SEC Football Division Race Primer: How It All Breaks Down with 4 Weeks Left
The College Football Playoff won't start until the 2014 season wraps up, but the final four weeks of the 2013 SEC season will serve as a mini-playoff for the nation's top football conference as the two division races hit the stretch run.
Florida was essentially eliminated from the SEC East on Saturday afternoon in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, when the Gators fell to Georgia 23-20. Meanwhile, out west, Auburn stayed one game back of intrastate rival Alabama with a 35-17 win over the Razorbacks on the road in Fayetteville.
How do the two division races shape up after Week 10?
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Favorite: Alabama Crimson Tide
Head coach Nick Saban's crew is back to its old ways, winning on the strength of a stifling defense and a marvelously efficient offense led by senior quarterback AJ McCarron. The Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) hold a one-game lead over Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC) in the division, with the Iron Bowl between the two intrastate rivals looming on Nov. 30.
The Tide host LSU next weekend, which is always a slugfest of epic proportions. Right now, Alabama looks like a well-oiled machine, while LSU still hasn't put a complete game together. That doesn't mean the Tigers can't spring the upset, but Alabama will likely go in as a sizable favorite and should beat Les Miles' crew.
Even if LSU beats Alabama, the Tide would still claim West supremacy with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn.
The Bulldogs aren't scaring anybody, which means—long as Auburn holds serve against Tennessee and Georgia—the Iron Bowl will decide the SEC West title for the first time since the divisional split in 1992.
The Contender: Auburn Tigers
Auburn pushed its conference record to 4-1 with its 35-17 win over Arkansas on Saturday night. The Tigers have a road game at Tennessee and a home tilt with Georgia left before the Iron Bowl, both of which should be wins for Auburn.
Tennessee just gave up 339 rushing yards to Missouri and has trouble taking proper angles on bubble screens. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn will love to see that this week on game film, because those are staples of his offense.
Georgia may be tricky, because Auburn has some issues in pass defense and Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray can sling it all over the field. But with the way Auburn's offense operates, it's hard to imagine that Georgia is going to be the team that figures out the Tigers.
That will make the Iron Bowl a contest for all of the SEC West marbles. Alabama leads the conference in rush defense at 101.88 yards per game, while Auburn is racking up a cool 306.2 yards per game on the ground.
It was a cake walk for the Crimson Tide last season, but Auburn has a new identity this year as running back Tre Mason explains, courtesy of Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com:
Tre Mason on Auburn being physical: "That’s our thing. We love to be physical. People are just going to have to like it."— Jay G. Tate (@JayGTate) November 3, 2013
That one should be fun.
Outside Looking in: LSU Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies
While the Tigers and Aggies aren't mathematically eliminated, the winner of the head-to-head matchup between the two would have to win out, have Alabama lose twice and Auburn lose once just to get into a three-way tie.
If it does, and LSU is the team tied with Auburn and Alabama, then the three-way SEC tiebreaker will come into play. The most likely way that happens is if LSU and Auburn both beat Alabama, at which point LSU would go to Atlanta due to head-to-head wins over both of the other tied teams.
A&M is fighting an uphill battle, since it has losses to Alabama and Auburn already on the resume. The Aggies would need to win out, Alabama would need to lose out, and Auburn would need to lose to Tennessee and Georgia.
Those are unlikely scenarios, though. The SEC West is essentially a two-horse race between the two SEC teams that hold the last four crystal footballs.
And the Winner Will Be: Alabama Crimson Tide
That game on Nov. 30 on the Plains between the Tide and Tigers will be one of the most heavily anticipated regular-season SEC games in recent memory. Sure, LSU/Alabama has been the de facto West title game for the last two seasons, and A&M/Alabama was huge this season.
But the Iron Bowl, in Auburn, on Thanksgiving weekend with a trip to Atlanta and major national title ramifications on the line will be must-see TV.
Alabama will get the job done, but it wouldn't be surprising if Auburn makes it very, very close.
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Favorite: Missouri Tigers
Missouri (8-1, 4-1 SEC) stayed one game up on South Carolina with a resounding 31-3 win over Tennessee on Saturday night in Columbia. Quarterback James Franklin was a game-time decision but stayed on the sideline as Maty Mauk completed 12 of 25 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Mauk rushed for 113 more yards as the Tigers avoided the letdown after last week's heartbreaking loss to South Carolina.
For Missouri, the recipe is simple: win out, and it'll be in Atlanta. Because of that, it's the favorite at the moment.
Winning out, though, will be the tricky part.
Next week's road trip to Kentucky shouldn't be a problem, but after a bye week, the Tigers have a road game at Ole Miss and finish up at home versus "Johnny Football" and Texas A&M. The Rebels seem to have figured things out, and if Missouri figures out how to slow down Johnny Manziel, it will join an exclusive club that consists of last year's Florida and LSU teams.
Georgia will be the underdog against Auburn, and South Carolina will be favored over Florida on Nov. 16. If the chalk holds, South Carolina will be the only two-loss SEC team and will be sitting in the clubhouse while Missouri takes on the Rebels and Aggies, knowing that it has to win both.
Being "the hunted" is a lot of pressure for Gary Pinkel, but that pressure will get ratcheted up five notches if that scenario plays out.
The Contenders: South Carolina Gamecocks and Georgia Bulldogs
South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) has two weeks to prepare for its home game versus Florida—which will be the final SEC game of the season for the Gamecocks. Win it, and the Gamecocks can wait on Missouri. Lose it, and the picture becomes as clear as mud.
They won't lose it, according to defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
"We won't let this streak [of 15 straight home wins] end against Florida," Clowney said in quotes released by South Carolina.
A lot depends on Georgia's game with Auburn. Three losses probably won't win a title or get a team into a tie, so if Georgia (5-3, 4-2 SEC) upsets Auburn and beats Kentucky the following week, a three-way tie among the Bulldogs, Missouri and South Carolina with an equal combined head-to-head record of the three tied teams is possible.
In that scenario, according to the SEC's tiebreaker rules, it would likely come down to B.3—record of the tied teams within the division. If Missouri's loss is to a West team—as it most likely would be—Missouri's division record would be one game better, and the Tigers would play in Atlanta. If the loss is to Kentucky, the tie would be broken by the team or teams with head-to-head wins over the team with the next-best conference record.
There's a misconception that a three-team tie would fall to the BCS standings. That's the seventh tiebreaker, and an impossibility given this particular landscape.
And the Winner Will Be: South Carolina Gamecocks
It's a fair assumption that South Carolina's offense will be able to handle a beat-up Florida defense that's a shell of its former self in two weeks, and Georgia won't have enough to overtake Auburn on the Plains that same week.
That means all eyes will be on Missouri.
The Tigers will fall on the final weekend of the season to Texas A&M, tie with the Gamecocks at 6-2 in the conference and lose the head-to-head tiebreaker, and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier will get his second crack at the SEC championship as the Gamecocks' head coach.
It will be South Carolina vs. Alabama in the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship.
Get your popcorn ready.
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