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LSU still in running to play in Atlanta

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Believe it or not, LSU has an outside shot at representing the West Division in the SEC championship game even after an 0-2 start in league play.

Not that the Tigers have turned their focus toward playing in Atlanta on Dec. 6 just yet. They realize there are still so many games left that dwelling on hypotheticals is largely a waste of time.

“I haven’t looked at it. I just would say we just have to keep winning,” LSU receiver Travin Dural said. “As long as we keep winning, they can never count us out because people are going to lose, so you can’t just say we’re out of it. As long as we keep winning, we’ll still have a chance.”

Indeed, it might happen as long as LSU follows Dural’s advice. It would require that the No. 19 Tigers (7-2, 3-2 SEC) win each of their last three games -- starting with Saturday’s visit from No. 6 Alabama (7-1, 4-1) -- and they’d still need a boatload of help to create a four-way tie atop the division standings.

It’s not entirely implausible, though. LSU would win the division tiebreaker and represent the West in Atlanta if:

A. LSU beats Alabama on Saturday and wins at Arkansas and Texas A&M.

B. Alabama loses at LSU and beats Auburn and Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa.

C. Mississippi State loses at Alabama and Ole Miss.

D. Auburn loses at Alabama and either at Georgia or at home against Texas A&M.

In that scenario, Ole Miss, Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU would all be 6-2 in SEC play, and Auburn would finish 5-3.

The conference’s first tiebreaker is head-to-head record between tied teams. Since LSU and Ole Miss would both be 2-1 against the other tied teams and Alabama and Mississippi State would both be 1-2, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs would be eliminated. Then LSU’s 10-7 win over Ole Miss on Oct. 25 would be the determining factor in LSU facing the SEC East champ in the Georgia Dome.

A problematic scenario for the SEC office -- particularly in this inaugural season of the College Football Playoff -- would be if Auburn also finishes 6-2 (losing to Alabama and beating Georgia and Texas A&M) and creates a five-team tie atop the division.

Not only would that make a mess of the selection process for playoff and bowl spots, but it would be an unsatisfying conclusion to one of the most memorable division races in memory.

At this point, though, fullback Connor Neighbors prefers watching “Trailer Park Boys” on Netflix during his downtime to hashing out what has to happen for the Tigers to reach Atlanta.

“I just like to think about if we win out, then what happens happens,” Neighbors said. “We played our best football in the latter half of the season coming off those two losses.”

Neighbors might not want to think about it, but let’s do it anyway just for fun.

If all five teams finish 6-2 in league play and their only losses come against each other, it’s entirely possible that the SEC’s newest tiebreaker -- combined record of each team’s SEC East opponents, which replaced BCS ranking in the tiebreaker procedure -- might come into play.

There are still too many moving parts to break down that scenario completely, although Auburn (whose East opponents, South Carolina and Georgia, are 6-7 in SEC play thus far) currently has the edge over LSU (Kentucky and Florida are a combined 5-7), Alabama (Tennessee and Florida are 4-7), Mississippi State (Kentucky and Vanderbilt are 2-9) and Ole Miss (Tennessee and Vandy are 1-9).

In other words, LSU fans need to root for Kentucky and Florida -- and, of course, for the Tigers to go unbeaten the rest of the way.

“[Playing in Atlanta has] been our mindset since the beginning of the year,” right tackle Jerald Hawkins said. “I know we had a few setbacks, but we still have the mindset we still can get there. If we finish this season out right, anything can happen.”