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College football preview: SEC championship

Who: No. 3 Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 5 Missouri (11-1, 7-1)

Where: Atlanta

When: 4 p.m. today

TV: CBS

Series record: Missouri 1-0

What’s at stake: The Southeastern Conference title and a likely shot at the national championship for the winner if either Ohio State or Florida State loses in their own league championship games.

Key matchup: Auburn’s running game versus Missouri’s defense. Auburn, winner of the SEC West after last week’s thrilling 34-28 victory over Alabama, ranks fifth nationally in rushing at 318.3 yards per game out of coach Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, spread offense. Auburn put up 296 yards on the ground against the Crimson Tide, one of the nation’s top defenses. Missouri ranks second in the SEC behind Alabama in rushing defense with a 119.1-yard average.

Players to watch:

Missouri

, DE Michael Sam: A finalist for the Hendricks, Nagurski and Lombardi awards, Sam is one of the nation’s most disruptive players on defense. He leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss. Missouri needs him to create havoc against Auburn’s high-powered offense.

Auburn,

QB Nick Marshall: After starting his college career as a defensive back at Georgia, Marshall has blossomed on the offensive side at Auburn. He is a dual threat, rushing for 922 yards and 10 touchdowns, while showing an ability to hit the big pass when needed. Against Alabama, he fooled the Crimson Tide with a play that looked like a run, pulling up just short of the line of scrimmage to toss a tying 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates with 32 seconds remaining.

The skinny: In the only other meeting between the teams, Missouri won 34-17 in the 1973 Sun Bowl. ... Auburn registered the biggest turnaround in the nation after going 3-9 last season, and the biggest reversal in SEC history with seven more conference wins than a year ago. ... Missouri reached the SEC title game in its second year in the league. Auburn will make its fifth appearance in the championship, its last coming in 2010 with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at quarterback. ... Missouri’s Gary Pinkel is tied with Don Faurot as the winningest coach in school history with a record of 101-62. ... Auburn RB Tre Mason has rushed for a touchdown in nine straight games. ... Missouri is going for the second 12-win season in school history and its first outright conference title since winning the Big Eight in 1960.

– Associated Press

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