December 02, 2014

(AP) - The chaotic SEC season comes down to Alabama vs. Missouri with no guarantees beyond that.

The powerhouse league is assured of a playoff spot only if the top-ranked Crimson Tide beat No. 14 Missouri in Saturday's conference championship game in the Georgia Dome. It's a precarious position for a conference that had its seven-year reign atop college football ended by Florida State in January.

''I think we have an outstanding league and we have a lot of good teams and the fact that we play each other and end up beating each other probably hurts a little bit,'' Tide coach Nick Saban said Sunday. ''I think some of the teams in our division are really, really good teams and I'm sure there are some other really good teams out there that I have not seen.

''Without looking at everyone, I would think that somebody in our league qualifies to be one of the better four teams in the country based on the quality of the league and the good teams that we all have to play.''

Alabama (11-1, 7-1) jumped over Florida State to the top spot in The Associated Press rankings after a 55-44 win over then-No. 15 Auburn last Saturday night. The Tide had already topped the College Football Playoff rankings.

Missouri (10-2, 7-1) secured a spot in the title game for the second straight year with a 21-14 victory over Arkansas last Friday.

The Tide showed they can keep pace in a point-a-minute shootout that seemed so out of character from the typical Alabama powerhouses built on running and defense.

Alabama hasn't abandoned that formula so much as expanded on it. Now, opponents have to prepare for some no-huddle, a heavy dose of receiver Amari Cooper and maybe even a shootout.

''I think it's scary for them,'' Tide safety Nick Perry said. ''Usually `Bama beats you with defense and running the ball. Now, we can play a whole different type of game. We can put up points or we can shut them down with defense. I think that's scary for other teams.''

Alabama has opened things up some under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Blake Sims has passed for 2,988 yards, while Cooper has demolished school records with 103 catches for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Alabama is 21st nationally in passing offense, averaging 282.6 yards. The Tide's three national championship teams under Saban finished ranked 92nd, 69th and 75th.

''When you're that potent offensively, when you can play defense at that high, consistent level, that's certainly problematic for anybody that's going to play against them,'' Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

The Tigers simply found a way to get the job done last weekend, and it's been that way most of the year. Missouri fell behind 14-3 in the second quarter before rolling off 18 unanswered points.

''I just think it got contagious,'' Pinkel said. ''You win games like that, a lot of players are making plays. ... One of the great traits they have is that when things get tough, they get tougher. I can't tell you how proud I am of these guys.''

The Tigers need some help to make the playoffs even with a win over Alabama.

''Honestly those things take care of themselves,'' Pinkel said. ''I don't make predictions. We're just doing what we do. We want to play well and whatever happens, happens.''

Missouri has five division titles since 2007 in the Big 12 and SEC, but it hasn't won a league championship. That history of falling short includes a 59-42 loss to Auburn in last year's SEC championship game.

''We prepare for this game like we prepare for any other game,'' Pinkel said. ''We won't ever change that.

''This is the fifth division championship we've won in the last eight years and we have not won a conference championship in the Big 12 or the SEC. That's my responsibility.''

Alabama has won seven straight since losing 23-17 at then-No. 11 Mississippi on Oct. 4, fighting off challenges from LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.

''This team has shown a tremendous resiliency all year long to make plays in critical times in games,'' Saban said. ''They've always been able to overcome adversity and do the things they needed to do to be able to come out on top.''

Missouri, winner of six straight since a 34-0 home loss to then-No. 13 Georgia on Oct. 11, fell 42-10 to No. 1 Alabama in its first season in the SEC in 2012.

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