Georgia and Mizzou: Getting to know each other

semerson@macon.comSeptember 5, 2012 

ATHENS -- Marlon Brown is one of the few Georgia football players who grew up in the central time zone. But when it comes to knowledge of Missouri football, the senior receiver from Memphis still doesn’t really know much

“No, not really,” Brown said. “I watched a little of Missouri basketball. I had a friend I played against in high school who went there.”

But Missouri football?

“No, I couldn’t tell you,” Brown said.

Georgia and Missouri are division opponents, playing what one head coach has termed a “monster” game Saturday. And yet these two programs still know very little about each other.

Their only game was in 1960 -- or when teams played “old man football,” as Missouri player Sheldon Richardson infamously quipped about Georgia last weekend.

There are few obvious connections between the teams. Georgia has no scholarship players from Missouri and vice versa.

Twelve years ago, Georgia head coach Mark Richt interviewed for the Missouri job before Gary Pinkel was hired. But Richt and his wife Katharyn didn’t actually visit Columbia.

“Katharyn and I heard that it was a great town for family, and everything we heard about it was positive,” Richt said this week. “Missouri was one that we thought might be a special place to be.”

That’s not to say Richt and the Bulldogs will go sight-seeing this weekend to take in their newest division rival. It will be treated as a typical road game, with a lot of time at the hotel.

Still, the two programs are about to learn a great deal about each other -- on the field and off.

This spring, Georgia recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner was at a high school in Atlanta, scouting some prospects, when he spotted a coach from a new school. The black and gold logo was evident: Missouri.

Garner wasn’t surprised.

“Everybody recruits Georgia. Everybody recruits Atlanta. So when Missouri comes to Atlanta, shoot they’re just one of the other 115 ones that come in,” Garner said. “So I don’t know if they’re trying to recruit the whole state, but I know they’re recruiting Atlanta like everybody else.”

Pinkel has made it clear that Georgia has been added to Missouri’s recruiting territory. It started in the offseason when the school bought billboard space in Atlanta, along with a few other areas. Pinkel has also attended alumni events in Atlanta and Jacksonville.

When it was in the Big 12, Missouri worked hard to recruit in Texas. Pinkel compared Atlanta to Dallas in terms of the quality of prospects and the amount that leave the state.

“We will recruit (Atlanta) hard, starting now,” Pinkel said. “It’ll take it awhile to get it going, but it did in Texas, too. But then afterwards we got a chance to get some great players up here, and hopefully we’ll do the same thing in Atlanta.”

For Missouri, the opener with Georgia is less about getting to know the Bulldogs than the SEC in general. It’s also about making a good first impression.

Pinkel said he told the team in January to expect the talk about playing in the SEC.

“The talking points have been all along, and it’s been very consistent with how I told them: How are we gonna match up,” Pinkel said. “It’s gonna be the same thing for Texas A&M. I told my players to expect that, that’s what it’s gonna be. We’re going into a great league, with a very rich tradition of championships and winning, and a league that has a lot of good football teams. That’s why it’s the best league in the country.”

So Pinkel has a very candid message for his team.

“We’re new, we have to go earn respect. I have no problem doing that,” Pinkel said. “That’s the way I was brought up, that’s the way it should be. You have to go earn respect. It’s not handed to you. So that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”

There did, in fact, used to be one big connection between Georgia and Missouri. Georgia had not one but two players from Columbia in recent years: receiver-quarterback Logan Gray, who transferred after the 2010 season, and tight end Aron White, who graduated last year.

Near the end of last season, when it became apparent Georgia and Missouri would meet this season, White was asked his thoughts.

“I think they’re gonna be a little bit surprised at how crazy some of the football fans in the SEC are, and how big of a stage they’re on,” White said. “Because they play big games, they’ve played Oklahoma, they’ve played Texas, they’ve played whoever was doing well that year, whether it was Nebraska or K-State. But week in and week out you could play a team here that’s top 10 in the SEC. That’s the life that we live in the SEC and that might be an adjustment to them.”

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