Top-ranked Alabama is on a roll and should be favored against every team it faces the rest of the way.
However, two of the Crimson Tide's remaining opponents -- No. 15 Auburn and No. 19 LSU -- have both been on a tear since their Sept. 24 meeting, where Auburn survived with an 18-13 win when referees determined that time had expired when LSU took its final snap and completed what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass.
ESPN’s Football Power Index favors the Tide to beat both teams -- the FPI gives Alabama a 64.4 percent chance to win at LSU and a 77.6 percent chance to beat Auburn in Tuscaloosa -- but it also says there is a 50 percent chance that one of the two will topple the No. 1 team in the country.
Which team is the tougher matchup right now? ESPN's Auburn and LSU writers, Greg Ostendorf and David Ching, discuss:
Ching: It's crazy to consider where these teams sat when they played a month ago. A lot of us thought the losing coach in that game might get fired, and that's exactly what happened when LSU canned Les Miles the day after the Auburn loss.
Since then, both teams look like juggernauts. Take last Saturday for instance. Auburn blew Arkansas off the field and rushed for an eye-popping 543 yards against a ranked Razorbacks team. And then that night, LSU dominated the second half against an Ole Miss team that at one point was dominating both Florida State and Alabama before imploding.
As far as which team is the tougher matchup, flip a coin. I wouldn't want to play either of them right now. I'd imagine you can make a good case for Auburn -- Gus Malzahn's team did win the head-to-head matchup after all -- so let's hear what you've got to say.
Ostendorf: I was in Jordan-Hare Stadium this past weekend and watched Auburn completely destroy another SEC team. Sure, Arkansas was beat up after playing eight games in eight weeks. But 56-3? That’s more than simply "catching a team at a bad time." That was an Auburn team that looked a lot like the 2013 team that won the SEC championship.
For starters, the offense has found a rhythm. It's running the ball so well that it hasn't even needed Sean White to do much other than hand it off. But don't sleep on White. When the time comes -- and it will come -- I think he can make some key throws down the field.
The difference, though, between this year's team and that 2013 team is that this year's team has a defense that every bit as good if not better than the offense. It's a group that hasn't allowed more than two touchdowns in a game this season, and even Alabama will struggle to contain that defensive line with Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams wreaking havoc on every play.
Ching: I tinkered around with the ESPN Stats & Information database and check out these numbers that cover what has happened since Auburn's win over LSU.
In the last month, Auburn leads the nation in scoring margin, beating opponents by an average of 42.67 points per game, and is second in yardage margin, outgaining them by an average of 332.33 yards per game. LSU is just behind Malzahn's team, ranking fourth in scoring margin (29.0 ppg) and third in yardage margin (258.67).
Here's a point in LSU's favor, though. All-American running back Leonard Fournette just played for the first time since the Auburn game -- and truthfully he wasn't healthy in that game or any of the ones that preceded it thanks to a preseason ankle injury -- and one might say he made a small impression in his return. He rushed for 284 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries against Ole Miss.
Whether a healthy Fournette makes LSU a tougher matchup for Alabama, I don't know, but I surely wouldn't want to have to defend him. It's going to be fascinating to see how he fares on Nov. 5 against an Alabama team that shut him down last season. Fournette is the best player on either team and if he stays healthy, he will make LSU a tough out for every opponent -- including mighty Alabama.
Ostendorf: I love Fournette. When healthy, he's the best offensive player in the SEC. But you said it. He was shut down by the Tide last year. He finished with 31 yards on 19 carries. And I'd argue that their defense this season might be better.
You have to get creative if you want to take down Alabama, which is why I think Malzahn gives Auburn an edge. When's the last time an old-school, pro-style offense beat the Tide? I'm looking back at their last five losses -- Ole Miss (twice), Ohio State, Oklahoma and Auburn -- and every one of those teams ran some type of hurry-up offense out of the spread formation.
It also helps if you have a mobile quarterback, and while White is no Nick Marshall, he’s more athletic than Danny Etling.
Can Auburn actually beat Alabama? I don’t know. I just know that if Malzahn's team wins its next four games and it's 9-2 going into the Iron Bowl, I'd be a little nervous if I were an Alabama fan.