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The season-long implications of Ole Miss vs. Alabama

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Davis' look ahead to Ole Miss-Alabama (1:34)

Rece Davis discusses what he's looking forward to most from the matchup between No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 2 Alabama. (1:34)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The coaches in the SEC aren't buying it. Some of their athletic directors, though, are starting to concede it's not out of the realm of possibility.

A College Football Playoff without the SEC champion?

Hard as that is to imagine for those in this part of the country, this just might be the season the SEC beats up on one another to a degree that the carnage leads to a cluster of two-loss teams, and come playoff selection time, the SEC gets the squeeze.

Obviously, what happens in other conferences around the country would play a key role in the SEC potentially getting left out. For instance, does the ACC champion finish unbeaten? What about the Big 12 champion? Are there any other leagues among the Power 5 conferences that produce an unbeaten champion, and what happens if BYU and/or Notre Dame were to run the table?

Yes, it's borderline blasphemous to say this in these parts, but the SEC champion ain't a lock.

We start to get a better feel Saturday night for who and what the SEC genuinely is this season when No. 15 Ole Miss visits No. 2 Alabama. Also on Saturday, No. 18 Auburn plays at No. 13 LSU, and South Carolina plays at No. 7 Georgia.

Ole Miss, even during the John Vaught years, has never beaten Alabama in back-to-back seasons, and nobody in Tuscaloosa needs to be reminded the Rebels won a year ago, a 23-17 victory setting off a grandiose celebration in Oxford with fans flooding the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the goalposts being ripped down and whisked away to the Grove.

As it turned out, Alabama recovered from that early October loss to go on and win the SEC championship and join the inaugural playoff party. It's also worth noting the Crimson Tide were the only team in the league with fewer than two losses exiting the SEC championship game. And after all of the bowl/playoff games had been played, Alabama had two losses and everybody else in the league had at least three.

The cannibalistic nature of the SEC is one of the things that makes this league so entertaining. That was never more apparent than a year ago, when on the same day, Ole Miss toppled No. 3 Alabama and Mississippi State took down No. 6 Texas A&M, propelling both the Rebels and Bulldogs into the top five in the polls.

Sure, it's still early, but this season has all the makings of another Battle Royale where the grind and balance of the league leaves everybody vulnerable record-wise when it comes time for the committee to make its selections.

Even for the most loyal SEC fan, Week 2 was troubling. Arkansas lost to Toledo. Auburn nearly lost to FCS foe Jacksonville State. Tennessee blew a 17-point lead at home and lost to Oklahoma, while Florida struggled past East Carolina, and Missouri had to rally from a halftime deficit to beat Arkansas State.

So how does it play with the committee if Auburn bounces back this week and wins at LSU, where Auburn hasn't won since 1999? That's a hard one to answer, but while it would spice things up within the league, it probably wouldn't do the league any favors nationally.

The same goes for the West race, where Alabama might be the favorite but also has a killer schedule. This front seven on defense may be as good and deep as the Crimson Tide have had under Nick Saban. But what happens if they get into a couple of games where the quarterback has to win it for them? We simply don't know enough yet about Jake Coker or Cooper Bateman to make a call either way, and Alabama is hardly the only team in the SEC facing uncertainty at quarterback.

As for Ole Miss first-year quarterback Chad Kelly, he has opened up all sorts of possibilities in the Rebels' offense with his big arm and quick release, but he also hasn't faced the kind of defense he'll see Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. An even bigger question is how the Rebels will protect him without All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil in the lineup.

The SEC has been an easy target after the way the West teams bombed in the bowl games last season, and then so many teams looked so average in Week 2 this season.

Ultimately, the entire body of work should be what matters. The selection committee has enough respect for the SEC that they understand the difference between parity and mediocrity.

The beauty of college football is how the narrative is always changing. After all, what were a lot of us talking about this time a year ago?

For those needing a refresher, Ohio State had just lost at home to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes were already without Braxton Miller, and when you threw in Michigan State's loss at Oregon, the Big Ten's heartbeat was so faint a lot of us were reading its last rites.

Talk about leaping to conclusions. Ohio State was clearly the best team in the country by the time last season ended and has the hardware to prove it.

Now, here we are a year later, and there's increasing chatter that the Big Ten, with top-five teams Ohio State and Michigan State, might be in the best position to land two teams in the playoff.

And the SEC, meanwhile, is supposedly showing cracks in the foundation.

College football, and the way we view different conferences in different years, can be maddeningly fickle. Case in point: Would an Ole Miss win in Tuscaloosa speak more to the SEC's balance, or would it be further evidence the league is potentially headed toward a chaotic season?

We probably should have learned our lesson a year ago. Football teams (and conferences) are judged over 14 or 15 weeks, not one or two.

So, outside of a brick being chucked through somebody's office window -- which happened to then-Alabama coach Bill Curry in 1988 when Ole Miss last won in Tuscaloosa -- let's not get too fixated on what happens Saturday.