It has become the worst kind of sports cliché to hear coaches and teams whining about how nobody believes in them. From No. 125 all the way up to No. 1, somehow, some way, the lack of respect card is getting played.
For once, the two participants in the SEC Championship Game can legitimately use that motivational tactic all they want. At SEC Media Days, the conference's scribes predicted a sixth place finish for Missouri in the East and a fifth place finish for Auburn in the West. In the preseason consensus of magazines and other media previews, it was reversed with Mizzou fifth in the East and Auburn sixth in the West.
On the preseason All-SEC team, Auburn managed just four players, three second teamers and one third teamer. Missouri only managed one player, third team selection CB E.J. Gaines. That's right: no one from Missouri's offense—the second-highest scoring unit in the league—cracked the all-conference team. Auburn is 10-2 and Missouri is 10-1-1 against the spread, showing that even the oddsmakers have systematically underestimated them to a degree this season.
If you're curious, Missouri still has the upper hand on that front now:
Just absolutely ZERO respect nationally. This will change tomorrow, can’t wait! So proud to be a Missouri Tiger! pic.twitter.com/jMdORYkprD— Chase Daniel (@ChaseDaniel) December 6, 2013
Plus, Auburn is a two-point favorite in the game as of right now according to the Yahoo! pick 'em game.
Everything points to this being a fairly close game. Vegas certainly thinks it will be. My score projection method picks Mizzou by four. F/+ likes Auburn by three. If it really is that close, then one big play can be the difference in the game and make all musings on edges and advantages more or less moot.
After thinking about this game a long time, I am going to pick Mizzou.
The team that beat Auburn, and did so handily, was LSU, the SEC's top passing efficiency team. AU very nearly lost to Texas A&M, the SEC's No. 2 passing efficiency team, and it needed miracles to beat Alabama and Georgia, the league's Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in passing efficiency. Missouri is No. 5 at 149.4, a fair bit behind UGA's 156.7. That team figure, however, is reduced some by Maty Mauck's 141.3 mark. James Franklin is at 153.2 in passing efficiency, right there with Aaron Murray's 158.8.
So Missouri is capable of throwing the ball at an efficiency rate that can be lethal to Auburn's defense. The AU secondary also doesn't match up particularly well against Mizzou's big receivers. The shortest guy among receivers and tight ends that MU starts is 6-2 Bud Sasser; the other three starters there are 6-4, 6-6, and 6-6. Meanwhile, the 5 in Auburn's 4-2-5 only starts one guy taller than 5-11, safety Ryan Smith at 6-2. I really don't feel comfortable in picking those guys to have all that much success.
Further complicating things is that Missouri is second in the conference at run defense, just a smidge behind Alabama. You have to be able to stop the run to beat Auburn, and MU can stop the run.
The one thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly endorsing Mizzou here is that in its two close games, it has faced a quarterback who can run and throw. No, Johnny Manziel didn't have a good game running it, but his threat to do so helped A&M to rush for more than five yards a carry in that game. The defense also had a far harder time with the more mobile Connor Shaw than it did with the more pocket bound Dylan Thompson against South Carolina. I am still going to stick with Missouri, though, because Manziel and Shaw are much better passers than Nick Marshall is.
Still though, I do expect it to be close. An Auburn win wouldn't surprise at all; if the team can beat Alabama, it certainly can take down Mizzou. AU may have a "team of destiny" look to it, but Missouri is undefeated in regulation (trademarked Les Miles, 2007) and riding a nobody-believed-in-us wave too.
More than anything, I am looking forward to this as a close, compelling SEC Championship Game. Last year's was the first good game since 2008, so hopefully these teams will make it two in a row. Here's to a tight, back-and-forth, and, more than anything, fun SEC Championship Game. Let's do it, fellas.
The pick: Missouri 38, Auburn 35