No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Alabama are both lurking, but one of those teams will likely drop after they meet this weekend. Thus we’ll project one SEC club making the playoff field, and it will be the winner of Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa.
A secondary question will be how many SEC clubs will appear in the postseason. The conference already has eight bowl-eligible teams: Mississippi State (9-0), Alabama (8-1), Ole Miss (8-2), Auburn (7-2), Georgia (7-2), Missouri (7-2), LSU (7-3) and Texas A&M (7-3).
Florida (5-3, with games left against South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Florida State) and Kentucky (5-5, with games left against Tennessee and Louisville) could reach bowl eligibility with a win in any of their remaining games. Meanwhile, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas (all at 4-5) each need to win two of their final three games to reach the six-win plateau and appear in a bowl game.
We’re projecting 10 teams to reach six wins, with Florida and Tennessee (which must beat two of three against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt) achieving bowl eligibility.
Here’s the full list:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual): Alabama
Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Citrus Bowl: LSU
TaxSlayer Bowl: Ole Miss
Outback Bowl: Georgia
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Missouri
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Belk Bowl: Tennessee
The Horned Frogs moved up to fourth in the rankings released Tuesday night, while the Bears were up to seventh, closing the gap between themselves and their Big 12 rivals.
"For the third consecutive week, the committee looked at the overall body of work, their strength of schedule, and looked at the number of top 25 wins," committee chairman Jeff Long said. "TCU has two top 25 wins and Baylor has one. And TCU's loss is a top-10 loss. When you put all those factors together, we still think at this time TCU has a better resume and was voted that way ahead of Baylor. "
Long said the committee had a long discussion about the merits of the Ducks and Seminoles, and decided to look beyond the record.
"It was a very close call, but the committee placed significant value on Oregon's quality of wins against three top 25 teams, two of which were on the road," Long said.
The 12-person selection committee will choose the four playoff teams on Dec. 7.
It's time to re-evaluate.
As the season progresses and teams change, so does the perception of wins and losses.
Wins that once looked impressive now do nothing for a team's playoff résumé, and losses that were once acceptable are now a dagger in playoff hopes. Here's an updated look at how certain games have changed some résumés:
Wins That Look Better
• UCLA 62, Arizona State 27: A Thursday night road win against what is now a top-10 team stands out as one of the season-defining games in the Pac-12 South race. The Sun Devils' recent victory over Notre Dame made it look even better for the Bruins.
• Baylor 61, TCU 58: The Bears beat what could be a top-four team, a critical win in what will be a down-to-the-wire Big 12 race and the most controversial debate in the inaugural playoff. The win kept Baylor in the CFP race and ultimately gave it control of its destiny in the Big 12.
• Marshall 63, Southern Miss 17: This is the closest way to gauge how undefeated Marshall stacks up against the big boys, because both Mississippi State and Alabama also played the Golden Eagles and got similar results. Marshall had to win with style, and in spite of a slow start, it did.
The latest one -- a 41-38 thriller over No. 3 Auburn on Saturday -- salvaged the Aggies' season by halting a downward spiral that had some wondering if they'd win any of their final six SEC games.
It had quite the 2012 feel to it. The Aggies were decided underdogs, going into a hostile atmosphere. They were facing a top-five team with hopes of a title run. The similarities extended all the way down to the tone of the pregame tweet posted by the team's star freshmen: Johnny Manziel then, Myles Garrett now.
They say we don't have nothing but a prayer, but if that prayer reaches the right person not only will Auburn fall but mountains will fall.— Flash Garrett (@Myles_Garrett15) November 8, 2014
Calling it a big win is an understatement, but it means nothing if the Aggies don't build on it.
"To come here and win it should be a great lesson for a team," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "How do you grow out of this?"
The Aggies (7-3, 3-3 SEC) had marked success early this season but handled it poorly. They raced to a 5-0 start but followed that up with three awful performances against elite teams: Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama. The last one of those three was a jarring loss for the program, a 59-0 embarrassment in Tuscaloosa.
For the first time since Sumlin arrived, there appeared to be cracks in the foundation.
Even after a much-needed off week, the Aggies squeaked by less-talented Louisiana-Monroe, 21-16. Naturally, everyone from Las Vegas oddsmakers to traditionally optimistic A&M fans doubted they could pull off a win over an Auburn team that had yet to lose in Jordan-Hare Stadium under Gus Malzahn.
Saturday's victory and the way it occurred -- with a scorching offensive start, key turnovers on defense and a big play on special teams -- has been witnessed in Aggieland before.
That formula cannot be cast aside as the Aggies' bask in victory's glow. The reason Saturday shocked the country was because of A&M's preceding four games. One win doesn't erase more than a month's worth of poor play.
"We won five in a row and we lost three in a row," Sumlin said. "During that stretch we didn't handle things very well.
"Now the challenge is, 'OK, this is a really good win for this team and for this program, but how do you handle it moving forward? How are we going to handle this week? Are we going to handle this week, as players, off the field, on the field, the way we handled it last week?' If we can do that, then you know your team is growing up."
Growth is critical for this team. Entering this season, the Aggies had few outsider expectations placed on them. With a new starting quarterback, new receivers and a still-young defense that was coming off a horrific 2013, it was understood that 2014 shaped up to be a transitional year. Excellence is difficult to maintain when three first-round NFL draft picks (Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Manziel) depart.
The offensive line and receiver play was inconsistent and often erratic during the losing streak, but both units excelled against the Tigers. The running game was non-existent at times but has seen vast improvement the last two weeks. The defense, which started strongly, showed flashes of its 2013 self at times and showed no resistance against Alabama but came up with critical turnovers on Saturday and did just enough to help secure a win while continuing to mesh new personnel.
In the aftermath of the Alabama debacle, Sumlin preached getting back to the core principles of his program: Play hard, play smart, be physical. The Aggies did all three against Auburn.
"We just looked at it as we have nothing to lose," senior cornerback Deshazor Everett said. "Coming into this game we were just like, ‘Let’s cut everything loose and just go out there and play together and give it our all.' ... We had the mentality that if we were going to make mistakes, we were going to make mistakes going full speed. Don’t go out there and try to hold anything back."
Questions remain. Is this the effort that can be expected from the Aggies moving forward or will old issues resurface in the homestretch? Can they show some defensive improvement, after giving up 582 yards, including 363 rushing, to Auburn? Can the offensive line and receivers replicate Saturday's effort? Can the 18-year-old Allen continue to direct the ship?
How the Aggies look in their final 120 minutes inside Kyle Field will speak volumes. Sumlin is working to build this program for SEC contention in 2015, 2016 and beyond.
For the foundation to be strong and recruiting success to continue, the Aggies must finish their final two games with the type of effort seen Saturday, regardless of whether they win or lose. The ugliness of October can't resurface and must prove simply to be a bump in the road in otherwise upward trajectory.
"How you play matters," Sumlin said. "And that's the lesson to be learned tonight for young players."
Though the conference has ruled the sport for the better half of the past decade, this season's internal domination has proven that even though the league is stronger from top to bottom than it has been in recent years, style points will be limited going forward.
Like the sport in general, there is no dominant entity, and making it out of Atlanta means someone will be clawing, kicking and punching its way down Peachtree Street.
Unless we see a Texas A&M-South Carolina performance during the final stretch, the country is just going to have to accept that the SEC is just a rugged, gruff league with clumps of dirt on its face and a tattered wardrobe. Routs of the Oregon and TCU variety just aren't likely.
The SEC's grit hasn't really affected the league in the first two College Football Playoff rankings, but as the league continues to beat up on itself in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the playoff committee views the conference champion that will likely have at least one loss.
Yes Mississippi State, even you are susceptible to 2014 heartbreak.
The No. 1 Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0 SEC) still play Alabama and Ole Miss on the road, and according to ESPN's Football Power Index, they have a 4.9 percent chance of winning out. Mississippi State has slowed some in the past few weeks, and has two slugfests remaining that will likely come down to the wire.
Still, if the Bulldogs win out, they are in the playoff. But a loss at any point could be tricky because of an awful nonconference slate and a couple of recent close calls against Arkansas and Kentucky. You also have to consider the idea of Alabama winning out and securing a spot with the conference championship. Will the committee still favor Mississippi State over a few other one-loss teams that have thrashed opponents in recent weeks? Teams like, Oregon, TCU and Baylor? All of which are ranked higher than Mississippi State (11th) in ESPN's FPI.
The SEC has roughed itself up while other conferences have shown quality at the top. We've seen utter chaos in the SEC West this season, and though it has been incredibly entertaining, it's putting more pressure on the top teams to keep pushing forward.
SEC teams are having problems with each other, and elite teams in other conferences are rolling.
Alabama just had to grind out an incredibly tough overtime win against a much-improved LSU team on the road. Hours earlier, Auburn, the No. 3 team in the nation before Saturday, imploded in a mistake-riddled 41-38 loss to an A&M team that had lost its past three SEC games by a combined score of 142-51.
A week prior, Auburn was in the playoff after a thrilling win at Ole Miss, which is still alive in the West. But Ole Miss travels to Arkansas this weekend and hosts Mississippi State this month.
Georgia appears to be the only viable option out of the East, even with bad losses to South Carolina and Florida. When the Dawgs have their talent clicking, they look like the most well-rounded team in the SEC. Plus, Todd Gurley is coming back, so wins against Auburn and the West champ could entice the selection committee.
However, the real playoff hope for the SEC lies in the West. Elegance has never really been the SEC's strength, but you would think the committee has already taken that into account. Still, with external praise for teams convincingly rolling through their conferences, the SEC is at least on notice, but don't expect it whip out the mascara.
The Aggies got there with a win against Louisiana-Monroe, and the Longhorns are a step closer after a surprising home win over West Virginia. Texas will make the postseason with a win against either Oklahoma State or TCU.
The tilted balance of power, though, is putting a strain on the state’s football royalty. The pressure is building to perform, and the coaches of A&M and UT lead the list of those who need to win in 2015 to stave off the heat:
It was only one performance, but it was a memorable one for Texas A&M true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. All he did was throw four touchdowns and lead the Aggies to a 41-38 win over No. 3 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Allen was the top-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class. He showed why he was so highly regarded on ”That is why we recruited him and that is why he is here,” Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy said afterward. Based on his play Saturday, Allen likely earned himself the chance to start the Aggies' next game against Missouri and perhaps the rest of the season. And the win? It salvaged a season that was turning ugly.
Around the SEC
- After Saturday's loss, Auburn finds itself in a position it hasn't been in lately -- out of the spotlight
- Is Georgia wearing black jerseys on Saturday? No, says Mark Richt.
- Les Miles thanks Nick Saban for sending condolences after his mother's death
- Florida QB Treon Harris makes a huge jump in production
- Ole Miss gets a glimpse of its future in its win over Presbyterian.
Dandy catch for Dupre
Malachi Dupre is an SEC star in the making. The heavily-recruited true freshman displayed his skills with a nifty one-handed catch near the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown catch with a Alabama defensive back, Cyrus Jones, following step-for-step with him. The call was initially ruled an incompletion but upon an official review, it was shown that Dupre got a foot in bounds with control of the ball for the Tigers' touchdown.
Is that a catch? Yes it is
Vanderbilt was fighting to try to make it a game with Florida late and Davis Dudchock showed some impressive effort. When quarterback Johnny McCrary rolled left and fired a deep pass to Dudchock, the well-covered tight end fended off a defensive back and hauled in the pass with one hand, diving to the turf. It was perhaps the best catch seen in the SEC on Saturday.
Twice is nice for McKenzie
Georgia was dominant vs. Kentucky and that included on special teams where Isaiah McKenzie had himself a day. He returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, then in the third quarter had this nifty 59-yard punt return for his second touchdown of the day. McKenzie made two nice moves to make the Wildcats miss early, split a couple defenders, got a huge block from a teammate, then hit the gas to sprint to the end zone.
Tabor's one-handed interception
Florida rolled to a 34-10 win against Vanderbilt and it included big plays on both sides of the ball. Though the game was mostly out of reach for the Commodores late, that didn't keep Florida from making plays like this one-handed interception by Jalen Tabor in the end zone.
Special teams score for Texas A&M
In what turned out to be a huge play, the Aggies showed off their special teams skills in their upset win at Auburn. With the Tigers lining up for a field goal to end the half, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett got his hand on the football to block it and cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was playing with a torn elbow tendon, picked it up and sprinted 65 yards to the end zone for a score. It was a 10-point swing right before the half.
Baylor climbed four places to sixth after romping at Oklahoma
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M: He might only look 16, but Allen played a heck of a game on the road at Auburn in his first ever SEC start. The true freshman went 19 of 29 for 277 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He was the primary reason the Aggies jumped out to a 35-17 halftime lead as he threw four touchdowns to three different wide receivers in the first 30 minutes. The offense got more conservative in the second half, but he still showed poise down the stretch, protecting the football in a hostile environment and helping his team escape with a 41-38 upset victory.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: The loss stings, but Artis-Payne had a game to remember. The senior, who had rushed for over 100 yards in six of Auburn’s first eight games, eclipsed the 200-yard mark Saturday against Texas A&M. He finished with 30 carries for a career-high 221 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 1,190 yards on the season, becoming the 18th different Auburn player to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. Had he gained one more yard late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers might have won.
Treon Harris, QB, Florida: Who says Florida can’t pass? A week after attempting six passes in the blowout win over Georgia, Harris went 13 of 21 for 215 yards on the road at Vanderbilt. The freshman quarterback also rushed for 49 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Gators to a 34-10 win, their second win in as many weeks, but what stood out was Harris' accuracy. He showed he could make throws if called upon. It was easily the best performance of his young career at Florida, and maybe a sign of things to come for Gators fans.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia: Take your pick from this game. Hutson Mason threw for 174 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Chubb rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown. But McKenzie was a human highlight reel in Georgia’s 63-31 win over Kentucky. The freshman wide receiver took the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown and later returned a punt 59 yards for his second score of the game. He is believed to be the first Bulldog in the modern era to do both in the same game. McKenzie finished with 187 all-purpose yards.
Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: It wasn’t pretty for three-and-a-half quarters, but when the game was on the line, Sims came through. The senior orchestrated a terrific drive in the final minute to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and his touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in the first overtime session proved to be the game-winner in Alabama’s 20-13 win over LSU on Saturday. Sims finished 20 of 45 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his late-game heroics that stood out in a classic defensive battle.
Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.
No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.
Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.
Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.
AUBURN, Ala. -- It had the makings of another epic win for Auburn. The Tigers trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter. They cut it to three and had two chances to take the lead, but it wasn't meant to be. Not this time. Texas A&M recovered two fumbles late and hung on to upset No. 3 Auburn 41-38 on Saturday.
How the game was won: Texas A&M came out firing on all cylinders offensively, jumping out to a 35-17 lead. Miscommunication cost Auburn its chance to complete the comeback win, though. First, with the Tigers knocking on the door to score, quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne bobbled a handoff, and Marshall put it on the turf at the Texas A&M 2 with 2:37 remaining. On the next drive, Reese Dismukes snapped it to Marshall, who wasn't looking, and the Aggies recovered again with 54 seconds left to end Auburn's hopes.
Game ball goes to: The Texas A&M defense made two big stops late in the game, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was terrific in his first SEC start and second overall career start. He came out of the gate firing with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy on his third throw, and he finished 19-of-29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns. He showed serious moxie on the road.
What it means: This was Gus Malzahn's first loss at home since taking over at Auburn prior to last season, and his first loss as an FBS head coach in the month of November.
Playoff implication: If any two-loss team has a chance to get back in the playoff picture, it's Auburn, based solely on strength of schedule. The Tigers still have road games left at Georgia and Alabama that could boost their résumé. But Saturday's loss makes it mighty tough for Malzahn's bunch to return to the national championship game.
What's next: Auburn will see where it winds up in the latest playoff committee rankings on Tuesday and must regroup before heading to Athens for a battle with Georgia. Texas A&M returns home to host SEC East-leading Missouri.
Ranking the new SEC defensive coordinators
TBD San José St Auburn TBD Ole Miss Florida TBD Alabama Georgia TBD Eastern Kentucky Kentucky TBD Eastern Michigan LSU TBD Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee TBD South Carolina Missouri TBD Arkansas Tennessee TBD Mississippi State Texas A&M