When first we examined the SEC East race in depth, Florida appeared to have a commanding lead — even if Vanderbilt did what it could to foul up the Gators' hopes of clinching on Halloween.
Two weeks later, after the Gators' 27-3 win over Georgia, that commanding lead is so emphatic it almost seems preposterous.
Florida's 5-1 record in SEC play means the Gators have at least a two-game lead on every other team in the East; every other SEC East team has at least three conference losses. The only team technically within two games of the Gators is Georgia, 3-3 in SEC play, and the Dawgs were all but eliminated from SEC East contention last Saturday.
Because Florida's collected five wins already, the Gators can't finish worse than 5-3 in SEC play, meaning that the only teams who could even tie Florida are Georgia, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.
Of those other teams, only two— the only one that can still beat Florida this season, and thus force a tiebreaker that it can actually win, and the team Florida just beat — are actually still alive: Georgia and Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt's road to an SEC East title is straightforward, if rather rugged: The 'Dores need to win out, have Florida lose to South Carolina, and have either Georgia lose one of its two remaining games or have Tennessee win its two other remaining SEC games against Missouri and South Carolina. Georgia losing could produce a two-team tie between Florida and Vanderbilt that the Commodores would win, and Tennessee finishing at 4-4 would give Vanderbilt the advantage in a three-team tie.
We'll come back to that.
Georgia and Tennessee could both still win out and go 5-3 in SEC play, but neither team can win a two-way tie with Florida, obviously, and neither team would prevail if Florida loses out and Vanderbilt loses one other game to produce a three-way tie between Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee at 5-3, because Florida would win that tiebreaker by virtue of head-to-head results, too.
That means that the Dawgs and Vols would have to hope for a three-way tie with Florida and Vandy in which they could theoretically win a tiebreaker.
Unfortunately for the folks in the ugliest orange in existence, Vanderbilt can't join Tennessee in a three-way tiebreaker, because the Vols would still have to beat Vanderbilt to finish 5-3, and a Tennessee win over Vandy dooms the Commodores to no better than a 4-4 record in SEC play. (That also means there can't be a four-way tie with Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.)
So Tennessee can't win the East.
Georgia, meanwhile, is mostly foiled by the SEC's third divisional tiebreaker: If Florida loses out and Georgia and Vandy win out, the Gators, Dawgs, and 'Dores would all be 5-3 in SEC play, 1-1 against each other, and 4-2 vs. the East, bringing this passage into play.
C. Head to head competition against the team within the division with the best overall Conference record (divisional and non divisional) and proceeding through the division (multiple ties within the division will be broken from first to last and a tie for first place will be broken before a tie for fourth place).
That team is overwhelmingly likely to be Tennessee, which should be favored in its final three SEC games, and would have to be upset by Vanderbilt to make any three-team tie involving Vanderbilt happen. If the Vols finish fourth in the East, they would likely have beaten Georgia and lost to Florida and Vanderbilt to do so; thus, Georgia would be eliminated from the three-team tiebreaker, allowing Vanderbilt to win the SEC East by virtue of its win over Florida.
And Missouri and Kentucky finishing as the East's No. 4 teams seemingly wouldn't help Georgia in the event of a three-way tie: Florida, Georgia, and Vanderbilt would all have to have swept both of those teams to get to 5-3, likely forcing the use of the last SEC tiebreaker (best cumulative SEC winning percentage of non-divisional opponents) — a potentiality that heavily favors Florida, thanks to the Gators playing SEC West contenders Mississippi and LSU this year.
But as pointed out by The Commenter Formerly Known As Not You in the comments, there's still an incredibly remote chance that South Carolina could end up as the SEC East's No. 4 team, and one with a win over Florida, if the Gamecocks win out.
Currently 1-5 in SEC play, South Carolina can't finish better than 3-5, and it already has a loss to Missouri, so this scenario would also require Missouri to either win or lose both of its games against Arkansas and Mississippi State to avoid a two-way tie with South Carolina. Combine that with Georgia and Vanderbilt winning out (which also implies Kentucky losing out), and you get a scenario in which Georgia ends up in a three-team tie with Florida and Vanderbilt at 5-3 and prevails as East champion because Florida's loss to South Carolina eliminates from the three-team tie, and Georgia's win over Vandy way back on September 13 wins its head-to-head with the 'Dores.
The South Carolina-as-tiebreaker scenario would also work if the Gamecocks finish No. 5 behind a 4-4 Missouri, with Kentucky and Tennessee bringing up the rear, and they would win any two-way tie with Tennessee (which they would beat on their way to winning out) at 3-5.
But South Carolina essentially can't win any three-way tiebreakers, so, for this to actually work out for Georgia, the Gamecocks need to be either ahead of Missouri or behind it, and in no worse than a two-way tie with Tennessee.
We have a long way to go to get to those scenarios.
If Vandy beats Florida on Saturday, it will prevent the Gators from clinching the division — yet Vandy will still need at least five other games to go its way to win the East. Georgia needs virtually every outcome of the 11 remaining SEC games involving SEC East teams to fall in its favor for the above to happen.
Florida's path to the East? If the outcome of any of those five games Vandy needs, two of which will feature the Gators playing football, go their way, they will win the East.
The simple probability of those combinations working out for Vandy and Georgia would suggest long odds even if every other SEC game left on the docket was a coin flip. But, of course, that's not the case: Some outcomes are more likely than others.
Let's go to the table, with probabilities again taken from the Football Study Hall compilation of advanced statistical profiles.
|Week 10||Week 11||Week 12||Week 13||Winning Out Chance|
|Florida||Vanderbilt, 89%||at South Carolina, 84%||75%|
|Georgia||Kentucky, 84%||at Auburn, 58%||48%|
|Kentucky||at Georgia, 16%||at Vanderbilt, 29%||5%|
|Tennessee||South Carolina, 86%||at Missouri, 76%||Vanderbilt, 82%||54%|
|Missouri||Mississippi State, 24%||Tennessee, 24%||at Arkansas, 19%||1%|
|South Carolina||at Tennessee, 14%||Florida, 16%||2%|
|Vanderbilt||Florida, 11%||at Kentucky, 71%||Texas A&M, 36%||Tennessee, 18%||0.5%|
I included the Winning Out category for consistency, but the only numbers that really matter there are Florida's and Vanderbilt's — and Florida's individual win probabilities are more important, because the Gators only need to win one game. And their first chance at winning a game is the game that S&P+ sees as the most lopsided of all remaining games involving SEC East teams, which should tell you plenty.
The chances of Vanderbilt's best-case scenario for winning the East transpiring, per S&P+? About 0.03 percent, or just slightly better than 10,000-to-1. (It's 10,000-to-3, if we want to get technical; that's three times 10,000-to-1, sure, but it's also an incredibly tiny number.) The chances of the cleanest Dawgsday scenario in which Georgia wins the East coming to pass? A infinitesimal 0.0008 percent, or just slightly less than 100,000-to-1.
Even accounting for the (very reasonable) possibility that I'm overlooking another vanishingly rare outcome, S&P+ forecasts Florida's chance of winning the East at just under 99.97 percent.
Of course, all of this math is fun and theoretical, and explaining this with numbers is just a different way of saying the obvious: Florida can clinch the East by winning either of its remaining games, or by having Vanderbilt lose either of its remaining games, while Vanderbilt needs to beat Florida, have Florida lose to South Carolina, and win out, and Georgia needs practically everything to go its way.
The numbers just make it clear that the towering odds are very much in the Gators' favor.