
No. 53 Vanderbilt (7-6)
No. 69 Kentucky (7-6)
No. 7 Alabama (12-2)
No. 10 Ole Miss (9-4)
No. 28 LSU (8-5)
No. 60 Arkansas (5-7)
No. 61 Auburn (5-7)
No. 91 Mississippi State (4-8)
No. 107 Texas A&M (4-8)

Missouri spent half the year in or near the Top Five, but a shaky defense faltered against the Big 12's record-setting set of offenses. They wouldn't have challenged Florida for the title, but a January 1 bowl bid would have likely been in the works during Chase Daniel's senior season. Meanwhile, A&M's first season under Mike Sherman was ... not good.

East West
No. 2 Florida (13-1)
No. 23 Tennessee (7-6)
No. 31 South Carolina (7-6)
No. 33 Georgia (8-5)
No. 50 Kentucky (7-6)
No. 54 Missouri (8-5)
No. 89 Vanderbilt (2-10)
No. 1 Alabama (14-0)
No. 13 LSU (9-4)
No. 20 Arkansas (8-5)
No. 24 Ole Miss (9-4)
No. 28 Auburn (8-5)
No. 42 Mississippi State (5-7)
No. 48 Texas A&M (6-7)

A&M began a crawl back toward respectability in 2009, but in a loaded West that was seeing both Ole Miss and Mississippi State playing respectable ball, they still would have probably finished in or near last place in the West. Their 2009 campaign included a 28-point loss to Arkansas in Dallas and a 24-point loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl. Missouri, meanwhile, took a step backwards after the departures of Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, etc. They went 8-5 in Blaine Gabbert's first year as starter, but their schedule was quite weak, and they would have struggled to make a bowl in this conference. (Then again, a similar Kentucky squad managed the feat.)

East West
No. 11 South Carolina (9-5)
No. 16 Missouri (10-3)
No. 26 Georgia (6-7)
No. 34 Florida (8-5)
No. 47 Kentucky (6-7)
No. 58 Tennessee (6-7)
No. 96 Vanderbilt (2-10)
No. 1 Auburn (14-0)
No. 3 Alabama (10-3)
No. 7 Arkansas (10-3)
No. 13 LSU (11-2)
No. 24 Texas A&M (9-4)
No. 26 Mississippi State (9-4)
No. 63 Ole Miss (4-8)

Depending on which Columbia hosted the Missouri-South Carolina game, Missouri may have won another East title in 2010. All the strength had suddenly shifted to the West, and the Gamecocks benefited. A&M, meanwhile, wouldn't have been as lucky. Their second-half surge was strong, but they would have been a distant fourth in this division. That would have still meant a solid 7-5 or 8-4 season, but with the murderer's row ahead of them (Arkansas beat them by seven in Arlington, then LSU beat them by 17 in the Cotton Bowl), that would have been their ceiling.

2011 (as of last week)
East West
No. 19 Georgia (7-2)
No. 26 South Carolina (7-2)
No. 28 Missouri (4-5)
No. 38 Tennessee (4-5)
No. 41 Florida (5-4)
No. 58 Vanderbilt (4-5)
No. 96 Kentucky (4-5)
No. 1 Alabama (8-1)
No. 3 LSU (9-0)
No. 14 Texas A&M (5-4)
No. 30 Arkansas (8-1)
No. 44 Mississippi State (5-4)
No. 56 Auburn (6-3)
No. 86 Ole Miss (2-7)

Thus far in 2011, Missouri has faced an extremely difficult schedule that has featured road games versus four ranked teams (Arizona State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas A&M), plus a trip to formerly-ranked Baylor and a home game versus Oklahoma State. South Carolina, meanwhile, just faced their first ranked team this past weekend (and lost). Georgia would probably still be leading the East right now, but as strange as it may sound to some, Missouri would be facing an easier slate in the SEC than in their current digs. A&M, meanwhile, has been rock solid in 2011, but their second-half collapses have defined their season. They've blown double-digit leads to Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Missouri, and they faded drastically in the second half in a loss to Oklahoma as well. They are strong and competitive, however, and would be a good fit in the West ... even if they continued to lose tight games.

At yesterday's ceremony at Missouri, Mike Slive mentioned that Mizzou would officially become part of the SEC East, answering one of the questions that had been lingering. Two more still exist, however: 1) Who will match up with A&M and Missouri in terms of cross-division rivalries? (Do they get paired with each other? Does Missouri end up with Arkansas and A&M with South Carolina? Does the conference do even more rearranging?) 2) Will the conference play eight or nine conference games? My assumption has for a while been that they would stick with eight games just to keep one extra home game/guaranteed win on their slate; but according to the Daily Gamecock, South Carolina president Harris Pastides said that the conference would move to a nine-game conference schedule.

That would result in example schedules like this for the two new teams:

  • Texas A&M: at Alabama, at Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, at Mississippi State, Missouri (cross-division rival), at Georgia, Kentucky
  • Missouri: Florida, at Georgia, at Kentucky, South Carolina, at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Texas A&M, Mississippi State, at Arkansas.

With the current balance of power, Missouri has certainly gotten the better division draw. In the SEC East, they would have competed closely for a couple of different East titles in recent years, but with this year's step backwards (at least in the win column), they will need to prove that their recent level of play is sustainable moving forward. A&M, meanwhile, has a huge stadium and solid recruiting, but they have not yet taken the step forward that many expected. It will be interesting to see how impatient the A&M administration gets this year if the Aggies continue to falter in second halves and limp home to a 7-5 finish or so. Dennis Franchione, after all, was let go after a 7-6 season.