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Week 11 predictions in the SEC

Four one-loss teams (Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech) in the top 13 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings saw their Final Four hopes take crippling blows with losses this past Saturday. Among the consequences of all that carnage is one inescapable fact.

A scenario in which Georgia and Alabama both make the playoff looks a lot less far-fetched than it did at this time last week.

Let’s assume that both teams survive their respective trips to Auburn and arrive in Atlanta with identical 12-0 records. Clearly, the winner of the SEC title game would be the No. 1 seed for the playoff. And, thanks to the events of this past weekend, the loser would still have a very good chance of remaining in the committee’s top four.

There’s no way around it—Saturday’s losses by Ohio State and Penn State were disastrous for the Big 10. The conference’s best—and last—hope for getting a team into the playoff now appears to be Wisconsin, which is unbeaten but lacks anything remotely resembling an impressive win. Even if the Badgers win out and beat Ohio State or Michigan State in the Big 10 title game, their weak schedule could still leave them on the outside looking in; if they don’t, then the likelihood of a two-loss conference champ from the East making the playoff is an even longer shot. [The lopsided nature of their shocking 31-point loss to unranked Iowa all but eliminated the Buckeyes, and Michigan State faces a steep uphill climb from No. 24 in the initial rankings.]

Things look even more dire in the Pac-12, where Washington is the lone remaining one-loss team. The Huskies—who debuted at No. 12 in the initial rankings—haven’t beaten much of anyone either and would have to hope that closing with wins over Stanford, Utah, Washington State and USC (in the conference title game) would be enough to sway the committee; if Washington were to drop any of those games, show’s over. [How ironic that in a year when the Rose Bowl is hosting one of the semifinal games, the two conferences with traditional ties to the bowl might both fail to put a team in the playoff.]

Finally, there are only two one-loss teams left in the Big 12 (Oklahoma and TCU), and they play each other this weekend in what is likely to be the first of two meetings. Should Saturday’s loser retaliate with a win in the conference title game on December 2, then the Big 12 would also be left with a two-loss champion, one that would be far less appealing to the committee than a 12-1 SEC runner-up Georgia or Alabama.

Bottom line, imagining a Final Four that includes (for example) Notre Dame, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia is not that difficult—and it could get easier with each passing week.

Of course, a Georgia loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium changes the whole discussion. Which bring us to our Week 11 picks.

Last week’s record: 3-1

Record this season: 30-10

Saturday, November 11

Georgia (9-0, 6-0) at Auburn (7-2, 5-1)

Both defenses are elite, ranking Top 10 in the country in yards allowed per play and points allowed per game. So, which offense—and, in particular, which passing game—will rise to the challenge and make enough key plays to win the game?

Jake Fromm and Jarrett Stidham have both been highly efficient for the most part, but both have had the luxury of picking their spots in ground-centric offenses. Given how good both defenses are up front and how stout they are against the run, this feels like a game where each quarterback may have to carry a heavier load.

Georgia has had Auburn’s number lately, winning three straight meetings and seven of the last nine. Kerryon Johnson is a beast, but the Bulldogs have superior depth in the backfield and more weapons to choose from. Plus, I’ve felt all year that Auburn is a notch below Georgia and a couple of notches below Alabama.

The Pick: Georgia 23 Auburn 20

Alabama (9-0, 6-0) at Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2)

Alabama is beat up on defense, but blowout losses to Georgia and Auburn—not to mention last week’s close call with UMass—don’t exactly paint the Bulldogs as true contenders.

The Pick: Alabama 31 Mississippi State 13

Tennessee (4-5, 0-5) at Missouri (4-5, 1-4)

Has Missouri finally figured out how to translate its success on offense into conference play, or is the rest of the SEC just that bad? Either way, Drew Lock now leads the nation with 31 touchdown passes. Can he keep it rolling against a Tennessee pass defense that—somehow—ranks first in the SEC?

The winner of this game takes a big step toward bowl eligibility.

The Pick: Missouri 35 Tennessee 27

Florida (3-5, 3-4) at South Carolina (6-3, 4-3)

In a surprise to no one, the Gators looked disinterested and unprepared in last week’s blowout loss to Missouri, six days after their head coach was fired. South Carolina, meanwhile, has a chance to secure its first above-.500 season in SEC play since 2013.

The Pick: South Carolina 24 Florida 17

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