ATLANTA — Top-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Georgia have been so dominant that the real drama behind the race to the SEC championship game may be the push for both to arrive in Atlanta undefeated.
It would be a rare accomplishment.
Since the Southeastern Conference began divisional play in 1992, only once has undefeated teams played in the championship game. In 2009, the No. 2 Crimson Tide beat No. 1 Florida.
The Bulldogs and Tide have compiled lists of lopsided SEC wins that make the “any given Saturday” cliche seem laughable in the conference.
Real tests to the drive for undefeated regular seasons could come in the teams’ next games. Georgia plays Florida, which has won 21 of 27 and three straight in the rivalry, on Saturday. Alabama, off this Saturday, plays No. 23 LSU in two weeks.
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) has outscored its SEC opponents 238-38. Georgia (7-0, 4-0) has a similarly lopsided 170-31 margin.
“I think they’re both very good football teams,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones. The Vols were beaten by Georgia 41-0 and by Alabama 45-7 . “… Both teams are playing at a very high level and I think that’s evidenced by where they’re ranked right now.”
League coaches traditionally brag about the top-to-bottom depth in the SEC. This year, with LSU and No. 19 Auburn the only other ranked teams, the conference looks unusually top-heavy.
Alabama coach Nick Saban and his former longtime defensive coordinator, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, want no part of looking ahead to Atlanta.
“I expect every game to be a four-quarter battle, to go to the wire,” Smart said Tuesday. “That’s what the SEC is. We’re no cut above the SEC, I can promise you that. We’re just fighting our tails off to play each week the best we can.”
If Georgia beats Florida , the Bulldogs would practically lock up the Eastern Division race with SEC games remaining against South Carolina, Auburn and Kentucky. Every other team in the East has at least two conference losses.
The race is tighter in the West, where Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M have only one conference loss.
Some things to look for the remainder of the season:
Don’t tell South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) the East race is practically over. If Florida beats Georgia, the Gamecocks could make things interesting when they play Georgia on Nov. 4.
“We know it’s there,” said Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley of the title hopes.
To have a legitimate shot at the division, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said, “Certainly we need to win Saturday” against Vanderbilt.
As unlikely as it may seem, the West race is an Alabama loss from being wide open.
The road to Atlanta will run through Auburn (6-2, 4-1), which still has home games left against Georgia and Alabama. Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1) was No. 26 in this week’s Top 25. The Aggies gave Alabama its only SEC challenge in a 27-19 loss.
LSU (6-2, 3-1) was boosted by a much-needed win over Auburn two weeks ago.
Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) looked like a big surprise early in the season.
The Wildcats ranked third in the nation in run defense before a one-point loss to Florida on Sept. 23. They’ve allowed a combined 79 points in their last two games.
LSU and Auburn aren’t the only challenges left for Alabama. The Tide also must play at Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2), which earned respect by beating Kentucky 45-7 last week for its second straight win.
“The teams that we have coming up on our schedule are certainly some of the best teams that we’ve played and probably the best teams in our division this particular year,” Saban said.
SHOOTING FOR A BOWL
There will be a smaller pool of bowl-eligible teams from the SEC this year. Mississippi (3-4, 1-3) has a self-imposed bowl ban.
For some teams, including Tennessee (3-4, 0-4), qualifying for a bowl could be difficult. But the dream hasn’t died.
“We just have to step up on offense and know that if we win these next five games, we are 8-4 again,” said Tennessee offensive lineman Brett Kendrick. “We’ll get to go to a good bowl game and hopefully get a win there.”
Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-4) has a chance to finish .500 or better. After this week’s game against South Carolina, the Commodores play Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
WAIT ‘TILL NEXT YEAR
Tennessee, Vandy and Missouri (2-5, 0-4) give the East three teams without a conference win. Missouri ended a five-game losing streak by beating Idaho last week.
Arkansas (2-5, 0-4) is the West’s only team still looking for its first SEC win.
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli, Steve Megargee and John Zenor contributed to this story.