SEC's championship contenders prepare for stretch run
The Southeastern Conference enters its final month of the regular season and seven of the league's 14 teams are still in realistic contention for a spot in the league's championship game. Here's a look at the road each team must face as it tries to make it to Atlanta:
No. 1 ALABAMA (No. 1 CFP)
Record: 8-0, 5-0, 1st place in West
Remaining schedule: at No. 15 LSU, Mississippi St., Chattanooga, No. 11 Auburn.
Why the Tide makes it to Atlanta: One of the nation's best defenses, a talented stable of runners and receivers and the playmaking ability and poise of freshman QB Jalen Hurts. Alabama's last three games are at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Nick Saban's team has 20-game winning streak.
Why the Tide stays home: SEC West rivals LSU and Auburn are both riding hot streaks. For all his achievements, Hurts is still just a freshman, and Alabama relies heavily on other underclassmen too. It remains to be seen how the team can overcome the season-ending leg injury of safety/punt return man Eddie Jackson.
No. 7 TEXAS A&M (No. 4 CFP)
Record: 7-1, 4-1, T-2nd place in West
Remaining schedule: at Mississippi State, Mississippi, UT-San Antonio, No. 15 LSU
Why the Aggies make it to Atlanta: The Aggies have a fairly friendly schedule, with their final three games at home. Texas A&M's had one of the league's best offenses thanks to QB Trevor Knight, RB Trayveon Williams and WR Christian Kirk. The defensive line is also formidable with great pass rushers like Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
Why the Aggies stay home: The biggest problem is undefeated Alabama has to fall from its perch of dominance. The Tide owns the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating the Aggies 33-14 earlier this year.
No. 11 AUBURN (No. 9 CFP)
Record: 6-2, 4-1, T-2nd place in West
Remaining schedule: Vanderbilt, at Georgia, Alabama A&M, at No. 1 Alabama.
Why the Tigers make it to Atlanta: Auburn is riding a five-game winning streak that includes a couple of SEC blowouts. Carl Lawson leads a strong defense and Kamryn Pettway spearheads one of the nation's best running games. None of Auburn's next three opponents have a winning record.
Why the Tigers stay home: That last game with Alabama is a doozy. QB Sean White is the league's most efficient passer but the Tigers need to get more consistent making plays downfield.
No. 15 LSU (No. 13 CFP)
Record: 5-2, 3-1, 4th place in West
Remaining schedule: No. 1 Alabama, at Arkansas, Florida, at No. 7 Texas A&M
Why the Tigers make it to Atlanta: LSU has arguably the league's best player in RB Leonard Fournette, who looks back at top form after dealing with an ankle injury earlier this season. The Tigers' defense is also among the SEC's best.
Why the Tigers stay home: The November schedule is extremely tough, starting with Saturday's home game against Alabama. If the Tigers figure out a way to pull off the upset, things could get wild. But that's a big if.
No. 10 FLORIDA (No. 11 CFP)
Record: 6-1, 4-1, 1st place in East
Remaining schedule: at Arkansas, South Carolina, at No. 15 LSU, at No. 19 Florida State.
Why the Gators make it to Atlanta: They already own a nice cushion with only one conference loss and a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over Kentucky, the only other East team with fewer than three SEC defeats. Florida leads all FBS teams in pass efficiency defense, which has enabled the Gators to move to the top of the standings without much offense.
Why the Gators stay home: Florida has a tough remaining schedule with those trips to Arkansas and LSU plus a home game with rapidly improving South Carolina. Moving the LSU game from Gainesville to Baton Rouge makes that matchup much tougher.
Record: 5-3, 4-2, 2nd place in East
Remaining schedule: Georgia, at Tennessee, Austin Peay, at No. 5 Louisville.
Why the Wildcats make it to Atlanta: Kentucky must beat Georgia and Tennessee while Florida loses at least twice more. The Wildcats' chances of winning those last two games depend on whether they can continue running the ball as effectively as they have lately. Kentucky has averaged 299 yards rushing per game during its three-game winning streak, all against SEC foes.
Why the Wildcats stay home: Kentucky ranks 12th in the SEC in scoring defense and could struggle to slow down the Georgia and Tennessee offenses. Kentucky also could pay dearly for its 45-7 loss to Florida back on Sept. 10. Although Kentucky is only one game behind Florida in the loss column, the Gators own the head-to-head tiebreaker edge.
Record: 5-3, 2-3, 3rd place in East
Remaining schedule: Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, Missouri, at Vanderbilt.
Why the Volunteers make it to Atlanta: They must win their last three SEC games while Florida loses at least two of its last three. Tennessee's chances of winning out depend in part on whether John Kelly emerges and Alvin Kamara heals quickly enough to help the rushing attack withstand the surprising departure of Jalen Hurd.
Why the Vols stay home: Tennessee will likely be favored in all its remaining games, but the Vols may have already dug themselves too deep a hole. Tennessee has hurt itself by falling behind early in games and by committing 20 turnovers. They also were hurt by having to face Alabama and Texas A&M out of the West.
AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee, John Zenor and David Brandt contributed to this story.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org