By The Associated Press
Just in case Texas A&M and Missouri fans need a reminder of what they are getting into, here are the raw numbers, SEC style:
—Six consecutive national championships.
—Three of the top five spots and four of the top eight in the final 2011 coaches poll.
—Three of the top five and five in the top 12 of the Austin American-Statesman’s 2012 preseason poll.
—Three in the top five and five in the top 15 of the 247Sports’ recruiting rankings for 2012. How’s it looking for 2013? Five of the top 10, according to 247Sports, with A&M at No. 11. Eleven SEC teams are among the top 27.
“It’s big-boy football,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
“No place for the timid,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Despite losing a dozen starters, the Crimson Tide recruits — and coaches — so magnificently it has a good chance to become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Nebraska in 1994-95.
Alabama’s biggest threat? LSU, which won in Tuscaloosa last year before laying an egg in the BCS championship game. Alabama plays at LSU on Nov. 3 — this year’s Game of the Century.
The SEC offers at least two more solid national-title contenders: Georgia and Arkansas, who have Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks in Aaron Murray and Tyler Wilson.
The Bulldogs return 15 starters from a team that held LSU without a first down in the first half of the SEC title game. Ten Dawgs are on national-awards watch lists.
The Razorbacks have 14 starters in the fold, plus 2010 SEC rushing champ Knile Davis, who missed last season with a knee injury. But their one irreparable loss might be coach Bobby Petrino as the team must adapt to interim John L. Smith.
South Carolina is coming off its first 11-win season, has one of the fiercest defensive lines around and welcomes back Marcus Lattimore, the freight-train tailback whose 2011 was cut short by injury.
So it’s doubtful that A&M or Missouri can step in and be anything better than No. 6 or 7 in this league. That’s not counting Florida, which is oozing with blue-chip talent.
And don’t sleep on Auburn, Tennessee or Mississippi State. Heck, even Vanderbilt returns 17 starters and both kickers from a bowl team.
Only Kentucky and Ole Miss can be written off.
Recruiting rankings tell a tale of how difficult it is to compete in this league. For the five-year period from 2009-13: Alabama has ranked No. 1, 4, 2, 1, 3. LSU’s ratings are No. 2, 7, 4, 19, 10.
But it’s not just those two. Georgia’s rankings are No. 6, 12, 8, 5, 9. Florida is No. 11, 1, 10, 4, 4. Auburn is No. 19, 8, 6, 12, 8.
During the same period, Texas A&M is ranked No. 22, 16, 32, 15 and 11 — averaging to 19.2 — behind seven SEC programs, including South Carolina and Tennessee.
Missouri’s five-year average recruiting ranking is 36.2 — which is 12th in the SEC, ahead of only Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
What helps save SEC bottom feeders from ugly records is that the league plays only eight conference games. That offers four shots at creampuffs — and most SEC teams take full advantage.
Mizzou didn’t get the memo in time and faces three non-league foes with a heartbeat: Arizona State, at Central Florida and Syracuse.
A&M’s lighter slate is more SEC-like, although the Aggies need to be told you don’t make road trips, especially to non-BCS locales like Louisiana Tech and SMU.
Back in the conference, the Big 12 expatriates figure to take their lumps and watch the big boys duke it out.