What is at stake for every SEC team in the final week of the regular season
The final week of a largely unpredictable regular season for the SEC is here, and there is plenty still to be decided for nearly every team in the conference.
How unpredictable has it been? Florida has been one of the biggest surprises in the nation with first-year coach Jim McElwain, and has already secured a spot in the SEC Championship game. Many college football pundits wrote off this season for Alabama after a home loss to Ole Miss, but the Crimson Tide are one win from facing the Gators for the league title.
The two teams the SEC media predicted would meet in Atlanta, UGA and Auburn, have had, well, eventful seasons. There also are already two SEC coaching jobs open, with Steve Spurrier and Gary Pinkel both tendering surprising resignations, and NOLA.com’s James Smith reported Sunday that a third opening could be imminent.
With all of this in mind, here’s a team-by-team look at what’s at stake in the final week of the regular season for the 14 programs in the SEC:
Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC)
The Crimson Tide would win the SEC West with a victory against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, setting up the SEC Championship game as a win-and-their-in contest for the College Football Playoff. Alabama can still win the West if Auburn springs a major upset, but Mississippi State would have to beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl later in the day.
Arkansas (6-5, 4-3 SEC)
The Razorbacks can win seven regular-season games for the first time since 2011 with a victory against Missouri.
Auburn (6-5, 2-5 SEC)
The Tigers are going to finish in last place in the SEC West, but taking away a potential SEC Championship game berth from Alabama and ending the Crimson Tide’s national title hopes would make this team Iron Bowl legends on The Plains.
Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC)
The Gators are going to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game, but they need to beat Florida State to remain in the College Football Playoff picture. A convincing win would go a long way to erasing some of the doubt about the Gators that has crept in during the past three weeks of substandard performances.
UGA (8-3, 5-3 SEC)
The Bulldogs could still be in the running for the Citrus Bowl, which gets first pick of the SEC teams that don’t make the Playoff or the New Year’s Six bowl games. And given the angst about coach Mark Richt in Athens in recent weeks, losing to a sub-.500 Georgia Tech team would not be a wise move.
Kentucky (5-6, 2-6 SEC)
It’s pretty simple for the Wildcats: Win, and they ensure a bowl bid. Lose, and they have to hope not enough FBS teams reach six wins, so that there are open bowl spots available. And that one of said bowls would want them.
LSU (7-3, 4-3 SEC)
Given the tumult of the past three weeks, the Tigers need a win about as much as any team in the nation. Getting to 8-3 with a win against Texas A&M could keep them in the mix for the Citrus Bowl, and a convincing victory might keep coach Les Miles in Baton Rouge beyond this season.
Missouri (5-6, 1-6 SEC)
Gary Pinkel coached his final home game this past Saturday. If the Tigers are going to give him one more game to coach before he steps down to focus on battling lymphoma, they need to win at Arkansas to ensure a bowl bid.
Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3 SEC)
The Bulldogs need to beat rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and win a bowl game to reach 10 wins. Why would that be significant? It would be the first time in program history with back-to-back 10-win seasons.
Ole Miss (8-3, 5-2 SEC)
The Rebels obviously want to beat their rivals from Starkville in the Egg Bowl. This game could have even more meaning if Auburn upsets Alabama in the Iron Bowl earlier in the day. If that happens, Ole Miss goes to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game with a win. Even if the SEC title isn’t in play, a win could propel the Rebels to a spot in the Sugar Bowl if Florida loses to Florida State and Alabama.
South Carolina (3-8, 1-7 SEC)
The Gamecocks have one idea on their minds this week: Ruin No. 1-ranked Clemson’s perfect season. It would be one of the great upsets in the history of the Palmetto State rivalry.
Tennessee (7-4, 4-3 SEC)
The Citrus Bowl is probably out of reach unless the SEC manages to get three teams into the Playoff/New Year’s Six bowl games. If, for example, Alabama ends up in the Playoff and Florida and Ole Miss both end up in New Year’s Six games, the Citrus Bowl could be choosing between UGA, Mississippi State, LSU or Texas A&M and the Vols. That’s provided Tennessee beats Vanderbilt to finish the season on a five-game winning streak and reach eight wins in the regular season for the first time since 2007, of course.
Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC)
It’s been such a topsy-turvy season in College Station, it almost seems hard to believe that the Aggies could still win 10 games. A win against LSU would get them into the Citrus Bowl discussion, and it would leave the Aggies a bowl win from only their second 10-win season this century.
Vanderbilt (4-7, 2-5 SEC)
A victory against Tennessee would give coach Derek Mason a two-win improvement in his second season. It would also only be the fifth time Vanderbilt has won three SEC games since 1991. Sophomore running back Ralph Webb needs 90 yards on the ground to reach 2,000 for his career, and 191 would get him the Commodores’ single-season record.