The Road to Atlanta: What Your Team Must Do to Get to the SEC Championship Game

Kevin C. Cox

Our first installment of a weekly look at what each SEC contender needs to happen in order to get a ticket to the title bout

It's a bit early yet to go through all the scenarios that could unfold in the SEC East and the SEC West division races -- there is still a lot of football to be played, and the more games that you have left, the more (and more bizarre) scenarios there are. But it is possible at this point to divide teams into three broad categories in each division: Those that simply have to win the remainder of their games to go to Atlanta, those who need a little bit of help to get there but are set if they get it, and those who really don't have a chance. Here's your cheat sheet.

EAST

Controls its own destiny:

Missouri (6-0, 2-0): The Tigers would just have to win out against their SEC East foes and do no worse than splitting the season-ending games at Ole Miss and against Texas A&M. If they do that, they'll at the very least have the tiebreaker against Georgia and every other SEC East team will have at least two conference losses. In some respects, Mizzou has an advantage because it's undefeated, and an undefeated team always controls its own destiny.

Florida (4-2, 3-1): I've gotten this wrong and right over the last few days, so let's make it clear: If Florida wins out, the Gators will go to Atlanta. Winning out would give Florida tiebreakers over every other team in the SEC East; their only loss so far is against LSU. There are plenty of other scenarios under which Florida gets to the Georgia Dome at the end of the season, but the easiest is simply to keep winning.

Still in it:

Georgia (4-2, 3-1): The Bulldogs are injured, but they also already own the tiebreaker against South Carolina and don't face the kind of two-week stretch that Missouri is about to embark on. A loss against Florida in a few weeks would all but eliminate Georgia from the race -- assuming UGA defeats Vanderbilt this weekend -- but if the Dawgs can win in Jacksonville, then the only plausible roadblock to finishing up with just one SEC loss would be the trip to Auburn. (Everyone's okay with presuming Georgia would then beat Kentucky, right?) And a loss to Auburn would not be the end of the world, though it would be close; losses outside the division do not hurt you as much as losses inside the division, even if Steve Spurrier and Les Miles haven't figured that out yet. The problem is that Georgia would still need everyone else to finish with at least two losses.

South Carolina (5-1, 3-1): The Gamecocks' shot at doing a "reverse Georgia" (lose the head-to-head, win the East anyway) remains in pretty good shape after the Dawgs lost to Missouri. South Carolina can make a lot of its own luck at this point, given that it still faces the two teams (Missouri and Florida) that control their own destiny. But the Gamecocks are also still behind Georgia because of the head-to-head with the Dawgs. There's a scenario for South Carolina to win a three-way tie between the Gamecocks, the Tigers and the Bulldogs, but it's unlikely and the best bet is for Georgia to take another loss. Once that happens, as long as South Carolina hasn't dropped another SEC game somewhere, the Gamecocks will really be back in business.

Basically if not officially out of it:

Tennessee (3-3, 0-2); Kentucky (1-5, 0-3); Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3): Sure, you can cook up some crazy scenarios whereby these teams are able to fight their way back into the SEC East. But Tennessee would need another SEC loss for Georgia and two more for Florida, even if the Vols were able to win out. As for Kentucky and Vanderbilt, we're getting into the range of the truly ridiculous. The Wildcats would likely need South Carolina and Florida to take on three more losses each while running the table itself and seeing Georgia and Missouri drop two more. Vanderbilt probably needs Florida and South Carolina to lose three more games and Missouri to lose four. There might be other convoluted multiple-team ties that get them in, but the long and short of it is that these teams are not going to Atlanta.

WEST

Controls its own destiny:

Alabama (6-0, 3-0): The Tide are still in prime position to go to the title game for the fourth time in six seasons. They already have the tiebreaker against Texas A&M in hand, meaning that they would have to lose more than once for the Aggies to catch them. But games against LSU and Auburn, both of whom could conceivably go to Atlanta by beating the Tide, still loom.

LSU (6-1, 3-1): Remember what we said about losses from outside one's own division not counting as much? Well, here's a perfect example. Because the Bayou Bengals lost to Georgia, they are still in a win-and-in situation. The purple and gold Tigers are the only team not named Alabama who can say that. But they also still have to go through Alabama and A&M to get to the Georgia Dome.

Still in it:

Auburn (5-1, 2-1): The other Tigers are also in pretty good shape. They need LSU to take another loss to regain control of their own destiny. The game at Texas A&M this weekend might not quite be an elimination battle, but it feels like it; one of the two teams will end up having to overcome two tiebreakers with the weeks, and chances for losses that wouldn't benefit the other contenders, dwindling. Coming from outside the polls probably won't matter that much, because a three-way, one-loss tie is out of the question at this point.

Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1): The Aggies are pretty much in the same boat as Auburn, just substitute "Alabama" for "LSU." And "two losses" for "another loss," which is where things start to get dicey for A&M. TAMU needs the Tide to lose at least twice along the way, given that a three-way, one-loss tie is now off the table and Alabama has the tiebreaker. And that assumes that the Aggies can still make it unscathed through a slate that includes this weekend's game against Auburn and trips to LSU and Missouri at the end of the season. Taking into account what it needs to do and what it needs to happen, A&M might have the longest odds out of the four teams that are still alive in the race.

Basically if not officially out of it:

Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3); Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2); Arkansas (3-4, 0-3): Again, we're talking about the triumph of reason vs. hope here. Barring bizarre tiebreaker scenarios: The Rebels need Alabama to lose four games and Texas A&M and Auburn to each lose three. The Bulldogs would like a trio of losses for Auburn and LSU. Arkansas could use three losses for A&M. And that just gets into the teams they've already lost to. Other teams would have to take on water at such a dramatic rate that it's difficult to see any of these teams getting to Atlanta.

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