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It’s a loaded weekend, potentially historic for two of our teams, so let’s get to it with what’s on the line.
For Missouri, we are talking about what might be the biggest game in program history. Is that too much? It seems likely that more people will watch them play Auburn for the SEC championship tomorrow than have ever watched any Missouri team play any football game^.
^ I had trouble finding ratings for the 2007 and 2008 Big 12 championship games^^, but the Border War at Arrowhead in 2007 did record numbers and was watched by 10.14 million people. Last year’s SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia was watched by 16.2 million.
^^ Strange thing: I got a bunch of emails about this column , Mizzou fans wanting to correct the line "…the Tigers will have a chance to win their conference championship since the 1960s…" Guys, there’s a difference between division championships and conference championships^^^.
^^^ Though I did have a deadline brainlock and wrote that this was Missouri’s third season in the SEC before it was corrected.
Anyway, Missouri has now won 64 games over the last seven seasons, a remarkable achievement even as they still don’t have the respect nationally that you’d expect from that. This respect is very important to Gary Pinkel. You hear him talk about it quite often in press conferences, and you can bet he does the same thing with his team behind closed doors.
Most of the national leadup to this game has been about Auburn, and for whatever it’s worth, the Georgia Dome crowd is going to be very Auburn-heavy. Missouri opened as a two-point favorite, but that was quickly bet into a slight advantage for Auburn.
In other words, it’s been a long time since Missouri has had as good of a chance at the respect their coach talks so much as they do this weekend. You never know how often these things will happen.
I’ve seen a lot more of Missouri than Auburn this year, obviously, and there’s always an excellent chance I don’t know what I’m talking about, but like I mentioned the other day, I see a Missouri team that’s undefeated with its starting quarterback, only loss came in double overtime on a kick that banged off the goalpost, has the better defense, and is playing a team that’s made it this far in no small part by the grace of two miracles.
Which means that if Missouri wins, the Big 10 championship game between Michigan State and Ohio State — conveniently broadcast immediately after the SEC game — becomes Mizzou’s ticket to the national championship.
At which point, the area roots for Michigan State harder than anywhere outside East Lansing.
For Sporting, they play for the championship of their league in conditions better suited for the Iditarod. We should probably save the rant about MLS’ seemingly 51 ½-week season for another time, but only if we all agree that this is, at best, an awkward way to decide the best team in a growing league.
It’s been just as cold in Salt Lake City — a beautiful place, by the way, if you ever get a chance to go — as Kansas City so I’m not sure there is any home-ice advantage here beyond what figures to be another bonkers crowd at Sporting Park.
Anyway, I wrote about this when they won their first playoff game, but for Sporting to really live up to the franchise’s wild ambitions, they need to win this game. Getting this far means they’ve shed part of what was a growing reputation as a playoff underachiever, but the way the bracket opened for them, a championship is a fair expectation.
The guys running the team know the implications here, too. They’re a nice story at the moment. But a championship would verify a re-branding that’s mostly served as a model for other franchises.
For the Chiefs, this is pretty much a game they have to win, even on the road. Washington is a hot mess right now, drama everwhere, four losses in a row and only 39 points over their last three games.
A win would give the Chiefs some confidence that the last three losses are part aberration, part injuries, part facing Peyton Manning twice.
Even without — presumably — Branden Albert, Justin Houston and Anthony Fasano, a loss would be difficult to explain for a team that has designs on ending a 20-year drought of playoff wins.
My top three things to watch:
- Marcus Cooper. He’s had a nightmare three-game stretch, with some fans wanting him benched or worse. How does he respond? How do the coaches respond with scheme tweaks?
- Donald Stephenson and Eric Fisher. With Albert’s injury, the Chiefs will likely be playing with two very young tackles, each of whom has shown flashes of both extremes.
- Alex Smith. He’s been very good two weeks in a row, though each game included a bad and costly interception. Washington’s pass defense is mostly atrocious, so it should be an opportunity for Smith to have another good game.