Don’t expect Ian Simon and the Missouri Tigers to feel any entitlement or pay attention to their Top 10 national ranking.
Simon and his teammates still have work to do.
“We tune all of that out, and no one has bought in to the noise,” said Simon, a redshirt sophomore safety out of Mansfield Legacy. “We know what it’s like to be on the bottom. We just have to remain humble.”
Last season, Mizzou finished fifth in the SEC East, had an overall record of 5-7 and didn’t play in a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
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With a win against Texas A&M Saturday, however, the Tigers will finish the regular season with only one loss and play either Alabama or Auburn in the SEC championship game.
“This season has been extra special,” Simon said. “As a kid, you dream of playing in the spotlight. As a team, we just circled the wagons. We committed ourselves to our assignments. We learned how to depend on teammates. All of this was there last year, it’s just grown.”
Simon finished the 2012 season strong, with six tackles in a 59-29 loss at A&M.
A strong off-season has paid off for Simon, who was named the team’s most improved safety after spring practices. Simon has played in 10 of Mizzou’s 11 games and recorded 33 tackles (17 solo), with an interception, five pass breakups and two tackles for loss.
“I think it’s been a combination of decent playing time and me understanding my role,” Simon said. “I’ve matured as a competitor. Your opponent is going to land some punches. You just have to land more.”
The final hurdle between the Tigers and a conference championship game in Atlanta is a big one: the Aggies, led by reigning Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who could be playing his final regular season game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Simon said. “It will be a great atmosphere. We will have to play disciplined football. Johnny Manziel can do some amazing things.
“Everyone at home will be watching.”
Games of the week
No. 2 Florida State at Florida (11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN): Either Florida (4-7, 3-5 SEC) got caught looking ahead to Florida State (11-0, 8-0 SEC), or the injury-riddled Gators are just horrendous this season. Maybe it’s a combination, but Florida lost to FCS Georgia Southern last weekend to cement a losing season. Now the Gators get to content with one of the best teams in the nation, while the ‘Noles are trying to finish off a perfect regular season and stay ahead of Ohio State in the BCS rankings. There could be more garnet and gold in the stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium than orange and blue.
No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan (11 a.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) is fighting national perception, as well as Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) in a rivalry game this week. Even though the Buckeyes haven’t lost a game since Urban Meyer took over at the start of the 2012 season, Ohio State could end up without a BCS championship shot again. And Michigan has played poorly enough this season that a blowout win in Ann Arbor, Mich., likely won’t boost the Buckeyes, who have already earned a spot in the Big Ten championship game.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn (2:30 p.m. Saturday, KTVT/Ch. 11): It’s rivalry week in college football, and none will be bigger this year than Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) at Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC). The winner goes to the SEC championship game in Atlanta, and if that’s Bama, the Crimson Tide’s march for a third straight BCS championship will still be alive. Bama might be a bit more rested after an easy, 49-0 win against Chattanooga last weekend while Auburn needed a 73-yard miracle completion on fourth down with 25 seconds left to beat Georgia. But the Tigers have home field for what should be a memorable Iron Bowl.
No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina (6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2): Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) started the season off with a huge home win against then-Top 10-ranked Georgia. The Tigers will try to finish the regular season with another monster win, this time on the road at rival South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC). This will likely be the final home game for South Carolina junior defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected as a top pick in the NFL Draft, and watching him face off against Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd will be must-see TV. If the Gamecocks can win, they still have a shot at playing in the SEC championship game, but they need Texas A&M to defeat Missouri as well.
6 More conference wins than last season for the Auburn Tigers, who have climbed to No. 4 in the BCS standings. Auburn, which plays No. 1 Alabama at home this week, has already secured the biggest turnaround in SEC history.
16 Years since No. 22 UCLA has defeated No. 23 USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum. UCLA will try to end that streak Saturday against a resurgent Trojans squad that has won five straight with interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who took over in the middle of the season.
“I’m not sure what I do, to be honest.” — First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn after being asked if he fries or roasts his Thanksgiving turkey. Malzahn has other things to worry about, like an Iron Bowl matchup between his Tigers and Alabama, with a trip to the SEC championship game in Atlanta on the line. Malzahn didn’t play up the game, however, saying: “We’re not going to hype things up. It’s big enough already.”
“Wow. Apologize.” — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer after being informed that he once called his team’s rival Michigan, its actual name. Meyer has made a point to use other terms, including “that team up north,” during his time with the Buckeyes. Michigan’s name and logo are even missing from the Ohio State schedule posted in its athletic center. The Buckeyes will play that team up north on the road this week.