Six weeks into the 2015 season, the state of the SEC East race is coming into focus. It usually takes shape earlier than the West does because Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and—as of recently—Kentucky all have year-ending non-conference rivalry games. That, combined with how the bye weeks worked out, means three East teams have already played four league games, while in the West no one has played more than three and a pair of teams have only played two each.
Here is how the East sits as of right now.
|Team||SEC Record||SEC Wins||SEC Losses||Remaining Games|
|Florida||4-0||UK, UT, Miss, Miz||-||@ LSU, UGA, VU, @ SC|
|Kentucky||2-1||SC, Miz||UF||AU, @ MSU, UT, @ UGA, @ VU|
|Georgia||2-2||VU, SC||Bama, UT||Miz, UF, UK, @ AU|
|Missouri||1-2||SC||UK, UF||@ UGA, @ VU, MSU, UT, @ Ark|
|Tennessee||1-2||UGA||UF, Ark||@ Bama, @ UK, SC, @ Miz, VU|
|Vanderbilt||0-2||-||UGA, Miss||@ SC, Miz, @ UF, UK, A&M, @ UT|
|South Carolina||0-4||-||UK, UGA, Miz, LSU||VU, @ A&M, @ UT, UF|
The SEC's surprise team is in control of the division, as it's the only team that can clinch the thing by winning out. The Gators don't have things sewn up yet with a road trip to LSU this week and the Cocktail Party on Halloween, but the games against Vandy and South Carolina look eminently winnable.
UF can clinch the division by winning its next two games, provided Kentucky picks up a loss between now and then. It can lose to LSU and still clinch by beating the Bulldogs as long as Georgia beats Mizzou, Alabama beats Tennessee, and UK picks up at least two losses from a combination of Auburn, Mississippi State, and Tennessee.
The 2009 Gators set a record by clinching the division on October 31, the earliest mark ever for an SEC division. This year's bunch has an opportunity to tie that mark. That's pretty crazy given what everyone thought of the team in the preseason.
The Wildcats are in the second best shape of anyone, record-wise. Bet you didn't think in mid-October that the divisional clinching paths had UK as a major factor, did you?
I don't believe that UK will finish 7-1 in SEC play, but at the same time, I can't pick out any games from what they have remaining and say this is a game where they have no shot. They have what have turned out to be two of the bottom teams from the West so far in Auburn and Mississippi State. Tennessee has been inconsistent, Georgia just lost Nick Chubb for the year, and Vandy's offense is terrible.
The 'Cats were 0-7 against top 25 S&P+ pass defenses last year and 5-0 against everyone else. That pattern has held this year, given the current S&P+ defense rankings. The only teams in today's top 25 of passing defense that the 'Cats have to face are Tennessee (25), Vanderbilt (13), and non-conference Louisville (24), although Mississippi State (38) isn't far off. If UK's defense can hold down the bad Commodore offense enough, 6-2 is a real possibility. The Wildcats would need an improbable upset of UF by South Carolina or Vandy to go to Atlanta at 6-2, but don't just write them off. Unless they lose to Auburn. Then you can probably write them off.
If you're not a believer in Kentucky's chances from here on out, then the Bulldogs are in the second-best shape beyond Florida. They may have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Tennessee, but the Vols will probably pick up a third loss at Bryant-Denny in two weeks.
That fact makes the path clear: win out with a Florida loss to LSU, and they're in. The math here is easy, but winning out is the hard part. Chubb is gone for the season, Greyson Lambert is a limited quarterback, and the defense allows too many big plays. Auburn being a disappointment helps the path, but Florida's defense figures to be a high hurdle to clear. Kentucky isn't a sure win either given where UGA's pass defense is ranked (83).
If the Bulldogs can hold on against Mizzou this week, they'll get a bye to help figure out the way forward. If they can't hold on and falter against the Tigers, they're probably done even if they beat Florida since the Gators aren't likely to incur three SEC losses.
The Vols are a team of missed opportunity. They can make a claim to being the division's second-best team after beating Georgia and putting Florida on the ropes. But now with a daunting road trip to Alabama coming up on the 24th, they're staring down the possibility of a 1-3 SEC record in the first half of their conference season.
Hitting a third SEC loss is practically a disqualification for Atlanta given that Florida is unlikely to lose more than two conference games. The fact that the Vols already have two losses and lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to Florida means they're on incredibly thin ice.
If the Vols somehow win out in SEC play, Florida loses to both LSU and Georgia, and Georgia wins out, then we get a three-way tie at 6-2 between the only East teams ever to win in the SEC Championship Game. I believe they would go down to section G of the tiebreaker, "Best cumulative Conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents". At that point, UT would need the combined conference winning percentages of Alabama and Arkansas (UT's West opponents) to beat out the same for Alabama and Auburn (Georgia's) and LSU and Ole Miss (Florida's). That, or have LSU and Ole Miss have the worst combined record of the three pairs of teams to force a two-way tiebreaker with Georgia. It's a long shot, but they're still alive.
The two-time defending champs aren't out of it, but they've already lost two games with one of them being to Florida. It's looking like a rebuilding year, as the dreadful offense isn't keeping up with the pretty good defense. Mizzou drew Arkansas and Mississippi State from the West, so they don't have the most daunting road ahead. They are, however, starting a true freshman at quarterback, and while he has definite potential, it's largely still potential right now.
The Tigers can ugly up any of their remaining SEC games and use their defense to stay in them, but I can't see them avoiding at least one more conference loss. It's just one of those years.
Predicted outcome, as of today: Florida loses to LSU but then wins out. Kentucky drops more than one more SEC game. Tennessee loses to Alabama. The Gators clinch the East on Halloween and tie their own record for earliest clinching.
The most likely non-Florida outcome: The Gators lose to LSU and Georgia. Tennessee loses to Alabama but beats Kentucky. UGA wins out and takes the division in a tiebreaker over UF.
Messy scenario: Florida loses to LSU and Georgia. Georgia and Tennessee both win out. Now they're counting conference records of West teams to determine the East champ, and if they're all equal, it comes down to a coin flip.
Chaos scenario: Florida loses to LSU and Georgia, and the stout Vandy defense harasses Will Grier enough to pull off the upset. Tennessee loses to Alabama but otherwise wins out. Georgia wins out except for Kentucky. Kentucky wins out except for Tennessee. Now we have a four-way tie at 5-3 with Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Florida and Tennessee are each 2-1 against the other tied teams, while Georgia and Kentucky are each 1-2 against the other tied teams. It then becomes a two-way tie between the Gators and Vols, and Florida goes to Atlanta.