COLUMBIA — Week after week, the Missouri Tigers have proved others wrong. Picked to finish sixth in the Southeastern Conference's East division before the season began, the Tigers now find themselves in the conference's championship game against Auburn on Saturday.
The Tigers have heard it all season — that it will take newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M time to adjust to the rigor of the SEC. That time has come in just two years for Missouri.
The success should come as no surprise, Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN writes.
"It's easy for observers to qualify Missouri's ascent by citing the struggles of other teams in the SEC East this season — Georgia and Florida in particular — but the truth of the matter is that this is a senior-laden, talented team with playmakers on both sides of the football, strong leadership on and off the field," Khan writes.
Out of all the turnarounds this season, Missouri's path to the SEC title game tops them all, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports writes.
Both Auburn and Missouri had mediocre seasons last year. Neither team qualified for a bowl game, making this year's turnarounds all that more improbable, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.
Washington: We had the exact same receivers last year. When you have a healthy QB and offensive line, you can do tremendous things.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) December 2, 2013
Missouri is no fluke either, writes Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It’s true that this Missouri is a team of substance. To say otherwise is to claim a football is round, the Southeastern Conference is sandlot, and I-70 to Columbia rivals the Autobahn," Strauss writes.
As it has been for the past few years, there will be a lot riding on the SEC Championship game.
The winner of Saturday's game will have a legitimate case to make to be in the Vizio BCS National Championship Game in January, especially if Florida State or Ohio State loses this week. That question was posed to Eddie George in an interview with Yahoo Sports earlier this week, as seen below.
(Video: Yahoo Sports)
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive also said this week, "The SEC has a compelling argument that our team ought to be in the game."
Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, like many, covered many of the possible national championship scenarios depending on Saturday's results.
Edwards: I don't think Missouri has any chance of finishing ahead of undefeated Ohio State. Auburn has slight chance, still a long shot— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) December 4, 2013
In addition to a birth in the national championship game at stake in Saturday's game, both head coaches, Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, are two of three finalists for the National Coach of the Year award. Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussed whether Pinkel or Malzahn should get the award in his "Upon Further Review" chat.
As for the actual game Saturday, Missouri's secondary will face a new challenge against Auburn this week, run support, writes Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star.
After Auburn defeated former No. 1 Alabama last week on a last-second play, many have been talking about Auburn leading up to this week's game. In an interview on ESPN's Mike & Mike morning radio show, college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he's "shocked that not as many people are talking about Missouri."
"Missouri has every right to be in this (national championship) discussion as much as Auburn or Ohio State," Herbstreit said on the show.
One celebrity, and albeit a Missouri native, Nelly, even felt the same way as Herbstreit.
Is it just me that feels alil disrespected that @espn is talking like AU has already won the SEC title..!Like the ZOU ain't bout that life— Nelly_Mo (@Nelly_Mo) December 4, 2013
Auburn does deserve some talk as well. The team beat Alabama last weekend on a last-second missed field goal on a play that has been replayed constantly on television this week.
It was similar to last-second defeats that many at one time thought doomed teams such as Missouri, writes Alex Scarborough of ESPN.
The Auburn Tigers
Auburn has a run-heavy offense, having only rushed for less than 200 yards once this season. But Auburn will be going up against Missouri's defense, which ranks fifth in the country in tackles for loss, writes Palmer.
Auburn's explosiveness in the run game can best be seen in its game against Georgia last month.
Pinkel on Auburn's offense: Not a Wishbone, but it presents problems for everybody they've played with motioning, etc. #Mizzou— Tod Palmer (@todpalmer) December 2, 2013
In addition to Missouri having to prepare for Auburn's running game, Auburn is wary of the running threat posed by quarterback James Franklin, writes Joel Erickson of The Birmingham News.
Auburn, like Missouri, had a dreadful 2012 season. As a result, Auburn fired coach Gene Chizik and replaced him with Malzahn. In just one year, Malzahn is filling many promises, writes Brandon Marcello of The Birmingham News.
As for Missouri, the team found itself in a similar situation in 2007 when the team rose to No. 1 in the polls until losing 38-17 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. The team knows it needs to finish the job this time, writes Vahe Gregorian of The Kansas City Star.
And as long as the game doesn't come down to the last minute (or second), as seen below, Missouri might do just what it's been trying to do for years, win an outright conference championship.
Supervising editor is Frank Russell.