By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
There’s a high probability that the SEC East title will be decided in two weeks. Whichever team wins the Nov. 2nd game in Jacksonville that used to be known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” will be in a perfect position to claim the SEC East Championship.
In case you didn’t know, in that game the Florida Gators play the Georgia Bulldogs for what will most likely crown the winner of the SEC East. I realize that Missouri still only has one loss in the SEC, but they also have to play a difficult back half of the schedule that includes Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee along with Arkansas. Three of those games are on the road and the two home games are against Florida and Tennessee.
Theoretically Missouri could win out and end up champions of the SEC East but that’s about as likely as North Carolina admitting they committed fraud by not requiring athletes to actually take classes to be eligible to play; not very likely.
So, knowing that in two weeks Georgia and Florida will probably be 1 and 1A in the race for the SEC East title, where does that leave the rest of the teams in the SEC East. Obviously, Missouri still has a mathematical chance to run the table and win the East but most likely won’t. They could also step up and win enough games to finish third but even if they did, as of now, they are not eligible for post-season play.
That would leave Kentucky, depending on what they do against Missouri this weekend, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt scratching to see who can play their way into that third spot behind Florida and Georgia.
With Kentucky’s injury situation at several positions, including quarterback, it would make running the table a difficult task. If Sawyer Smith were 100 percent healthy for the rest of the season UK would have a good chance in every game with the way the schedule plays out. Kentucky has games against Missouri and Tennessee at home and Vanderbilt on the road but even then it would seem to be a difficult task to not lose at least one of those games.
That would make the next most likely candidates, in my opinion, Tennessee and South Carolina. Tennessee looked pretty good against Alabama until their quarterback, freshman Brian Maurer, went down with an injury His status is uncertain for their upcoming game with South Carolina this Saturday. If he were to play it would seem that Tennessee could beat the Gamecocks in Knoxville and would then have UK, Missouri and Vanderbilt left on the schedule with Vandy being the only game in Knoxville.
Not an ideal situation for the Volunteers but possible. Tennessee seems to have picked up some momentum with a win over Mississippi State and a closer-than-it-looked loss to Alabama.
South Carolina is a team that has also been up and down this season. They handily beat Kentucky 24-7, upset Georgia 20-17 in Athens but inexplicably lost to Missouri 34-14 on the road earlier in the season. They will also be without their do-everything running back Rico Dowdle for the game this weekend against Tennessee. It will be tough to win on the road in Knoxville with one of your team leaders and best players out with an injury. Kentucky fans know all about that.
So it seems that the muddy picture for the race for third place in the SEC East should clear up significantly after this weekend. One team from the Kentucky-Missouri game and one team from the Tennessee-South Carolina game will most likely drop out of the race after this weekend. Vanderbilt plays South Carolina on Nov. 2nd and a probable Vanderbilt loss in that game would knock Vandy out based on the schedule they have left.
To make matters worse, of all the teams mentioned, only South Carolina has actually won a game on the road this season in the SEC. Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt are a combined 0-9 on the road in the SEC this season. That stat alone could give Kentucky a slight leg-up with the schedule it has left.
So at this point one would have to say the race for third place in the SEC East is too close to call but by Sunday morning the picture should be a lot clearer. For Kentucky to remain in the race they need to hold serve by winning their home games with Missouri and Tennessee and beat Vanderbilt on the road. If they can do that they should be in pretty good shape to claim that third place spot.
And the added benefit for that would be the Cats would be eligible for a nice bowl game and have a shot at a 7 or 8 win regular season. Not a bad accomplishment based on the adversity they have faced this season.