Missouri hosts Texas A&M with SEC title game berth on the line (VIDEO)

Missouri quarterback James Franklin runs for a first down in the second half against Mississippi last Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

Missouri quarterback James Franklin runs for a first down in the second half against Mississippi last Saturday in Oxford, Miss. Photo by Kris Wilson.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — It’s not the Big 12 North anymore.

The No. 8 Missouri Tigers are one win a way from a Southeastern Conference East Division title and a berth in the SEC championship game. This in a league that’s captured the last seven national championships.


Mizzou Network: Marcus Lucas looks ahead to Senior Day

“The stakes are high, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Missouri senior offensive lineman Max Copeland said as Missouri (10-1, 6-1 SEC) hosts No. 19 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) at 6:45 p.m. today (ESPN-TV) at Faurot Field. “To be where we are right now is a blessing and we’re truly thankful for it.”

The only thing that stands in Missouri’s way now is reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies.

“The higher the stakes, the funner it gets,” Copeland said. “We’re rock and rollers, man. All our chips are, let’s go. We love it. This is why we play the game, to play in high-stakes situations with all eyes on you, to see what you do. You want to know what you’ll do with all that pressure, let’s see who you really are. That’s where truth is found. We hope to find some truth Saturday.”

Yes, the stakes are that high. A win gives Missouri a date with today’s Iron Bowl winner between Alabama and Auburn in the SEC title game at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 (KRCG-TV) in Atlanta. A victory there earns the Tigers an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game, likely the Sugar Bowl, and offers an outside chance at the national championship game.

“We’re excited about playing this game against Texas A&M obviously,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “We worked real hard to be in this position. We’re playing a real good football team. When you’re competing for a championship you’re going to have to beat good people.”

It’s all on Missouri’s shoulders to wrap up the East. The Tigers can’t benefit from any outside help. It’s win and advance to Atlanta or lose and wait for a less-heralded bowl game.

“I wish we would have gotten help and it would have been over four weeks ago,” Pinkel quipped about Missouri’s situation. “It’s about us, it’s all about us. That’s kind of been the theme we’ve had for this whole year. Certainly we got in November, we’re 3-0 and have one game left. Our players understand, they get what it takes. It’s still about playing well.”

But for all the talk about SEC titles and bowl games, Missouri needs to take care of business first, and that’s certainly no easy task. Sure, Texas A&M has stumbled three times. Those three losses? Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Three pretty strong teams.

Adding to the challenge is the fact it’s Senior Night at Missouri, a night with the potential to be full of emotions that might take some of the focus off the actual game.

“Past players call me and say, ‘Make sure you tell those seniors what to expect. They have to get their heads right after they get introduced,’” Pinkel said. “Those guys put so much into it. You talk about a senior class that has had a task at hand. They came here winning and we had a losing season last year. All of the sudden this is their last year. I told them, ‘You’ll be known for what you did for Mizzou football.’ I told them that in January. I said, ‘It’s going to be your responsibility and mine. I’m a senior all the time. It’s our responsibility to get Mizzou back to its winning ways.’ Me being indebted to them and so appreciative of what they’ve done, I can’t even describe. I’ll be an emotional wreck.”

Just don’t tell that to Copeland.

“It’s not Senior Night, it’s A&M night,” he said. “That’s all I care about. Forget Senior Night. I’m going to look at all the fancy emotional stuff later and it’ll be great. Our minds are on A&M, not emotions or ‘feelings’ or any of that.”

Manziel is the face of Texas A&M football. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other players to watch out for.

Wide receiver Mike Evans, for example. He’s reeled in 61 catches for 1,314 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“He’s really talented,” Pinkel said. “He can make plays. You look at his stats, his stats are incredible. He’s a playmaker. He can go up, he has great size, he’s got great range. He really handles himself in space going for the ball, in terms of putting his body in a position to keep the defender away and him have a better chance to catch the ball. Danario Alexander was like that. You don’t stop him, you contain him the best you can.”

Or Ben Malena, a running back that’s rushed for 487 yards and nine touchdowns.

That trio leads an Aggie offense that ranks sixth in the nation and first in the SEC with 45.6 points per game. The defense, on the other hand, is a little suspect, giving up 31.2 points per contest.

The stakes are high. Much is on the line. It’s time for one of the biggest games ever played at Faurot Field.

View video interview with Marcus Lucas here if it fails to load automatically.


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