COLUMBIA — Two games Saturday will decide which teams play for the Southeastern Conference Championship in Atlanta on Dec. 7.
The first will be played at 2:30 p.m. on CBS. Alabama and Auburn, ranked No. 1 and No. 4 in the BCS respectively, play in a game known as the Iron Bowl. The winner takes home the SEC West division crown. Later on Saturday, Missouri plays Texas A&M. If the Tigers win, they head to Atlanta. If they lose, South Carolina heads to Atlanta.
The whole season comes down to one game, and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is already stressed.
"I'm always like that," Pinkel said. "Every game I coach, I'm like that."
Pinkel will often talk to other coaches on the field before games. Some talk about how relaxing a Saturday they've had or the other games they've watched.
Not Pinkel. He's not sure how they do it, frankly. He certainly won't be kicking back and watching the Iron Bowl in his office Saturday afternoon before Missouri's 6:45 p.m. kickoff. He's not quite as relaxed as some other coaches.
"I'm ready to stab myself," Pinkel said. "That's just my intensity. That's who I am."
Pinkel's emotions will be heightened this week. For starters, it's Senior Night for the Tigers, who will have 18 players making their final appearance on Faurot Field. Pinkel admitted he will be an "emotional wreck." Pinkel also needs one more win to tie Don Faurot for No. 1 on Missouri's all-time wins list for a head coach.
Then there's the game itself.
An old Big 12 rival, Texas A&M, comes to town with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, at quarterback. The division title and a shot at a conference championship are on the line Saturday.
"I think this is fun," Pinkel said. "This is really fun. Competing for a championship. This is why you do it. It's the fourth time this has happened to us in the last seven years. It's neat to be a part of. The reason I talk about clutter and all those things is because it's still about playing well. How are you going to play your best football game?"
The Tigers will likely do it how they've done it all year. By attempting to block out Johnny Football, ESPN and the talk of the SEC Championship. They've done it for 11 games, mostly with success. Admittedly, this game brings added pressure.
“I am sure there is a little bit, but we just need to try our best and not think about it," quarterback James Franklin said. "We need to focus on playing football and doing what we have done well all season. Hopefully, we won’t let the outside stuff affect us.”
The outside factors could have been more helpful for Missouri this season. After losing to South Carolina in double overtime on Homecoming, Missouri went on a winning streak. If one team could have beaten South Carolina, the implications of the game against Texas A&M would be much different. Instead, Missouri has to earn the SEC East title.
“We don’t like anything given to us," center Evan Boehm said. "We knew coming into this year, nothing was going to be given to us."
However, Pinkel admits he wouldn't have minded some help from the rest of the conference.
“I wished we got help, and it was over about four weeks ago," Pinkel said with a laugh. "We talked about it in the beginning on how it’s about us. It’s all about us. That has kind of been the theme we’ve had this whole year."
This week is different. It's hard for the players and coaches to ignore, too. The players don't have school, so most of the extra time will be spent in the film room. On Thursday, some players will return to their families for Thanksgiving, while others will share the meal at the facility. The week will drag.
"When I first became a head coach, I was ready to play on Tuesday," Pinkel said. "My players got the brunt of it. As you learn, if you want to survive you just have to wait. At least until you wake up on Friday.
"I don't sleep well during the season."
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.