Last season, Auburn finished 3-9, including 0-8 in the SEC. While the Tigers’ opponent in Saturday's title game, Missouri, finished 5-7, including 2-6 in its first season in the SEC.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel took the Tigers from the league’s whipping boy to kings of the Eastern Division and a No. 5 national ranking with an 11-1 and 7-1 in the SEC.
With a win in Atlanta and a little help from one or two underdogs nationally Saturday, Missouri could be playing for a national championship in Pasadena in January.
For those of you who haven't followed Missouri closely this year, here's a look at Pinkel's team:
Offensively, the Tigers revolve around quarterback James Franklin, who was injured all of last season, which was the biggest reason for the Tigers’ struggles.
This year, Franklin has accounted for more than 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has plenty of weapons around him, but he is the main cog that makes everything go.
Defensively, the Tigers are led by defensive lineman Michael Sam, linebacker Kentrell Brothers and cornerback E.J. Gaines.
The trio leads a defense that allows only 19.4 points and 119.08 rushing yards a game, which are both good for second in the SEC.
How did they get here?
Going into the year, the Tigers weren’t ranked and didn’t receive a single vote in the Associated Press or USA Today coaches poll. The Tigers were also picked to finish sixth in the SEC East.
Now, if not for a missed chip-shot field goal in double overtime against South Carolina, Missouri would be undefeated. The Tigers haven’t lost a game with Franklin at quarterback. He was hurt when the team faced South Carolina, as redshirt freshman Maty Mauk was at the helm.
The Tigers' two biggest wins of the season came in the last two weeks -- at Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M. With the loss to South Carolina, Missouri had to win both to clinch the East and did so.
What about Gary Pinkel?
Pinkel is in his 13th season as Missouri's head coach with this being his best year. Heading into the season, there was a lot of talk about Pinkel being on the hot seat and potentially losing his job if the season didn’t play out well. But after this run, Pinkel is likely safe.
While in the Big 12, Pinkel never won a conference championship. He is tied with Don Faurot, whom the Tigers’ field is named after, with most career victories at Missouri with 101.
Are they better than Auburn?
Overall, Missouri is slightly better but being better won’t win them the game. Auburn has shown its capable of knocking off teams even when they shouldn’t.
One thing Missouri does well is force turnovers. The Tigers lead the SEC with a plus-15 turnover margin and have forced at least one turnover in the past 43 games.
Missouri has history on its side. It is 1-0 against Auburn all-time with a 34-17 victory in the 1973 Sun Bowl.
What Missouri need to do to beat Auburn?
Offensively, Missouri should attack Auburn’s secondary. Auburn ranks 13th in the SEC in passing yards allowed, and with Franklin and some talented receivers, Missouri should be able to take advantage. One thing Alabama failed to do against Auburn was continue to push the ball down field and attack Auburn where it was vulnerable. Missouri should learn from that.
Defensively, watch tape of how Auburn was able to have success against Alabama. Missouri’s defensive coaching staff should highlight every time Auburn’s running or passing game was able to make a play against the Tide and to show their players what not to do against Auburn’s offense.
The beauty of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is that he’s going to stick to what his team does best. Question is, will Missouri be able to stop it?