The two most surprising teams in the Southeastern Conference all season, No. 5 Missouri and No. 3 Auburn square off for the league title Saturday at the Georgia Dome. The teams combined for just two conference victories a year ago but now find themselves a win away from playing in a BCS bowl - and potentially the national championship game. The winner will find itself paying close attention to the ACC and Big Ten title games Saturday night in hopes Florida State or Ohio State will lose and clear the path for the SEC champion to leap into the top two in the BCS standings.
Auburn's unlikely path to the championship game has included eight consecutive victories, culminating with last week's 34-28 win over bitter rival Alabama in which Chris Davis caught a missed field goal in the back of the end zone and returned it for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game. "That is our biggest challenge as a team," first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told reporters of his team's task of shifting its focus after such a dramatic win. "It was a very emotional win. It was a physical game, but we have to put it behind us and we have to put all of our attention on Missouri." Missouri also had to finish on a high note to play its way to Atlanta, beating Texas A&M 28-21 at home a week after a 24-10 victory at Mississippi to earn a spot in the title game in just its second year in the league.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Auburn -2.
ABOUT MISSOURI (11-1, 7-1 SEC): The Tigers surged to the top of the SEC East on the strength of a balanced offense led by senior quarterback James Franklin, who has passed for 1,952 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 412 yards and 3 TDs, and an opportunistic defense. They average 489.5 total yards and rank 18th in the nation in rushing (236.9) with Henry Josey leading the way (951 yards, 13 TDs). The defense is tied for fourth in the nation with 37 sacks, has forced 27 turnovers and has at least one takeaway in 42 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS.
ABOUT AUBURN (11-1, 7-1): Malzahn has overseen the biggest turnaround in the nation after the Tigers went 3-9 a year ago but have returned to the national prominence they enjoyed when he was the offensive coordinator. Tre Mason, the SEC's leading rusher with 1,317 yards and 18 TDs, and dual threat quarterback Nick Marshall (1,627 passing yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs; 922 rushing yards, 10 TDs) lead an offense that ranks fifth in rushing (318.3) and 15th in total yards (491). The Tigers have been less impressive defensively, but they held Alabama to seven points in the second half.
1. Malzahn and Missouri's Gary Pinkel are among the three finalists for the Maxwell Coach of the Year Award, along with Duke's David Cutcliffe.
2. With a win, Pinkel (101-62) would pass Don Faurot as Missouri's all-time winningest coach.
3. Auburn has scored 30 points or more in eight straight contests and has won 87 consecutive games when hitting the 30-point plateau, while Missouri is one of three teams in the nation to hold all of its opponents to 28 points or fewer.
PREDICTION: Missouri 31, Auburn 28