With serious national title implications in the balance, the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide will return to the SEC Championship game where they’ll face No. 17 Missouri at the Georgia Dome Saturday.
A win for Alabama (11-1, 8-1 SEC, No. 1 CFP) will likely sew up the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, but a loss could force the playoff selection committee to bump the Tide in favor of a one-loss team.
And while they won’t play for the national title, Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC) can play spoiler to Alabama after beating Arkansas 21-14. The win, along with Georgia’s overtime loss to Georgia Tech, secured the Tigers the SEC East crown.
The Tide smashed Auburn 55-44 in the Iron Bowl to claim the SEC West title, and now have the chance to claim their third conference title under head coach Nick Saban since his tenure began in 2007.
Led by quarterback Blake Sims' four touchdown passes, three of which went to SEC-leading receiver Amari Cooper, Alabama erased Auburn’s 12-point third quarter lead with a 34-point rally in the final 26 minutes of play.
Sims shook off three interceptions to go 20-for-27 for 312 yards, and Cooper totaled 224 yards on 13 receptions. Prior to the win, the Tide were concerned about injured running back T.J. Yeldon, who was hurt in the victories over Tennessee and LSU, but the junior bounced back with a season high 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The offense is healthy, but Saban and Alabama might have concerns on the defensive side of the ball. The Tide are allowing 16.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country, but they allowed a season-worst 44 points and 628 yards to Auburn. Most of that production came from Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s 456 passing yards, more than double the 219.8 yards per game Alabama let’s up through the air.
Missouri's offense is unlikely to put up such prolific numbers against the Tide, but they do possess the nation’s No. 13 ranked defense, capable of slowing Sims, Cooper and Yeldon. The Tigers surrendered 19.7 points and top the SEC with 40 sacks on the year. Junior defensive lineman Shane Ray leads the team and conference with 14 sacks, and senior Markus Golden has tallied nine, with Missouri joining Tennessee as the only teams in the SEC with two pass rushers in the top 10 in sacks.
On the flip side, the Tigers average only 28.6 points per game, with sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk notching 22 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and junior running back Russell Hansbrough tallying 949 yards and nine scores.
But Missouri has proven resilient, evidenced by its fourth quarterback comeback against Arkansas, a team that came on late in the season to beat LSU and Ole Miss, and nearly bested Mississippi State and Alabama. Mauk capped a 10-play, 98-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass, and took the Tigers down the field again on their next possession for the winning score.
The matchup is one rarely seen by college football fans, as Alabama and Missouri have met only four previous times. Each has won two, but none of the games held a national title shot in the balance. The two last met in 2012, Missouri’s first year in the SEC, and the Tide rushed for 362 yards to win 42-10. Before then, the teams hadn’t faced each other since 1978.
Tickets for the event are already on sale at StubHub, ranging from $5,855 to as low as $163.
Start Time: 4 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS
Early Prediction: Alabama over Missouri, 34-20