- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Alabama and Missouri.
Yeah, just let that sink in for a second. You're having to root for the team everyone envies and a newbie, who is just figuring its way around the South. It isn't ideal, but it's a necessary evil with the BCS era ending and an eighth-straight title on the line.
After a wild, topsy-turvy weekend that left the SEC bloodied and bruised with four major upsets, only two teams -- No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and No. 5 Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC) -- remain undefeated and with a real chance at playing in Pasadena on the final night.
After all these years, the conference is finally eating itself alive, and only two remain with the right resume for a trip to Cali.
On Saturday, No. 15 Georgia, No. 11 South Carolina No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 6 LSU all lost. The losses by the Gamecocks, Aggies and Tigers left the conference with just a single one-loss team: Auburn. And those Tigers are a formidable foe going forward. They upset the Aggies 45-41 in College Station, and are currently ranked 11th in the BCS standings and could send the conference in a tailspin with a win over No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30, on the Plains.
Do these Tigers have a shot at the big game? Well, they'll certainly need a lot of help (losses) from other teams in front of them, and they'll have to beat a surging Tennessee team, Georgia and, of course, Alabama. It isn't impossible, but it's certainly a longer shot than either Alabama or Mizzou.
And those are the two teams on which league commissioner Mike Slive and his fellow SEC worshipers need to focus. Both teams control their own destinies to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, and you have to think that if both are undefeated there, the winner will head to Pasadena, Calif., for the VIZIO BCS National Championship.
Alabama has the easier road, with LSU (at home) and Auburn (on the road) standing as the toughest tests. LSU won that 9-6 sledgehammer-type defensive struggle the last time these two were in Tuscaloosa, but something tells me that game will be on the minds of the Crimson Tide come Nov. 9.
The Auburn game is more interesting now. The Tigers have the SEC's No. 3 offense (494.3 yards per game) and the league's best rushing attack (300.1). Alabama currently owns the SEC's second-ranked defense (275 yards allowed per game), but who has Alabama played outside of Ole Miss since Texas A&M?
Don't get me wrong, Alabama's defensive performances since the A&M game have been very impressive (16 total points allowed in five games!), but Arkansas, Colorado State, Georgia State and Kentucky don't exactly scare anyone. Still, if Alabama wins out, it's headed to its third straight BCS title game.
As for Mizzou, things are a bit trickier. South Carolina travels to Faurot Field Saturday in a game that has major SEC Eastern Division implications. If the Tigers win, they essentially win the SEC East, but a trip to Ole Miss and the season finale against Texas A&M could derail any BCS title hopes.
The Tigers might need a little help if Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State stay undefeated, but you have to think that if they take down No. 1 Alabama without a blemish on their record that they're in the big game. Plus, an offense registering 500 yards and 44 points a game should provide easy style points.
If the SEC is going to end the BCS era by making it eight titles in a row, there are two teams the conference should be rooting for. It's going to be tough for folks in Baton Rouge, College Station, Gainesville and Athens. Will the Auburn faithful put their Alabama hatred aside and cheer for their crimson brothers? Probably not. Actually, heck no, but they can certainly pull for those Midwestern Tigers.
East heavyweights have to be sick seeing the new kid come in and wreck things this year, but it's time to put pride aside and root for Truman. I mean, black-and-gold is a nice combo and "Fight Tiger" is easy to memorize. Plus, it's not like you're rooting for each other!
So as the regular-season days tick down, remember SEC, if you want another one of those fancy crystal footballs, start shopping for alternative colors. Maybe pick up a yellow hammer. It should be well worth the sacrifice.
5hAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
3dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
3dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough