This Saturday kicks off a wonderful two weekends in the SEC that will determine the champions of both divisions.
Every college football season since the four-team playoff format was introduced in 2014, the final weekend of October and the first weekend of November is when every analyst starts to dissect their numbers.
Categories like strength of schedule, top-25 wins, conference strength, etc. get thrown around and analyzed to death. For teams in the SEC, a conference that has long been the staple of college football (they have produced the National Champion in nine of the last 12 seasons and are the only conference to send two teams into the playoff), the road to the 2018 College Football Playoffs will be made much more evident in the next two weekends.
The fun started a few weeks ago when Florida upset LSU. The Gators were virtually an unknown still, having lost earlier in the season to Kentucky for the first time since 1986 (had won 31 straight). However, despite defeating the previously undefeated Tigers, 27-19, they still needed help.
Speaking of Kentucky, they entered October 6 tied with Georgia for first in the East. For the first time since 1977, the Wildcats started 3-0 in the SEC and were heading to College Station to play the Aggies. In their first meeting since 1953, Texas A&M gave Florida the help they needed to get back in the race for the East.
Trailing 14-7 with just under 4:30 left, Darius West of Kentucky picked up a fumble by Kellen Mond and returned it 30 yards for the tying touchdown. However, the miracles for Kentucky were about to end. After losing the toss in overtime, Miles Butler missed a 43-yard FG, giving the Aggies a huge advantage. Florida fans everywhere celebrated when Trayveon Williams ran in the winning score from 10 yards out to hand Kentucky their first loss.
The Gators win over LSU triggered the events for the next week. Enraged and embarrassed that they failed to keep pace with Alabama in the West, LSU knew their season was on the line as undefeated Georgia entered Death Valley.
The Tigers knew if they lost to the Bulldogs, that their chance for an SEC West title and appearance in the SEC Championship game was all but over. Instead of keeping destiny in their own hands, a loss to Georgia would give them two SEC losses. That would mean that after losing to both Florida and Georgia, they would not only have to defeat Alabama, but the Tide would need to lose another SEC game as well.
In another season, maybe LSU could imagine the Crimson Tide falling against Auburn or Mississippi State. However, this season the Tide have both at home. Add to that the fact that Alabama looks even better than last season’s NCAA Champions. Through eight games the Tide lead the nation in scoring at 54.1 PPG and have won their five SEC games by an average of 35.4 PPG.
LSU took their anger out on Georgia and ended their undefeated season with a dominating 36-16 win. Once again, fans in Gator Nation were doing backflips. The two things they need to happen to give them a chance to appear in the conference title game occurred.
October 27, 2018
#7 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) vs #9 Florida (6-1, 4-1) at Jacksonville, FL, 3:30 PM EST
That brings us to this Saturday when the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” takes place as it does every last weekend in October in Jacksonville. After losing to LSU, the Bulldogs will be ready to seek revenge on the Gators. Florida will be looking to make up for last season’s 42-7 embarrassing loss that put them under .500 for the season and was another step in Georgia’s drive to the division title. This is the sixth meeting between these two teams where they are both ranked in the top 10.
The Gators know if they beat Georgia that will give them a considerable edge in winning the division. They would be at 5-1 in the conference and finish the season at home against Missouri (4-3, 0-3) and South Carolina (3-3, 2-3). However, they would still need Kentucky to lose another game in the conference.
Georgia knows that a loss to Florida would virtually eliminate them from making their second consecutive trip to the SEC Championship game and end their hopes at being one of the four in the College Football Playoffs.
#9 Kentucky (6-1, 4-1) at Missouri (4-3, 0-3) 4 PM EST
For Kentucky to keep their advantage over Florida, they know they cannot suffer another conference loss after struggling last weekend at home against Vanderbilt (won 14-7), who had lost 11 of their last 12 SEC games and were dead last in the conference in scoring. They travel to Missouri who ranks third in the SEC in PPG (38.6) and total offense (501.1 YPG).
After losing their first three meetings when Missouri joined the SEC East in 2012, the Wildcats have defeated the Tigers in each of the last three seasons.
Kentucky ranks first in the SEC in rushing (235.3) led by Benjamin Snell Jr. who leads the conference with 893 rushing yards. While Missouri ranks in the middle of the pack against the run (131.6 YPG allowed), they rank second to last in the SEC in total defense (419.0 YPG allowed).
November 3, 2018
Georgia at Kentucky, TBD
This brings us to the first weekend in November when again the attention will be on the SEC. Georgia continues their brutal four-game stretch when they travel to Kentucky.
Just like when they defeated Florida earlier this season, the Wildcats have not had any previous success against Georgia. They have lost eight straight and 17 of 18 in a rivalry that resembles the hammer and nail.
November 3, 2018
#1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) at #4 LSU (7-1, 4-1) 8 PM EST
The battle for the SEC West and who will represent the division in the SEC Championship game will take place at Baton Rouge on Nov. 3.
Much like last season when the Crimson Tide dominated the competition during their first eight games (47.6 PPG, 37.8 PPG differential), no one has come close to Alabama this season.
Along with the numbers I mentioned before, the Crimson Tide have a new weapon. Tua Tagovailoa has been nothing short of inhuman this season. While the rest of college football plays Madden on expert level, Tua looks like he is playing on rookie level.
For the season, Tua has 25 TD, 0 INT, 2,066 passing yards and 123 rushing yards. He is three TD shy of setting the NCAA record for most TD passes without an interception to start the season (set by Colby Cameron of Louisiana Tech University in 2012 threw 27 TD before throwing his first INT). Against Tennessee, Tua tied his mentor and fellow graduate of St. Louis School in Honolulu, Marcus Mariota, who started his 2013 season at Oregon with 25 TD before throwing his first interception.
Oh yes, and one other unique thing about Tua is that he has not played a single down in the fourth quarter. Did you hear that right? The Crimson Tide has dominated their opponents so impressively that their number one Heisman Trophy candidate hasn’t needed to take a snap in ANY of Alabama’s games in the fourth quarter this season. The only reason Tua won’t win the Heisman this season is because he only hasn’t played enough.
LSU finds themselves in the same situation that Auburn was in last season when they hosted Alabama. If the Tigers win, they will win the SEC West and play in the SEC Championship game. Once again we would have a situation like 2017, where the best team in the nation BY FAR all season would find themselves at the mercy of the committee. After experiencing that last season, Nick Saban and company do not want to go through that again.
Series Notes: Alabama has dominated the series recently, winning seven straight by an average of just under 13 PPG. This includes the 2011 National Championship. The last time the Tigers defeated Alabama was during the 2011 regular season.
LSU has had a hard time scoring against Alabama. In their last eight meetings, the Tigers have never scored more than 17 points and have averaged just 10.3 PPG.
Saban vs. Saban: A big factor in this series has been Saban himself. While he was the head coach at LSU, the Tigers went 4-1 against the Crimson Tide. Since Saban took over as head coach at Alabama, they are 9-3 against his former team.
Scenarios For Each Team to Win the Division
Florida: Need to win rest of conference games (vs. Georgia, Missouri, and South Carolina) AND have Kentucky lose one more conference game.
Georgia: Need to win rest of conference games (vs. Florida, at Kentucky, Auburn).
Kentucky: Need to win rest of conference games (at Missouri, Georgia, at Tennessee)
Alabama: If they beat LSU, they clinch the SEC West. Even if they lose their last two games against Mississippi State and Auburn, they will still hold the tie-breaker over LSU by a result of their head-to-head victory.
LSU: Need to defeat Alabama and win the rest of their conference games (at Arkansas, at Texas A&M).
Kentucky holds the advantage over Florida by the result of their victory earlier this season.
The winner of Florida-Georgia this weekend will hold the tiebreaker between those two teams.
The winner of Georgia-Kentucky on Nov. 3 will hold the tiebreaker between those two teams.
The winner of Alabama-LSU will hold the tiebreaker between those two teams.
IF THREE TEAMS TIE IN SEC EAST:
Explaining this would take up the rest of the day, so here is a quick link from the SEC website that goes into detail about the tie-breaking process.