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Where the SEC East Stands After South Carolina's Upset of Missouri

The Tigers are still in a win-and-in situation as far as the SEC Championship Game goes. But there are a few more paths opening up for some of the other teams in the division

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing that happened in the Alabama and Texas A&M games Saturday fundamentally altered the SEC West scenarios we laid out Friday. Alabama and Auburn still control their own destinies, LSU's hopes are on life support and there's almost no chance at all for A&M to get back in the race. With each win by Alabama and Auburn, the hopes for the Bayou Bengals and the Aggies to get to the SEC Championship Game get longer.

The same, of course, is not true of the SEC East. South Carolina's upset of Missouri falls a little bit short of seismic; after all, everyone basically remains in the same place in the standings, though the Gamecocks now have something of a leg up on Georgia and Florida in some scenarios. Regardless, Saturday's result does shake up the division standings and what each team has to do to get to Atlanta. Let's break things down a little bit.

Missouri is still the only team that controls its own destiny. It's hard to overstate how important this is. To be a team that controls its own destiny is one thing; to be the only team in the division that does so is a huge advantage. The way the schedule plays out has worked somewhat to the Tigers' advantage: Now, they are past the three-game stretch that saw them play Georgia, Florida and South Carolina back-to-back-to-back games, and they got through it with the division lead intact. But there's a flip side: Missouri has still only played half of its SEC schedule, fewer than any other SEC East team that's in contention. That means the Tigers have more opportunities to lose and their opponents have fewer chances to do so.

Here's Missouri's remaining schedule: vs. Tennessee, at Kentucky, at Ole Miss and vs. Texas A&M. Barring a complete meltdown in the wake of the loss to South Carolina, they should be able to get past Tennessee and win the game in Lexington. A loss to Ole Miss or Texas A&M would hurt Missouri in some cases but not in others; it depends almost entirely on how many teams they are tied with and which teams.

South Carolina is in the second-best position. The Gamecocks have the advantage of having defeated Missouri, something that doesn't apply to Georgia or Florida. That means that South Carolina is the only team that can survive a head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri. In fact, the Gamecocks want a head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri as opposed to a three-team tie with Georgia. (Because South Carolina and Florida play each other, a three-team tie with Florida and Missouri is not possible unless they all have three losses, which will basically require a degree in theoretical calculus to untangle.)

The most direct path for South Carolina would be Florida beating Georgia next week in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party while South Carolina defeats Mississippi State. Then, as long as South Carolina beats Florida, it doesn't matter where else Missouri loses -- the only teams left with two SEC losses would be the Gamecocks and the Tigers, and South Carolina has the head-to-head win.

Things get messier if it's a three-team tie between two-loss Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia teams. In that case, it matters a great deal where Missouri loses. In the head-to-head, all three are 1-1. The next tiebreaker is the divisional record. So if Missouri's second loss comes to Ole Miss or Texas A&M, they would have a 5-1 record in the division while South Carolina and Georgia are both 4-2. Missouri goes to the SEC Championship Game.

However, if Missouri loses to Tennessee or Kentucky, things get more interesting. If the Tigers beat Tennessee and lose to Kentucky, they likely go to the SEC Championship Game. (South Carolina gets knocked out based on the Tennessee loss, then Georgia gets knocked out based on the head-to-head with Missouri.) But none of that is certain; it depends on where Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt end up in the rankings. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on this right now, because I consider a Missouri loss to Kentucky to be highly unlikely.

If Missouri loses to Tennessee, Georgia could end up being the team that goes to Atlanta, because Georgia would be the only team that beat Tennessee. Really. This could all come down to each team's record against Tennessee. Or Vanderbilt.

Why all this craziness? Because the fourth tiebreaker is:

Head-to-head competition vs. the team within the division with the best overall (divisional and non-divisional) Conference record and proceeding through the division. Multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last.

Suddenly, the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game becomes critical. If Tennessee ends up ahead of Vanderbilt, then Georgia goes because it's the only team that beat Tennessee. If Vanderbilt ends up ahead of Tennessee, then the Vanderbilt loss by Georgia knocks the Bulldogs out, and South Carolina goes based on the head-to-head with Missouri.

The thing that's important to remember here: Georgia needs South Carolina to force a three-team tie with Missouri under this scenario. If it's just Missouri and Georgia, the Tigers go to the Georgia Dome. So if they win the Cocktail Party, the Bulldogs become South Carolina's biggest fans. And Tennessee's.

Meanwhile, South Carolina wants Vanderbilt to do well because that could hurt Georgia's chances in a three-way tie. Missouri would be best served by beating Kentucky and Tennessee and avoiding the whole mess.

Florida's in the most difficult position. They need Missouri to lose at least two more games. The reason is simple: If Florida beats both Georgia and South Carolina, both those teams will have three SEC losses. The only head-to-head tie possible among teams with two losses would be a head-to-head between Missouri and Florida, which Florida loses.

The most straightforward way for this to happen, of course, would be for Florida to win out and Missouri to lose at least two more games. There could be a three-team tie at three losses, but most of the tiebreaker scenarios for that are not going to be kind to Florida, largely because of how that scenario would most likely unfold. (I can run through them for you, but they're going to give you a headache.)

Summary. Missouri, by my estimation, is still firmly in the driver's seat in the SEC East. They simply have to win out to make sure they go, and are still in pretty good shape if they lose to just one of the SEC West teams. South Carolina is next, needing another Missouri loss and possibly another Georgia loss. Georgia needs a lot of things to go its way but still has a couple of routes to the title game, while Florida pretty much has just one way to get there. You want as many ways as possible to get into the title game, and Florida just has one.

We could end up looking back on Saturday night's loss as nothing more than a speed bump in Missouri's march to an SEC East title. Or it could be the first step to even more craziness in the division race. That determination lies almost entirely with Missouri.