Auburn and Missouri will meet in the SEC championship, just like we predicted at the beginning of the season. Unless you are some sort of football wizard with magical football prediction powers, this was clearly not the case.
The all-Tigers matchup has been crafted following two enormous wins in Week 14. The biggest, of course, was Auburn and its wild 34-28 victory over Alabama as the clock hit zero.
Attempting a lengthy field goal, Auburn’s Chris Davis returned the missed kick 100 yards the other way for a score. It’s a finish that won’t be matched for some time, and it gave Auburn the SEC West crown.
For Missouri, it was simple: beat Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel at home, and you’re in.
Manziel was held in check for the second consecutive week, and Mizzou quarterback James Franklin was excellent.
Missouri won the SEC East with a 28-21 win over A&M, the first time all season the Tigers did not win a game by two touchdowns. It’s been that kind of season for Mizzou—outside of an 11-minute stretch against South Carolina—although it’s not done yet.
Auburn and Missouri will now go toe-to-toe in Atlanta in a game that could mean more than a BCS birth. At the very least, a spot in the Sugar Bowl will be up for grabs. Depending on what happens elsewhere, however, it could mean much more.
Florida State and Ohio State are projected to be the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the updated BCS. Florida State will take on Duke in the ACC championship, while Ohio State will get Michigan State in the Big Ten championship.
The Seminoles will be an enormous favorite against the Blue Devils, although the path is not nearly as clear for Sparty and the Buckeyes. If either of these teams is to lose, the SEC champion will likely earn a trip to the BCS National Championship.
Regardless, the game is enormous for both programs. Each has turned things around drastically in 2013 despite operating with unique styles. Take away all of the national title hopes for a moment—an SEC championship would be enormous feat for both programs.
For Auburn, how will it respond following a victory of this magnitude? It’s easy to assume that a team will be up for the SEC championship, which the Tigers likely will be, but the emotional roller coaster of the past few weeks could also take its toll.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel commented on the recent plays following his team's win, and his message was as you might expect with the matchup looming.
Pinkel: "Hope Auburn quits making those good plays." #Mizzou— Jack Witthaus (@JackWitthaus) December 1, 2013
In terms of experience, no team will enter championship week more battle-tested than Auburn. The running game has been superb, and quarterback Nick Marshall has meaningful game experience under his belt. He’s also played quite well throughout the year.
Missouri’s defense, however, just made last year’s Heisman winner look human, and the front seven is one of the best in the country. It will provide yet another challenge for offensive guru Gus Malzahn.
Offensively, Missouri will also test the Auburn defense. Mizzou ran for 225 yards against Texas A&M, and it also has found balance on that side of the ball.
With the development of L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham at wide receiver, expect James Franklin to test the Auburn corners plenty in Atlanta.
It feels like an evenly matched game, albeit between two teams that have won in very different ways and operate with a vastly different style. They weren’t expected to make it to this point, although that doesn’t make them any less deserving.
With much still to be decided and plenty out of their hands, Missouri and Auburn will take center stage next Saturday. It has been a long, windy road for college football’s two biggest surprises in 2013, and now they will meet head-to-head with the stakes still to be determined.
Thankfully, we have a chance to catch our breath first.