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How an up-and-down SEC will shape the College Football Playoff

Go ahead, Big 12 fans, have at it.

It’s not often the SEC earns the dubious distinction of playing the worst defense of the weekend — even on an October Saturday when the Red River Showdown went into four overtimes and produced the highest-scoring game in the history of the rivalry, a 53-45 win for Oklahoma over Texas.

No, the wild weekend in the SEC topped it because while the Big 12 has already become an afterthought in the College Football Playoff race, the SEC’s top-ranked teams in the Associated Press poll — No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Florida — showed glaring defensive weaknesses that could ultimately shape the selection committee’s top four on Dec. 20.

No. 3 Georgia was the exception on Saturday — seemingly to just about everyone but No. 1 Clemson. Defense is a stark difference separating both Clemson and Georgia from the rest of the playoff contenders after six weeks, and it could mean the difference down the stretch for the SEC’s hopes of getting two teams in the playoff again.

We will learn more about that possibility quickly — Georgia and Alabama face each other Saturday. The loser of that game will be under pressure to win out and hope that undefeated contenders such as Notre Dame slip, and that the Pac-12 doesn’t produce an undefeated team or the Big Ten doesn’t have both Ohio State and Penn State in the mix.

If No. 1 Clemson and Ohio State follow the script this season, and No. 3 Georgia finds a way to slow down Mac Jones and Najee Harris on Saturday, who would be the committee’s fourth team? Alabama certainly wouldn’t be eliminated from the debate with a loss to a top-four Georgia team — and it would certainly be in with an SEC title — but how the conference title games play out across the Power 5 wouldn’t guarantee the SEC a second spot, either.

This weekend showed that even the best teams in the SEC are vulnerable, and it’s yet to be determined how deep the league really is.

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Texas A&M rallied to beat Florida on a last-second field goal, Alabama needed every minute of the fourth quarter to seal its win against unranked Ole Miss, and LSU coach Ed Orgeron called his defense “embarrassing” after a 45-41 loss to Missouri.

“We couldn’t stop anybody,” Orgeron said. “Really a poor showing on defense. We have to coach better, No. 1. It starts with me. Players have to make plays. We couldn’t stop the run, receivers wide open down the field. It was embarrassing. We have to get it fixed.”

Consider this: Florida, Alabama and LSU combined to give up 134 points and 1,776 total yards Saturday. The Tide surrendered the most of any of them — 48 points and 647 yards — but was the only one of the trio to win.

Alabama coach Nick Saban lauded his team’s four-quarter effort and its ability to score at will, but also