The chase for the SEC Championship is now officially a two-team race. Once the final three games of the season are complete just over a week from now, either the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Florida Gators will be crowned outright SEC Champions, or the two teams will split the title as co-champions.
The Tide and Gators each have identical 11-2 SEC records, both 3 games ahead of the nearest competitor, Vanderbilt, who has an 8-5 SEC record. Of course, the Commodores could mathematically catch either of the frontrunners if one of them loses out, but since Bama and Florida play each other, they can't possibly both lose out. Therefore we are now officially down a a two-team race as far as the conference title is concerned.
Looking forward, both teams have a very tough three-game stretch to close the season, so there's sure to be plenty of excitement. Of course, the two teams play each other next Tuesday night in Gainesville on ESPNU in what is now guaranteed to be a game which gives one or both teams a chance to clinch at least a share of the title. Florida will then conclude with a trip to Vanderbilt's Memorial Fortress on March 5th, while Alabama will play Georgia at home earlier that same day.
But first things first. Both teams have tough road games this Saturday tipping off at exactly the same time, with Alabama traveling to play at Ole Miss (3:00 CST, SEC Network) and Florida traveling to play at Kentucky (3:00 CST, CBS). The results of those two big games on Saturday will determine how the SEC Championship race plays out in the final week of the regular season next week. Below are the four possible scenarios from this weekend, and how they would affect the race heading into the final week.
Florida wins, Alabama loses: In this scenario, Florida would have a chance to clinch the title outright by beating Alabama at home next Tuesday. Alabama would have to win that game at Florida just to stay alive heading into the final game against Georgia.
Alabama wins, Florida loses: In this scenario, it would be Alabama who would have a chance to clinch the title outright with a road win on Tuesday over Florida. Even if the Tide lost that game, though, Bama would still be guaranteed to at least share the title with a win over Georgia, and possibly claim it outright if Florida also lost to Vanderbilt later that night.
Both teams win: In this scenario, the winner of next week's showdown in Gainesville would clinch at least a share of the title. The loser of that game would still be alive heading into the final game, but would need a win and help just to share the title.
Both teams lose: In this scenario, both teams' postseason resumes would take a hit, but the SEC Championship implications would be exactly the same as if both teams won: the showdown next Tuesday would guarantee the winner a share of the title, with the race going into the final game.
Obviously, the games this Saturday are huge. If the Tide wins in Oxford (regardless of Florida result), Bama will be playing for no worse than a share of the SEC title on Tuesday in Gainesville, and even with a loss in Gainesville would still at least be alive in the SEC race when the final game is played against Georgia. In terms of purely the SEC Championship picture (ignoring NCAA implications), the Florida game at Kentucky is equally as important. A Florida loss (regardless of Bama result) would likewise assure that the Tide plays for no worse than a share of the SEC title on Tuesday, and keep Bama alive into the final game no matter what happens in Gainesville.
The Tide has plenty on the line in terms of NCAA Tournament implications when it travels to Oxford for Saturday afternoon's game, but even more importantly, a potential SEC Championship is at stake.