BATON ROUGE, La. — The SEC this week has been able to celebrate having the most ranked teams within a single conference at any time in the past two years.
One league has not had eight simultaneously ranked members since the SEC had eight in October 2016.
“It just goes back to understanding that on a weekly basis, the margin of error is either non-existent or razor thin” in the SEC, Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. “There’s no respite. There’s no break. You’re going out of the frying pan and into the fire. There’s no time to look back. There’s no time to look ahead.”
In most cases, anyway.
No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia have not looked threatened yet, but the other six ranked teams in the league all were directly affected by a trio of results last weekend.
Those outcomes caused some of the more highly anticipated games left on the schedule to lose some luster and made the SEC look increasingly top-heavy again.
A week ago, the SEC had four teams in the top eight: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 5 LSU and No. 8 Auburn. In addition, then-No. 13 Kentucky looked primed to give the league a fifth top 10 team if it could remain unbeaten for another game or two.
Instead, LSU, Auburn and Kentucky lost, allowing the three teams that beat them to either remain ranked or enter the AP Top 25.
Florida jumped from 22nd to 14th by beating LSU , which tumbled to 13th. The Aggies entered the poll at 22nd after vanquishing Kentucky , which dropped to No. 18. Mississippi State went from unranked to 24th after defeating Auburn , which plummeted to 21st.
Gators coach Dan Mullen was quick to note that the SEC’s eight ranked teams is double that of any other league. The Big Ten has four and no other conference more than three, including the Atlantic Coast Conference with No. 4 Clemson leading the way.
The SEC “as a whole has a tremendous amount of depth to it with a lot of good football teams,” asserted Mullen, whose Florida squad knocked his old employer, Mississippi State, out of the rankings two weeks ago before the Bulldogs broke back in with their upset of Auburn.
LSU’s loss deprived college football fans — not to mention national broadcasters — of a matchup featuring two unbeaten, top five teams when No. 2 Georgia visits Death Valley on Saturday.
Kentucky’s loss eliminated the possibility of a late-season clash of unbeaten Eastern Division squads when the Wildcats visit Georgia on Nov. 3.
Auburn’s second Western Division loss likely lowers the stakes of the Iron Bowl, which last year decided who represented the West in the SEC championship game.
Meanwhile, the narrative that Alabama and Georgia are destined to meet in the SEC title game on Dec. 1 is gaining traction, for now.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the SEC, said CBS college football analyst Jerry Palm, as long as one or two of the conference’s other ranked teams are able to finish strong enough to earn a bid to one of the six big-money bowl games played on New Year’s Day.
“There’s a lot of weeding out left to be done,” Palm said. “Only one team (in the SEC) can finish undefeated. But you want to get as many teams into ‘New Year’s Six’ bowls as you can. So in that sense, being top-heavy is good.”
Kentucky (5-1, 3-1 SEC) and LSU (5-1, 2-1) each have yet to lose a divisional game, meaning they can still play for an SEC title if they win remaining league games. Florida (5-1, 3-1), too, could contend because it still has Georgia on its schedule.
At the very least, the SEC’s high number of ranked teams seems to back up commissioner Greg Sankey’s contention this past summer that the conference is better off with only eight league games per season instead of nine, which has been the preference in other major conferences.
Another conference game would force half of the SEC’s 14 teams to absorb another loss, which could mean fewer ranked teams and the consequences that go with that, such as fewer invitations to prestigious bowls.
As it is, a team like LSU already has played two conference games against currently ranked teams — not to mention a non-conference game against ranked Miami — and has four league games left against current Top 25 squads.
That slate looked tough enough to get LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s attention back when he decided to join the Tigers as a graduate transfer from Ohio State.
“You don’t want a cake walk through the whole season,” Burrow said. “You want to be challenged and you want to play the best teams that there are.”