Fans of Missouri and Texas A&M are entering a scary new world.
This world is a landscape rife with claw-bearing monsters and blood-sucking demons. With a promise of great fortune, the two fanbases have gritted their teeth and are preparing to battle some of the most fearsome opponents in the country. The bad news? These beasts can't be slayed.
Sport after sport, year after year they will come. Tigers and Aggies alike must be prepared despite the circumstances.
The ultra-competitive, not-so-fantasy world of the Southeastern Conference is an unforgiving one. Headed into the 2012-13 collegiate athletics calendar, the single most-followed storyline nationally will be that of Missouri and Texas A&M transitioning into the league.
While the Big 12 is certainly competitive, second only perhaps to the SEC, nothing can prepare an organization for what lies before the Aggies and Tigers.
That said, some rather unscientific research can at least provide us a hint as to how the two schools can compete.
Being a fan of numbers, I've researched each SEC program in each sport that all league schools participated in for 2011 as well as those of Missouri and Texas A&M. Using the most reliable sources available, I've ranked each program according to their performance last season.
How will Texas A&M and Missouri stack up? Read on.
DISCLAIMER: Only sports with rankings of all schools available were included, with the NCAA's RPI used as a default. Track and Field/Cross Country was not included because no rankings could be found for Vanderbilt.
The University of Florida is one of the wealthiest members of the SEC and, let's face it, recruiting kids to live in Florida isn't the most difficult of tasks.
Last season, baseball was the university's pride. Entering the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed and looking to unseat back-to-back champion South Carolina, the Gators reached the College World Series for the third straight year. Two consecutive losses ended the dream and sent the team back to Gainesville.
Florida won BCS National Championships in football in 2006 and 2008, in basketball in 2006 and 2007 and has won a total of 23 in its history across all sports. The school is also in the midst of a streak of three straight national titles in Indoor Track & Field.
In fact, the Gators have claimed the SEC's coveted All-Sports Trophy, given to the league's top overall athletics program, 23 of the last 26 years.
As much as some may hate to admit it, Florida is the league's premier athletics program.
Athletics Budget: $107.1 million
Men's Basketball: 19th overall, 4th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 36th overall, 9th in SEC
Baseball: 2nd overall, 1st in SEC
Football: 41st overall, 9th in SEC
Men's Golf: 17th overall, 5th in SEC
Women's Golf: 13th overall, 6th in SEC
Soccer: 11th overall, 1st in SEC
Change on a tectonic level generally takes an earth-shaking event, and the 2011-12 football season provided it.
When the BCS chose Alabama, who LSU had previously beaten 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, to face the Tigers in the title game, it likely didn't realize it had signed its own death sentence.
It was the right decision, of course, but with the SEC's strength so suffocating that it faced itself for a national title in the country's most important sport, change was imminent.
Seven months later, the BCS has given way to an upcoming four-team playoff and the SEC is two teams larger. How this is supposed to abate the conference's supremacy was overlooked, but I digress.
LSU, undefeated headed into the now-famous matchup, found itself staring at its own grass quite a bit. In fact, the Tigers never crossed mid-field in a 21-0 shellacking.
As a program, LSU is nothing short of a powerhouse in nearly every sport. Taking the women's Outdoor Track & Field title in 2012 and the regular-season conference title in baseball, the Tigers enter 2012-13 as a favorite to claim football's top prize.
Athletics Budget: $91.8 million
Men's Basketball: 87th overall, 8th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 25th overall, 5th in SEC
Baseball: 10th overall, 4th in SEC
Football: 2nd overall, 2nd in SEC
Men's Golf: 25th overall, 7th in SEC
Women's Golf: 4th overall, 2nd in SEC
Soccer: 43rd overall, 8th in SEC
Having lost just two games in 2011-12, Calipari's Wildcats don't seem to be fading any time soon. After a surprise SEC championship near-miss in baseball, it doesn't take much to vault UK to the conference's elite despite a surprisingly lackluster athletics budget.
Football is every SEC fan's true passion, that is unless you're part of the True Blue Nation.
Athletics Budget: $82.8 million
Men's Basketball: 1st overall, 1st in SEC
Women's Basketball: 9th overall, 3rd in SEC
Baseball: 18th overall, 6th in SEC
Football: 81st overall, 13th in SEC
Men's Golf: 77th overall, 13th in SEC
Women's Golf: 42nd overall, 12th in SEC
Soccer: 30th overall, 4th in SEC
Here we have it: Texas A&M would have [theoretically] been the second-most competitive program in the SEC West in 2011-12.
Women's hoops leads the Aggies, having won the NCAA title in 2011 and reaching the Sweet 16 last season. A&M's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and baseball all finished ranked among the nation's Top 25 in 2011-12.
The Aggies couldn't be more excited to be joining the league.
Texas A&M is known as competitive in most sports and should be a solid addition to the nation's most competitive division. The school's football program may suffer a shock period, but the lower-revenue sports will compete well from the start.
Athletics Budget: $78.3 million
Men's Basketball: 166th overall, 13th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 7th overall, 2nd in SEC
Baseball: 16th overall, 5th in SEC
Football: 35th overall, 8th in SEC
Men's Golf: 11th overall, 3rd in SEC
Women's Golf: 16th overall, 8th in SEC
Soccer: 12th overall, 2nd in SEC
The Georgia Bulldogs, holding onto times past, are struggling to stay relevant. Claiming an SEC East title in 2011-12, the football program lost its second-straight bowl with its last conference championship back in 2005.
The Bulldogs have claimed 11 SEC titles in women's golf and finished ranked 12th nationally in 2011-12. The men golfers also held a Top 25 postseason ranking. No other sport was ranked postseason.
Considering UGA's substantial budget and facilities, its potential is far outreaching its performance as a program.
Athletics Budget: $80.8 million
Men's Basketball: 104th overall, 10th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 30th overall, 7th in SEC
Baseball: 57th overall, 11 in SEC
Football: 21st overall, 5th in SEC
Men's Golf: 24th overall, 6th in SEC
Women's Golf: 12th overall, 5th in SEC
Soccer: 40th overall, 7th in SEC
Kevin Stallings has built a power in Men's Basketball
The shocker of the group, Vanderbilt stands as the SEC's only privately-funded institution yet knows how to field competitive teams.
Men's basketball has surged under Kevin Stallings, reaching five NCAA tournaments in the previous six years and two Sweet 16s. Playing in one of the most unique coliseums in the country, though not one of the most modern, his effort in building the program into one of national relevance can't be overstated.
Not surprisingly due to its wealthy reputation, golf is a strength in Nashville. The rule held in 2011-12, as Vandy's women's golf finished Top 10 nationally.
New Commodore football coach James Franklin has breathed a bit of life into an otherwise listless program and took the 'Dores to just their second bowl game since 1982.
Baseball, of course, reigns supreme for Vanderbilt, as the program is in the midst of seven straight NCAA regional appearances and just one year removed from its first College World Series. Last year's 35-28 record was a disappointment.
The sky is the limit for the Commodores. Literally.
Athletics Budget: Unreported due to private status
Men's Basketball: 17th overall, 3rd in SEC
Women's Basketball: 31st overall, 8th in SEC
Baseball: 25th overall, 8th in SEC
Competing for a national title is rare. Considering just two teams out of hundreds each year are afforded the opportunity, reaching the pinnacle is prestigious for a reason.
Try finding yourself there three consecutive times. Though the Gamecocks fell just short this season of claiming the title, USC took the top prize in 2010 and 2011. Stating how impressive that feat is just seems to do the program a grave injustice.
Infamous head coach Steve Spurrier also took his football squad to an SEC East championship in 2010 and six bowls in the last seven years.
Basketball...well, let's not talk about [men's] basketball.
Athletics Budget: $80.5 million
Men's Basketball: 192nd overall, 14th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 20th overall, 4th in SEC
Baseball: 7th overall, 2nd in SEC
Football: 7th overall, 4th in SEC
Men's Golf: 54th overall, 9th in SEC
Women's Golf: 18th overall, 9th in SEC
Soccer: 35th overall, 6th in SEC
Staring blankly at the computer, I find it difficult to fairly portray what Pat Summitt has done for women's basketball, the University of Tennessee and sports as a whole. Truly the legend of our time, Summitt has eight national championships and 16 conference championships under her belt. She's been named National Coach of the Year seven times and is quite possibly the greatest coach collegiate athletics has ever seen in any sport. Period.
The most astounding fact about Mrs. Summitt? Since the beginning of the NCAA tournament in 1981-82, she has not missed an appearance. Not once.
The 2011-12 campaign was Summitt's last, finishing her dazzling career in the Elite Eight with a career record of 1098-208 (.841). To compare, legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant held a 323-85 (.780) record.
Summitt announced last year that she is battling Alzheimer's, a condition of which my family and I are all too familiar with. It's a scary and confusing disease, and I couldn't wish a happier life to a more accomplished and beautiful woman.
Emotions aside, the Volunteers have ridden on the shoulders of their women's basketball program for some time. Former head coach Bruce Pearl quickly built men's hoops into a power before being busted for cheating and lying about it to the NCAA, while the 2011-12 women's golf team finished ranked nationally.
Athletics Budget: $97.6 million
Men's Basketball: 90th overall, 9th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 5th overall, 1st in SEC
Baseball: 121st overall, 13th in SEC
Football: 60th overall, 11th in SEC
Men's Golf: 45th overall, 8th in SEC
Women's Golf: 15th overall, 7th in SEC
Soccer: 33rd overall, 5th in SEC
Auburn enjoys flashes of success like a football championship in 2010-11 and occasional national titles in Track & Field and Equestrian but has struggled as a program. The school's only consistently-winning sport is Swimming/Diving.
The Tigers finished 2011-12 ranked fifth in men's golf, but they are ranked near the middle or bottom of the conference in all three major sports.
Considering its third-largest budget, Auburn is vastly under-performing and will be under pressure to step up across the board.
Athletics Budget: $100.5 million
Men's Basketball: 145th overall, 12th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 119th overall, 11th in SEC
Baseball: 53rd overall, 10th in SEC
Football: 26th overall, 6th in SEC
Men's Golf: 5th overall, 2nd in SEC
Women's Golf: 7th overall, 3rd in SEC
Soccer: 18th overall, 3rd in SEC
If Bobby Petrino could have kept it in his pants, he could have solidified his membership among some of the most elite college football coaches of all time with a possible national championship run in 2012-13. As it stands, Petrino was ousted after an "inappropriate relationship" with one of his staffers and Arkansas is under the [likely temporary] guide of former assistant John L. Smith.
I present to you without comment, "Get Your Piss Hot."
The Diamond Hawgs are no slouch either, having reached seven College World Series, most recently in 2011-12. Razorbacks fans love their baseball, as last season's nationally second-ranked attendance was no abnormality.
Soccer and men's basketball dragged down the 'Backs' numbers pretty drastically this season, but their low ranking is not a common one. After its sleeping giant of a hoops program is brought above water once again, Arkansas' athletics program will recover, and quickly.
Athletics Budget: $79.4 million
Men's Basketball: 116th overall, 11th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 27th overall, 6th in SEC
Baseball: 9th overall, 3rd in SEC
Football: 5th overall, 3rd in SEC
Men's Golf: 12th overall, 4th in SEC
Women's Golf: 33rd overall, 10th in SEC
Soccer: 175th overall, 14th in SEC
Talk about slanted numbers, right?
This ranking is exactly why this is an, ahem, unscientific study.
In reality, Alabama has arguably the second-most impressive athletics program in the conference. In 2012, Alabama claimed its rematch against undefeated LSU to increase its football national title count to 14.
Not to be outdone, gymnastics, women's golf and softball each took national championships back to Tuscaloosa. Men's golf finished the season also ranked atop the field. Only golf counts in this poll, so you can begin to see the complications.
With Anthony Grant slowly turning around a former Elite Eight men's basketball program, no one—not even Florida—wants a piece of Alabama right now.
Athletics Budget: $105.1 million
Men's Basketball: 40th overall, 5th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 172nd overall, 13th in SEC
Baseball: 127th overall, 14th in SEC
Football: 1st overall, 1st in SEC
Men's Golf: 1st overall, 1st in SEC
Women's Golf: 2nd overall, 1st in SEC
Soccer: 52nd overall, 9th in SEC
Missouri is improving program-wide, but obviously has a long ways to go.
UM's only major Top 25 program in 2011-12 was men's hoops, which earned a two seed in the NCAA tournament only to drop its opening-round game to 15-seed Norfolk State.
Needless to say, it wasn't a banner year for Missouri athletics.
While the Tigers football squad finished 29th nationally, that would have only been good enough for seventh in the SEC. Mid-pack won't cut it in the nation's strongest conference.
With an athletics budget ranked just above the traditionally poor Mississippi schools, Missouri has plenty of time to familiarize itself with the conference's cellar. Don't worry, Tiger fans, our cellar isn't so bad. It's a penthouse nearly anywhere else.
Athletics Budget: $64.2 million
Men's Basketball: 12th overall, 2nd in SEC
Women's Basketball: 112th overall, 10th in SEC
Baseball: 74th overall, 12th in SEC
Football: 29th overall, 7th in SEC
Men's Golf: 66th overall, 11th in SEC
Women's Golf: 90th overall, 14th in SEC
Soccer: 63rd overall, 10th in SEC
Entering the season with Final Four expectations, another season fell through the increasingly slippery fingers of Rick Stansbury as his 2011-12 squad failed to be selected for the NCAA tournament. Stansbury "retired" at the end of the season and left a once-proud program in shambles.
Baseball has long been a pride of Starkville, and head coach John Cohen is reviving the program to match its storied past. In 2012, the Bulldogs closed the regular season winning four of their last five series and claiming the SEC Tournament crown. With seven College World Series in the books and two-straight NCAA tournament appearances, Mississippi State holds the top nine NCAA on-campus attendance records and 15 of the top 23 figures.
Behind baseball and the improving football program, Mississippi State achieves only occasional successes. Joining Ole Miss as the least affluent programs in the league, the Bulldogs don't seem to have the resources to compete regularly on a large scale.
Athletics Budget: $51.6 million
Men's Basketball: 83rd overall, 7th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 133rd overall, 12th in SEC
Baseball: 22nd overall, 7th in SEC
Football: 42nd overall, 10th in SEC
Men's Golf: 71st overall, 12th in SEC
Women's Golf: 86th overall, 13th in SEC
Soccer: 158th overall, 13th in SEC
Appearing in nine of 10 NCAA tournaments between 2001 and 2010, Ole Miss' baseball program has attempted to carry its school's banner for quite some time. The Rebels have missed two straight postseasons and that won't cut it for long in the ultra-competitive SEC.
After a flash in the pan, Houston Nutt's fire burned out in 2011-12, winning just two games and sending him out of Oxford.
Nearly every other sport finished at or near the bottom of the conference, which ultimately spelled disaster for athletic director Pete Boone. Incoming AD Ross Bjork hails from Western Kentucky and is looking to pull a low-budget turn-around similar to that of Stricklin at rival Mississippi State.
Athletics Budget: $47.1 million
Men's Basketball: 74th overall, 6th in SEC
Women's Basketball: 189th overall, 14th in SEC
Baseball: 26th overall, 9th in SEC
Football: 115th overall, 14th in SEC
Men's Golf: 58th overall, 10th in SEC
Women's Golf: 38th overall, 11th in SEC
Soccer: 98th overall, 12th in SEC
After an initial conference shake-up, with many sure to follow, the Tigers chose to blaze a new trail and move to the top rung of the ladder. Their previous home righted its ship and is no longer sinking, but another iceberg can only be so far away for a conference so imbalanced.
For the Aggies, this is a matter of pride. Texas A&M has long since struggled to duck its head under the wing of its mother hen and the creation of the Longhorn Network was the final straw. The SEC offered the program an opportunity to make a name of their own and join a family where everyone sits at the dinner table.
A harsh feudal land dominated by the High King UT, the Big 12 is no cakewalk. The safety of the land's barrier walls crumbling, citizens rising up in protest, perhaps risking battles with behemoths in the search of fantastic treasures is exactly what a disenfranchised peasant longs for.
Welcome to the SEC, new friends.