Which set of Tigers has been the SEC's biggest surprise?
In the preseason, Missouri and Auburn were picked as borderline bowl teams. Missouri was coming off a 5-7 record last year, while Auburn went 3-9 in 2012 and had an offseason coaching change.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was also tabbed for the hot seat after last year, but the Tigers are a surprising 7-0 and are the favorite to win the SEC East in 2013. Even though quarterback James Franklin was sidelined due to a shoulder injury, the offense hasn’t missed a beat under redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.
New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has made an immediate impact on the offense, as the Tigers average 494.3 yards per game and have scored at least 20 points in every contest this year.
With both teams poised to contend for a double-digit win total, Missouri and Auburn are two of the biggest surprise teams in college football for 2013.
Missouri or Auburn: Which Team is the Biggest Surprise in the SEC in 2013?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough call, but I’d give a slight edge to Missouri. I thought Auburn had the talent in place to rebound back to a six or seven-win season. With Gus Malzahn returning to campus, and both sides of the ball possessing a ton of talent from top-15 recruiting classes, a bowl game and finishing fourth or fifth in the SEC West wasn’t out of the question. Missouri was a tougher team to get a read on in the preseason. Coach Gary Pinkel was tabbed for the hot seat, and the Tigers had a handful of key injuries that played a role in the 5-7 record from 2012. Although I expected Missouri to be better, I thought the projected win ceiling was lower than it was at Auburn. Regardless of how this season ends for Missouri, Pinkel deserves a lot of credit for getting the program back on track and showing Missouri can compete (and win) in the SEC.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’d still have to say Missouri. The Tigers are a win over South Carolina away from all but clinching the SEC East. That says as much about the SEC East and its injury issues than anything. But when Missouri entered the SEC, the Tigers never looked like a program that could win an SEC division at any time in the foreseeable future, much less in Year 2. This was a program that had to wait until it beat Kentucky to sell T-shirts celebrating its first SEC win. Missouri is not only sailing past the field in the SEC East, it’s doing so convincingly. The Tigers have a defense this season that is as good as any in the league. And it’s offense, with or without James Franklin, has been prolific. Auburn, more often than not, was going to have a competitive team in the SEC, even if this year’s turnaround is a surprise. I had misgivings about Missouri being able to say the same. At least this season, Missouri has proven doubters like me wrong.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Both teams control their own destiny in their respective divisions and could meet in the SEC title game. And while it is shocking to see the Mizzou defensive line play so well without NFL star and first-round pick Sheldon Richardson, it's the Yellowhammer Tigers that have to be considered the bigger surprise. Historic injuries have only weakened the already inferior SEC East and Gary Pinkel is an established coach with an established program. Gus Malzahn is a first-year coach with a first-year quarterback in much tougher division taking over a program that was winless in the SEC last year. Both may lose games down the stretch but Auburn has been and likely will continue to be the much bigger surprise. At least, until the Iron Bowl.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
It has to be Missouri. The Tigers entered the season picked by the media to finish sixth in the SEC East. Reaching a bowl game would have been considered a successful season by most outsiders. Instead, Missouri has an undefeated record and two-game lead in the division after its first seven games. The Tigers have proven many doubters wrong. Just four weeks ago, several participants on an Athlon Sports roundtable – this writer included – denied Missouri was a contender in the SEC. The Tigers might not win their division, but they are certainly a contender to do so. Missouri’s offense has legitimate playmakers and its defense is disruptive. That doesn’t take away from Auburn’s 6-1 start. The Tigers have been terrific under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, and last week’s win at Texas A&M provided a huge boost for the program. But Auburn was a popular pick to take a step forward this season. No one predicted Missouri would be ranked in the top five of the initial BCS standings. That’s where the Tigers find themselves heading into a big game against South Carolina.
While Missouri has certainly earned my respect in getting off to a 7-0 start, I'm going to pick the Tigers that call the SEC West home, and no I don't mean LSU. What Gus Malzahn has done in his first season back on the Plains is nothing short of miraculous. Auburn won three games in 2012, and one of those was against a FCS team. Last season's Tigers barely managed 300 yards of offense a game. This season, with pretty much the same roster, they are averaging that many on the ground alone (300.5 rushing yards per game). The offense has done a complete 180, while the defense has played very well in its own right. The end result, bowl eligibility before the final game of October with a realistic shot at reversing 2012's 3-9 mark. In fact, if Auburn maintains its level of play it could enter the Iron Bowl against Alabama the final Saturday in November with a spot in the SEC Championship game on the line. While Missouri has just about clinched the SEC East title and has looked quite impressive in the process, those Tigers went 2-6 in conference play last season. The fact that Auburn could possibly go from 0-8 in the nation's toughest conference one season to dethroning Alabama the next is something that no one, including the most die-hard of Tiger fans, probably even dreamed of this year
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler)
Auburn has the biggest surprise win, beating Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M at Kyle Field last week; however, the Missouri Tigers are the surprise team in the SEC. Last year, the Tigers finished 5-7, with just two SEC victories over Kentucky and Tennessee. They appeared overmatched in a superior conference, and Gary Pinkel was firmly on the hot seat coming into this year. While I didn’t think it would happen so fast, I knew the hiring of Gus Malzahn would lead to large improvements for Auburn. I don’t think many people thought a big improvement was in the cards for Missouri this year. James Franklin has had a resurgent year after a down 2012, and the defense looks fierce with Michael Sam terrorizing quarterbacks. Perhaps even more shocking is Missouri’s success without Franklin, as they look impressive with freshman Maty Mauk under center. If the Tigers can take down South Carolina on Saturday, the 8-0 start would best Pinkel’s 7-0 start with his 2010 Missouri team.