SEC Championship Picks: Auburn vs. Missouri Odds and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 12/4/2013
This game — the battle of the Tigers — is a perfect example of why college football is so great. Last year Auburn was 3-9 and a perfect 0-8 in SEC play. Missouri was only 5-7 in their first year in SEC play and only earned conference wins over lousy Kentucky and Tennessee squads. Missouri looked like they didn’t belong in their new conference, and Auburn barely looked like they belonged in FBS. But then Auburn made a great coaching change, Missouri did, well, something — selling their soul to the devil can’t be ruled out — and now we have an incredibly unlikely SEC Championship Game pairing. If you had bet before the season that this is where we would be now, you would be much wealthier than you used to be.
One of the biggest stories of the game is Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who should be a lock for coach of the year honors. This is not just his first year as head coach at Auburn, but it’s only his second year as a college head coach at all following his debut last year at Arkansas State. He is obviously both very talented and decidedly in tune with his players. The fact remains, though, that this is a huge stage for a coach who hasn’t experienced it before. He survived the Iron Bowl, so that will help, but Gary Pinkel, who has been a head coach since 1991 and has coached in nine bowl games, has a decided edge in big-game experience — for what that’s worth.
Auburn vs. Missouri Betting Storylines
On paper, Auburn us the deeper and more-talented team, and they should be capable of winning. The biggest concern on their front, though, is the chance for an emotional letdown. Just a week after beating Georgia in near-impossible fashion, Auburn won a historical Iron Bowl in a way that no college team had ever won a game before. The hype around both wins has been massive, and the team could easily be somewhat overwhelmed and at less than their best. It will be important to pay as much attention to the team as we can in the days leading to the game to see if there are signs of potential concern.
The biggest challenge in handicapping Missouri here is that they have not played a team as good as this one, so we don’t know how good they are. Somehow, the team managed to play an eight-game schedule in the 14-team SEC without playing Alabama, Auburn or LSU — the three top teams in the West Division. Their top opponent was South Carolina, and they lost that game. They beat Georgia and Texas A&M, but as the season progressed neither team measured up to early expectations. Missouri is taking a big step up in class, and this is a tough time of year to be doing that.
In order to have success here, Missouri is going to need a big day from quarterback James Franklin — the player for Missouri with the best chance of being a difference-maker here. After missing a month to injury, Franklin has been back for just two games. His first, at Ole Miss, just wasn’t very good — at least by his standards. He was better against Texas A&M, but he was still a step behind his best, and that Aggies defense is so suspect that it is hard to give him too much credit. He has incredible weapons at wide receiver and a solid line to play behind, but Auburn is going to be relentless in their attempts to make him uncomfortable. Your handicapping of this game has to depend on how you see Franklin performing.
It’s not just a nickname that these two teams share. Missouri averaged 38.8 points per game on the season. Auburn? 38.6 points. A virtual tie. They have different approaches to piling up the points, though. Auburn is focused on the run, and their pass game is spotty at best — outside of the Top 100 in the country. Missouri has a much more balanced approach. The good news for Missouri is that their defense has less to focus on than Auburn does. The downside, though, is that they haven’t faced a run game like this one, and Auburn is coming off a performance in which they shredded a very good Alabama defensive line, piling up nearly 300 yards while averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry. The Auburn strength matches up well with the Missouri strengths defensively — at least from the Missouri perspective. Though their defense isn’t elite in any aspect, they are dramatically better against the run than the pass. They are still vulnerable, but they stand a much better chance of holding up than if Auburn was an efficient passing team.
Auburn vs. Missouri SEC Championship Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Auburn favored by 1.5 points, and that number has widened slightly to 2 points. Action has been split almost evenly between the two teams, so if we see a significant line move it will only be because something unexpected has happened. The total is at 58 points, and appears to be relatively stable.
These teams have not met since Missouri has joined the SEC — or before that, for that matter. Auburn is 7-0 ATS in their last seven conference games and 6-0 ATS against teams with a winning record. Missouri is 4-0 ATS in their last four conference contests.
SEC Championship Picks: Auburn vs. Missouri Predictions
I respect Missouri. Gary Pinkel has done a great job, and James Franklin is a very good quarterback. I just don’t like their chances here, though. The biggest issue they have is stopping the rushing game of Auburn. I just don’t expect them to be able to do so. Auburn’s focus could be an issue early on, but Malzahn has a game-planning edge, and his squad has more recent experience in big games. If the spread were just a little bigger then this would be more of a puzzle, but at this price Auburn is the clear pick.
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