It's that time again. It's the week of the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Alabama is back after a one year absence due to a heart-breaking loss in last year's Iron Bowl. Last Saturday, Auburn fought hard, but Alabama pulled away in dominant fashion after clinching the title of the best in the West. The upstart Missouri Tigers have had amazing success in the SEC and clinched their second straight appearance in Georgia's capital city with a, 21-14, win over Arkansas. This weekend's game will have significant implications on the College Football Playoff, the destiny of these two teams, and the destiny of this conference. Let's look at this game more in depth.
#1 Alabama (11-1) vs. #16 Missouri (10-2)
Saturday, Dec. 6 at 4 PM ET
Alabama-WR Amari Cooper, QB Blake Sims, RB T.J. Yeldon
Missouri-DE Shane Ray, WR Bud Sasser, DE Markus Golden
Preview: The Tide are rollin' again. Alabama is coming off a, 55-44, win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The win showed resiliency as Bama QB Blake Sims overcame a start marred with 3 interceptions with a strong second half going 10-of-12 with 3 passing touchdowns while adding another on the ground. Alabama has finished the regular season with an 11-1 record and look to be one of the top teams in college football.
The X-factor for Alabama this season and in this game in particular is wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper leads the SEC in receiving yards with 1,537 on 103 receptions with 14 touchdowns. He is an absolute game-changer, bringing back memories of recent pass-catching greats like Julio Jones and A.J. Green. He is the total package as he is adept at route running, has very good speed, and is a very reliable target. He is a true deep threat that Lane Kiffin has utilized brilliantly to help his Tide win games.
The big question mark for Alabama in the offseason and for an earlier portion of the regular season was who would step up at the quarterback position to take over the reins from talented graduate AJ McCarron. Blake Sims has certainly done that. The Senior from Gainesville, GA, has thrown for almost 3,000 yards (best in the SEC) and 24 touchdowns and has completed 63.1% of his passes. Veteran RB T.J. Yeldon leads the Tide rushing attack which has been very dominate over the years. He has carried the ball 170 times for 885 yards and 8 scores while sharing the backfield with the hard-nosed Derrick Henry, who has amassed another 754 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. The Tide offensive line is once more a strong unit anchored in the middle by center Ryan Kelly.
On the other side of the ball, Alabama's defense is again one of the best in the country. They boast the #2 rushing defense in the country led by a solid defensive line led inside by nose guards A'Shawn Robinson and Brandon Ivory as well as three stud linebackers in Reggie Ragland, Xzavier Dickson, and Trey DePriest. The Tide allow the 6th least points per game with a 16.9 average.
The big story when it comes to Missouri is their defensive line. The Tigers are led by one of the top defensive lines in the country bookended by two of the top defensive ends in the country in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Both have NFL Draft 1st round potential and are physical specimens. Ray leads the SEC in QB sacks with 13.5 while Markus Golden has added 62 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Linebacker Kentrell Brothers is the top tackler on the squad with 103. Missouri boasts a top 25 defense in college football and ranks 16th in the nation in points allowed.
Mizzou's offense is led by QB Maty Mauk, who, although inconsistent, can be a very proficient passer at times as well as running back Russell Hansborough who has rushed for 949 yards and 9 touchdowns. Bud Sasser leads the Tigers in receiving as he is 96 yards short from breaking 1,000 on the year. He also happens to be one of the best receivers in the SEC.
The guy that is one of the most notable players on the Missouri offense is Marcus Murphy. He is just a dynamic playmaker. Murphy is not only the second leading rusher in Columbia, but also has proven to be a solid pass-catcher. What he's most known for though is his time on special teams. He's one of fastest and most electric kick returners in the country and is a threat to take it the distance each time he touches the ball. He has scored three times on special teams.
Overall, this game looks to be strongly in Alabama's favor. Missouri has got to be the weaker team as they barely got out of a down SEC East this year. Alabama is pretty much the complete package. However, like many Alabama teams of late, the secondary has been vulnerable at times, and the kicking game has been an adventure to say the least. If Mizzou wants to upset the Tide and all but bash the hopes of an SEC team getting into the CFB Playoff, Maty Mauk and crew will have to spread them out and make plays in the passing game. However, they cannot be one-dimensional. That is where Hansborough and Murphy come in.
Look for the Tigers to utilize their pass-rushing defensive ends and a solid defense to try and put a lot of pressure upon Blake Sims from the get-go, try to slow down Yeldon and Henry, and minimize the effectiveness of Amari Cooper (good luck). For Alabama, look for the Tide to keep doing what they do. That is, establish the run game and put the ball in Cooper's hands.
It would be extremely difficult for Missouri to pull the upset over the powerhouse Alabama squad. Still, Mizzou can be dangerous, and it is the SEC. I got a feeling this game might be closer than some people think. Remember the often heard statement about this conference, anything can happen "on any given Saturday."
Prediction: Alabama 38-Mizzou 28