The biggest story in 2011 for the University of Missouri was undoubtedly conference realignment and its eventual shift from the Big 12 to the SEC. Looking ahead to the rest of 2012, everyone will be watching to see how the school adjusts to its new home in the best athletic conference in the nation.
There have been an uncountable number of debates on whether this is the right move for Missouri, but no one can change the fact that the Tigers are on their way to the SEC to sink or swim in the conference that lays claim to the last six football national champions.
Football wise, Missouri enters the conference at the most prosperous time in the program's history, recording 48 wins over the last five seasons. Plus, the Tigers will compete in the eastern division of the SEC, the softer of the two divisions in the 14-team league, so it seems like they are on track to be competitive early on in the SEC.
Still, the Tigers have no real idea how this is all going to turn out. How long will they be able to stay prominent in the SEC or will they slip into mediocrity and become a school kind of like Tennessee is right now? Will Missouri be able to change its recruiting methods and start getting highly rated kids from Georgia and Florida to come to the Midwest to play football? If they can't, they could start to see their recent surge in football prominence dwindle.
Those concerns are valid, but we may have some positive answers for that question already, the most notable of which was getting a national letter of intent from the number one recruit in the nation, Dorial Green-Beckham, and the chaos that ensued afterward.
The same day that the announcement was made, a billboard was put up in DGB's hometown of Springfield, welcoming him to Tiger Nation. SB Nation's Jason Kirk wrote that this act made him believe Columbia is ready for the SEC.
After the announcement was made in November that a move to the SEC was official, students and alumni began coming to football games dressed in their "SEC Best" (sweater vests and sun dresses, everyone!), a clear sign that most Missouri fans were in favor of the move.
By being around Tiger fans for the past seven months, you can tell that most feel a newfound sense of responsibility now that their team is in the SEC. The conference prides itself on being the most unified conference in the nation and Missouri wants to fit into that group as quickly as possible.
Over the next 11 months, Tiger fans will continue to adjust to SEC culture and the city of Columbia will do all it can to do the same. How far they will go is to be determined, but you can expect a lot of changes to the gameday atmosphere in football and general attitude toward their team and their conference.
For example, the city of Columbia is trying to close off streets in downtown during home football games to create a kind of huge tailgating area and a place to congregate and visit when opposing fans come to town.
This kind of thing would have never happened as long as the Tigers stayed in the crumbling Big 12 Conference.
The city of Columbia and the university have begun their transition to more of an SEC culture, but another thing to watch out for is how Kansas City responds to the conference and culture change of the university. Will the city begin to lose Tiger fans at a rapid pace, or will they stay strong and expand the footprint of the SEC a little more to the west?
There will be some backlash in the city, as seen by Kansas' reaction to the conference move and the billboards that were erected by the KU athletic program, but Missouri is going to do all it can to stay relevant in the KC area.
That's what makes this storyline so interesting. Missouri is opening up so many new doors in the southeastern part of the country, but at what price will those new opportunities come for? We'll probably have a lot more answers to these questions at the end of 2012.
If you missed the first story in the series, check out Romeo Crennel's first year as Chiefs's head coach. Coming up tomorrow: Kansas State's chances of repeating their 2011 success.