I'm pleased to announce that, even as it launches, Road to Atlanta has been endorsed by Joe the Plumber. You see, Joe the Plumber wants someon to be able to win the SEC. He doesn't like "spreading the wealth," as they do in these liberal conferences with split championships. And as we all learned Wednesday night, if you disagree with Joe the Plumber, you hate America.
The goal of Road to Atlanta is to give you a clear view of who's in, who's out and who's in between based on the standings and the future schedule.
OUT IN FRONT
Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC)
This is still the best shot to get to Atlanta in the conference, and to do so undefeated. The home game against Ole Miss now looks far less daunting, as do games at Tennessee and at LSU, with Arkansas State in between the two providing a breather. Home games against Mississippi State and Auburn close out the year. The Tide has to win the LSU game to control its own destiny. If they do that while going 4-1 in their final conference games, the SEC West is theirs.
Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC)
The Gators were the biggest winners in the SEC East this weekend. Not only did they demolish LSU on national television, but Vanderbilt (5-1, 3-1) lost, leaving the two dead even in the standings. Florida, though, still has a challenging schedule: Kentucky, Georgia (in Jacksonville), at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, The Citadel and Florida State.
IN THE THICK OF THINGS
Georgia (5-1, 2-1 SEC)
The Dawgs now face their gauntlet: Vanderbilt (Vandy...gauntlet...same sentence...head about to explode...), at LSU, Florida, at Kentucky and at Auburn -- all in a row -- beginning this weekend. They can lose one of those games, as long as it's not against Vanderbilt or Florida. Losing either of those would take away from Georgia the opportunity to control their own destiny.
LSU (4-1, 2-1 SEC)
The best thing about Saturday's loss to Florida is that the Gators are in the East. The Bayou Bengals still go to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 8 to face their only true competitor in the West. But the game against the Tide will only be all-or-nothing if LSU can't handle the other league games on their slate, with a trip to South Carolina coming up this weekend and a home contest with Georgia next week. Ole Miss and Arkansas also loom as potential upsets at the end of the season.
Vanderbilt (5-1, 3-1 SEC)
After this weekend's trip to Athens, the Dores get to face Duke in nonconference action, then take a bye before a potential showdown with Florida. Then it's at Kentucky and home against Tennessee to finish out the SEC schedule. (The final game of the year is at Wake Forest.) So, no, it's not impossible for Vanderbilt to win this thing. But a loss against Florida would be a crushing blow; the Gators are going to be favored in the remainder of their games and Vanderbilt would need Florida to lose twice for the Commodores to get back into the race. Georgia is more likely to lose two, but even the odds of that aren't good. Vandy probably needs both games, and it's hard to say (yet) that they're that good.
South Carolina (5-2, 2-2 SEC)
The best news for the Gamecocks is that they still face the most likely SEC East champion -- Florida -- and saw the list of unlikely things that must happen drop slightly when Vanderbilt lost to Mississippi State. But they still have to win out against a conference schedule that includes LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas and at Florida AND see Georgia and Vanderbilt lose two games. Not impossible, but not exactly probable, either.
Kentucky (4-2, 0-2 SEC)
The Wildcats' hopes are fading fast, but they're not dead yet. They still face Florida (in the Swamp, Oct. 25), Georgia (home, Nov. 8) and Vanderbilt (home, Nov. 15) -- all the teams not named South Carolina that are ahead of them in the standings. Kentucky has no margin of error: they also have to beat Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee, or someone else is taking the East. They're technically still alive, even if their pulse is getting faint.
OUT OF IT
Auburn (4-3, 2-3 SEC)
There is still hope for Auburn, I guess, if typhoid rips through the rest of the SEC West. LSU has to lose three and Alabama has to lose three (one of them to Auburn) while the Plainsmen run the table at Ole Miss, vs. Georgia and at Alabama. That's too many things that have to go right.
Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC)
Again, the Rebels have to sweep at Alabama, at Arkansas, Auburn, at LSU and Mississippi State AND hope for Alabama and LSU to lose another one somewhere. Not going to happen.
Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2 SEC)
One division favorite -- LSU -- has already defeated the Bulldogs, and they're unlikely to beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Croom pulled off some long shots last year, but the odds are stacked too heavily against them.
Arkansas (3-3, 1-2 SEC)
You can't win a division in the SEC being outscored by your opponents 109-46, which is what the Hogs have done so far this year. Their one win came against a chaotic Auburn, and Arkansas will struggle to win at Kentucky, vs. Ole Miss, at South Carolina and vs. LSU.
Tennessee (2-4, 0-3 SEC)
There's really no need to explain this. Florida and Georgia already own tiebreakers, meaning both would have to lose three more SEC games for Tennessee to claim the division crown -- even if the Vols sweep. If Georgia wins the next two or Florida beats Kentucky next weekend, the Vols are mathematically eliminated before November even if they win out.