There's a clear leader in the pack in the SEC, but behind the 8-0 Alabama Crimson Tide—behind head coach Nick Saban's crew—there's a whole lot of uncertainty.
Missouri fell for the first time on Saturday night when kicker Andrew Baggett's field goal clanked off the goalpost in double overtime to send South Carolina home with the 27-24 upset.
Now all of the sudden, the BCS bowl picture for the SEC is as clear as mud. Alabama is tracking toward the BCS National Championship Game, but even if it stumbles along the way, another SEC team will still find its way into the BCS picture.
But which one?
Right now, it looks like Auburn.
The 7-1 Tigers are fifth nationally in rushing with 315.8 yards per game, are third in the SEC in scoring defense (20.5 points per game) and are sitting at 3-1 in the conference with wins over Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Those wins may pay off during the bowl-selection process depending on how the rest of the season plays out.
Auburn should be favored in every game leading up to the Iron Bowl—road trips to Arkansas and Tennessee, followed by a home game versus Georgia. If that happens, Auburn will play in the Sugar Bowl regardless of what happens against Alabama.
If it wins, a BCS bowl bid will be etched in stone. An 11-1 SEC West champ with a win over Alabama won't be held out of the BCS regardless of what happens in Atlanta.
But even if Auburn loses to Alabama, the East champ would likely fall to Alabama the next week, and that will hurt that team in the minds of the voters in the Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll. Whether it's Missouri, South Carolina or somebody else representing the East in the title game, Auburn would likely get that bid because it would be ranked higher and travels well.
Matt Zemek over at CFN agrees.
Another result of Mizzou's loss: The Auburn Tigers are in the driver's seat for a Sugar Bowl ticket. Perhaps not permanently, but now? Oui.— Matt Zemek (@MattZemek_CFN) October 27, 2013
The wild card in the BCS picture is Texas A&M—specifically quarterback Johnny Manziel.
If Texas A&M can win out and finish the season at 10-2 with wins over LSU and Missouri, it's going to be hard to keep the Aggies out of the BCS even if their primary competition is an Auburn team they lost to and could have the same record as.
Unless something dramatic happens, Texas A&M's bowl game will likely be Manziel's final game with the Aggies. The redshirt sophomore is three years removed from high school and could declare for the NFL draft.
Based on what we've seen this season, he has everything that it takes to succeed at the next level. He has thrown for 2,594 yards this season, which is 378 more than through eight games last season. While there will be some questions about his game at the next level, pop in a tape from any game and you'll see how accurate Manziel is on the run and how well he goes through his progressions.
Could his last college game be in the Sugar Bowl?
It'd certainly be attractive.
Alabama is the only SEC team left standing in the race for the BCS National Championship, but behind the Crimson Tide, there are several teams vying to get an at-large BCS bowl berth.
Based on the first two months of the season, the battle for that spot should be quite the journey.