ATLANTA (AP) — Auburn and Missouri are competing for the Southeastern Conference title Saturday, and possibly a chance to play for the national championship.
Yet both teams have to guard against a letdown.
As ludicrous as that might sound, Auburn and Missouri are coming off emotionally charged victories last week that gave each coach a reason to fret just a bit.
No. 3 Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC) used one of the greatest finishing plays in college football history — a 109-yard return of a missed field goal with no time on the clock — to beat two-time defending national champion Alabama in the Iron Bowl for the West Division title. No. 5 Missouri (11-1, 7-1) won the East with a thrilling victory of its own, knocking off Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M 28-21.
"The challenge of any coach, the leadership of the team, the coaching staff, everybody, is can you stay focused to do what you do day-to-day to play your best?" Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Friday at the Georgia Dome, where each team held its final workout. "I would like to think we're doing all the right things. We've done it all year long."
Auburn must get past one of the most improbable victories ever, beating its biggest rival in a game that likely eliminated the Crimson Tide from its quest for an unprecedented third straight national title. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watched the frenzied crowd storm the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, then urged his team to get right back to work.
"The challenge with emotional wins like that is you've got to put it behind you," he said. "Our guys showed up for their Sunday practice, went about their business like normal. I thought that was a very good sign. We had a very good week of practice. Our guys understand. You can turn the film on from Missouri. We've got to play our best game, play better than we did last week, to win the game."
The winner could get a shot to play for the SEC's eighth straight national title, but that will depend on what happens in Charlotte and Indianapolis.
Top-ranked Florida State (12-0) is a huge favorite against Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, while second-ranked Ohio State (12-0) figures to face a much tougher challenge against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. If both win, that will likely set the matchup for the BCS championship. If either falters, the Auburn-Missouri winner can expect to land a trip to Pasadena.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in the SEC championship game: