The SEC’s Big Picture: 12th Man down and a nightmare scenario
Week by week, the SEC pack continues to spread itself out.
This past Saturday saw four SEC heavyweights enter with top-10 rankings; only Alabama and LSU remained in that elite company after knocking off Texas A&M and Florida, respectively, in a pair of season-defining clashes. Missouri and Kentucky, meanwhile, each suffered three-point losses that whittled the SEC East field down even further. And despite losing to a Memphis team that has shocked the college football world, Ole Miss is not out of the picture just yet.
Here’s a breakdown of how that and the rest of Saturday’s action affects the SEC title race heading into Week 8:
12th man down
If anyone needed another reminder that Alabama is here to stay this season, this weekend’s Crimson Tide victory at Kyle Field doled out another big one (especially for those that foolishly predicted a different outcome). The “how” was unsurprising; Alabama simply did what it has always done under Nick Saban, running the ball with ease and playing shutdown “dinosaur” defense on the other end. Texas A&M’s explosive spread offense was held to just 316 total yards on 70 plays, including a pitiful 1.3 yards per rush, and the Tide secondary in turn simply feasted on quarterback Kyle Allen, who caught the turnover bug in a bad way. That performance is impressive enough alone, but the record-setting day tailback Derrick Henry had along with it (236 yards rushing, two touchdowns) further solidifies this team as a bona fide title contender. It leads the conference in total defense, takeaways and sacks. As long as Henry keeps chugging ahead, the Tide looks set for back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances.
For the Aggies, though, this one stings. For all of the success coach Kevin Sumlin has carried to College Station, and for all the good feelings surrounding this program in the early going of this season, neither he nor Texas A&M can beat ‘Bama. A trip to Atlanta is still possible with a little help, but this loss has to feel as deflating as the one UGA took at home a couple of weeks ago.
Fending off the Mac attack
Jim McElwain is as smart as they come on the offensive side of the ball. Even with Treon Harris under center, he still coaxed 21 points out of his offense (combined with Antonio Callaway’s electric punt return TD). It took another superhuman effort out of Leonard Fournette and a fourth quarter fake field goal touchdown in Death Valley to finally sink this team.
The Gators are too good to lose another SEC game. They’ll breeze right past Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and given the way UGA played in its snoozer win over Missouri, the Bulldogs shouldn’t prove much of a threat, either. LSU winning on Saturday will deservedly receive much of the focus, but Florida playing the Tigers to within seven points in that environment was simply a marvelous accomplishment for a team that lost its starting quarterback to suspension (and a backup to another suspension). This game felt much more like a learning experience than a true disappointment.
Despite a few ugly performances in recent weeks, two teams can still make the SEC Championship game by winning out. Ole Miss, by virtue of its win over Alabama, can capture the West by knocking off all five of its remaining divisional opponents — Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State. That’s an incredibly tough feat, especially since the Rebels have not looked capable of a run like that lately, but far stranger things have happened in the race for December. Don’t slam the book shut on Hugh Freeze’s team just yet.
The other is a bit more complicated, but here’s the gist: If UGA were to beat Florida in Jacksonville two weeks from now, it opens the door to a whole host of possibilities in the SEC East and, most importantly, shrinks the Gators’ chances of playing in the Georgia Dome for the first time since 2009. So whether the Bulldogs or Tennessee somehow managed to sneak in ahead of Florida in a possible three-way tie scenario (if all end up with two SEC losses), it would leave the door open for a pair of uninspiring teams to square off in the title game.
The big controversy this creates (along with, you know, a really boring championship matchup) is whether one-loss Alabama or LSU teams would become College Football Playoff snubs. Plenty has to happen for this crazy situation to even become close to reality, but if it did… wouldn’t that be wild?
(Credit Barrett Sallee for the inspiration)
Projected SEC Championship game, Week 7:
Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. Florida (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
This week’s projection throws things back to Week 5, when Texas A&M hadn’t yet tricked this SEC Country writer into believing the Aggies could knock off the Tide. Hypothetical scenarios aside, the likeliest championship game matchup is a fairly obvious one: LSU will have the misfortune of losing to Alabama at home next month, and the Gators will cruise through an easy SEC East.