You'll have to excuse us for not being able to get up too much for facing Tulane. Yes, I know we darn near lost to Louisiana Tech last year, and that Tulane has played us entirely too closely in the not-too-distant past. I'm not saying the team should be looking ahead, but we as fans are understandably looking ahead. After all, there is a certain big game that is 9 days away now, while the game that is 2 days away is not exactly a big story.
In fact, my gut reaction to this week was "ho hum" when I thought about LSU playing Tulane and Bama having an off-week. It's not true that the SEC West is a two-team race. After all, Ole Miss is still mathematically in the hunt for Atlanta, but it would take a minor miracle for them to make the trip at this point. Plus, even after November 7, all of these teams play more games.
Despite the fact that it isn't true, it's hard not to look at November 7 as being for all the marbles. Bama can actually clinch with a win over us. They finish the season with Mississippi State and Arkansas, and losses in both of those games would push them potentially into a tie with LSU and/or Ole Miss, but they would hold tie-breakers over both. We can't clinch, but we would gain the upper hand, needing then to win against Ole Miss and Arkansas. Honestly, even with a loss to LSU, Bama's chances of getting to Atlanta wouldn't exactly be hopeless. We haven't had a "wtf" loss this year, and we seem to have one of those every year, including a couple in a row to Arkansas.
All of that means that one is tempted just to overlook this week in the SEC, but that would be a mistake. For LSU's purposes, the biggest game of the week is being played at 11:21am in Auburn, Alabama, where the collapsing Auburn Tigers take on the surging Ole Miss Rebels. The game is being played in part to determine if Ole Miss's fading mathematical possibility of reaching the SEC Championship Game will remain intact, and in part to determine bowl positioning.
Both teams sit at 5 wins right now, and if history holds true and every SEC team with 6 wins gets a bowl game, the winner is getting an extended season no matter what. Considering Auburn has Furman left on the schedule and Ole Miss has Northern Arizona, both are likely going to a bowl game even with a loss here, but this will be a big game for bowl seeding. The winner could end up anywhere between 7 wins and 9 wins (actually 10 for Ole Miss). This is a swing game that could end up pushing one of these teams to the Peach or the Cotton while the other goes to the Music City or Independence (or the obscene Papa John's Bowl).
I'm assuming here that the SEC bowl tie-ins have stayed the same since last year. Maybe I should check that. I did, and they're the same.
Another significant bowl determiner is being played off-television when Kentucky takes on Mississippi State. MSU is sitting at 3 wins, and it will be hard for them to make bowl eligibility even with a win here, as they would need to beat 2 out of 3 against Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. Stranger things have happened, but they certainly definitely need this win just to shoot for the Papa John's Bowl. Kentucky is looking in much better shape, currently with 4 wins and games upcoming against Eastern Kentucky, Vandy, Georgia, and Tennessee. With a win here, 7 wins is not that unlikely and 8 is a distinct possibility.
Our last look at the SEC West has Arkansas desperately needing a win against Eastern Michigan. Arkansas is currently 3-4. They might be the best team in the country with a losing record, sporting wins against Auburn and Texas A&M and a close loss to Florida, but they need to turn things around in a hurry or bowl-eligibility could elude them. Even with a likely win here against a winless Eastern Michigan team, and a win later in the season against Troy, they would need to find a way to beat either South Carolina, Mississippi State, or LSU to reach a bowl game. Their chances to reach 6 wins are actually decent, I guess, but 7 could be a tall order.
The real action this week is in the SEC East, where Georgia vs. Florida is still Georgia vs. Florida, even if Georgia is not very good and Florida is kind of ho-hum and boringly effective. Georgia finds itself in a position in which a loss to Florida (which is likely) means they will have to scramble to get to a decent bowl, as they have games remaining against Tennessee Tech, Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. Bowl eligibility is likely, but Georgia will certainly consider the Liberty Bowl or the Music City Bowl to be a failure. I think a 7 win season puts Mark Richt's job on the line in 2010.
And last but certainly not least, we have what may be the most interesting game of the day when Tennessee takes on South Carolina. South Carolina appears to be on pace for a New Year's Day Bowl, perhaps Cap One or Outback. They are already bowl-eligible but there are no more gimmes on the schedule. They need to win the winnable ones from here out to get to a really good bowl, but that is certainly within reach. Tennessee, however, has looked like one of the better teams in the conference the last couple weeks, with a resurgent Jonathan Crompton looking strangely competent. Perhaps we should rename him Jonathan Competon (say it out loud). They also have a legitimate shot at bowl eligibility as they have 3 wins currently and winnable games against Memphis, Vandy, Ole Miss, and Kentucky left. They'll be favored in 3 of those games, and a win here could help them attain a level of success on the season that no one would have expected in August.
So anyway, even without LSU or our chief rival for the SEC West playing this week, there is much to consider out there.