Auburn’s rout of No. 1 Georgia dealt a blow to the SEC’s hopes of getting two teams into the College Football Playoff.
But at the same time it further demonstrated that the SEC West is the best division in college football.
We already knew the SEC East didn’t have the depth of the SEC West, but after nine games the Bulldogs already had clinched the East Division title and it looked like the top team in the East was the equal of West-leading Alabama.
But on Saturday, Auburn shook up the CFP and altered impressions when it blasted Georgia 40-17.
The SEC West already had four ranked teams — No. 2 Alabama, No. 10 Auburn, No. 16 Mississippi State and No. 24 LSU. Then, shortly after Auburn injected itself into the CFP picture, Mississippi State led Alabama into the fourth quarter before the Crimson Tide scored in the final minute to prevail, 31-24.
Despite the close call in Starkville, the Crimson Tide is all but assured of ascending to the No. 1 position when the latest CFP rankings are released Tuesday.
Auburn undoubtedly will move up — perhaps to as high as fifth or sixth as the top-ranked two-loss team.
Mississippi State, which owns a 37-7 whipping of LSU from Sept. 16, now has three losses but figures to remain ranked after playing Alabama more closely than anyone else this season.
LSU should also stay ranked after winning for the fourth time in fifth games with the only loss since September coming in the 24-10 setback at Alabama two weeks ago. The Tigers handled Arkansas 33-10 on Saturday.
The SEC isn’t the only conference with a handful of ranked teams or with a division featuring multiple teams in the top half of the rankings.
But no one can match the SEC West.
The ACC’s Atlantic division features Clemson and N.C. State and the Coastal division features Miami (which figures to enter the top four after routing Notre Dame), Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, though the Holies have back-to-back losses to its top division rivals as well as an earlier loss to Clemson. Neither division stacks up with the SEC West.
The Big Ten West features Wisconsin, one of just three unbeatens left in the Power 5 conferences, but no one else of national consequence. The East features Ohio State and Penn State, but the Buckeyes’ blasting of Michigan State last week knocked the Spartans well down the rankings.
The Pac-12 North features Washington State and Washington, but the conference’s CFP hopes all but evaporated when the Huskies lost to Stanford last Friday. USC has clinched the Pac-12 South, which also features Arizona and Arizona State, but neither division out West matches the SEC West.
No division but the SEC West has four teams in the CFP rankings, including the soon-to-be No. 1. Auburn’s only losses have come at Clemson (without Kerryon Johnson) and SEC West rival LSU. Mississippi State’s losses have come against Georgia and West rivals Alabama and Auburn. LSU’s losses have come against State, Alabama and Troy.
There is one more SEC regular-season showdown and it’s the annual Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn in two weeks at Auburn. The winner will face Georgia in the SEC Championship a week later.
The Crimson Tide probably can absorb one loss and still make the CFP. Auburn would have a strong case if it beats Alabama and then knocks off Georgia a second time.
So if Auburn were to run the table, the team that dealt the SEC’s dual-Playoff-berth hopes a blow could resuscitate them by positioning itself as one of two possible CFP participants from the best division in college football.