SEC Notebook: Dramatic finishes provide surprise title matchup

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

The final weekend of the SEC's regular-season has produced one of the most unlikely match-ups for the conference title game since the league split into two divisions and began deciding its champion in a one-game, winner-take-all affair in 1992.
Eastern Division champ Missouri and Western winner Auburn were a combined 2-14 in SEC play just a year ago with Mizzou accounting for both of the victories.
Six of Auburn's eight conference losses in 2012 were by double digits, and it didn't score a point in its last two SEC defeats, losing 38-0 to Georgia and 49-0 to Alabama.
Mizzou's two wins came in four overtimes against Tennessee and against Kentucky, which was in the midst of a winless conference season.
But the two teams of Tigers -- both go by the same nickname -- roared through 2013 with only one conference loss each and earned their ticket to Atlanta for Saturday's game with dramatic wins on Thanksgiving weekend.
Auburn, of course, stunned No. 1 Alabama 34-28 when senior Chris Davis returned Bama's missed field goal attempt from deep in his own end zone to the other end of the field after time had run out. With the two teams both finishing 7-1 in league play, Auburn won the tiebreaker for the title game berth. Mizzou capped the evening by rallying past Texas A&M 28-21, scoring the decisive touchdown on junior Henry Josey's 57-yard burst up the middle with 3:34 remaining in the game. That kept Missouri at 7-1 in front of 6-2 South Carolina, which held the tiebreaker between the two.
"How about those Tigers?" Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "I am so proud of our team and coaches. It was not going to be easy. We played a great second half. We held them to 21 points, which is impossible.
"We scored 21 points in the second half. We did a lot of great things in the fourth quarter."
His counterpart at Auburn, Gus Malzahn, said he didn't really think about the title game berth until after he shook Alabama coach Nick Saban's hand. "It's what you coach for," he said. "It's what these kids play for, to get a chance to win the SEC championship."
The wins also put both teams in the national championship picture. Both teams are 11-1 headed into their meeting with Auburn's loss by two touchdowns at LSU back in late September and Missouri's in double overtime to South Carolina in late October.
But getting a berth in the BCS title game might be difficult even for a one-loss SEC champion if both Florida State and Ohio State win their conference championship games in the ACC and Big Ten, respectively, to remain unbeaten.
As the weekend just showed, however, one can't take anything for granted when it comes to college football.
1. The streak may be over. An SEC team has won the last seven BCS titles, but the conference may not have a representative make the national title game unless undefeated Florida State and Ohio State lose their respective conference (ACC and Big Ten) title games this weekend.
2. South Carolina loses out despite its win. The Gamecocks not only won't be playing in the SEC championship game because of Missouri's win, but also likely lost a shot at a bid for a BCS bowl appearance that now likely will go to once-beaten Alabama.
3. QB AJ McCarron still looks like a solid contender for the Heisman. You can't blame the loss to Auburn on the Alabama senior, who was 17-of-29 passing for 277 yards with a 99-yard touchdown pass among his three completions for scores.
4. It's getting tougher to stay perfect. For the second consecutive season, no SEC team made it through the regular season undefeated in conference play. That had been accomplished the four previous years (LSU in 2011, Auburn in 2010, Florida and Alabama in 2009, and Alabama in 2008).
5. Hold that Tiger? Three of Texas A&M's four losses were to teams bearing the nickname Tigers (Auburn, LSU, Missouri) with the fourth to Alabama's Crimson Tide.

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