Road to the national title just got a lot harder for the SEC



AUBURN, Ala. — It was a blip on the scoreboard that elicited the most raucous cheer of the day, and maybe the season, at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Someone had defeated Alabama, and 86,146 people seemed to cheer in unison as the score crossed the big screen in the northeast corner of the endzone.

If we can’t have a title, no one can, they said as the SEC West race opened up, even if just a crack, on Saturday when Texas A&M upset top-ranked Alabama 29-24 on the Tide’s home turf.

In one fell swoop, a little can of chaos broke out in the SEC. Expect that to create an obvious shakeup atop the BCS standings, too.

This is potentially bad news for Georgia, which had potentially the best shot of reaching the BCS title game of any team still on the outside looking in.

Today’s rankings are likely to be the first since October 2010 in which at least one SEC team does not occupy at least one of the BCS’ top two spots. And a seventh consecutive BCS championship contender from the SEC is, for the first time in nearly as long, not a given.

No, now it’s Notre Dame’s opportunity for a title. Or for Oregon to make up for its loss to Auburn in 2010 title game. Or for Collin Klein to lead Kansas State to the Wildcats’ first national title.

Whoever’s turn it is, it doesn’t look much like it belongs to the SEC again.

None of that is helping No. 5 Georgia, which secured a spot in the SEC championship game on Saturday with a 38-0 victory over Auburn but still needs all the help it can get if it hopes to back up its lofty aspirations of reaching Miami for the BCS title game.

Let’s take a step back before Georgia moves ahead.

The Bulldogs have done nearly everything they could to confound those who predicted they would dominate the SEC East. When people guessed Georgia would have its way, it let teams hang around on the scoreboard. When people guessed they’d see Bulldogs’ best, they took a nap in Columbia, S.C. And when many had them overmatched, they defeated Florida again.

When Georgia kicks off, you just don’t know what you’re going to get this season.

In a world where style points count — and they count big in college football — that does nothing but hurt the Bulldogs’ chances as they try to hike just a couple more spots by the season’s end.

Now’s the part when we jump ahead.

If Georgia wins its remaining two regular-season games against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech and manages to avoid a near meltdown like Florida’s 27-20 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, it’s likely to head to Atlanta for the conference title game in its current spot as a top-five team.

And if Alabama defeats its remaining opponents — Western Carolina and Auburn — the Tide will almost assuredly be the country’s highest-ranked one-loss team. Yes, still a spot ahead of Georgia.

This is where the Bulldogs’ rooting interest comes in.

Potentially defeating a top-five team in the SEC championship game will not look as appealing as knocking off a No. 1 when the BCS’ numbers get crunched. Several one-loss SEC teams and even a two-loss LSU team have made the BCS championship game, but you’re not likely to see it without a couple more major upsets in another corner of the country.

On the other hand, someone proved Alabama was far from invincible, at least if you have your own version of quarterback Johnny Manziel. If you’ve been keeping score, Georgia’s doesn’t.

But even if the Bulldogs were to upset a top-five Alabama team in the SEC championship, even if they do everything right the rest of this season, they may find the SEC’s best isn’t the country’s best this year.

That’s going to be a tough pill for the Bulldogs to swallow if they get that far, and maybe only nights like the one they just enjoyed at Auburn will make it go down a little easier.



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