Missouri needs win Saturday, then get some help (VIDEO)

Michael Sam and the rest of the Missouri defense will look to send the Tigers past Auburn on Saturday in the SEC title game.

Michael Sam and the rest of the Missouri defense will look to send the Tigers past Auburn on Saturday in the SEC title game. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Chase Daniel isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Martin Rucker or Jeremy Maclin.

The 2013 version of the Missouri Tigers doesn’t need them.

But there is a way this Tiger team would like to be like that 2007 Tiger squad: Having the guarantee that a win in a conference title game would mean playing for the national championship.

Video

Mizzou Network: Gary Pinkel SEC Championship Game Preview

Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the country in 2007, needing a victory against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship to reach the BCS title game. But the Tigers lost to the Sooners and were selected to play in the Cotton Bowl.

Fast forward to 2013, where it’s a bit more complicated. While No. 5 Missouri (11-1) takes on No. 3 Auburn (11-1) in the Southeastern Conference championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday (KRCG-TV) in the Georgia Dome at Atlanta, it’s likely to take more than a Tiger victory to be able to compete for the ultimate prize.

Missouri needs either No. 1 Florida State to fall to No. 20 Duke in the ACC championship game or No. 2 Ohio State to lose to No. 10 Michigan State in the Big 10 title match. Otherwise, a 12-1 squad from the SEC could be on the outside looking in.

“It’s a hard game to get into,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “Obviously Nick Saban at Alabama has done a remarkable job. We’ve always had the goals, we’ve always set them high.”

Auburn is in a similar situation, even after taking down previously top-ranked Alabama last Saturday in a dramatic fashion dubbed by some as the greatest finish in the history of college football. Auburn likely needs a loss from one of the top-two teams to sneak into the national title game.

A BCS championship without an SEC team? The same league that owns seven straight national titles? Say it isn’t so.

“An SEC team can’t left out of the (championship game) with one loss,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs told USA Today. “… And a one-loss SEC team that wins in Atlanta — if it’s us or Missouri — you can’t get left out of the BCS.”

While there seems to be no lack of campaigning or politicking from the Auburn side, the same can’t be said for the Tigers from Missouri.

“It’s the beauty of it, you have to go play. I can’t do anything more than that,” Pinkel said. “You have to go play and take care of your own business, so that’s what we do. Probably because all those teams have won national championships before and we haven’t (is the reason they’re getting more attention in the national title picture. “Maybe the new kids on the block or whatever it is. That doesn’t faze me. I just want to win football games.”

But what if Missouri beats Auburn, will Pinkel then beat his team’s own drum?

“I’m not very good at beating the drum,” he quipped. “I’m focused on Auburn here. We’ve got a tough task here. I don’t care about anything that happens after it.”

It’s the same message Pinkel has spouted all season long. One game at a time. Stay focused on the next opponent. All the rest is unnecessary clutter.

But what about the players? Do they think Missouri should be in the national championship with a win Saturday?

The answers proved nearly identical.

“Honestly I can’t really tell you,” defensive end Shane Ray said. “We’re just focused on the Auburn team. I’m not really thinking about a national championship or a bowl game because this Saturday we have a pretty big game as it is. We’re going to have our hands full. When that time comes I’ll be happy to answer that then.”

Added cornerback E.J. Gaines: “I honestly I have no clue. I guess it comes down to the Ohio State-Michigan State game and all of that.”

And defensive end Markus Golden: “I don’t know. I’m going to let the BCS and all them do their jobs. … I hate to have to think about another team winning it all for us. Id’ rather us go out there and win it ourselves.

“I don’t want to answer questions about the national championship game, I just want to worry about Auburn this week.”

And left guard Max Copeland: “The foundation of this program was built around the ideal that the only thing that matters is the next play, this next game. That’s all that matters. Then after that let the chips fall where they may. I don’t care what the institution has set up for stuff to happen. If I can’t control it then why do I care? I know I don’t have the authority to make an official Missouri statement, but all we’re focused on is right here, right now.”

And finally wide receiver L’Damian Washington: “Not really sure, that’s not up to me. If we continue doing what we’re doing, it’s a successful season for us.”

That was to be expected. All the focus is on Auburn. But there’s no way the national championship hasn’t at least crossed their minds.

So as reluctant as the Tigers were to admit they’d turn into Michigan State or Duke fans Saturday, one finally did give in a bit.

With a sly smile, Washington — a senior wide receiver in his last shot at collegiate glory — let a group of reporters in on a secret.

“You gotta root for Michigan State, right?” he asked.

View Gary Pinkel's game preview interview here if video fails to load automatically.

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