Auburn and Missouri square off Saturday afternoon for the SEC championship, pitting two teams that were picked to finish near the bottom of their respective divisions before the season began. Since Missouri is in only its second SEC season, and Our Tigers have played Their Tigers just once in 1983 -- avenge the Sun Bowl! -- we need some more inside information on Mizzou. CapnCribbs of Rock M Nation was kind enough to answer our questions.
CaM: How are Missouri fans liking the move to the SEC? When it was announced, were fans universally happy, or were there some who wanted to stay in the Big 12?
CC: I'd say the majority of Missouri fans were and are happy about the move to the SEC, given the state of the Big 12. The instability and constant imbalance of power (LOOKING AT YOU, TEXAS) really began to wear on Mizzou, so the opportunity to join the greatest conference in college sports was a huge excitement. There are many that miss the rivalries and were afraid of the high level of competition, but overall most of us are 100 percent on board, especially after this season. I'll say personally I've enjoyed football season immensely more since joining the SEC, as well.
CaM: Other SEC fans have been -- to put it mildly -- pretty condescending toward Missouri over the last two years. Has that really gotten under the skin of Tigers fans, are was it something y'all expected? Do you think attitudes will change now that Mizzou is a conference title contender?
CC: It's not something we weren't already used to, but yes it has gotten very old. The fact that most of the national media and fans of other SEC teams weren't willing to accept the fact that injuries were a major reason for our lack of success last season frustrated me and the rest of Mizzou Nation to no end. That being said, we knew we were the new guys and had to come in and earn respect. I think that's slowly beginning to happen, though we still have plenty of doubters out there. If we can sustain this sort of success, I don't think anyone will have a choice but to respect us.
CaM: Tell me about Missouri football culture. Do y'all take it as seriously as the rest of us lunatics?
CC: When you say "us", do you mean SEC fans or SEC fans from the state of Alabama? I think Mizzou fans are extremely passionate and cherish the traditions of the University, so I think we've been a pretty good fit in the conference so far. Most other fan bases that have interacted with ours have said we're some of the most (if not THE most) hospitable fans in the conference, which is kind of cool, too. That being said, I'm not sure we (or anyone else for that matter) can hold a candle to you folks down there in Alabama. I'm not sure it's as ingrained into our daily lives as it is down there, being that we have five pro sports teams Mizzou has to compete for fans with. I don't think you'll hear many people calling out our fans for not being SEC quality though, aside from the fact most of us still don't "dress up" for games yet.
CAM: Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Missouri's offense is sort of a mix of Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. What do your Tigers like to do when they have the ball? How do you expect them to attack Auburn's defense?
CC: Well we do a little bit of everything and we do it all well. It starts up front with an offensive line that has absolutely exceeded expectations 110 percent. They open up gaping holes for the run game and generally give our QBs more than enough time to get the ball out. Our passing game is efficient with the ability to go vertical to our giant/fast wide receivers, and our running game is explosive with three different guys who can take it to the house on any given play. We will line up four or five wide and throw it all over the place, we'll line up in the pistol and run it right at you, or we'll bring a back in motion and run the zone read. I expect to see a lot of downfield passing, which will in turn open up the running game. Dee Ford needs to have a big game this week for you guys.
CaM: Mizzou has a ton of offensive playmakers. Other than quarterback James Franklin, who do you expect to make the biggest impact in this game?
CC: Auburn's cornerbacks better eat their Wheaties. I personally believe the Mizzou wide receivers will have the biggest impact on this game, mainly because I'm not sure Auburn has anyone that can match up with the trio of DGB, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. All are 6'5 or taller, with DGB and L'Damian being speedsters while Lucas is more of a big possession receiver. Franklin is the kind of QB to spread it around to all of them as well, so I think Auburn's best chance of slowing that down is by just getting to the QB.
CaM: The Tigers' defensive line is fantastic. How good are the linebackers and defensive backs? What will Missouri do to slow down Auburn's offense?
CC: (Insert "which Tigers?" joke here.) The linebackers are a very solid group, being led by senior Andrew Wilson. He has athleticism on either side of him with Donovan Bonner and Kentrell Brothers, who sometimes seem to have a hard time playing in pass coverage but are pretty solid against the run. The defensive backs get the job done, with the one real playmaker being E.J. Gaines. The guy just absolutely shut Mike Evans down. His positioning makes it extremely difficult for receivers to get a clean catch, and he's a fantastic open-field tackler. I think Mizzou will stay in their base 4-3 defense and rely on our talented defensive line to get in the backfield and disrupt the running game with the hopes that our LBs can get over and make a play if the defensive line is only able to suck up some blocks. If 'Bama couldn't do it, it's gonna be real hard for Mizzou to do it.
CaM: Which defensive player to you think will have the biggest game?
CC: Personally, I think we'll be hearing Andrew Wilson's name a lot. He makes a lot of plays in the running game, and with the way your running game comes at the defense from all over the place I think we'll rely on him to get to the ball carrier and make a play. The guy is an absolute thumper, too. He stone-walled fullback Quayvon Hicks from UGA, which is no pedestrian accomplishment.
CaM: Were Missouri fans expecting anything close to the turnaround from 5-7 to 11-1?
CC: With the exception of wide receiver L'Damian Washington, who predicted we'd win 10-11 games, no. Most fans were thinking 6-6 was our floor and 9-3 was our absolute ceiling, which depended upon everything going our way. We knew this team would be more competitive now that they're finally healthy, but 11-1 absolutely blew any predictions we had out of the water.
CAM: No matter the winner, should a one-loss SEC champion jump an undefeated Ohio State in the BCS standings?
CC: While I believe the argument is DEFINITELY there, no. I think a win over Michigan State will be enough for Ohio State to prove they aren't just the product of a weak schedule. Talk surrounding this subject has heated up the past couple of days, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Ohio State does indeed win the B1G.
CaM: What do you think happens Saturday in the Georgia Dome? Care to offer a score prediction?
CC: This game is about as close as it gets. Auburn is a hell of a team, and I'm not sure Missouri can stop that running game, but I think Mizzou does match up favorably. If Mizzou can keep Auburn in passing downs, I think our offense can put up enough points to keep you guys playing catch up with us. Give me something like 31-28 Mizzou, but don't think I'm confident in that pick. It could very, very easily go the other way, and with the way things have been shaking out for Auburn late in games, a close game isn't something I'm looking forward to.