Auburn's stunning defeat of Alabama set up a surprising SEC title game with Missouri on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome. It's been a stunning turnaround for Missouri after going 5-7 a year ago, and in a huge game for that football program, the matchups actually favor the underdogs.
Auburn fell to No. 6 LSU back on Sept. 21, the lone black mark on an 11-1 record. Auburn needed successive miraculous victories to survive No. 25 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama, but that resulted in a No. 3 ranking heading into the game against Missouri.
No. 5 Mizzou is fresh off a 28-21 win over Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. The only loss this season came on Oct. 26 in double overtime to No. 21 South Carolina. Missouri boasts a 4-1 record against ranked opponents, but the only win over a Top 10 team came back on Oct. 12 at the Georgia Bulldogs.
The offensive stars seem to be on Auburn's side. Running back Tre Mason has been downright scary this year, racking up 237 carries for 1,317 yards and 18 touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Marshall is also dangerous when he tucks it and runs, netting 922 rushing yards and 10 TDs of his own.
The running game is Auburn's bread and butter, even though the team likes to spread the field and run through voids with the option. Auburn rushed for 296 yards in that thrilling win over Alabama, but Marshall managed only 96 passing yards. Overall, Auburn's air attack ranks 105th in the country.
Can Mizzou knock off Auburn?
Missouri's run defense will give Mason and Marshall fits all day, and it can afford to focus on them. The team will also have tape of Auburn's schemes against Bama's stout D to use in preparation. Missouri ranks 14th in the nation against the run, allowing 119.1 yards per game and 3.6 per carry.
Mizzou is not proficient at defending the pass, but there is the ferocious pass rush led by senior lineman Michael Sam. Marshall has not had a game with three passing TDs all season, and he has eclipsed 250 yards just once, in a two-INT game against Mississippi State. The boys in black and gold can stack the box and focus on stopping the run, as Marshall has not shown he can pile up yards or scores with his arm.
The biggest concern for Auburn has to be its pass defense against Mizzou quarterback James Franklin. In his last five games, Franklin has thrown for 10 touchdowns with only one interception. He also gashed A&M for 80 yards on 18 carries last week.
Missouri averages 252.6 passing yards per game, 42nd in the nation, and Auburn's pass defense has been brutal. It ranks 100th and just yielded 277 yards and three touchdowns, including a 99-yarder, to A.J. McCarron in the win over Alabama. Mizzou receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington have each hauled in 10 touchdown catches while Marcus Lucas leads the team with 50 receptions.
Missouri also brings in an excellent ground game of its own led by junior Henry Josey. Over his last three games, Josey has rushed for 304 yards and five touchdowns. This gives Mizzou the more balanced attack on offense, and coupled with the aggressive front seven it provides slight edge to the underdog.
One thing is for sure: The Tigers will win the SEC title. Whether those Tigers wear black and gold or burnt orange with navy blue is much less certain, but the matchups swing Mizzou's way. Those Tigers have a defense to stop Auburn's strength, and a passing attack to exploit weakness. Auburn can win if it gets the ground game going and slows down Franklin.