The 2013 SEC Championship Game will feature two teams that were considered long shots to get to this point. No. 3 Auburn will face off against No. 5 Missouri this time around. That's right—Alabama, LSU and Georgia will not be participating.
Auburn and Missouri combined for just a 2-14 SEC record in 2012. After an incredible turnaround, these teams will face off in the Georgia Dome after combining for a 14-2 SEC record in 2013.
Both of these teams are very deserving of their current rankings; however, only one can emerge victorious.
Analyzing key matchups that will be taking place in this showdown will be crucial in deciding which team will come out on top. Let's take a look at some of the biggest positional matchups that will be taking place when these two teams meet in Atlanta.
Auburn Triple Option vs. Missouri Run Defense
Auburn features one of the most intriguing offensive schemes in all of football—the triple option. This offensive approach features a read-option look in the backfield with another option to a wide receiver outside.
It is one of the most devastating offenses to face, and part of that is due to the versatility of quarterback Nick Marshall. He is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. Marshall has thrown for 1,627 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. However, he has also rushed for 922 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns.
If Missouri intends to slow down this attack, it will all start up front in the trenches.
Missouri is currently ranked 14th in the nation in run defense, giving up an average of 119.1 yards per game, according to NCAA.com. It currently allows an average of just 3.57 yards per carry to opponents this season.
Missouri will need to keep up such a stout defensive front if it is to have any chance of slowing down Auburn's electrifying offense.
James Franklin vs. Auburn Secondary
Missouri lost its only game this season in overtime without Franklin at the helm. His efficiency and accuracy are keys to this team's offensive production.
In 2013, Franklin has thrown for 1,952 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 153.2. His rating reflects his efficient style of passing—Franklin has completed 66.9 percent of his passes this season.
Missouri is able to succeed on offense due to Franklin's ability to take care of the football and avoid costly turnovers.
Auburn's secondary must be in top form to contend with such an aerial attack.
Throughout 2013, Auburn has not been able to rise to the occasion. Auburn's defense is ranked 100th overall and is allowing an average of 256.7 yards per game through the air to opponents this season, according to NCAA.com.
Auburn's best shot at slowing Franklin down is to force turnovers. So far the defense has intercepted 12 passes this season and will need more in the championship game to compete with the Missouri pass offense.
Missouri Run Offense vs. Auburn Run Defense
This one seems pretty straightforward; however, there are plenty of aspects to this matchup.
Missouri has a plethora of players who are very capable of effectively running the football.
It all starts with Henry Josey. Josey has carried 153 times for 951 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He has devastated defenses by averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are also very capable runners who are averaging 6.3 and 6.9 yards, respectively.
Not to mention, Franklin is also a very capable runner from the quarterback position as well. He has rushed for 412 yards and three touchdowns on 91 carries this season.
The Missouri running attack isn't quite in the same realm as the Auburn triple option; however, it must be respected. Auburn's 56th-ranked run defense will certainly be put to the test against this threat.
Despite their 56th-overall ranking, Auburn is quite sound on the defensive front. It allows a respectable 4.4 yards per carry and an average of 157.6 yards per game to opposing offenses, according to NCAA.com.
Auburn's defensive front will have to play at a high level to contain a very balanced Missouri offense.
L'Damian Washington vs. Sammie Coates
Obviously, these two wide receivers will not be going head-to-head. However, that does not mean that this isn't a key matchup. In fact, the production by each of these wide receivers could be a difference-maker in the upcoming game.
Both of these receivers are known for their big-play ability. Washington is averaging 18.7 yards per reception and has a long reception of 96 yards this season. Coates is averaging 23.3 yards per reception and has a long reception of 88 yards.
Their overall production has been very similar throughout the 2013 season as well. Washington has caught 44 passes for 824 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Coates has reeled in 32 receptions for 747 yards and six touchdowns this year.
These two receivers are the trusted primary targets for their respective quarterbacks. It could all come down to which one is able to break a big play for his team.