Forget for a moment about the BCS title game and the future four-team College Football Playoff.
This season’s “playoffs” essentially begin this week and continue for the two weekends within the SEC. The only way an SEC team won’t have a chance for the league’s eighth consecutive BCS national championship, to be played at the Rose Bowl in January, is if the Alabama Crimson Tide can’t survive the next three Saturdays.
And that may not be the given that was once believed.
SEC East: The winner will reside in either Columbia 65211 or Columbia 29225 after Auburn knocked off Georgia, now the loser in two miracle SEC comebacks this year. Missouri (5-1 in the SEC) visits Ole Miss Saturday needing a victory to maintain its control of the East. Then the following Saturday, Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel visit the Tigers. A stumble in either game will hand the East to Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, who have completed their league schedule at 6-2. The Gamecocks hold a tie-breaker against Missouri by the virtue of a 27-24 victory over the Tigers on Oct. 26.
SEC West: It was a troubling 20-7 victory Saturday night for top-ranked Alabama, prevailing at unimpressive Mississippi State (4-6.). That suggests the Tide’s Nov. 30 showdown at Auburn will not be the one-sided affair that many might have predicted. The Tide get a practice game against Chattanooga first but their dispirited performance raises some questions.
“We won the game,” Tide coach Nick Saban said after a four-fumble, desultory effort, “but we didn’t really beat the other team, if that makes any sense. And that’s really not how we usually try to do it.”
The winner of that Alabama-Auburn game wins the West. The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in the Georgia Dome.
The new question soon to be presented by SEC shills: Should either Missouri or Auburn, each with one loss, be in the BCS title game should Alabama stumble?
That’s unlikely as long as Florida State, Baylor and Ohio State continue to remain unbeaten.
The Buckeyes must dispose of Indiana, Michigan and, likely, a once-beaten Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. FSU has only to defeat Idaho, a seriously wounded Florida team on the road and win an ACC title game against one of an array of Coastal Division teams which have all lost at least twice within the league. Baylor can seriously get into the national championship discussion by winning out against Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas.
The BCS title game is Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl. Here are the SEC bowl tie-ins:
Dec. 30: Franklin American Mortgage Music City, vs. ACC, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 31: Chick-fil-A, vs. ACC, 8 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 31: AutoZone Liberty, vs. C-USA/American, 4 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 31: AdvoCare V100, vs. ACC, 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 1: Capital One, vs. Big Ten, 1 p.m., ABC
Jan. 1: Outback, vs. Big Ten, 1 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 1: TaxSlayer.com Gator, vs. Big Ten, noon, ESPN2
Jan. 2: Allstate Sugar, BCS vs. BCS, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 3: AT&T Cotton, vs. Big 12, 7:30 p.m., FOX
Jan. 4: BBVA Compass, vs. American, 1 p.m., ESPN
“It makes us focus on working again in practice and not being complacent. We got another tough game on the road last game of the season at Auburn. It was good for us to struggle and still get a win. It always helps your team kind of bounce back. It kind of reminds you that you’re not as good as you think, so you got to come to work.” — Quarterback AJ McCarron after the Crimson Tide survived a tough game at Mississippi State 20-7.
“I couldn’t believe it. It just landed right into my hands. I saw it once it got over my shoulder. It got tipped, I lost track of it … but when I looked over my shoulders, it was right there.” — Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis on his 73-yard game-winning catch on fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining to beat Georgia.
“I guess that’s why people watch football on television, games like the one (Auburn and Georgia) had. Ours was pretty interesting, too.” — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, after the Gamecocks’ 19-14 win over Florida.
“It’s frustrating for that locker room. Forget me. These kids have fought their butts off. Our fans need to get a grip. … They can criticize me all they want. They pay me enough money for that. Those kids don’t deserve it. Nobody has ever … questioned their effort. We just didn’t get it done.” — Florida coach Will Muschamp, loser of five in a row and clearly feeling the heat.
“I can’t believe it. I wasn’t that big of a recruit, but my mom said it’s always been the same. She said I was going to come here, handle business and make history.” — Auburn’s Tre Mason, SEC leader in rushing yards (1,153) and rushing TDs (17). He also has a kickoff return TD.
“I heard it, though.” — Florida running back Mack Brown (ML King High), who could hear but not see Muschamp punching a chalk board at halftime that left him with two fingers bandaged and a third knuckle bloodied.
By the numbers
Consecutive games won by Auburn when scoring 30 or more points. The Tigers are 303-4 when scoring 30 or more, the last coming against Georgia in 1996.
Career winning starts for South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, tying Todd Ellis for the school record.
Times that Alabama has won 10 or more games in season (one fewer than all-time leader Oklahoma). The Crimson Tide has won at least 10 games for the sixth time in a row.
Consecutive victories at Williams-Brice Stadium for South Carolina, the longest active streak in the nation and a school record.
Rushing touchdowns this year for Tre Mason, tying him for second in Auburn history with Bo Jackson and Carnell Williams. He trails Cam Newton (20).
Thumbs down: Georgia’s Josh Harvey-Clemons. Bud, what were you thinking? Clemons tipped away a pass on fourth-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining that teammate and fellow safety Tray Matthews was milliseconds from intercepting, which would have clinched one of the all-time comebacks in college football history. Instead it tumbled through the air into Ricardo Louis’s hands for Auburn’s winning touchdown. One play seldom loses a game … but this one did.
Thumbs up: Auburn’s Nick Marshall. He may not have Cam Newton’s smile. He may not be the best quote in the world. But Marshall has what coach Gus Malzahn calls the “it” factor. He simply makes plays to win games. The SEC and the state of Alabama gets the Iron Bowl it wanted and it will be interesting to see how Auburn’s rushing attack fares against the Tide.
Mississippi State at Arkansas, 12:21 p.m., WPCH
Coastal Carolina at South Carolina, 1 p.m., ESPN3
Georgia Southern at Florida, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Chattanooga at Alabama, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Texas A&M at LSU, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Kentucky at Georgia, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Missouri at Ole Miss, 7:45 p.m., ESPN