In 2014, the first College Football Playoff rankings featured four SEC teams among the top six overall: No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Ole Miss, and No. 6 Alabama. A fifth team (Georgia) was 11th.
Three years later, with the league going through a bit of an existential crisis, only two SEC teams are among the top 13. Of course, they're No. 1 and No. 2. In a down year for the league, the SEC could still become the first conference to get two teams into the CFP field of four.
(Among other things, this is why evaluating conferences based on who won the national title or something similar is awfully silly. “Congrats to Vanderbilt for all of those Bama titles” doesn’t really make sense, does it?)
To say the least, it appears we're on a crash course for a Bama-Georgia SEC title game, one that might or might not be a national title eliminator. But is that set in stone? Can anything still knock us off course between now and Atlanta?
As of now, the answer lies primarily in the hands of South Carolina and LSU.
A very good Auburn still gets a crack at hosting both the Crimson Tide and Dawgs, but Auburn alone can’t knock UGA out of the SEC East lead, and LSU already holds a tiebreaker over Auburn. If LSU and Auburn win out (an even tougher task for Auburn than it is for LSU), LSU wins the SEC West.
See below for how this changes, depending on who wins in Week 10.
Sure, there will be road blocks after Week 10. Mississippi State has a non-zero chance at Bama as well. But the two most seismic changes to the overall division odds come if either South Carolina, LSU, or both pull upsets on Saturday.
First, let’s set the table using S&P+ win projections.
Current SEC East title odds
- 5-0 Georgia: 95.5 percent
- 4-2 South Carolina: 3.6 percent
- 3-2 Kentucky: 0.8 percent
- 3-3 Florida: 0.04 percent
Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs have this one just about in the bag. A win over South Carolina would eliminate the Gamecocks and Gators and bump UGA’s odds to either 98 or 99 percent, depending on whether Kentucky beats Ole Miss.
Think UK’s odds should be higher? S&P+ really doesn’t like the Wildcats, currently ranking them just 83rd thanks to what it sees as lucky wins over Southern Miss, Eastern Michigan, and Missouri. The Wildcats don’t get much credit for beating Tennessee, as the Vols are currently 103rd.
Kentucky almost certainly has to win out to make this a race, and S&P+ gives the Wildcats only a 2 percent chance of doing so. Beat Ole Miss, and those odds creep only to 4 percent. And they’d still need South Carolina or Auburn to beat Georgia.
If South Carolina pulls an upset of the Dawgs (and it wouldn’t be the first time), however, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks would find themselves in decent position.
- Odds if South Carolina and Kentucky win in Week 10 (5 percent chance): Georgia 65 percent, South Carolina 32 percent, Kentucky 2 percent, Florida <0.5 percent
- Odds if South Carolina and Ole Miss win (6 percent chance): Georgia 66 percent, South Carolina 34 percent, Florida <0.5 percent
The odds shift infinitesimally based on Florida-Missouri. Otherwise, this shows you the impact a Cocks win would have.
In the other division, the leader has a bit more work left to do.
Current SEC West title odds
- Alabama 71.2 percent
- Auburn 18.9 percent
- LSU 7.9 percent
- Mississippi State 1.9 percent
- Texas A&M 0.1 percent
Bama is in the driver’s seat, but with remaining games against LSU at home and Mississippi State and Auburn on the road, an upset is still very much on the table.
There are two Week 10 games relevant to the West race: LSU at Alabama and Auburn at Texas A&M. A&M has made a habit of gumming up Auburn’s plans, but let’s lay out how the odds change based on these two results.
- Odds if Alabama and Auburn win in Week 10 (66 percent chance): Bama 76 percent, Auburn 24 percent, MSU 0.1 percent
- Odds if Alabama and Texas A&M win (19 percent chance): Bama 91 percent, Auburn 5 percent, MSU 4 percent
- Odds if LSU and Auburn win (12 percent chance): LSU 52 percent, Alabama 26 percent, Auburn 15 percent, MSU 7 percent
- Odds if LSU and Texas A&M win (3 percent chance): LSU 55 percent, Alabama 29 percent, MSU 11 percent, A&M 3 percent, Auburn 2 percent
If LSU somehow pulls the upset in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers would be tied for the division lead in the loss column and would own tiebreaker advantages over both Bama and Auburn. That would be a pretty powerful combination, and it makes LSU-Bama the single most high-leverage game left on the schedule.
If you’re a chaos addict, the best I can do is point out that, with Alabama at 85 percent to beat LSU and Georgia at 89 percent to beat South Carolina, there’s still only about a three-in-four chance that they both win. One-in-four is not nothing.
The overall odds are still very much in favor of a Saban-Smart battle in Atlanta, but we still might see an upset. And depending on which upset that is, we could see a massive shift in division odds as well.