- Greg Ostendorf, SEC reporter
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And then there were two. The SEC will decide a champion Saturday when Auburn and Missouri meet in Atlanta for the conference title game. The stakes are high as the winner still has an outside chance to reach Pasadena, Calif., and play in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.
First, let’s take a look at some notes from the ESPN Stats & Info group to get you ready for Saturday’s matchup.
Missouri and Auburn will meet for the SEC championship after seasons to forget a year ago. The winner will become the first team since Tennessee in 1989 to win (or share) the SEC championship after having an overall losing record the previous season.
Auburn is making its fifth appearance in the SEC championship game. The Tigers have split their previous four meetings, winning in 2004 and 2010 and losing in 1997 and 2000.
Missouri hasn’t won (or shared) a conference championship of any kind since 1969 when it shared the Big Eight title with Nebraska. Now the Tigers can end that drought in just their second season in what many consider the best conference in college football. To put that in some perspective, Vanderbilt has been in the SEC every year since the league was formed in 1933, and has never won (or shared) a title.
Auburn is attempting to become just the third major-conference team (now known as AQ conferences) in the poll era (1936) to win or share a conference championship after going winless in the league the previous season. The only others to accomplish this were Stanford in 1939 and 1940 and Kentucky in 1975 and 1976.
These teams have met only once before. In the 1973 Sun Bowl, Missouri knocked off Auburn 34-17.
Missouri is playing in its third ever matchup of AP top-five teams, having split the first two (No. 3 Missouri beat No. 2 Kansas in 2007 -- No. 4 Texas beat No. 5 Missouri in 1979). Auburn is playing in its ninth such matchup (4-3-1 in previous eight). The Tigers have done very well in top-five matchups of late.
Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns. Through 12 games, the Tigers already have 23 more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season.
Auburn averages an SEC-high 4.5 yards before contact per rush and makes it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before contact on 31 percent of its rushes. But Missouri’s defense has been strong against the run this season. Missouri is one of seven teams that has not allowed 200 yards rushing in any of its games this season, and Auburn has rushed for more than 200 yards in 11 of its 12 games.
Auburn enters with an eight-game improvement from last year when they finished 3-9. The all-time record for biggest improvement from one year to the next is 8½ games by Hawaii in 1999 (from 0-12 to 9-4). If the Tigers win out, they’ll establish a new NCAA record for most-improved team.
There’s more on the line in this game for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. He reached the 101-win mark with Missouri after last week’s win against Texas A&M, and his next win will pass Don Faurot as the Missouri coach with the most wins in school history.
James Franklin is completing 51.8 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer this season, including 60.9 percent of his passes when targeting L’Damian Washington. Washington has the same number of receptions (14) on passes of this distance as the rest of Missouri’s wide receivers combined.
Missouri leads the SEC with a plus-15 turnover margin. No other team has a margin higher than plus-11. The Tigers are still riding the FBS’ longest active streak (42 games) of forcing at least one turnover in each game.
Don’t look away during kickoffs on Saturday as Missouri and Auburn rank 100th and 101st in kick return defense nationally. Meanwhile, both teams rank in the top 25 in kickoff returns.
And then there were two. The SEC will decide a champion Saturday when Auburn and Missouri meet in Atlanta for the conference title game. The stakes are high as the winner still has an outside chance to reach Pasadena, Calif.