The Texas A&M football team enters their inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference with the weight of the world on their shoulders. The Aggies are facing a lot more pressure to win immediately than their counterpart, Missouri, from the Big 12 North.
The Aggies moved to the SEC because they were seeking more stability, exposure, money and to separate their brand from other schools in the state. The opportunity to join the best conference in America was way too good to pass up a second time. A&M jumped on it and Aggie fans have been in a frenzy ever since. The Aggies sold out their football season tickets for the second year in a row in record time, despite a price increase.
A lot of changes in Aggieland have accompanied the move. Mike Sherman was fired as head coach and Kevin Sumlin was hired to replace him. Bill Byrne has decided to effectively retire with a year left on his contract. All the changes in personnel and in the conference have created a different kind of expectations among Aggie fans.
Most Aggies do not expect to win big in the SEC right away but they do expect the team to be competitive. Aggie fans expect the football team to win seven or eight games and qualify for a bowl in 2012. If they do not qualify for a bowl it will be a major disappointment, especially after the frustrating 2011 season.
The pressure the Ags are feeling is not only to win. Aggies everywhere have been repeatedly told by the national and local media that this was the wrong move for the program and that they will fail miserably on the field.
The national perception of collegiate sports is shaped by ESPN. Since ESPN is involved in a partnership with the University of Texas in the Longhorn Network and had a vested interest in seeing A&M remain in the Big 12, they have bashed the move at every turn.
ESPN tried to infer that the Aggies were acting in an immature manner and would regret joining the conference. There "Worldwide Leader in Sports" espoused a lot of vitriol about the move back in August and September of 2011.
Missouri did not experience anywhere near the backlash from the media that A&M did when they decided to joint the SEC. When Missouri decided to make the jump, the concerns over conferences falling apart and college football Armageddon had been averted. There was some negativity espoused by one or two national writers, but if you lived outside of Missouri or Kansas you probably did not notice anything.
The Aggies are joining the SEC West which is much more competitive than the East right now. This means A&M will have to face three teams that won 10 or more games the past two seasons in Alabama, LSU and Arkansas. Alabama and LSU have been the most successful programs in college football during the past five years and the Aggies will play them every year.
Missouri will play in the East and will avoid LSU and Arkansas in 2012. Georgia and South Carolina are good programs right now but are not as strong as Alabama and LSU. Missouri will have an easier introduction into the SEC with their schedule against the East division in 2012.
Texas A&M has been told since last August that they are not good enough to complete in the SEC. They were told that they were wrong for trying to go there and that the SEC would not accept them.
On July 1, the Aggies will be in the conference a lot of Aggie fans have longed to belong to since the late 80s. They will have proved a lot of people wrong by simply becoming a member of the SEC. Aggie fans have to hope they can deal with the pressure and prove even more people wrong by being competitive on the field in football in every other sport.