Column: The Wild, Wild SEC West Heads for the Home Stretch

by Connor Jackson
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Photo courtesy of Texas A&M athletics

A week ago, it seemed as if Auburn and Alabama were on a collision course for an SEC West winner-take-all at Jordan-Hare Stadium. After Texas A&M routed Auburn 20-3 on Saturday, things have gotten a lot more complicated.

As usual, the Crimson Tide are deemed the favorites in the SEC West. After all, they do control their own destiny. Still, this is a team that lacks confidence on film, and quite frankly is getting bailed out by their incredible talent.

They narrowly escaped both Florida and LSU this year. Both teams currently sit at 4-5. Their only loss was to an unranked Texas A&M team at the time that had struggled just to beat Colorado.

Times Have Changed in Aggieland

In short, the West is anything but decided. A&M’s late resurgence this year after beating Alabama has made things interesting. Should the Aggies win out, all they would need is an Alabama loss somewhere down the road — most likely in the Iron Bowl.

A&M’s turnaround is evidence of at least one thing: Recruiting in the trenches is the key to winning in the SEC. The Aggies beat Auburn by 17 without scoring an offensive touchdown. How? They ripped apart Auburn’s offensive front and took away anything the Tigers could get going.

Controlling the line of scrimmage is the difference between good and great teams. The fact that Texas A&M can control the line of scrimmage makes it less surprising that it beat Alabama, especially with the Crimson Tide being less dominant this season.

Can the Aggies keep it up? Winning out will not be easy as they will need to beat both LSU and Ole Miss on the road. Regardless of how hot you are, beating anybody on the road in this league is easier said than done. Texas A&M can attest to that.

There is no margin for error for the Aggies. They can kiss their SEC title hopes goodbye with another loss.

Hope’s Not Lost on the Plains

Speaking of no more room for error, let’s look at Auburn. Before this week, Auburn controlled its own destiny. That was until the Tigers scored their lowest point total since 2012 in a 20-3 loss to Texas A&M.

The loss was a result of one thing: Attrition on the offensive line left over from the Gus Malzahn era. It does not matter what 5-star you have at quarterback. Nothing will work on offense if you do not have a strong offensive front.

The good news? Auburn continues to have one of the best defenses in the country. It shut down Ole Miss and a Heisman Trophy frontrunner in Matt Corral two weeks ago, and did not even allow the Aggies’ offense to find the end zone last week. As long as that kind of defense is played every week, the Tigers will have a chance to win.

If Auburn wins out, it still needs an A&M loss to make it to the SEC title game.

Possible?

Absolutely.

Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Alabama are all winnable games for the Tigers. Beating Alabama is never easy, and the other two teams have proved to be scrappy all year.

With just three games left on the season, the SEC West is all but decided. In a division that is usually dominated by Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M have made things interesting down the stretch.

Ole Miss is also a factor here, but with head-to-head losses to Auburn and Alabama, it would need utter chaos to make the trip to Atlanta.

Just the Beginning

Whoever comes out of the SEC West will have a massive challenge to overcome — No. 1 Georgia. But each week means something in the West this year. Whoever comes out will have unquestionably earned that spot — even if it does not guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Who would expect anything different from the most talented division in college football? Even beyond the top of the league, the West has been wild.

Who would have expected LSU to continue a steep decline and fire its head coach? Or for Arkansas to have three ranked wins just two years removed from a 2-10 finish? Or for Mississippi State to continue and edge out teams like A&M and enter November ranked in the top 20?

Regardless of what you think, this is the best the SEC West has been in years. Any of the division’s teams can beat any of the others on any given Saturday and that is backed up by results.

With four — and soon to be five — relatively new head coaches in the division, you can only expect the SEC West to get deeper and deeper. Nobody knows how long head coach Nick Saban will be at Alabama, but we are approaching the end of his era. Teams are starting to find ways to replicate what Saban has done at Alabama, and are finding weaknesses in his system.

In 2021, the SEC West has been a wild ride. It is the deepest the league has been in years, and there is no reason to believe anything is going to change in the near future.

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