Missouri is the leader and Florida still controls its own destiny. But neither the Tigers nor the Gators are the real favorites in the SEC East at this point.
The real favorites play their home games in another Columbia—the one that is the capital of the state of South Carolina.
The South Carolina Gamecocks.
Head coach Steve Spurrier's team sits at 5-1 (3-1 SEC), with its only loss coming in Week 2 to the Georgia Bulldogs—a team which also has a conference loss.
But if South Carolina runs the table, it will represent the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game.
The team is hitting its stride now and has a remaining schedule more favorable than that of the other contenders.
Running back Mike Davis is leading the SEC in rushing at 123.67 yards per game, the defense finally looked solid last week in a 52-7 win over Arkansas and quarterback Connor Shaw is completing 68.5 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and no picks.
Shaw's performance this season has impressed head coach Steve Spurrier.
"He is the most underrated [quarterback in the SEC]," Spurrier said. "Every time they mention all these guys, they don't even talk about him. I don't know why. I think his overall record as a starter now is 22-4, and I guess that's pretty good."
The Gamecocks visit Missouri in two weeks and will likely face redshirt freshman Maty Mauk one week after Mauk and the Tigers host the always-physical Florida Gators. The Gamecocks then come off a bye week and host the Gators on Nov. 16, in what will be the final SEC game of the year for both teams.
Head-to-head wins over Missouri and Florida will earn the tiebreaker over the Tigers regardless of what Gary Pinkel's crew does the rest of the season. Beating Florida will also drop the Gators to two conference losses without the head-to-head tiebreaker.
That leaves Georgia as the only remaining obstacle, but considering the injuries that have of late littered the Georgia roster, another conference loss by the Bulldogs seems likely.
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|Team||Conf. Record||Overall Record|
Todd Gurley is doubtful for this week's game against Vanderbilt, as is safety Tray Matthews, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Georgia still has enough firepower to get by the Commodores, but what happens if those two stars—along with injured wide receiver Michael Bennett—don't come back or aren't at 100 percent for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Nov. 2?
It doesn't matter how good quarterback Aaron Murray is, moving the football against that Florida defense—which ranks first in the SEC in total defense, pass defense and rush defense and is second in scoring defense—is not an easy task. If Georgia is without Gurley and Bennett, in addition to the losses of running back Keith Marshall and wide receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell, the Bulldogs will be fighting an uphill battle.
South Carolina didn't get off to the best start. The defense has been sketchy, and Shaw missed some time due to a shoulder injury. Also, the conference slate got off to a bad start with the Week 2 loss to Georgia. But it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
The Gamecocks are in a perfect position to finish strong and represent the SEC East in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.