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RBR Mailbag: SEC Divisional Tie-breakers

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We get a decent bit of email here at RBR and most of it gets answered privately. After thinking about it though, a lot of it is stuff that many people would be interested in, so we're going to start answering a lot of questions in the RBR mailbag on the site. We will never publish your name with your email/letter (unless you give us permission of course.) Anyway, onto a recent letter:

One thing I'd love to read on the site is a breakdown of the SEC West Scenarios.  Assuming Alabama beats LSU and Mississippi State, and LSU and Auburn both win out otherwise, will the Alabama/Auburn game be irrelevant in terms of Atlanta?  If Alabama loses to Auburn, with the earlier scenario playing out, all 3 teams will be tied with 2 losses, with Alabama beating LSU who beats Auburn who beats Alabama.  How do the tiebreakers work out?  If they work out in Alabama's favor, that essentially makes the Alabama/LSU game the SEC West title game, which is what I'm curious [about]. - L.W.

Thankfully, the SEC has a section on their website about divisional tie-breakers that is both succinct and easy to find. Assuming the scenario you listed above plays out, this is how the divisional champ would be determined. The quoted excerpts below are from the SEC website. We first have to look in the section for ties among three or more teams.

Combined head-to-head record among the tied teams.
We'd have:
  • Alabama 1-1
  • Auburn 1-1
  • LSU 1-1
So we'd have to go on to the next tie-breaker:
Record of the tied teams within the division.
At this point, Auburn would be knocked out of contention having a 3-2 record in the division with losses to LSU and Mississippi State. There would now be a two way tie since both Alabama and LSU would have 4-1 records within the division. At this point, SEC rules state to go to the two team tie-breaker rules once a three or more team tie has been reduced to two teams.
Head-to-head competition between the two tied teams.
Alabama would go to Atlanta.

So, yes, this weekend's game against LSU is crucial for Alabama to have a realistic shot at making Atlanta. If we can manage a win against LSU, all we'd need after that would be a win against Mississippi State or Auburn to be Atlanta bound. If we lose to LSU there are other scenarios that could play out for us to make it to Atlanta, but they are so insanely unlikely that they don't even merit mentioning. Additionally, to fully answer your question, assuming the scenario you laid out happens, the Iron Bowl is meaningless in terms of Atlanta.

Update [2007-10-28 16:21:19 by outsidethesidelines]:

To go a bit deeper on what Nico said, I think it should be pointed out that the Iron Bowl, assuming we beat both LSU and Mississippi State, is not necessarily meaningless.

As Nico pointed out, if we beat LSU and Mississippi State, that will clinch the West for us assuming that LSU wins out. If LSU wins out, i.e. beats both Ole Miss and Arkansas, then you have a three-way tie at the top of the West with all teams having a 6-2 SEC record. Auburn would be eliminated because of the the two divisional losses, and Alabama go to Atlanta instead of LSU because of a win in the head-to-head match-up.

If, however, LSU happens to lose to either Arkansas or Ole Miss, suddenly you wouldn't have the three-way tie at the top of the SEC West. If that happens, Alabama would go into the Iron Bowl with a 6-1 conference record to face an Auburn squad sitting at 5-2. If Auburn knocks off Alabama there, then 'Bama and Auburn would be tied atop the SEC West at 6-2, and Auburn would go to Atlanta due to winning the head-to-head match-up.

In other words, we only control our own destiny if we win out. Even if we beat LSU and Mississippi State, Auburn will go to Atlanta if they can beat us and get LSU to lose to either Ole Miss or Arkansas. Basically we need a little help, too. We need to beat LSU and Mississippi State, and then either get Auburn to lose another game or for LSU to win out. If that happens, then the Iron Bowl will be meaningless in terms of the SEC West race, but if not, it will all come down to that game.