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Associated Press photo by Eric Gay / LSU quarterback Joe Burrow looks for a receiver during the second half of the Tigers' game against the host Texas Longhorns on Sept. 7 in Austin.

Check out the Southeastern Conference football standings today and every team except Vanderbilt is now a third of the way through its 12-game regular-season schedule. Thanks to an early open date, the Commodores have played but three games, losing them all.

So what do we know a third of the way along? Do we really have more than one national championship contender in this league? Given such shocking results as San Jose State (1-11 a season ago) winning at Arkansas on Saturday and Georgia State (2-10 last year) winning at Tennessee on opening weekend, could at least the bottom third of the conference be down?

Does it actually seem that in a league that's almost always been a bit top-heavy, the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening?

While the difficulty with which No. 3 Georgia finally subdued then-No. 7 Notre Dame late Saturday night may have surprised many, given that the Bulldogs were as much as 16-point favorites in some circles, No. 2 Alabama, the Dawgs and No. 4 LSU would appear to be legit.

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Mark Wiedmer

That's not to say there's any chance that all three could get into the four-team College Football Playoff. In fact, assuming Georgia can run the table while reaching the conference title game — and that's always a big if when Florida is also undefeated at the moment — it would now appear the LSU-Alabama loser on Nov. 9 might be out of the playoff hunt, assuming the winner of that game finishes first in the West Division to reach the league title game opposite an undefeated East foe.

But that's still more than two months off. Instead, let's break into three groups what we think we have with eight games still to be played for everyone but the Commodores.

Let's start with the Fab Five, which would be Bama, Georgia, LSU, No. 7 Auburn and No. 9 Florida. All five look as if they could remain that way for a bit, though Auburn has a nightmare of a schedule that includes remaining games against each of its SEC brethren in the top 10.

For that reason, good as Auburn has been, it will be lucky to wind up in a New Year's Day bowl. As for the rest, Alabama must yet travel to A&M and Auburn and host LSU on Nov. 9. While the Crimson Tide offense is as dangerous as anyone's, especially through the air, the rushing attack and defense would appear to need some work if Bama is to reach a fifth straight national championship game.

Beyond that, LSU may not only be on the most impressive early run, quarterback Joe Burrow — who threw six touchdowns against Vanderbilt on Saturday — may be on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

Said LSU coach Ed Orgeron: "Joe is becoming an elite quarterback. I've been around three Heisman Trophy winners: Gino Torretta, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, and I'm starting to see a lot of similarities and maybe some things even better than I remember those guys doing."

To give The Ohio State University its due on this point: Burrow transferred to LSU from OSU. The quarterback he couldn't beat out at Ohio State was Dwayne Haskins, who was a Heisman finalist last season. And the quarterback who has replaced Haskins, former Georgia Bulldog Justin Fields, couldn't beat out Jake Fromm last season in Athens but is already on most Heisman watch lists as a Buckeye.

But enough of individuals. Back to the middle of the SEC, which we'll label the Fermenting Four, because they all have potential for fine seasons but could also wind up as vinegar rather than table wine.

For now, September not yet done, let's place Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri and A&M in this quartet. None are unbeaten. Kentucky has two league losses. But assuming the quartet can avoid further nightmare injuries — Kentucky has already lost its starting quarterback for the year and the elevated backup, Sawyer Smith, has a banged-up shoulder — all four should go bowling.

Missouri may become the best of that bunch, record-wise. After losing 37-31 at Wyoming in the opener, the Tigers have outscored their past three opponents 122-21, including Saturday's 34-14 win over South Carolina.

Then there are the Forlorn Five who make up the rest of the league. Arkansas, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have had more humbling seasons to date than out-of-work NFL wideout Antonio Brown, though at least Ole Miss can blame Saturday's home loss to Cal on a highly questionable Pac-12 officiating crew and its refusal to embrace instant replay on a possible last-second touchdown that would have given the host Rebels the win.

Nevertheless, none of these teams look likely to reach bowls this season and all of them, whether right or wrong, would probably gladly change coaches at this point.

But if Tennessee losing to Georgia State and Arkansas losing to San Jose State are the league's two most embarrassing defeats on the field, the Volunteers at least fared better than the Razorbacks concerning the financial bottom line.

While the Vols reportedly paid the Panthers $950,000 to become a national laughingstock, the Hogs supposedly coughed up $1.5 million to be humiliated on their home field by the Spartans. Rarely have there been two better examples that you don't always get what you pay for.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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