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Two-team playoff picture still alive in SEC

Mississippi State fans are no doubt beside themselves today. After watching their beloved Bulldogs' perfect season come to an end with a 25-20 loss to Alabama on Saturday, the dream of running the table is no longer a reality in Starkville.

But you know what is? That's right, SEC fans, the conference is still alive to land two teams in the College Football Playoff. Actually, its chances are higher than ever now with two one-loss teams sporting very impressive resumes with two weeks left before conference championship weekend.

Fear not, Bulldogs fans, you're not out of the playoff. You'll need some help, but you and the SEC are sitting pretty this Monday morning when it comes to getting two of the four teams in the playoff.

Clearly, both Alabama and Mississippi State have to win out, giving Alabama the SEC championship. Without that, this scenario is dead. Now, there is the off chance that a Georgia SEC title (if UGA wins the East over Missouri) could get two SEC teams in, but that's a trickier situation and one that requires a lot more help for the league, because Georgia has two losses.

So if on Dec. 7 Alabama is sitting there with yet another SEC championship and Mississippi State is 11-1 with an Egg Bowl win over rival Ole Miss, the SEC could be in good shape. Alabama would be a lock, but Mississippi State would be an interesting team for the selection committee to study.

To this point, the Bulldogs have been the consistent No. 1 team in the country since the CFP rankings debuted a couple weeks ago. Their loss to Alabama dropped them only to fourth in the AP poll, so there's still a good chance they could find themselves in the top four when this week's playoff rankings are announced Tuesday night.

If they are, it's likely win out and Mississippi State is in with the Tide. If not, the Bulldogs will need outside help.

With Vanderbilt and Ole Miss left on the schedule, the Bulldogs' remaining strength of schedule ranks 44th nationally, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. While not great, that's actually higher than Baylor, Ohio State and TCU, all teams the Bulldogs will likely be fighting off for that last playoff spot.

As much as it might pain the Bulldogs to do it, they'll need to root for Ole Miss to win at Arkansas this weekend so they have a chance to have wins over at least three teams ranked in the top 25 at season's end. Now, that's assuming LSU wins out and Auburn doesn't fall out if it loses in the Iron Bowl to Alabama.

Remember, for as good as those three straight wins over top-10 teams looked earlier this season, the playoff committee is more concerned with how teams have done against current top-25 teams.

Which brings us to overall strength of schedule. Where the Bulldogs will be penalized is their bad nonconference slate. Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT Martin will do the Bulldogs no favors in the eyes of the committee. The committee has been very generous to SEC West teams to this point because they've all faced each other in the sport's toughest division, so that's Mississippi State's only saving grace right now.

The good news is that Baylor, Ohio State and TCU can't really say much when it comes to their nonconference schedules, especially Ohio State, which lost to a bad Virginia Tech team.

So if the Bulldogs are outside the top four this week, they'll likely need one of those teams to lose again. TCU looks vulnerable after that scare from Kansas and with Texas up next, Baylor finishes the season against ranked Kansas State, and Ohio State will still potentially have to play in the Big Ten championship game. You also can't rule out losses by Florida State (probably unlikely) and Oregon (still has conference championship game). If one or both lose, the Bulldogs would really be sitting pretty.

Monday must hurt for Bulldogs fans, but all is not lost. There's still plenty of time for Mississippi State to make the top four and give the SEC a double dose of playoff participation.