Directly after the conclusion of No. 2 LSU’s 46-41 victory over No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 9, my initial reaction was to call a long lost childhood friend to ask what exactly the Tigers’ head coach, Ed Orgeron, was saying in a postgame interview. He may have suspected I was trying to rekindle a friendship, but I just needed to understand what exactly the authentic Louisiana coach was exclaiming after the biggest victory of his career, a game that altered the forecast of the rest of the season for the Southeastern Conference.
The LSU victory on Saturday far overshadowed the rest of the conference slate, setting the Tigers up as favorites to qualify for the SEC championship and College Football Playoff while far more questions remain for the other teams.
The media discussed this matchup as the biggest game of the college football regular season, featuring two of the top three teams in the latest CFP rankings, and it did not disappoint. LSU jumped ahead 33-13 at the half despite a second half surge, and Alabama could not overcome that deficit. Joe Burrow, the Tigers’ starting quarterback, continues to look like a strong Heisman candidate after his fourth victory over a top 10 opponent in the Tigers’ undefeated season so far, and that position will only solidify as he leads his team to an SEC championship appearance.
As gut-wrenching as the mere thought of it may be for fans of the Crimson Tide, Alabama should want LSU to win their remaining games to maximize the chance that Alabama sneaks into the CFP. Alabama has dropped late regular season games and still recovered to make the playoff before, and that may happen yet again this season. While winning the rest of their schedule is a prerequisite for contention now that they will not be playing for the conference title, Alabama will need help from outside of the conference, such as Oklahoma and Oregon each losing a game, to make the playoff. Fortunately for them, the Alabama brand is strong enough to get them into the CFP even if their resume says otherwise.
The team LSU is likely to face in the championship Dec. 9, No. 6 Georgia, shut out Missouri to win 27-0. Its defense looks elite, but the offense will have to make some adjustments if they want to make the playoffs, as Jake Fromm has fallen well short of his performance two seasons ago when the team did qualify for the playoffs, and its backfield has really fallen off after losing Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to the 2018 NFL draft. They play No. 11 Auburn this week and can use that game to identify what must change in order to make a serious run. Georgia can lose this game and still make the conference championship, but a loss to the Auburn Tigers would all but erase their playoff aspirations.
Auburn had a bye week and will come out swinging as it seeks to make a New Year’s Six bowl game. Unfortunately, its hopes of an SEC title are out of reach, but if it beats Georgia and Alabama, it should make a strong claim for the top 10. Florida is in the same situation. While it doesn’t have the same promise they looked to have, the future of the Dan Mullen era in Florida looks bright with Auburn getting frequent contributions from younger players, especially on the defensive side of the field.
Looking at teams that join Alabama in having numerous question marks, on the other end of the SEC rankings, Arkansas lost to Western Kentucky in such an embarrassing fashion, by a final score of 45-19 at home, that head coach Chad Morris was ultimately fired. Arkansas fans should be happy to lose a head coach that has never won an SEC game in his nearly two complete seasons with Arkansas. It may not get better, but there’s no way it can get worse.
Another notable loss was South Carolina losing to heavy underdog Appalachian State. With each passing week, the Gamecocks’ previous win over Georgia is looking more and more like a fluke. Since it looks doubtful they make a bowl game, its fans should emphasize their Georgia win whenever possible.
Tennessee barely edged out Kentucky to place them one win away from making a bowl game. While it’ll likely get the one win it needs, Tennessee fans will be expecting next season to be much better. Kentucky still needs to win two of its remaining matchups to make a bowl game, and its schedule is looking favorable with Vanderbilt and Louisville left.
Similarly, Ole Miss secured its fourth win of the season against New Mexico State. It plays LSU this week and has nearly no chance of winning against the conference’s, and likely the country’s, top team. However, its rivalry game against Mississippi State will likely decide if Mississippi State makes a bowl game. Ole Miss fans will be satisfied to spoil the rivals’ season given the chance, finding some solace in this otherwise disappointing season.
The most notable game of this upcoming weekend is No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 11 Auburn. Should Georgia lose this game but win the SEC, the debate about whether a two-loss SEC champion deserves to make the playoff will be fierce. The rest of the games are either a battle of the bottom or a matchup with a clear favorite. Fresh off the bye week, Mississippi State will look to capitalize on a stunned Alabama in the most likely upset game.
The following week is the traditional SEC pre-rivalry week slate where top teams will each feast on a significantly inferior team. It is telling that the most exciting game will be Georgia vs. Texas A&M in a match where the line will clearly favor Georgia, likely by double digits. It will be fun in the same way that watching the scrappy but inexperienced sports movie protagonist get absolutely destroyed by an opponent early on in the film is.
As teams turn their focus to their postseason aspirations, the LSU Tigers sit pretty while everyone else has serious reason for concern.