It’s finally here. After an entire season of hard work and wishful thinking, the men have been separated from the boys in the SEC. Although, to be fair, the quality of the SEC East has been laughable compared to how strong the West is this year. But, someone had to come out of the East, and for the second year in a row it is the Missouri Tigers.
Say what you want about their two losses, but the fact of the matter is that this team won three straight SEC games with the whole country breathing down their neck and expecting them to slip up. Winning under that kind of pressure is an impressive feat, and you get the feeling that this Tigers team enjoys being the underdog.
Ever since they joined the SEC, they haven’t been treated with as much respect as Georgia, Florida, or even South Carolina. Two straight SEC East division titles later, and this program not only demands respect, but they deserve it as well.
And then there’s the Alabama Crimson Tide. Halfway through the season, it didn’t even look like the Tide were going to make it out of the West, but after their loss to Ole Miss, they rattled off seven straight wins by an average of 19 points. Nick Saban has this team playing its best football of the year at the right time, and they deserve to be the #1 team in the country.
The general consensus is that Alabama will roll all over Missouri, and while I wish I could pull a Corso and “Not so fast!” everyone, there’s no way Saban will let his team face plant against a Missouri team that lost to Indiana at home and got absolutely shut down by Georgia. Consider this: the team representing the SEC West has won the last five SEC Championships, and the last team from the East to win the SEC was Florida in 2008 and they went on to defeat Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship that year.
However, if Missouri were to pull off the upset, their main focus needs to be slowing down Amari Cooper.
In Alabama’s one loss this season, Cooper was held to under 100 yards receiving and did not find the endzone once. Furthermore, in Alabama’s overtime victory against LSU, Cooper found the endzone but only had 83 yards receiving. It is vital that Missouri keys in on Cooper the entire game, because Missouri’s front four has the ability to stuff the run and wreak havoc in the backfield.
Maty Mauk and the Missouri offense must also take care of the football if the Tigers have any chance of scoring points this Saturday. Between both of Missouri’s losses this year, they turned the ball over a total of six times. Come Saturday, they cannot afford to give Alabama extra opportunities to put points up on the board, or else they could find themselves in a hole early.
For Alabama to win this game, they simply need to keep playing the brand of football that got them to this point: play good defense and run the football. Lane Kiffin will find ways to get Cooper involved, but, much like Mauk, Blake Sims has to take care of the football in order to keep the Tide in the game. With that being said, Sims threw three interceptions against Auburn and they still scored 55 points, so whatever right?
Combine the importance of this game with the fact that Missouri has never won a conference championship—Big-12 and SEC included—there’s no reason to believe that the Tide won’t get a victory Saturday in Atlanta.
My prediction: 38-20. Alabama.