The SEC has been a little bit disappointing in 2015. The conference still boasts two of the top teams in the country (Alabama, LSU), a third that has shown flashes and would probably make the Playoff by winning out (Florida) and a fourth that was playing elite ball until injuries took away nearly half of its defensive starters (Ole Miss).
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Talking about the SEC is like talking politics. There are no soft opinions. You must be pretty far on one pole or the other. You can't be a "little bit" disappointing. Either you are BY FAR the best or you a COMPLETELY OVERRATED, a CRUSHING DISAPPOINTMENT that is ALL HYPE and NO SUBSTANCE.
It appears that the SEC is indeed still the best conference and was overrated in the preseason. Eight weeks in, the SEC's advantages have shrunk dramatically.
This is, in part, because of the teams at the bottom. Auburn, a preseason top-10 team according to both humans and computers, has a massively disappointing offense. The bottom has fallen out for Missouri's offense. South Carolina has no identity and no full-time head coach. Kentucky has taken a step back for every step forward. Vanderbilt has improved dramatically, but not enough to pick up the slack.
You're still looking at a conference that has four top-20 teams (according to S&P+) and eight top-40 teams, but the conference's depth, long considered its biggest asset, has dissipated.
As a result, while we're not yet to November, the conference title race consists of five teams. Other teams could play a role with upsets, but we will learn most of what we need to know about the conference race from three games. The first kicks off on Saturday afternoon.
- Week 9: Florida vs. Georgia
- Week 10: LSU at Alabama
- Week 12: LSU at Ole Miss
Using S&P+ win projections, here's a look at week-to-week win probabilities and overall projected conference standings. (Note: only probabilities for conference games are shown below.)
Florida got a week off following a disappointing but encouraging loss at LSU. The Gators had a chance to win and didn't, but they proved that they could play stellar ball without suspended starting quarterback Will Grier. New starter Treon Harris looked solid in throwing for 271 yards, and the Florida defense is still the Florida defense.
With a win over Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday, the Gators would not only possess a two-game advantage in the loss column, but also wins over both the Bulldogs and Tennessee. They would need to lose to both Vanderbilt and South Carolina and have other oddities take place to lose the East race. The race would be virtually over with four weeks to go.
Georgia could muddy the waters. After playing at a nearly elite level in September (average percentile performance: 88 percent), the Dawgs collapsed in October, losing 2-of-3 and playing at an average level of only 41 percent. Injuries and increasingly mediocre quarterback play took a toll.
Georgia's bye week came at a good time, in other words. The Dawgs are healthier now, though star running back Nick Chubb is gone for the season. Star linebacker Jordan Jenkins is expected back, and the defense should be close to full-strength.
Florida has an understandable edge, but the advantage isn't immense, and this rivalry has frequently played against the odds. (Last year's win by a mediocre Florida over a nearly elite UGA is a clear example.) A Georgia win wouldn't provide the Dawgs with as definitive an advantage. The Dawgs would still have to win at Auburn in another rivalry game to take the East.
Still, the winner in Jacksonville is the clear division favorite.
On this week's Podcast Ain't Played Nobody, Steven Godfrey pointed out that Ole Miss doesn't make a habit of winning in Auburn. The Rebels have lost in their last five trips to the Plains by an average score of 30-14.
Of course, those losses could be explained by noting that Auburn is usually a better team. That isn't the case this year. Even with injuries and the recent loss to Memphis, the Rebels have proved far more than Gus Malzahn's Tigers, and they are given an 81 percent chance of winning this weekend.
An Auburn upset would turn a two-game SEC West schedule into just one game. But if Ole Miss pulls it out, then two LSU road trips will tell the tale.
We'll be talking just a little bit about LSU-Alabama next week. As you see here, the numbers give the Crimson Tide the edge, but Alabama's offensive deficiencies make that far from certain. If LSU wins, then the Tigers are very much in control of their own destiny.
Even with a loss at Ole Miss, they would also have to lose to either Arkansas or Texas A&M at home to make the West a race again. Even with a loss at Ole Miss, they could still hope for the Rebels to lose at Mississippi State. [Edited for clarity.]
But if Alabama wins, we've got ourselves an interesting secondary battle. Ole Miss' dominant performance against Texas A&M was encouraging, and wins over Auburn and Arkansas over the next two weeks would set up a major Week 12 donnybrook between the Rebels and Bayou Bengals. If Ole Miss were to win, the Rebels would need only* a win over Mississippi State to secure the West title. If LSU wins, then the Tigers would need Alabama to lose at either MSU or Auburn.
*I don't mean to use "only" as if it would be a foregone conclusion. The game is in Starkville, and the odds consider it a virtual tossup. Come to think of it, MSU is going to have a pretty significant role in this division race. If the Bulldogs win out, they have a shot at the division, but winning out would require a 4-0 finish that S&P+ considers only about a 6 percent possibility. Those are about the same odds as rolling two dice and ending up with 11.