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Originally published Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 4:59 PM

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Saturday Madness — A look at the best college football games this weekend

Missouri and Texas A&M jump head first into the SEC

Seattle Times colleges reporter

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Since the news broke that Texas A&M and Missouri were officially pledging to join the chiseled lodge brothers of the Southeastern Conference, the two schools have heard the refrain over and over: Do they have the goods to compete in an SEC that this week has five teams ranked in the top 10?

"The talking points all along were, how we're going to match up," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "It's going to be the same thing for Texas A&M. I told my players to expect that. We're going to have to earn respect."

But first, before the groundbreaking matchups Saturday featuring Georgia at Missouri (4:45 p.m. PDT) and Florida at Texas A&M (12:30 p.m.), the newbies hit back. Well, sort of.

Last week, Mizzou pounded Southeastern Louisiana, 62-10, after which defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had a thought or two on the SEC.

Richardson said Georgia plays "old-man football," thereby offending not only the Bulldogs but legions of old men everywhere. He also said, "If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us. Period."

Pinkel, on the SEC coaches conference call Wednesday, admonished Richardson, while conceding there's an extreme buzz around his school and its new affiliation.

"People were talking about this thing in March and April," he said. "For me personally, I never thought in a million years I'd be transitioning to another league and staying at the same BCS institution. Yeah, I'm excited."

They're equally amped, apparently, down around College Station, Texas, home of A&M. So jacked, in fact, that some unnamed Aggies — the school says it had nothing to do with it — paid for a billboard in Gainesville, Fla., proclaiming that Florida "has been annexed by the Aggie Nation." Oh, and it adds that A&M "has the best academics and cleanest program in the SEC."

It's almost fitting that this is A&M's opener. Its road game in Shreveport against Louisiana Tech last week was scrubbed because of Hurricane Isaac.

"If anything, it's put us on the same page with our fans," said Kevin Sumlin, the first-year Aggies coach. "Two weeks ago, the questions were, how do you get focused to go on the road and play Louisiana Tech, when all the fans were waiting for Florida?"

The series histories underscore the novelty of the occasion. Georgia and Missouri have met only once, in 1960. A&M and Florida have played just twice, in 1962 and 1977.

The rest of a relatively tepid schedule Saturday:

Miami (Fla.) at Kansas State (AP No. 21), 9 a.m. — Check out 5-foot-9, 188-pound Duke Johnson, Miami's true freshman who was Rivals.com's No. 1-rated running back prospect in the nation last year. He ran for touchdowns of 54 and 56 yards in an opening victory over Boston College.

Purdue at Notre Dame (22), 12:40 p.m. — The Irish have sold out every game since 1966 except one — a 1973 Thanksgiving Day game with Air Force. Nobody else but Purdue can say this: It has four players (one of whom is now a linebacker) who have started games for the Boilers at quarterback. Purdue helmets are featuring stickers honoring the late Neil Armstrong, an alum and the first man to walk on the moon.

Wisconsin (13) at Oregon State, 1:05 p.m. — "It's as big a nonconference game as Oregon State has ever hosted," says OSU coach Mike Riley, and indeed, it's the first visit to Corvallis by a Big Ten team since 1971. The Badgers refused to forward video of their opening-game victory over Northern Iowa because the Beavers had nothing to offer in return, as the opener with Nicholls State was postponed (OSU scrounged one anyway). Riley should have a grip on the Wisconsin offense, because Paul Chryst, ex-Badgers coordinator now in his first year as Pitt head coach, worked under Riley at OSU.

Savannah State at Florida State (6), 3 p.m. — No, this won't be memorable, unless you consider slowing down to look at car accidents memorable. When West Virginia backed out of a game with the Seminoles, they were left with this, a team interested in making $475,000, one that lost last week at Oklahoma State 84-0. In that game, OSU's starting quarterback, Wes Lunt, played four series and went 11 for 11 and the Cowboys kicked off 13 times.

Nebraska (16) at UCLA, 4:30 p.m. — This would appear to be a tall order for the Bruins, but there is some history favoring Jim Mora's side. Among the five meetings UCLA has hosted, the Bruins have an upset over a No. 1 Huskers team in 1972 and a No. 2 squad in 1988. It's a homecoming of sorts for Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is from nearby Corona.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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