The 2013 SEC Championship is a bit strange in that the winner will not automatically go on to play in the BCS title game.
Instead, the two unexpected forces in college football's most dominant conference are No. 5 Missouri and No. 3 Auburn.
The 11-1 Missouri Tigers have withstood an injury to former Heisman contender James Franklin and notched major wins over then-ranked No. 7 Georgia and No. 21 Texas A&M.
The Tigers from Auburn tout a matching record and are coming off the best play of the season—perhaps of all Iron Bowl history—creating BCS chaos with their upset of the Crimson Tide.
Here in the all-Tiger bowl, Missouri or Auburn must once again do the unthinkable to cap off a memorable season.
When: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Live Stream: ESPN3
Betting Lines (via Vegas Insider)
- Over/Under: 58
- Spread: Auburn (-2)
Believe it or not, there is plenty on the line from the Georgia Dome.
If No. 1 Florida State or No. 2 Ohio State falls in the ACC Championship or Big Ten Championship, respectively, one of the Tigers teams here may be in line to play for the title.
Auburn has the inside track. If the Seminoles or Buckeyes lose, Auburn is in with a win. Easy. Things get trickier with Missouri. If one of the top two takes a dive, it's up to the polls to figure out whether Missouri is worthy of jumping No. 4 Alabama with a win.
Oh, and a loss for either side here likely means no BCS bowl if all else remains the same. The winner and Crimson Tide would assuredly take the only two SEC bids.
Keys for Missouri Victory
Missouri is led by the aforementioned Franklin, who very well might have still been in the Heisman conversation (especially this year) had he not suffered an injury that cost him four games. Still, the senior has done well for himself this season:
|James Franklin 2013 Stats|
Missouri will need Franklin to be at his best to win. The Auburn defense is not overly impressive, with an average of 22.5 points allowed per game, but Auburn has the ability to control the game on the prowess of its rushing attack.
The Tigers of Missouri must make each offensive possession count. They can take some of the pressure off Franklin by relying on junior running back Henry Josey, who averages 6.2 yards per carry and has 951 yards and 13 scores. Receivers L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham have 10 touchdowns apiece.
Defensively, the Tigers have to stay the course. They rank in the top 15 with 19.4 points allowed on average.
As long as the Missouri defense understands Auburn is going to run—almost exclusively—then the Tigers can stay in the game.
Keys for Auburn Victory
First of all—calm down.
The exhilarating win over Alabama is in the past. Now, Auburn must settle and understand a win combined with a loss by one of the two teams in front of it means the Tigers play for the title.
Auburn is strictly a running team, and it is too late to change what has worked. The Tigers average 318.3 rushing yards per game. Juniors Nick Marshall and Tre Mason, the former a quarterback, lead the team in rushing:
|Nick Marshall and Tre Mason Rushing 2013|
Marshall does well enough through the air too. He completed 59.2 percent of his passes this year for 1,627 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The problem for Auburn is on the other side of the ball. The Tigers allow 22.5 points on average. Texas A&M was a common opponent for Auburn and Missouri this year. The Aggies scored 21 on Missouri and 41 on Auburn.
The key point is straightforward: Keep the defense off the field. Control the line of scrimmage, and pound away with the dynamic duo.
The Missouri defense is the deciding factor here.
It helps Auburn is coming off an emotional win, but the unit does not need any help. Missouri is less than a week removed from holding Manziel to 195 passing yards and one touchdown.
Missouri does not need to force Auburn into a one-dimensional attack—it does so willingly.
Franklin will find success through the air, but this is a Missouri defense better suited to stop Auburn's ground game than most. Missouri has not allowed a single opponent to score more than 28 points this year. That will make all the difference here.
Prediction: Missouri 30, Auburn 27