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The SEC East Race: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Sam Greenwood

All of the signs were there. When the media selected a South Carolina team replacing the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft and the most successful starting quarterback in their history we should have known that the SEC East was going to be a cluster bomb of mediocrity. Mississippi State and Ole Miss were both returning a lot from decent 2013 teams, Alabama is of course Alabama. It wasn't far-fetched to believe over the summer that the SEC West would be better top to bottom than the SEC East. It was far-fetched not to believe it.

But I don't know that anyone truly appreciated how much of a mess the SEC East might become. Part of that was that no one anticipated Georgia's utter gutless collapse against a Florida team that may yet see its head coach canned before Christmas. So now this much is clear: the winner of the SEC East, even if it wins the SEC Championship Game, isn't going to the inaugural college football playoff. Every team in the mix has losses too bad for the committee to ignore. Georgia has losses to a pair of three loss teams in South Carolina and Florida. Missouri got curb-stomped by Georgia and lost at home to something called Indiana. And the Gators, well, let's just say that a three loss team isn't sniffing the playoff. But one of these rattle traps is going to jitterbug its way into Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in December. There's, like, a rule that says we have to send somebody, like a demented 4-H district conference.

But who that team might be is really anyone's guess. Missouri is currently the only team in the division with one conference loss. The Tigers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Florida, and have a relatively easy remaining conference schedule (to the extent such a thing exists for any of these horribly inconsistent outfits). The Tigers from CoMo get Texas A&M in College Station, followed by Tennessee in Knoxville, and finally Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving at home.

The Aggies have gone off the rails after getting serious national title action in the first half of the year, but are a tough out in the home of the 12th man. Tennessee looks like a game for almost anyone right now, even though they're unlikely to be favored even at home. Arkansas continues to look like a tough out even for very good teams (as I write this they're leading #1 Mississippi State in the first half, though it hasn't been easy). To the extent that there's a favorite in the East I think it's the Tigers because they have a cushion and a relatively easy road. If Missouri wins out they're golden. However if they lose one and Georgia wins out in the league then the 'Dawgs would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker between the two 6-2 teams.

The Red and Black controlled their own destiny coming into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but now things have gotten murkier. If Georgia wins out against a remaining slate of Kentucky next week (in Lexington) and Auburn (in Athens) the following week, they still need a Mizzou loss. If they lose one of those games (which at this point doesn't look at all unlikely, especially considering Auburn's rushing attack), then they need two Missouri losses, which is probably one more than any reasonable observer would forecast. Basically, Georgia wins out or Atlanta is a dream that could have come true.

Florida, somehow, is still in this thing. Has a team ever made it to Atlanta with a coach still on the hot seat when they got there? The Gators have, in my mind the easiest remaining slate, going to Vandy then finishing up in the Swamp against South Carolina. The problem is that they also already have three losses in league play. Therefore the Sunshine State Saurians need a lot of help. Specifically, they need Missouri to lose two games, and for Georgia to lose one (and only one) game. A two-way tie with Missouri at 5-3 would do them no good following their loss to the Tigers. If however the Gators, Tigers, and Bulldogs end up in a three-way tie at 5-3 then Florida could win it based on strength of divisional record, but only if one of Missouri's losses is to East coeval Tennessee. Simple, right?

I have no idea how all of this will shake out. I suspect that Missouri will slip up once, and I also sort of suspect that a Georgia team energized by the return of Todd Gurley could well upset Auburn Between the Hedges. If that all happens then Georgia is in good shape. But after today I don't know that I'm willing to bet on it.