Missouri has been here before — just last year, in fact.
The Tigers will end the regular season with a home game against an SEC West opponent and needing a win to reach the SEC Championship Game.
Entering the final week of last season, South Carolina was rooting for Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M to pull off the upset at Memorial Stadium.
Instead, the Tigers prevailed 28-21 and the Gamecocks settled for second place in the division as MU marched on to Atlanta.
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With a win Friday against Arkansas, a game that kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on CBS, Missouri would reach its second consecutive conference title game Dec. 6 at the Georgia Dome.
This year, it’s Georgia rooting for the Tigers’ demise.
No. 17 Missouri, 9-2 and 6-1 in the SEC, has clinched at least a share of a second straight SEC East crown, but coach Mark Richt’s Bulldogs would represent the division in the title tilt if the Tigers lose to the Razorbacks.
“We’re in the driver’s seat of our destiny and we plan on continuing to do this, continuing to fight and earn our way back to Atlanta,” MU junior defensive end Shane Ray said Saturday after a 29-21 win at Tennessee.
Coach Gary Pinkel said he didn’t even mention the fact that the Tigers clinched at least a share of SEC East title — the program’s fifth division title since 2007 — during the postgame celebration in Knoxville, Tenn.
“We didn’t talk about that in the team room at all,” Pinkel said. “We didn’t talk about being co-champs. All we talked about is game four (in November) against a real good Arkansas team that’s coming up Friday. That’s really what our focus is on.”
Until Saturday, Missouri was intently focused on the Volunteers.
“Honestly, I haven’t even seen LSU really,” senior wide receiver Jimmie Hunt said when asked about MU’s next opponent. “I mean, Ole Miss.”
“Arkansas?” a reporter asked.
“Arkansas — gosh, look at that,” Hunt said. “That tells you how important they are to me right now.”
Hunt conceded that the Razorbacks would become his main focus upon returning to Columbia with a short week to prepare.
“Now, we’re focused on Arkansas,” sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk said. “We know the scenarios out there, but we’ve just got to stay focused on us.”
The Tigers understand what’s at stake, but reaching the SEC Championship Game is only a byproduct of beating Arkansas.
“It’s the mindset,” junior free safety Ian Simon said. “It’s 1-0. You can’t think about what’s coming next. You can’t think about the ifs and buts. The only thing on your mind has got to be focusing on your assignment, knowing your opponent and doing everything you have to do to execute.”
Of course, that’s easier than done as Simon proved only a few questions later.
“I know for a fact every single guy in that locker room is just thinking about beating Arkansas and being 4-0 in November and getting to the SEC Championship Game,” Simon said. “That’s really where we want to be. We wall want to get back to that championship game.”