Here’s How the SEC East and West Could Both Be Clinched This Weekend

    Less than a week from now, we might know the matchup for the SEC Championship. That's right – on November 3, both the SEC East and West could be clinched

    October 29, 2018

    Less than a week from now, we might know the matchup for the SEC Championship. That’s right – on November 3, both the SEC East and West could be clinched nearly a month before the conference championship game on December 1.

    In the biggest game of the week – if not the biggest through the first three months this season – No. 1 Alabama could clinch the West with a win in Baton Rouge over No. 4 LSU. But before that game even kicks off, we’ll know whether No. 6 Georgia or No. 11 Kentucky will represent the East in the conference title game. The Bulldogs will travel to Lexington for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

    Georgia and Kentucky have both beaten Florida and Alabama has a win over Texas A&M, potentially giving all of those schools the head-to-head tiebreaker if there’s a tie atop the division standings.

    A win for LSU would give both the Tigers and the Crimson Tide a 5-1 conference record with LSU owning the head-to-head advantage. Alabama’s final two SEC games are at home against Mississippi State and Auburn, while LSU will travel to Arkansas and Texas A&M. It would take a collapse of epic proportions by Alabama and LSU for neither school to make the conference championship game.

    Here’s an early look at the four potential SEC Championship matchups. (We’re going out on a limb and assuming Alabama and LSU won’t lose the required five more games combined in conference play that it would take for Texas A&M to win the West.)

     

    Georgia vs. Alabama

    A national championship game rematch – to be played in the same stadium, no less – was the general preseason expectation for the SEC title game, at least according to the preseason AP Top 25 poll, which featured Alabama at No. 1 and Georgia at No. 3. It took overtime to declare a winner at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium last January, when backup quarterback folk hero Tua Tagovailoa replaced Jalen Hurts at halftime and sparked a rally from a 13-0 halftime deficit.

    Tagovailoa has been the full-time starter this season and it’s resulted in Alabama having the No. 2 offense in the country, according to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings. The most the Tide has been pushed this fall was in a 45-23 win against Texas A&M.

    Through eight games, Georgia’s scoring defense has continued the pace it had last season (16.4 points allowed per game), while quarterback Jake Fromm has improved his completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio from his freshman season. It’s hard to replace the running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but Georgia has a versatile four-player committee in a backfield that’s averaged 221 rushing yards per game.

    With five national championships in the last nine seasons, Alabama is operating at the highest level of the sport. Georgia’s on-field performance in the last season and a half, backed by elite recruiting that rivals that of Alabama, has made it a worthy foe for the Tide on the opposite side of the SEC.

    An Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship game would be the most compelling matchup of any conference championship game, and another overtime game could open the door for both teams to make the playoff.

     

    Kentucky vs. Alabama

    Is Kentucky a football school? A strong September that included wins over No. 25 Florida, No. 14 Mississippi State and South Carolina paved the way for the Wildcats to enter the AP Top 25 and contend for an SEC Championship. A win on Saturday will seal the deal for a conference championship game appearance.

    Kentucky has never played in the SEC Championship, so this would be a historic season in Lexington if it knocks off Georgia. A win would make the Wildcats legitimate contenders for the College Football Playoff, of course depending on how they fared in their remaining three games and the conference title game.

    The concern for Kentucky is that it’s too one-dimensional offensively. Running back Benny Snell is one of the most productive backs in the country, ranking eighth with 935 rushing yards on the season, but quarterback Terry Wilson has thrown for fewer than 100 passing yards three times. Wilson has been held to less than 200 yards through the air in four other games.

    This may not be the same level of Alabama defense that we’ve seen in years past, when it ranked No. 1 in rush defense in each of the last three seasons, but the Crimson Tide is still 21st nationally at 113 rushing yards allowed per game. If Alabama were to take away the run as Missouri largely did last week (67 yards on 19 carries for Snell), Kentucky hasn’t proven it could keep pace with Alabama’s offense through the air.

    The Wildcats have played with fire in recent weeks, winning on literally the last play of the game against Missouri and needing a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Vanderbilt 14-7 the previous week. But wins are wins, and Kentucky has won enough to potentially play for a conference championship.

     

    Georgia vs. LSU

    If you’re a Georgia fan, here’s the reason to be optimistic if the Bulldogs get a rematch against the Tigers in the SEC Championship. Last season, the Dawgs lost 40-17 at Auburn, but they won the rematch in the conference title game 28-7 to reach the College Football Playoff. That’s why there’s hope that Georgia wouldn’t endure a similar result as its 36-16 loss in Baton Rouge in Week 7.

    However, that doesn’t mean LSU couldn’t find a way to replicate the success it had against Georgia even without having home-field advantage the second time around. The Tigers were able to exploit the Bulldogs’ defense for big plays: a 59-yard run by quarterback Joe Burrow, a 50-yard connection from Burrow to receiver Justin Jefferson, a 47-yard rumble by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They also made Fromm’s day difficult as he finished 16-of-34 passing for 209 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

    LSU is tied for the national lead with 14 interceptions.

    It’s hard to imagine there’d be another 20-point margin of victory for either side in a potential Georgia-LSU rematch in the SEC Championship. The Tigers’ opportunistic schedule that features home games against both Georgia and Alabama means LSU could capitalize like Auburn did with the same home matchups last year and keep the Crimson Tide out of the conference title game for the second year in a row.

     

    Kentucky vs. LSU

    Of the four matchups listed, this was by far the biggest long shot entering the season. Kentucky received one vote in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. LSU started the season ranked No. 25, fourth among SEC West teams.

    Now each school is just one win away from starting to make a ‘Cats-Tigers matchup a reality.

    What statistical advantages would each side have if they were to meet in Atlanta?

    Kentucky:

    • Rushing offense, albeit a slight one in terms of both yards per game (24 more per game) and yards per carry (.7 more per carry)
    • Rush defense, allowing roughly 22 fewer yards per game and .4 yards fewer per carry

    LSU:

    • Passing offense, although both schools are ranked outside the top 100 nationally
    • Red zone conversions: LSU has scored on 92 percent of its drives in the red zone compared to Kentucky’s 76 percent; however, Kentucky’s touchdown percentage in the red zone is about 10 percent higher
    • Kicking: The Tigers are 21-of-23 on field goal attempts (91.3 percent) this season, compared to Kentucky at 4-of-8 (124th nationally)
    • Turnover margin: LSU is +12 this season (5th nationally), while Kentucky is +1 (64th)

    A toss-up:

    • Passing defense: Kentucky allows fewer passing yards per game but opposing quarterbacks have a lower rating against LSU and the Tigers have twice as many interceptions as the Wildcats

    It’s reasonable to believe that LSU would be favored in this potential SEC Championship matchup, but Kentucky’s only loss is at Texas A&M in overtime, so it’d be tough to count out a one-loss Wildcats team. If these schools meet in Atlanta on the first day of December, it would guarantee an SEC champion not named Alabama, Auburn or Georgia for the first time since LSU won the conference title in 2011.

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