The SEC West title is Mississippi State's to lose.
If the Bulldogs win their last two games -- Arkansas at home Saturday, then at Mississippi on Thanksgiving night -- they'll secure their second trip to Atlanta in three years.
Mississippi State (7-2, 4-2), Auburn (8-2, 5-2) and Louisiana State (7-3, 5-2) would end up in a three-way tie if the three win their remaining games.
The league's list of seven tiebreakers wouldn't produce a champion until tiebreaker No. 5, which asks for the best record against common non-divisional teams.
Florida is the common East opponent for all three, and only the Bulldogs beat the Gators.
Another West title would be sweet for Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill, whose team went 10-2 last season but was picked third in the division by the media during the preseason.
"This senior class has won 20 out of 21 games," Sherrill said. "And this senior class is 16-0 at home, so they've had a great run. In the last three years, I think we have won as many games in the conference as anybody else."
I FEEL YOUR PAIN: Mike DuBose knows a thing or two about dissension inside and outside a program, and the lame duck Alabama coach said nothing good can come of the criticism directed at Georgia's Jim Donnan.
"People need to understand that there is more parity than there has been over the years in college football," said DuBose, who will coach his last game for the Crimson Tide on Saturday at home against Auburn (3:30 p.m., CBS-Channel 12).
Donnan said before the season he'd been waiting 55 years to lead such a potent team, but he'll have to wait at least another year to see if the potential leads to success in record book.
Picked by many to overcome Tennessee and Florida and win the East, Georgia instead is 7-3 and must beat Mississippi and Georgia Tech to avoid its worst record since Donnan's first team went 5-6 in 1996.
In the aftermath of last week's overtime loss at Auburn, Bulldogs backers have vented their frustration about Donnan through radio talk shows and Internet message boards.
"I don't think people that are doing that understand what they're doing to the football program," DuBose said of the criticism. "They say they love the program, they say they're supporting the university and they're supporting the young men. But they're creating questions, they're creating doubt, they're creating confusion. And that's never good for anybody."
EYES ON THE TIGERS: If Auburn were to win the West, the Tigers would be the closest thing to a Cinderella outside Columbia. They went 5-6 last season and weren't expected to fare much better in 2000.
But they've sidestepped the plague of injuries that befell them in 1999, particularly on the offensive line. Healthy for most the season, the guys up front have paved the way for a rushing attack that averages 167.8 yards per game, good for second in the SEC and 35th nationally.
That's quite an improvement from last season's abysmal rushing numbers -- 68 yards per game (112th out of 114 Division I-A teams).
Furthermore, a line that was fleeced for 33 sacks in 1999 has given up just 16 through 10 games. The Tigers are guaranteed their first winning season since 1997, which happens to be the last time Auburn went to the SEC title game.
Said second-year Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville: "We never really thought we'd be here this soon."
EXTRA POINTS: Florida coach Steve Spurrier said both Jesse Palmer and Rex Grossman will play at quarterback in Saturday's showdown at Florida State (8 p.m., ABC-Channel 6). Spurrier declined to say who will start. ... Tennessee has won 15 straight against Kentucky, the longest winning streak in the history of the series. ... The past six games between Georgia and Mississippi have been decided by a total of 32 points.
Reach: Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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