The SEC is expected to release its 2012 league schedule today and it will include conference newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri. According to some reports, there are interesting developments surrounding the schedule. The SEC will not have a normal nine-game conference schedule for the first year with new members, but will play eight league games, allowing teams four non-conference games. Texas A&M and Missouri will benefit from some marquee opponents to properly welcome them into the league. It's wise of the league to handle it that way, though using that process is going to create some other changes, especially with the league adding one team to each division. It is believed A&M and its 12th Man crowd will welcome Florida, Alabama and LSU. Missouri is reportedly getting a home game with Georgia on Sept. 8, the second week of the season and the date the league truly welcomes the new teams to SEC play. If reports are accurate, Alabama will have games against both new schools, meaning it will not rotate onto Georgia's schedule as originally planned.
"We love Coach Stoutland, but William and I were hesitant at first," Jones admitted. "We'd had Coach Pendry for so long. We just assumed we'd finish out our careers with him and never thought he'd leave before we were done." Now? "It's been awesome. It took a few weeks to buy into him, but he really cares so much about us," Jones said of Stoutland. "He is different from Coach Pendry. He's excited. Coach Pendry was more calculated and calm."
"Yeldon, being one of the best running backs in the nation, fills a need," Shurburtt said. Tide commitment Kenyan Drake "is more of an all-purpose guy. He can move to the slot and return kicks, but Yeldon is an every- down player." Luginbill believes Yeldon helps Alabama with depth -- especially if Trent Richardson departs for the NFL -- and he can make an impact from the moment he steps on the field. "To be honest, I don't think it (the switch) was all that much of a surprise," Luginbill said. "It was coming down the pike and, strategically, it was done right up against the dead period so he couldn't be hounded. It's a big commitment because they have to anticipate losing Trent early."
Until recently, no position was more unclear than the offensive line, where center William Vlachos was the only senior starter for most of the season. Redshirt junior Barrett Jones, who moved to left tackle this season, won the Outland Trophy as the country’s best lineman. And athletic guard Chance Warmack, a junior, and massive right tackle D.J. Fluker, a redshirt sophomore, are eligible for the draft since they are completing their third season. Alabama fans breathed some relief when Fluker released a statement earlier this month saying he would return next season. Warmack told reporters last week he was also coming back.
Heading to Shreveport has its advantages, Pinkel said, with 35 of the team’s players hailing from nearby Texas. There’s also some sentiment in returning as Missouri’s school-record run of postseason appearances began there when current Buffalo Bills wide receiver Brad Smith led the largest comeback in school history, rallying the Tigers from a 21-point deficit in a win over South Carolina. "I think (heading to the Independence Bowl is) a plus, there’s no question about it," Pinkel said. "We’re in SEC country. I think it sorts out well for us, over for example going to New York (to the Pinstripe Bowl). It would not be a good travel for all our Texas kids. It would not be a good travel for our fans. That time of year, New York’s a great city. This is much better for us, and much more fan-friendly. And certainly the exposure in Louisiana’s a plus.
Interim coaches face a difficult challenge in trying to balance dual interests during bowl season. They're trying to win bowl games in their final games at their current schools, while preparing for positions with new teams or, in some cases, trying to find a new job for next season. Most interim coaches say the most important task is making sure their current teams are ready to play in bowl games. "It's the last game with these kids," said Withers, who led the Tar Heels to a 7-5 record. "That's probably the biggest difference. We've got 17 seniors we want to send out on a good note. We're preparing to try and make that happen."
There were 22 changes made after last season (that doesn’t include interim coaches named during the summer at North Carolina and Ohio State), and the new guys had wildly varying results. Thirteen led their teams to bowl, including two whose squads will play in BCS games. But there also were four new coaches whose teams won three or fewer games, and one of those squads had won nine games last season. Here’s a look at how we have graded the 22 first-year coaches; they are listed alphabetically by school.