- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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Early this week, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl sent out a news release to media members indicating that a representative of the game would be present at Kyle Field to watch Missouri and Texas A&M.
The only problem with that? The game's at Faurot Field, home of Missouri.
You can forgive the mistake, especially considering how the schedule has shaken out in recent years. The Tigers had to make three consecutive trips to College Station the last three seasons. The last time the Aggies made the trek up to Columbia, Mo., was in 2007.
Needless to say, it's been awhile.
"I'm glad finally for once [we get to play at home]," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Last year they whipped us pretty good. It's nice to be home here, and I think it's great for our fans also."
The last time these teams met they were in different places. Missouri was closing out a disappointing 5-7 season, one marred by numerous injuries. The Tigers served as a sacrificial lambs to the Aggies, who were putting the finishing touches on a smashing first season of SEC success (11-2) and Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy campaign, as he solidified his candidacy with a strong performance in the 2012 regular season finale.
This season, the stakes are higher and in a way, the roles are reversed. Fifth-ranked Missouri (10-1) can earn a berth in the SEC championship game and clinch the outright SEC East Division title with a win on Saturday night. The No. 21 Aggies (8-3) haven't endured struggles anywhere close to the level Missouri did last season, but this season hasn't quite lived up to some of the lofty preseason expectations.
Last year at this time, it was a raucous Kyle Field that served as the setting. This year, it'll be an expected capacity crowd at Memorial Stadium, complete with a stadium "blackout" (the Tigers are wearing all black and asked fans to don the color also) and senior night for the Tigers.
"I think it's going to be very emotional," Missouri senior defensive back E.J. Gaines said Monday. "A lot of these guys are close and it's a brotherhood in this senior class that is coming through. It's definitely going to be emotional, but we want the win as well."
However, the Aggies didn't have something as big as the Tigers have on the line. There's excitement that comes with Missouri's chances of punching a ticket to Atlanta, but it certainly can add a little pressure as well.
"I am sure there is a little bit, but we just need to try our best and not think about it," senior quarterback James Franklin said. "We need to focus on playing football, and doing what we have done well all season. Hopefully, we won't let the outside stuff affect us."
The Aggies really have no pressure at this point. They're simply trying to pick themselves up off the mat after taking a 34-10 beating at LSU last week and really had little time to lick their wounds because for the second straight week, it's a road game against a ranked opponent.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin isn't surprised with the Tigers' success.
"I was more shocked last year about how they were from a record standpoint," Sumlin said. "Gary Pinkel has a track record of winning and winning division championships and having double-digit [win] seasons and competing at a high level. I didn't see that changing. Is it a surprise to me? No."
Pinkel feels good about how his team has approached each game this season and feels like the Tigers will be able to approach Saturday the same way with everything hanging in the balance.
"What we've done here in terms of playing this year and stuck to this if you ask our seniors, it doesn't matter where we play or who we play, it matters how we play," Pinkel said. "I think they're aware of the fact that we have a share of the [division] title and to get to the championship game you have to win this game. They're very well aware of that obviously. You're focus now is on playing your best game.
"I don't really look it as pressure, I look at it as an opportunity. You want to be in this position every single year. I look at it as, 'Let's have a fun experience competing and try to win that championship.'"
10hSam Khan Jr.