The No. 5 Missouri Tigers came into this football season as the babies of the SEC, entering just their second season in the power conference. Not given much of a chance to finish with more than seven wins, the Tigers currently have 10. Even though they've overachieved so far this season, a loss to Texas A&M at Faurot Field on Saturday would wipe away the luster of a so-far-golden season for the Tigers.
When Johnny Football and the Aggies run out of the visiting tunnel on Saturday night, the Tigers will be focused on beating more than just them. They'll be focused on beating all of the "experts" who relegated them to the basement of the SEC at the outset of the season.
Sitting at 10-1 on the season, the NCAA's surprise team has a chance to make history. With a win they head to Atlanta for an extremely unlikely bid in the SEC Championship Game on December 7. With a loss they're forced to wait for an invite to a bowl game such as the Gator Bowl or the Capital One Bowl. While these bowls would be looked at as a major success at the beginning of the season, the surprising Tigers don't want their run to stop here.
If it weren't for a major collapse on homecoming against the visiting South Carolina Gamecocks, this team would be undefeated and almost certainly No. 3 in the country. With a win on Saturday all ill will from the fateful night of the "clank" could be forgotten.
For senior leaders such as QB James Franklin (14 TDs, 4 INTs and 1,719 passing yards), WR L'Damian Washington (38 catches, 727 yards and 9 TDs) and CB E.J. Gaines (four interceptions), it's the last chance to leave their legacy. It's funny how four quarters can make four years of hard work seem so much more worth it.
What this game may very well come down to is the Missouri pass rush against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The ever-elusive Heisman winner won't be easy to take down. In what is likely to be his final regular-season game in a college uniform, it's not likely the 8-3 Aggies will go quietly.
Last season, it was Texas A&M that was the newcomer and surprise team in the SEC. In their second year, Mizzou is in the same boat. Unlike the Aggies last season, the Tigers are playing for a chance to play No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Auburn in the SEC championship in the season's final week.
A game like this is program-defining. Will the Tigers be remembered by the rest of the country as the good story that came up just short or the team that improbably earned themselves a trip to the SEC Championship Game? That will be answered late on an evening in Missouri that nobody saw coming. It's come time for the team from the "Show-Me State" to show the rest of the country what they're made of.
The Missouri Tiger team that takes the field on Saturday night will decide whether a surprising season comes to a relatively disappointing end or the team keeps a glimmer of hope to play in the BCS National Championship Game and take their magical season with them to Atlanta.