Newcomers Show They Belong at SEC Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. – Mike Slive nailed it. The Southeastern Conference commissioner opened the conference's media days on Tuesday afternoon by welcoming the two new additions—Missouri and Texas A&M—with a quick statement. "They fit." It's all he needed to say about the two programs before players and coaches from the schools spent Tuesday at The Wynfrey Hotel proving exactly what Slive said. They fit.

They were two words that escaped Slive's mouth as a firm reassurance of what he believed all along. The two programs fit the culture and the athletic prominence that he wanted to join the SEC.

And they fit right into the groove, if there ever really is one, at an event like SEC Media Days that can turn the second floor of The Wynfrey Hotel into a zoo. The 1,115 credentialed media members file into a massive room with rows of tables and chairs as far as you can see.

Then there are separate rooms for television stations, including ones that will broadcast games in the fall.

In all of the Texas Pete, Golden Flake and Dr. Pepper lining the hall of the hotel, Missouri and Texas A&M fit.

"In our storied nearly 80-year history, Texas A&M and Missouri are only the third and fourth new members of the conference," Slive said in his opening press conference at the event. "Both are outstanding academic institutions and members of the American Association of Universities.

"They support exceptional broad-based athletic programs with passionate fans and wonderful traditions. We welcome them into the conference family."

As players and the two coaches from both programs filed to the podium, it felt normal. It was natural. It was like both programs have been a part of the SEC for years.

They fit.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin strolled on the stage with more than 20 video cameras at the foot of the podium, filming his every move. He gazed around the room, flashed a slight smile as he soaked it in and stepped to the microphone.

What followed was 40 minutes that mirrored a conversation with a friend. The big stage seemed like home to Sumlin. Halfway through him fielding questions, one of the media members just had to know if this was routine.

"Are you always this laid back?" a reporter asked, the sound booming off the walls of the massive meeting room at The Wynfrey Hotel.

A subtle laughter broke out across the room, but the thought was in everyone's mind.

"It's summertime, and we're undefeated at this point, so you might catch me later with a different attitude," Sumlin said with a smirk and a laugh.

The move to the SEC is already producing benefits for Texas A&M. In his first year as head coach, Sumlin is the cornerstone of a push to make the Aggies' brand something that isn't just noticed throughout the Lone Star State.

It has produced visits and interest from out of state recruits that Sumlin didn't remember being the case during his previous time in College Station as the offensive coordinator from 2001-02.

"There's no doubt that being in the SEC has increased our footprint nationally, particularly moving east," Sumlin said. "I would say we've probably gotten a few more visits or returned phone calls from some guys that may or may not have looked at us before we were in the SEC."

The recruiting push has only begun for Texas A&M. The Aggies came into Monday ranked third in the Scout team recruiting rankings while also leading the rankings with 25 commitments. Once the fall roles around, Sumlin thinks things could get even better on the recruiting trail.

It might have to wait until next season because of the high number of early commitments, but it's the game day atmosphere that might be at the top of the list of reasons why Texas A&M fits in the SEC.

"The game day experience, which ESPN said is second-to-none in the country, gives you an opportunity to go out as a coach and recruit the best and brightest in the country," Sumlin said. "Now that we're in the SEC, I think we've got a venue and a game day atmosphere that fits right into our league."

It wasn't much different when Missouri invaded The Wynfrey Hotel later in the afternoon. Head coach Gary Pinkel took the podium, speaking with confidence and an obvious agitation about what he has heard from people before the start of the 2012 season.

He's tired of hearing about the competition his team faced in the Big 12.

"People act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams," Pinkel said. "We've played in a pretty big league. I don't think it's a chip (on our shoulders). To me, it's being a competitor."

Intimidation won't be a factor for Missouri. That's intentional and starts from the top.

"I'd be disappointed if we were intimidated," Pinkel said. "We all know how it works. How is Missouri and Texas A&M going to do in the SEC, there's going to be an analysis every single week. You have to go out and play and compete. That's the way it should be."

There's also a sense of disrespect that Missouri is feeding off going into the fall. Players spoke about a national belief that the team who wins the Big 12 is looked at "as the eighth best team in the SEC for some reason."

With the Tigers coming into the SEC in 2012, they're selling the idea around the team that no one expects much from them this season or in the future.

"We're still the red headed stepchild coming in, and that's fine," Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe said. "We'll get to prove it wrong here in a couple weeks."

Moe became a story on his own at SEC Media Days on Tuesday with his confidence from the moment he started doing interviews. He expects to be one of the top receivers in the conference immediately and wasn't shy to let it be known.

There's still an excitement around Missouri to be in the SEC, and Moe made that known on Tuesday in a way that only he could.

"They say the girls are prettier here, the air is fresher and the toilet paper is thicker," he said, somehow with a straight face.

The confidence around Missouri and Texas A&M shouldn't be a surprise. They came to Hoover on Tuesday to show that the league or the setting didn't intimidate them. The two teams thrived at doing both.

They fit.

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