If there was any questions regarding Alabama’s season-long grip on the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff, those were answered emphatically on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide smoked Tennessee on Rocky Top, 49-10, and are riding high into this week’s titanic home matchup with fellow undefeated squad Texas A&M. The winner will be on pace to make the Playoff, and the loser is probably still looking at the Sugar Bowl, if not at outside shot at being the conference’s second Playoff team. It should be an epic matchup in Tuscaloosa.
Here’s how they and the rest of the SEC are shaping up seven weeks into 2016:
|Peach (Dec. 31, Atlanta) — CFP||#1 Alabama||#4 Washington||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Fiesta (Dec. 31, Glendale) — CFP||#2 Clemson||#3 Ohio State||Top 4, Playoff rankings|
|Orange (Dec. 30, Miami) — NY6||Wisconsin||Louisville||Big Ten/SEC/ND vs ACC #1|
|Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans) — NY6||Texas A&M||Oklahoma||SEC #1 vs Big 12 #1|
|Cotton (Jan. 2, Arlington) — NY6||Tennessee||Boise State||At-large vs at-large|
|Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena) — NY6||Michigan||Stanford||Big Ten #1 vs Pac 12 #1|
|Citrus (Dec. 31, Orlando)||LSU||UNC||SEC #2 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Outback (Jan. 2, Tampa)||Florida||Nebraska||SEC#3-8 vs Big Ten #2-4|
|TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville)||Auburn||Miami||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville)||Arkansas||Indiana||SEC #3-8 vs ACC/Big Ten|
|Texas (Dec. 28, Houston)||Ole Miss||TCU||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #4|
|Belk (Dec. 29, Charlotte)||Kentucky||Wake Forest||SEC #3-8 vs ACC #3-6|
|Liberty (Dec. 30, Memphis)||Georgia||Oklahoma State||SEC #3-8 vs Big 12 #5|
|Birmingham (Dec. 29, Birmingham)||Missouri||Tulsa||SEC #9 vs American|
|Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport)||Troy||Georgia Tech||SEC #10** vs ACC|
|No bowls: Miss. State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt||**Replaced by fill-in|
New foes in the New Year’s Six?
Despite narrowly surviving scares, Clemson and Ohio State hang onto their spots in the top four. But Wisconsin’s performance against the Buckeyes, provided the Badgers win out, would be enough to give them an edge over the beat-up Vols in the final rankings.
Thus, we’ve got Wisconsin facing a likely one-loss Louisville team in the Orange Bowl — Lamar Jackson vs. a stout Badgers front seven — and Tennessee getting the Group of Five automatic qualifier in the Cotton Bowl. For now, undefeated Boise State still gets the nod. Houston could creep back into the picture. Western Michigan, now 7-0 after its rout of Akron, could be a deep sleeper for that spot.
Oklahoma and Texas A&M still seem to be on a crash course. Oh, the Trevor Knight story lines. But the Big 12’s last two unbeaten squads, Baylor and West Virginia, threaten this spot more and more as they stay alive each week. Baylor steamrolled Kansas, 49-7, while WVU easily cruised past Texas Tech. Both schools face tougher opponents this week (Texas, TCU) so we’ll soon have a better idea if either have the staying power to stand up to Oklahoma.
The conference’s most dangerous team
That would be LSU, which has crushed a couple of inferior teams in Missouri and Southern Miss since Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach.
Talent-wise, this team certainly has the potential to win the rest of its games and play spoiler to Alabama or Texas A&M, especially once Leonard Fournette is healthy again. But, as seems to always be the question at LSU, what can we really expect at the quarterback position?
Danny Etling put up some nice numbers against the Golden Eagles, but neither Southern Miss nor Mizzou has a legitimately challenging defense. Ole Miss presents another favorable matchup that shouldn’t test him too much, as the Rebels’ run defense has been pretty miserable.
In that sense, the Alabama game actually might be more telling than this week’s meeting with Ole Miss. LSU’s ceiling is the Citrus Bowl, or maybe even the Cotton Bowl if Tennessee starts tanking; the Tigers’ losses against Wisconsin and Auburn have aged tremendously well. But their floor is something like 6-5, accounting for the cancelled game against South Alabama, if the offense looks anything like it did under Les Miles.
This, to me, is the SEC’s most interesting team from here out because the Bayou Bengals are incredibly dangerous. Exactly how much damage they do is the big question.
Making sense of the SEC East
Florida stomped Missouri in The Swamp and would have a shot at winning the division, were it not for two brutal cross-divisional road games against Arkansas and now LSU. Tennessee’s remaining schedule — South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Tennessee Tech — is a cakewalk. So the Gators stay on track for the Outback Bowl; Nebraska would make for a quality matchup.
After that, there’s Georgia. Losing to Vanderbilt won’t get Kirby Smart many points. In fact, such a loss usually does the opposite. This team is inconsistent and, at times, plays some ugly offense, so you’ve got to prefer the SEC West and its deeper selection of teams over the Bulldogs. The Liberty Bowl sounds about right.
Finally, is there a bowl team among the “basement four” of Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt? There might be two. Kentucky has three reasonably winnable games left in Mississippi State, Missouri and Austin Peay. Missouri also has three, in Middle Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Tigers making a bowl at 5-7 certainly isn’t out of the question.
Vandy, for as impressive as beating Georgia in Athens is for that program, and the Gamecocks do not have favorable stretch schedules. That’ll pretty much be the difference there.
Week 8 games to watch:
- No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama
- No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn
- No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 25 LSU
The SEC’s last two unbeaten teams going head-to-head? Duh, that’s a big game. Beyond that, the rest of the SEC West should continue sorting itself out; Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU are all battling for bowl spots, and one of them should wind up playing in the Citrus.
Projected SEC standings entering Week 8:
|SEC WEST||SEC EAST|
|Alabama (12-0, 8-0)**||Tennessee (10-2, 6-2)|
|Texas A&M (11-1, 7-1)||Florida (7-4, 5-3)|
|Auburn (8-4, 5-3)||Kentucky (6-6, 4-4)|
|LSU (7-4, 5-3)||Georgia (7-5, 3-5)|
|Arkansas (8-4, 4-4)||Missouri (5-7, 2-6)|
|Ole Miss (7-5, 4-4)||South Carolina (4-8, 1-7)|
|Mississippi St (3-9, 1-7)||Vanderbilt (4-8, 1-7)|
|** = SEC champion|