Part of our ongoing effort decipher college football's craziest division.
I do not know what's going to happen in the SEC East this year. You do not know what's going to happen in the SEC East this year. The earlier we all comes to grips with this, the better we are all going to be, and the easier it will be to talk rationally about the bizarre race.
The only thing that is truly clear is that Missouri still has a sizable advantage over both Georgia and South Carolina. If the other other Tigers win out, they're going to play in the Georgia Dome. Every other scenario has to assume that Missouri will lose to get anywhere. (The other thing is that the best thing for Georgia right now would be for South Carolina to win its last SEC game, and as a South Carolina fan, the idea of the Dawgs pulling for the Gamecocks amuses me.)
But unlike earlier weeks with more games and more possible outcomes, we can begin to discern the most important games to the contours of the race and what the fallout will be. Here are the five biggest ones on the slate.
Missouri Tigers at Kentucky Wildcats: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU. I said important, not good. Yes, the chances of Missouri slaughtering Kentucky are probably somewhere north of 90 percent, and perhaps even north of 95 percent. But it doesn't have to be a challenging game to be a must-win. First of all, if Missouri loses this game, then it has no margin of error heading into two difficult games against SEC West opponents. And even if the Tigers could win out after a loss in Lexington, the division could come down to whether Tennessee or Vanderbilt ends up higher in the SEC East standings (assuming there's not some late-year pandemonium that vaults the Wildcats over both of them, which could eliminate Missouri outright). If Tennessee ends up higher, then Missouri goes to Atlanta; if it's Vanderbilt, then South Carolina. As a result, this is a slightly bigger deal to South Carolina than Georgia, as there's little chance that the Dawgs would get to Atlanta if Missouri just lost here.
Florida Gators at South Carolina Gamecocks: Nov. 16, TBA. A loss by South Carolina here could potentially hand the division to Missouri. Georgia would then need to win out and see the Tigers to lose at least two games over their final three to have a chance. (A three-team tie at three losses doesn't really work for Georgia anymore. If S.C. loses this game and Georgia loses to Auburn, then the Gamecocks would have three division losses while the Dawgs and the Tigers each have two. South Carolina is knocked out, Missouri beats Georgia on the head-to-head. If Georgia somehow defeats Auburn but loses to Kentucky, Missouri wins out over both the other contenders based on its division record.) A win keeps the Gamecocks alive and could, depending on what happens elsewhere, extend the race all the way to the end of the season.
Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Tigers: Nov 16, TBA. Georgia's out if they lose this game. The only thing that would salvage their chances is a complete meltdown, with South Carolina losing to Florida and Missouri having lost to Kentucky and then losing to both SEC West teams. Meanwhile, unless Florida defeats South Carolina, Missouri is pulling for Georgia in this game, for the simply reason that a three-way tie would be the only real chance for a two-loss Missouri. (A tie against South Carolina, remember, will go to the Gamecocks by virtue of the head-to-head win.) South Carolina, meanwhile, will be throwing its support behind the (Auburn) Tigers, given that the Gamecocks' best chance at this point is a clear shot at Missouri without having to worry about division records or whether Vanderbilt or Tennessee ends up higher in the division. A Georgia loss here combined with a South Carolina win against Florida means the next Missouri loss sends the Gamecocks to Atlanta.
Missouri Tigers at Mississippi Rebels, Nov. 23, TBA. If Georgia beats Auburn (and Kentucky) while South Carolina defeats Florida, then this is the first opportunity for Missouri to clinch the SEC East. A win here in that scenario means that they would sweep any tiebreaker. (Everybody would have two conference losses if Mizzou then dropped its game to Texas A&M, but the division record would be in favor of the Tigers.) If Georgia loses to Auburn or Kentucky -- however unlikely the latter is -- and South Carolina beats Florida, Missouri has to win this game to keep its division hopes alive. Either way, it ends up being a big game. The only way it doesn't matter that much: If South Carolina loses to Florida and Auburn beats Georgia, Missouri would clinch on its bye week. But this is their first chance to do it on the field.
Missouri Tigers vs. Texas A&M Aggies, Nov. 30, TBA. If South Carolina wins its game against Florida and Georgia loses somewhere along the way, this game will decide who goes to Atlanta (as long as Missouri avoids another loss). A win against their old Big 12 foe would put Missouri into the SEC Championship Game; a loss would send South Carolina instead. It doesn't get much simpler -- or much bigger -- than that.