SEC mailbag: Breaking down the East tiebreaker
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Talk about an eventful week in the SEC. It opened with the dean of SEC coaches, Phillip Fulmer, being fired Monday after 17 seasons at Tennessee. It will close with two games -- Alabama at LSU and Florida at Vanderbilt -- that could set the SEC Championship Game matchup earlier than it's ever been set since the league split into two divisions and added the championship game in 1992. If Alabama and Florida both win this Saturday, they would clinch their divisional crowns and square off Dec. 6 in Atlanta. Anyway, let's take a few questions in the SEC mailbag:
Brendan from Sandy Springs, Ga., writes: If Vandy beats Florida, then Florida wins its remaining SEC game (against South Carolina), Vandy then wins its remaining SEC games, Georgia wins its remaining two SEC games and there's a three-way tie among Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt, what happens in the tiebreaker?
Chris Low: Whew, that's a lot of ifs. The biggest of which would be Vanderbilt upsetting Florida. But if your scenario plays out, the tiebreaker would get all the way down to the last one -- highest ranking in the BCS standings following the final weekend of regular-season games. The tricky part here is that there's a caveat in that final tiebreaker that says if the second of the tied teams is ranked within five places of the highest ranked tied team that head-to-head results of the top two tied teams shall determine the SEC Championship Game representative. In other words, Florida appears to be home-free even should the Gators lose to Vanderbilt and wind up in a three-way tie with Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Gators would certainly drop from their No. 5 spot in the BCS standings if they were to lose to the Commodores. But the Bulldogs were No. 13 this week, so there's very little chance that Florida would fall more than five spots behind Georgia. And that's what would have to happen since Florida owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Georgia. The one catch in all this would be if Florida were to also lose that last regular-season game to Florida State. Two losses in their last four games would then probably drop the Gators far enough in the polls that the Bulldogs could be ranked more than five spots ahead of them in the BCS standings. Of course, Georgia also has to play Georgia Tech on that final weekend, so there's still a lot that could happen. The condensed version to all this is that Florida can all but write its ticket to Atlanta.
Steve from Atlanta writes: Every Volunteer that I know who had a chance to watch/listen to the press conference yesterday has unanimously agreed that it was "the most emotional moment of Tennessee football" that they had experienced. I couldn't agree more. Anyone who is a true Volunteer respected Coach Fulmer as a football coach, ambassador of the university, and most of all, as a man. But anyone who looks back at the last seven years and claims that he has maintained the program at the elite level he brought it to in the 90's is thinking more about the man than the family he represented. Phillip Fulmer will never be replaced, but hopefully Mike Hamilton can find someone who represents the university well, sparks some new energy on the football team, and most importantly, becomes part of the Tennessee family that Fulmer maintained so well for so long.
Chris Low: Steve, a very balanced and fair look at what's clearly the end of an era at Tennessee. One of the reasons Fulmer won't be able to go out on his terms is that he wasn't able to live up to the gaudy expectations he helped create with his magical run in the 1990s that included a 45-5 record from 1995-98, two SEC championships and a national championship. There's a reason the Vols remain the last team to repeat as SEC champions when they won in 1997 and 1998. That kind of success is the exception in this league, not the norm.
Cody from Birmingham, Ala., writes: As much as I and all Alabama fans have loved to hate Phillip Fulmer over the past several years, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the man. He has truly defined the Tennessee program, and even though the last few years have been rough for him, he would still have to go down as one of the elite NCAA coaches of all-time. Despite all the pain Phillip Fulmer has caused myself and the Alabama program (7 straight wins over the Tide from 1995-2001), this is one Alabama fan who will miss seeing Fat Phil on the other sideline every Third Saturday in October. Best wishes to Mr. Fulmer. Thanks for the great rivalry.
Chris Low: I'm sure Fulmer would appreciate your classy words, although I must admit you're in the minority when it comes to the way most Alabama fans view Fulmer, mainly because of his role in the NCAA investigation of the Tide that landed them on NCAA probation. There's no doubt, though, that Nick Saban's arrival at Alabama, the way he's recruited and the way he's beaten up on Tennessee the last two years only expedited Fulmer's ouster.
Patrick from Florida writes: What is better for the SEC on the national stage to get to the BCS Championship -- to have Alabama or Florida win the SEC Championship? (i.e. how can we make sure Penn State does not squeak in there?)
Chris Low: The simplest scenario is for Alabama to win out, stay No. 1 in the BCS standings and play in the BCS National Championship Game. Alabama doesn't need any help to get there. It's not as clear-cut with Florida. The Gators, should they win out, would be in pretty good shape as a 12-1 team, but I don't think you could lock them in. They need Texas Tech to lose to either Oklahoma State or Oklahoma, and Texas is also still sitting one spot ahead of them in the latest BCS standings. If Texas Tech does stumble and Penn State wins out and finishes unbeaten, Joe Paterno is a virtual lock to get a shot at his third national title.