No. 11 Florida, Georgia begin key stretch in SEC races
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) With a month left in the regular season, most of the Southeastern Conference is already out of title contention.
Maybe not mathematically.
As for the few contenders still left in the mix, their remaining games are crucial. They will determine the divisions and maybe even a spot in the College Football Playoff.
No. 11 Florida and Georgia begin the championship chase Saturday in Jacksonville, with the winner moving oh-co-close to clinching the Eastern Division and a trip to Atlanta for the league title game. Another pivotal game comes the following week, with No. 7 Alabama hosting unbeaten and fourth-ranked LSU.
No matter what happens in those, they won't settle the division races. So here's a look at where teams stand and their chances heading into the league's decisive stretch run:
- Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC): If the Gators win Saturday against rival Georgia, they would just need to beat Vanderbilt or South Carolina down the stretch to get to Atlanta for the first time since 2009. ''We're not ignorant to where we're at right now,'' receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. ''We understand what's going on. We control our destiny. Our destiny and our next stop is Georgia.''
- Georgia (5-2, 3-2): If the Bulldogs beat Florida, they could clinch the East by knocking off Kentucky and Auburn the following two weeks. A loss would leave UGA in need of a three-way tie to have a shot at making it to Atlanta for the third time in the last five years. ''When you think about it, going into the eighth game of the year and we're still right in the heart of it, that's a good thing,'' coach Mark Richt said.
- LSU (7-0, 4-0): Heisman Trophy hopeful Leonard Fournette and the Tigers have the week off before beginning a closing stretch against Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas A&M. And what appears to be the toughest of those - against the Tide and Rebels - are on the road. So it's too early to pencil LSU in as the Western Division champ.
- Mississippi (6-2, 3-1): With a Nov. 21 game against LSU looming, the 19th-ranked Rebels can't afford to slip up at Auburn this week or against Arkansas next. If the Rebels win out, though, they would clinch their first berth in the title game. ''All of that is great, but let's just win one at a time,'' Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. ''I know that is in the back our kids' minds. Hope is a great thing in life. You have to maintain that hope, whether you are going to end up on top or in the middle.''
LOOKING FOR HELP
- Alabama (7-1, 4-1): The Tide need two things to happen to return to Atlanta: Win out and have LSU beat Ole Miss. The first part doesn't seem that difficult considering how Alabama has played the last five weeks, outscoring its opponents by a combined 119 points.
- Arkansas (3-4, 2-2): Winning close games against Auburn and Tennessee have the Razorbacks hanging on, but a daunting November stretch against Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State could send the Hogs to the bottom of the standings.
- Auburn (4-3, 1-3): With Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama on tap, a 1-7 record in league play isn't out of the question.
- Kentucky (4-3, 2-3): Coming off back-to-back losses, the Wildcats will salvage or sink the season with consecutive games against Tennessee, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
- Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2): The 25th-ranked Bulldogs have Alabama and Mississippi at home down the stretch, but likely need LSU to collapse to have a shot in the West.
- Tennessee (3-4, 1-3): A victory against Georgia and a favorable late-season schedule have the Volunteers clinging to hope. ''We have only had one goal in our football program since the season started. That one goal is to be a better team and a better football program each and every day,'' coach Butch Jones said. ''Those goals are still in place.''
- Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2): Consecutive double-digit losses have the Aggies reeling and potentially changing quarterbacks. Maybe they can stay in contention with upcoming games against South Carolina, Auburn and Vanderbilt. But LSU awaits in late November.
- Vanderbilt (3-4, 1-3): The Commodores are good enough defensively to wreak havoc down the stretch. The team's paltry offense, though, is a problem.
LONGING FOR BOWL ELIGIBILITY, BASKETBALL SEASON
- Missouri (4-4, 1-4): Maty Mauk is back from suspension, but the Tigers' offensive woes extend beyond quarterback play.
- South Carolina (3-4, 1-4): Players likely will be able to join former coach Steve Spurrier on the golf course in December.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org