Back in July, members of the Southeastern Conference media picked defending national champ Alabama and Georgia to meet in this year’s SEC Championship game. As is usually the case, the media was wrong; dead wrong. Along the way Georgia came down with a lot of injuries the Bulldogs were unable to overcome and, well, you know the Alabama story. The top-ranked Tide was upset last weekend in the “Iron Bowl” on an amazing play some have never seen before. So, instead of an Alabama-Georgia rematch from 2012, two teams with combined 2-14 records just a season ago will play in the Georgia Dome for the SEC Title.
In the case of Auburn going from worst (0-8) to first (7-1) is an amazing story. Under the guidance of first year head coach Gus Malzahn the Tigers literally “ran away” with the SEC West. They were the fifth best rushing team in the country averaging better than 313 yards per game on the ground. Like AU did in 2010 when they won the BCS National Championship with one-year transfer quarterback Cam Newton, the Tigers once again depended on a transfer quarterback in sophomore Nick Marshall. He has been the catalyst or the “straw that stirs the drink” on the plains. Coach Malzahn says he deserves mention for the Heisman Trophy, though it’s not going to happen. Nevertheless, Marshall and the Tiger offense have been fantastic all season long.
You also get the impression that Auburn could be a real “team of destiny” after their back to back miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama. Against the Bulldogs, Auburn built a big lead, lost it, then scored the go-ahead touchdown on a hail-Mary pass that was tipped by two Georgia defenders before being caught for a touchdown by Ricardo Louis. Then, last week at home against Alabama, with one second remaining in regulation and the score tied 28-28, Alabama chose to attempt a 57-yard field goal by a redshirt freshman kicker, rather than take a knee and play in overtime. The result: Chris Davis hauled in the kick that was too short, and ran it back 108 yards untouched for the winning touchdown. Auburn had scored twice in the last 40 seconds of the game and pulled it out 34-28.
As far as Missouri is concerned, the Tigers are almost as much of a complete turn-around as Auburn. Mizzou was just 2-6 in SEC play a year ago and near the bottom of the SEC East standings. Head Coach Gary Pinkel, who has had a lot of success with the Tigers, was on a very warm hot seat in Columbia, but his team just started winning. When starting quarterback James Franklin suffered an injury that would keep him out for several weeks, back-up Maty Mauk stepped in and the Tigers didn’t miss a beat. Their only loss this season was a 27-24 overtime defeat at home to South Carolina on Oct. 26. Either Pinkel or Malzahn should get the SEC Coach of The Year honors when the post-season awards are handed out. I would cast my vote for Gary Pinkel.
The game on Saturday kicks off at 4:00 with both teams hoping for a win and some help along the way to be able to get into the BCS National Championship Game. The help both teams need could come in the ACC or the Big Ten Championships. They need Florida State to be upset by Duke, (Go Blue Devils!) and they need Ohio State to lose to Michigan in the Big Ten Title clash. Regardless, the SEC contest should be a super game to watch. My pick…..Auburn 38, Missouri 28.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).