ATLANTA — Auburn and Missouri are competing for the SEC title today, and a chance to perhaps play for the BCS 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 — Chris Davis' 109-yard return of a missed field goal with no time left — to beat two-time defending national champ 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, site of today's game. "I would like to think we're doing all the right things. We've done it all year long."
Auburn must get past a win over its biggest rival, which likely eliminated the Crimson Tide from its quest for a 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. … 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 might need help. No. 1 Florida State is a big favorite against Duke in the ACC title game and No. 2 Ohio State faces Michigan State for the Big Ten crown. If FSU and OSU win, it would be tough for the SEC winner to vault either in the BCS rankings.