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May 31, 2012DESTIN, Fla. -- Ask Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin about the Aggies' move to the Southeastern Conference this fall and he'll shrug. It's something new, but it's not the same for Sumlin as many of those around him.
The buzz is there. Sumlin can feel it around College Station. He can sense it among his players, among the fans and in the fan base.
But because Sumlin has just arrived, even something as new as Texas A&M's move to the SEC doesn't feel especially different to him.
"For me, it's all the same," Sumlin said. "The experiences that we're going to have are new to everybody from our administration and our fans. In a way, it's kind of an advantage. They don't know what's coming either. Because of that, there's a lot of excitement. From a fan's perspective, it's really exciting."
Missouri's Gary Pinkel is entering his 12th season coaching the Tigers, but he's never had a challenge like this before. He and his staff has had to adjust their schedule, their offseason preparations and much more.
Sumlin reached out to Nebraska's Bo Pelini for advice on transitioning from the Big 12 to a new league. Pinkel and his staff sat down after the season and devised a "master plan" to guide the program through the move to the SEC.
Near the top of the list was recruiting.
The Tigers hope to maintain their foothold in Texas - 35 players on Missouri's roster are from the Lone Star State, according to Pinkel - but they'll have to find new recruiting grounds as well. In a perfect world, the Tigers would like to play the Aggies every year to maintain a presence in the state. But in the meantime, Pinkel will count on former players returning to the area to share their success and sell the program.
"This transition, we're going to adjust a little bit," Pinkel said. "We still want to maintain our ties in Texas, but also want to get into Florida and get into Atlanta, south Georgia. We have coaches in those areas now and we're starting to market that. I think it'll take a couple years to sort itself out a little bit."
So far, Pinkel said, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. There was a measure of trepidation among the Tigers' 2012 class, as the majority of it had committed before the move to the SEC was announced. Since then, though, the move to the SEC has "been a remarkable plus."
Sumlin has his own challenges on the recruiting trail. The Aggies hope to expand their recruiting efforts eastward into Louisiana, Mississippi and beyond. Breaking into new territory can be tough on its own, but Texas A&M also has to shuffle its defense.
New defensive coordinator Mark Snyder will replace the 3-4 operated by Mike Sherman's staff with a 4-3. That creates some issues in the short term; for instance, the Aggies will simply need more defensive linemen to fill four positions instead of the previous three.
Factor in that 4-3 defensive linemen typically have a slightly different skill set than those who play in a 3-4, and there even need to be some adjustments on the current roster.
"Transitionally, if there's something to look at, it would be our recruiting and our numbers and our front seven," Sumlin said. "Coming through the spring, we have to recruit and get some more depth and develop our defensive front."
It's only been a few months, but Sumlin, who previously coached at Houston, has already discovered that recruiting in the SEC is different.
"It's a highly competitive league, and not just on Saturdays," Sumlin said. "The real good ones, we're finding out, you might as well be playing a real game. It's fun."
That's just something else he'll have to adjust to. It's new for Sumlin, but all part of a bigger move from Conference USA to the SEC for the coach. Sumlin had been an assistant in the Big 10 and Big 12 earlier in his career, but he's still feeling his way through the SEC.
If there is a notable disadvantage Texas A&M and Missouri are placed at with the move, it's likely in the preparations. Current SEC schools have to spend time studying film on two schools they haven't seen before, but the newcomers must scout 12 fresh opponents.
"There's really no choice. We better be ready," Pinkel said. "I don't ever look at it as a disadvantage. If we're not ready from a standpoint of preparation, that's my fault."