Missouri came out of nowhere to earn SEC championship game berth

The Kansas City StarDecember 1, 2013 

Texas A M Missouri Football

Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington, right, catches a pass as Texas A&M defensive back De'Vante Harris defends during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

L.G. PATTERSON — AP

Both Missouri and Auburn use the Tigers as a mascot, but the SEC championship game is really a battle between programs more like the mythical Phoenix.

Before the season, nobody predicted No. 5 Missouri and No. 3 Auburn, who went a combined 2-14 in Southeastern Conference play last season, would meet Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to settle the SEC title.

Yet, here we are.

Missouri, 11-1 and 7-1 in the SEC, finished 2-6 a year ago in its first season moving to a new league, but coach Gary Pinkel's Tigers have rebounded in spectacular fashion and won the SEC East division title.

Auburn's turnaround was perhaps even more shocking under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, who had been the offensive coordinator from 2009-11 under Gene Chizik before spending last season as the head coach at Arkansas State.

For an idea how unexpected this matchup was entering the season, Missouri was picked to finish sixth -- ahead of only Kentucky -- in the East, while Auburn was picked fifth -- ahead of only Mississippi State and Arkansas -- in the West.

"It's interesting," Pinkel said. "People are going to look at and analyze it, flip it, spin it, turn it. There's a lot of different ways of looking at it, I guess. That's part of being in the SEC. There's a lot of great teams and the competition is at its highest level."

Pinkel's primary goal was week-by-week improvement.

"I thought we had a good football team going into the season, but one thing that has been key for us is that we've really improved," Pinkel said. "We're a lot different team than we were in the first of September and October we got a lot better and even November we're better."

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