Just a Two-Team SEC Race Now … or Maybe Three

Lyn Scarbrough

September 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm.

Sep 23, 2017; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs safety Dominick Sanders (24) runs with the ball after an interception against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 23, 2017; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs safety Dominick Sanders (24) runs with the ball after an interception against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the question … Among SEC teams, who’s really still in the game?

This week, the answer … If Saturday’s games are indicators, only Alabama, Georgia and maybe Auburn. Nobody else.

Of course, things can change. There can be crippling injuries at key positions. Just ask Florida State this year. Ask Auburn last year. But, unless something like that happens to the frontrunners, we likely know how things are going to turn out.

Alabama will play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Auburn could derail that in November as it did in 2010 and 2013. Those three … Alabama No. 1, Georgia No. 7, Auburn No. 13 … are the only conference teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 15. But, at this point, Auburn doing that again this season seems doubtful.

Look around the league. When was the last time the conference has been this vulnerable, inconsistent … bad? Maybe never. Almost every team has been shaky, at best.

Tennessee is 3-1, but probably should be 1-3. Georgia Tech beat the Volunteers everywhere except the scoreboard. Then on Saturday in Knoxville, Tennessee only gained about 50 yards in the second half against UMass in a 17-13 win. The winless Minutemen (0-5) had already lost by double digits to Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion and was ranked preseason by Lindy’s as the No. 130 team in the country … the worst team in all of FBS football.

Florida, that couldn’t score offensively against Michigan and won on a miracle last-second Hail Mary over Tennessee, got lucky again Saturday with another win it probably didn’t deserve. The Gators won its 31st consecutive over Kentucky, scoring two touchdowns when the Wildcats only had 10 men on the field leaving Gator receivers totally unguarded, including the game-winner with 43 seconds remaining. How can that happen even once, much less twice!

A week ago, South Carolina lost to Kentucky and lost Deebo Samuel for the season. This week, it could only defeat Louisiana Tech at home with a field goal on the game’s last play. The Gamecocks still have to play at Georgia among other places.

Missouri has no defense, a floundering offense, a disenchanted fan base and a coaching staff under fire. Then, there’s Vanderbilt. We’ve already seen what kind of threat the Commodores are to Alabama, and unfortunately for Vandy, we see what kind of threat they are to Georgia in in two weeks. Will the ‘Dores get any SEC wins?

At least Eastern Division teams get the advantage of playing each other, right? But in reality, how much better are Western Division teams that aren’t named Alabama?

LSU, the team that was massacred (37-7) by Mississippi State, the team that was massacred (31-3) by Georgia, had to score late in the fourth quarter to put away Syracuse, the team that lost at home to Middle Tennessee. (By the way, Vandy beat MTSU, 28-6, at MTSU.)

Texas A&M, the team that had blown a 34-point second half lead against UCLA, beat Arkansas, the team that had already been bombed in the fourth quarter at home in a 21-point loss to TCU. The teams scored 93 points combined in the Aggies’ overtime win. Can either of those teams stop anybody? Will either of those coaches have their jobs next season? At least the Arkansas loss to the Horned Frogs doesn’t look quite as bad after the TCU win in Stillwater on Saturday.

Ole Miss has a decent passing offense and an outstanding quarterback (Shea Patterson), but can a team that was shutout in the second half by California outscore Alabama in Tuscaloosa? Doubtful, but we’ll find out on Saturday.

And, now that the real Mississippi State team has been exposed as non-competitive against Georgia, can the Bulldogs look like a contender again against Auburn? Can one of the SEC’s most talented quarterbacks (Nick Fitzgerald) do enough against one of college football’s best defenses (No. 4 total defense, No. 7 scoring defense, No. 10 passing defense). We’ll find that out on Saturday, too.

Do any of those teams in either division sound remotely like teams that would knock off Alabama or Georgia?

That just leaves Auburn.

The Tigers game at Clemson was ugly, but it was just a one-touchdown loss and those other Tigers are the defending national champions. Few teams have a better kicking game or defense than Auburn and the offense is showing signs of life despite the running back injuries.

Games at Jordan-Hare in November could determine the SEC title match-up since Georgia and Alabama close out the season there. But first, Auburn has five other conference games, all against Western Division rivals, including three in a row on the road. Could any SEC team other than Alabama pass that test? Run the gauntlet and November is relevant. If not … you’ve got a two-team race.

Tide and Bulldog fans might want to go ahead and make hotel reservations in Atlanta for the first weekend in December. Tiger fans might want to delay a few weeks before confirming other plans for those days.

Fans from everywhere else should consider being in the stadium for that one. Cost of the ticket will be high, but it shapes up to be well worth the money.