GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From the moment the league’s school presidents voted Texas A&M into the Southeastern Conference in September, college football fans and media have wondered how that will alter what is already considered the nation’s toughest football conference.
More questions arose when Missouri was voted into the conference in early November, increasing the SEC from 12 to 14 schools in a span of a few weeks.
The wait is over. The SEC released its 2012 football schedule on Thursday morning and the Gators will face both Texas A&M and Missouri in their inaugural seasons in the conference.
In fact, Florida will officially say “Welcome to the SEC” to the Aggies.
For the first time since 1996, the Gators will enter a season with a school other than Tennessee scheduled in their SEC opener. The 2001 Florida-Tennessee game, originally scheduled in September, was moved to later in the season due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
After opening the 2012 season at home against Bowling Green on Sept. 1, the Gators will travel to College Station to face the Aggies on Sept. 8 in Texas A&M’s first game as a member of the SEC. The game will open a stretch of eight consecutive SEC games for the Gators.
Gators head coach Will Muschamp is familiar with the Aggies after spending three seasons at Texas prior to becoming Florida’s head coach.
“At Kyle Field, they do a nice job there,’’ Muschamp said. “It’s a very SEC-like atmosphere as far as their support. We’ve got to have a great preseason camp and we’ve got to be ready to roll, starting with Bowling Green. You are not going to play your way into your season. You’ve got to be ready to go immediately.
“It’s a great motivation for our players over the summer.’’
Florida and Texas A&M have played twice previously, a 42-6 Florida home win in 1962 and a 37-14 Texas A&M win in the 1976 Sun Bowl.
Texas A&M is officially a member of the SEC West and Missouri will join Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the SEC East.
“The SEC is the best conference in the country and I’ve got to commend what Commissioner [Mike] Slive, the SEC office, the school presidents and our president, Bernie Machen, have done by adding Texas A&M and Missouri to the league,’’ Muschamp said. “It just goes to show you how attractive this league is to everybody across the country. It’s two programs I’m familiar with from my time in the Big 12.’’
SEC athletic directors voted earlier this month to implement a 6-1-1 schedule format that allows each school to play all six division opponents annually with one permanent and one rotating non-division opponent.
LSU will remain on Florida’s schedule as the permanent SEC West opponent.
Since adding Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992, the SEC has used a 5-2-1 schedule format from 1992-2002, and a 5-1-2 format starting in 2003 through this season.
The remaining games on Florida’s schedule are at Tennessee (Sept. 15), Kentucky (Sept. 22), LSU (Oct. 6), at Vanderbilt (Oct. 13), South Carolina (Oct. 20), vs. Georgia in Jacksonville (Oct. 27), Missouri (Nov. 3), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 10), Jacksonville State (Nov. 17) and at Florida State (Nov. 24).
Florida will continue to play seven home games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the conference.
Missouri’s first visit to The Swamp on Nov. 3 marks the Gators’ final SEC game of the season, an earlier finish to the conference portion of the schedule than in years past. The Gators and Missouri have played only one other time – the 1965 Sugar Bowl. The game remains memorable because Florida fell behind 20-0 but rallied behind quarterback Steve Spurrier to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
However, the Gators went for two after each score but were unable to convert, allowing the Tigers to escape with a 20-18 win in New Orleans.
The modern-day Tigers will also provide a challenge.
“They add a totally different schematic [approach] offensively,’’ Muschamp said. “Gary Pinkel is an outstanding football coach. They are multiple formations. They are going to line up in every formation known to mankind. They do a nice job of spreading the field and making you defend the entire field. It’s a true Big 12 offense, which will be very different for our league.’’
Florida and Alabama are the only schools that will play both Texas A&M and Missouri in their inaugural SEC seasons.
The Gators have a bye week on Sept. 29, the open week coming earlier than the past two seasons when the Gators were off the week before the Georgia game. The last time Florida had two weeks off so early in the season was Tim Tebow’s senior season in 2009, when after suffering a concussion at Kentucky, the bye week allowed Tebow to return in time for a 13-3 win at LSU two weeks later.
The SEC Championship Game is scheduled Dec. 1 in Atlanta.