The final SEC clash of 2013 from the Georgia Dome has been decided—and it's not what many saw coming.
The No. 5 Missouri Tigers out of the SEC East will take on the No. 4 Auburn Tigers from the SEC West in an all-Tiger championship matchup. No Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia or even Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M this year, folks.
Both teams sit at 11-1 coming off convincing victories, although one was more noteworthy than the other. Missouri took care of business in a 28-21 win over A&M, while Auburn emerged victorious over the Crimson Tide in the most memorable play of the season so far:
Like any good championship game, a few specific players will determine how things end. They are as follows for the SEC crown:
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Junior quarterback Nick Marshall has done the heavy lifting for Auburn this year. Through the air he has 1,627 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. But Marshall is the definition of a dual-threat player and is also the team's second-leading rusher with his 922 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Marshall is the key for Auburn in any game. Case in point, his 196 total yards and three touchdowns helped to down the Crimson Tide, as he kept the offense moving all game long and helped set up the team's excellent run game.
The Auburn offense is built around the running game with Marshall and running back Tre Mason (1,317 yards, 18 touchdowns), which is why the elusive quarterback has attempted eight or fewer passes in three games this season.
Mason is obviously an important part of the offense, but Marshall is more critical. If he can keep defenses honest through the air, he and Mason will have more room to execute on the ground.
Against a Tigers defense that allows 19.4 points per game to rank in the top 15, Marshall must have one of his best games of the season for Auburn to emerge victorious.
James Franklin, QB, Missouri
Missouri faithful can rest easy—senior quarterback James Franklin is back to form.
After missing four games due to injury, Franklin returned against Ole Miss two weeks ago and was pedestrian at best in a 12-of-19 showing for 142 yards and an interception.
Franklin shook the rust off against the Aggies with an 18-of-28 performance for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 80 rushing yards for good measure.
Season-total wise, Franklin has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,952 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions with another 412 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Missouri offense is not as reliant on its quarterback as a runner. After all, Franklin was in the Heisman race before his injury due to his prowess as a passer.
Franklin has completed over 60 percent of his passes in every game this season and will need to be similarly efficient to defeat Auburn. He won't have to do it alone.
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
As hinted, the Missouri offense differs from the Auburn offense in that it does not necessarily need stellar production from its quarterback on the ground.
Junior tailback Henry Josey handles the duties and helps to keep Franklin from unnecessary hits.
Josey has rushed for 951 yards and 13 touchdowns on 153 attempts this year, meaning he averages a strong 6.2 yards per carry.
While he has not seen as much work as Auburn's Mason, and he's certainly not as big of a name, Hosey is an integral piece of what the Tigers do offensively. His ability as the featured back means more defenders in the box, which makes Franklin's life easier down the field.
To counter Auburn's ball-control style and to exploit a defense that ranks in the top 30 with an average of 22.5 points allowed per game, the Missouri offense will need a Zen-like balance to leave the Georgia Dome with a win.
Josey must be up to the task and continue to average stellar numbers per rush.