Four downs: Alabama vs. Missouri for the SEC championship _lowres

Missouri defensive lineman Shane Ray (56) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

1. One or done

The SEC championship in itself is of course a huge prize, but this being the SEC, there’s always something bigger at stake. Alabama enters the game No. 1 in the CFP rankings, giving the conference a strong shot at its eighth national title in nine years. But if underdog Missouri springs a massive upset, dropping Alabama to 10-2, the SEC is likely to be left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. It’s possible a two-loss team could make college football’s new final four, but most likely for Bama it’s win and you’re in — or else.

2. Sizing up Sims

It’s strength versus strength when it comes to Missouri’s ability to sack the quarterback and Alabama’s ability to protect him. The Tigers lead the SEC with 40 sacks, more than half coming from defensive ends Shane Ray (13.5 sacks) and Markus Golden (8.5). No one’s better in the SEC than Alabama in keeping its quarterback upright. With players like Cameron Robinson at left tackle and quarterback Blake Sims’ mobility, Bama has allowed just 11 sacks in 12 games. Whoever wins the sack stat could win the game.

3. Star tracker

Alabama WR Amari Cooper will be the best player on the field. Problem is for Missouri, Alabama will line him up in numerous positions all over the place. Stopping Cooper is key for Mizzou, but no one has figured out how to do that on a consistent basis. In SEC games, Cooper had eight catches or 100 receiving yards, or both, against every team except Arkansas (two catches for 22 yards). Missouri safety Braylon Webb and cornerback Aarion Penton are two of the SEC’s best, but they will have to be at the top of their game Saturday.

4. And the winner is ...

Virtually every factor favors Alabama, except the ability to play dominant football away from home. Bama won by 10 here over West Virginia in August, lost at Ole Miss, won by a point at Arkansas and in overtime at LSU. Aside from affecting Sims’ ability to pass to Cooper, Mizzou QB Maty Mauk has to think well on his feet. Mobile QBs who can stretch the field vertically typically give Bama fits. It’ll be closer than most think, but in the end it’s Alabama 29, Missouri 20.