SEC West scenarios after Week 10 start with Alabama, but don't end there
Remember all those SEC West playoff scenarios we rolled out last week? Well, forget about it. All it took was about seven hours of football to change everything last Saturday. Let’s hit the reset button and try again.
It was LSU and Ole Miss that controlled their own destiny heading into last week, but that’s not the case anymore. LSU, the SEC’s last unbeaten team, fell to Alabama, and fell hard. That was just after Ole Miss lost to Arkansas 53-52 in overtime.
It’s the Crimson Tide in the driver’s seat now. But for how long? And with just three weeks to go, plenty of teams still have hope.
With that being said, here’s an update to how the SEC West could play out for the rest of the season:
ALABAMA WILL WIN IF…
Their formula for going to the SEC Championship Game is simple. Win and they’re in, regardless of what anyone else does. Alabama and LSU each have only one SEC loss, but the Tide holds the tiebreaker thanks to Saturday’s head-to-head win. The Crimson Tide plays at Mississippi State Saturday and finishes the season at Auburn. Anything can happen, of course – remember their last trip to Auburn in 2013? – but the Tide look to have things under control.
But let’s say Alabama goes to Starkville Saturday and Mississippi State pulls the upset. What happens then?
LSU WILL WIN IF…
The Tigers are rooting hard for Mississippi State this weekend because their only hope of going to the SEC Championship Game rests with Alabama picking up a second conference loss. If State can’t get it done, they’ll be cheering for Auburn on Nov. 28. They need help.
They also need to take care of their own business, and their schedule is very tough down the stretch with games against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. But winning out and Alabama losing once gets them to Atlanta. Case closed.
LSU is still involved in a bunch of two-loss scenarios, as well. Read on, because they affect the teams below.
OLE MISS WILL WIN IF…
The paths are fairly clear for those one-loss teams listed above. It gets much more convoluted with the two-loss teams. They need to win – and they need a whole lot of favors from other people.
Ole Miss has no one to blame but themselves, of course. Everything was still under their control until the OT loss to Arkansas. Now they need help, but it’s not out of the equation. After the bye this week, the Rebels need to finish off the season with wins against LSU and Mississippi State to finish 6-2 in the league.
Like everyone one else, they’re rooting for Alabama to lose this Saturday. Yes, even Ole Miss fans are rooting for Mississippi State. No scenario works without Alabama having two losses. Ole Miss holds the tiebreaker against Alabama thanks to its September win over the Tide in Tuscaloosa. A two-way tie between Ole Miss and Alabama makes it simple – Ole Miss goes to Atlanta.
But if it’s a three-way tie, that’s where it gets complicated for the other two-loss teams, but not Ole Miss. The most likely three-way tie from the Rebels’ perspective would be Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss all at 6-2. The first tiebreaker is combined head-to-head among the tied teams. In this case, Ole Miss would have beaten them both, so they win the tiebreaker and go to Atlanta.
There is only one other three-way tie to consider for the Rebels. It is possible that Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas can all finish 6-2. All three would be 1-1 against each other. The second tiebreaker is record of the tied teams within the division. This is what wins it for Ole Miss because in this scenario the Rebels would have a 5-1 mark inside the SEC West – remember, their second conference loss was at SEC East member Florida – and Alabama and Arkansas would be 4-2. So, hello Atlanta for the Rebels.
MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF…
For two-loss Mississippi State, it’s even more complicated. First off, the Bulldogs have to win out against a murderous three-game stretch of Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. That’s saying a lot, but if they do, they finish with a 6-2 record and eliminate Arkansas and Ole Miss in the process.
But winning all three still wouldn’t be enough. It might be, but it’s not guaranteed.
Best-case scenario for MSU is finishing 6-2 alone with Alabama. It wins the head-to-head tiebreaker and goes to Atlanta. With State winning out, the only other team in the conversation is LSU. The Bulldogs would prefer that LSU loses twice – say to Arkansas and Ole Miss, which isn’t all that improbable – so they aren’t tied. But say LSU wins one of those – and for this tiebreaker example, which game doesn’t matter at all – and wins the season finale against Texas A&M to finish 6-2 and in a three-way tie with Alabama and Mississippi State.
All three would be 1-1 in the round robin. All three would be tied in the second tiebreaker (record vs. SEC West, at 4-2). The third tiebreaker is what makes this really complicated. Here it is from the SEC:
C. Head to head competition against the team within the division with the best overall Conference record (divisional and non divisional) and proceeding through the division (multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last and a tie for first place will be broken before a tie for fourth place).
In this scenario, Mississippi State, LSU and Alabama are all 6-2 at the top and 4-2 within the SEC West, so nothing can differentiate them. That means we go to fourth place in the standings. For Mississippi State, now it would matter who it was that gave LSU its second loss. It’s bad if it’s Arkansas and very good if it’s Ole Miss. Say Ole Miss finishes alone in fourth at 5-3. Using head-to-head against them, LSU and Alabama both lost to Ole Miss, and State would have won. That breaks the tie and the Bulldogs go to Atlanta.
If it’s Arkansas that beats LSU and finishes 5-3 alone in fourth place – or tied with Ole Miss at fourth and Arkansas wins that tiebreaker to take Ole Miss out of the equation – then State is still in good shape. They would have a head-to-head win against Arkansas, as would Alabama. But LSU would have a loss and would be eliminated from the tiebreaker. Then it goes back to the first two-team tiebreaker – head-to-head – and State tops Alabama.
Texas A&M is not a good tiebreaker for State, but in our scenario LSU beat A&M to give them a fourth conference loss.
ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF…
Many, many more crazy things happen. First off, like every other scenario, the Hogs have to win out and hope Mississippi State beats Alabama. If Arkansas beats LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri to finish 6-2, they still have to hope they don’t finish alone in a two-way tie with Alabama because they lose that tiebreaker.
Here’s the only tiebreaker they win.
They need Alabama to lose to both Mississippi State and Auburn to finish 5-3 and get them out of the picture. That’s asking a lot. After the Razorbacks beat LSU, they need to the Tigers to then beat Ole Miss and get rid of them. If that’s the case, then only Arkansas and LSU are left at 6-2 and the Hogs win head-to-head. Sounds easy enough, right?
The three-ways? We’ve already covered that an Arkansas-Alabama-Ole Miss tie is no good for the Hogs. Ole Miss wins on better division record. What about Alabama-LSU-Arkansas? If that happens, they’re all 6-2 and 4-2 in the West. So that third tiebreaker of head-to-head against the fourth-place team comes into play.
Much like Mississippi State, Arkansas would love for Ole Miss to finish alone in fourth. They have the win against Ole Miss and Alabama and LSU don’t. That would give the division to Arkansas.
And TexasA&M? The Aggies haven’t been officially eliminated, according to the SEC office. It’s entirely possible that a tie with a bunch of 5-3 teams could happen, but we ran several scenarios and couldn’t find one where A&M wins a tiebreaker.
“Auburn is the only team we would say are mathematically eliminated,” said Chuck Dunlap, SEC Communications Director. “A&M could tie for the division still, but we traditionally would not perform all the hypothetical tiebreaks at this point this far in advance with so many games to play.”
We won’t break them down either. How about we wait a week?