Following a 42-10 win over Troy, Missouri is finally finished with the nonconference portion of its 2019 schedule, leaving a series of seven straight Southeastern Conference foes remaining.
Aka, now comes the important part.
Missouri (4-1, 1-0) is still a long shot contender for the SEC East title through five games, though heavy emphasis should be placed on long shot with No. 7 Florida and No. 4 Georgia leading the pack within the division. Whether or not the Tigers could even play in the SEC Championship were they to earn that title is another matter, as the athletic department awaits a result in its NCAA appeal against a postseason ban.
Here’s how things stand right now: Florida (3-0), Georgia (2-0) and Missouri are the three undefeated teams left in the division. Every other team has multiple SEC losses — two for South Carolina and Tennessee, three for Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Those four teams are all effectively out of the picture, except in their roles as potential spoilers.
All three of the top teams are yet to play each other. In November, Georgia and Florida play at a neutral venue in Jacksonville, Florida, Missouri goes to Georgia the next week and Florida comes to MU the week after that.
On their remaining schedules, each of them plays the other four SEC East teams in the surrounding weeks — it’s hard to imagine Georgia or Florida losing to any of them — as well as two SEC West opponents. That’s where Missouri’s 2019 schedule becomes an apparent advantage. Ole Miss (3-3, 2-1) at home this week is the first one, then at Arkansas (2-3, 0-2) to end the season.
Meanwhile, Georgia has to play at No. 12 Auburn (5-1, 2-1) and at home against No. 24 Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1) back-to-back weeks after Missouri. Florida impressively passed its first SEC West test, upsetting previously undefeated Auburn in the Swamp on Saturday, 24-13. But now the Gators have to go on the road to No. 5 LSU (5-0, 1-0) this week.
So, what are Missouri’s paths to winning the division? First, the Tigers could go undefeated. Moving on.
It seems likely that No. 4 Georgia, playing at home, handles Missouri on Nov. 9. That would hand the Tigers one SEC loss and give Georgia the head-to-head tiebreaker on MU, if the Bulldogs also lost just once. Basically, for Missouri to earn its first SEC East title since 2014, Georgia would have to lose twice.
Now picture this: Florida loses to LSU this week. Florida beats Georgia (also a stretch, but feels more plausible after UF toppled Auburn). Georgia beats Missouri. Missouri beats Florida, thus ensuring they all go 1-1 against each other and cancel each other out.
Georgia loses to Auburn or Texas A&M, take your pick (Auburn more likely). All three teams win out in their other games. Two losses for Georgia, two for Florida, one for MU. In this scenario, you could even ignore the very first theoretical: Florida could beat LSU and Missouri would still keep the tiebreaker over the Gators.
The key to all of it being possible is Georgia somehow losing two games, which is hard to imagine happening at this point. But the Bulldogs do have three games against currently ranked opponents plus Missouri, which could be in the AP top 25 as soon as next week. It also requires Missouri winning almost all of its remaining games, and no SEC opponent is truly easy at the end of the day.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s reason to believe the difference in strength of schedule among the three teams could tip the scales toward the Tigers.