COLUMBIA, MO. • The Missouri football schedule had been public for months, but coach Gary Pinkel felt a need to address the sequence of games when the Tigers held a team meeting before the start of camp.
With the move to the Southeastern Conference came a complete overhaul of the 12-game schedule in more ways than one.
Instead of playing its full slate of nonconference games to start the season, the Tigers will open the SEC against Georgia in their second game Sept. 8 and travel to South Carolina for their fourth game.
In Pinkel's 11 seasons, Mizzou has never played a league game earlier than Week 3 and never before Sept. 24.
"It really was a pretty good setup that way," he said of the Big 12 arrangement. "This year it's different and the players have to understand that we have to be good fast, like we always talk about."
Maybe a little faster.
Pinkel said preparation is not much different, noting that the Tigers have typically played a BCS opponent early in the season. But not only will they play league and BCS opponents in the first month, but those teams will be among the best in the country.
Georgia is ranked No. 6 in the preseason coaches' poll and South Carolina is No. 9.
"We're not supposed to look at it differently but it is," quarterback James Franklin said. "Having nonconference games before conference is a lot different, at least the mindset. ... We don't get three or four games to warm up, so to speak, for conference. Our mindset has to be a lot more focused this year."
For the last 10 years, Missouri has played at least three nonconference games to start, usually four. The Tigers have not had to worry about league opponents until October most seasons. The last time they played a conference game this early was in 1998 against Kansas.
The SEC, however, has done it differently for a while. Mark Womack, the league's executive associate commissioner, said the schedule is structured to "provide inventory for our television agreements and to limit the number of consecutive conference games."
Although Pinkel felt it was worthwhile to discuss the schedule with his players, he said the coaching staff isn't approaching camp any different. However, some adjustments will be made for young players who have a chance to play right away.
"We try to speed up the process all the time," Pinkel said. "No question, the young players will do a lot of extra meeting time or walk through time. If they're physically ready, it's about knowing the plays, knowing the defenses. You can make that up with more meeting time with those half dozen players that might be forced to play when they're not ready."
Mizzou receiver T.J. Moe said even SEC games will feel a bit like nonconference games in 2012 because the Tigers are unfamiliar with every team on the schedule.
"You might prepare different in the future," he said. "But we've never played any of these guys. It might be different when we know what Georgia does and what South Carolina does. We don't know any of that right now."
Of course, most teams in the SEC deal with the same circumstances. This season, South Carolina will play Vanderbilt in a conference game to open the schedule in a Thursday night game made for TV.
In addition to Missouri-Georgia on Sept. 8, Auburn plays at Mississippi State and Florida is at Texas A&M.
With so many conference games played early, nonconference opponents must be sprinkled throughout the schedule. Mizzou opens with Southeastern Louisiana and plays Arizona State on Sept. 15, Central Florida on Sept. 29 and Syracuse on Nov. 17. That is the latest nonconference game for Mizzou since 1954.
To break up the intensity of the league schedule, many teams schedule Football Championship Subdivision opponents the week before the regular season ends. Missouri will play Syracuse.
"Whenever those nonconference games are thrown in, they're really important for bowls and rankings," Pinkel said. "Those games are mammoth. We all want to play in the SEC but we can't lose sight of those games being critical."