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The road less traveled: Kentucky’s path to winning SEC East

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Believe it or not, Kentucky has a realistic chance to play for an SEC championship.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On September 3rd, the Kentucky Wildcats dropped their football opener against Southern Miss and many of the big blue faithful threw in the towel. The team’s bowl hopes and the entire 2016 season seemed to be headed down the drain.

Today, Kentucky sits in second place in the SEC East standings with a very reasonable path its first ever SEC championship game. While many fans are celebrating the likely bowl birth that will be clinched with just one more win, others are wondering what exactly it will take for the Cats to be playing in Atlanta on December 3rd.

To better understand Kentucky’s situation, let’s take a look at all of the remaining contenders.

Florida Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC)

SEC games remaining: at Arkansas, South Carolina, at LSU

Florida is the only remaining team that controls its own destiny. Due to Tennessee’s collapse at South Carolina, Jim McElwain's crew now has the edge to repeat as SEC East champs. The path for the Gators is simple: win two of the final three games, and play for the conference title.

That is no easy task, however. They will have their work cut out for them going to both Arkansas and LSU, especially considering the fact that no SEC East team has a victory against a team from the West this season. Oh yeah, except for Kentucky.

Tennessee Volunteers (5-3, 2-3 SEC)

SEC games remaining: Kentucky, Missouri, at Vanderbilt

As the preseason favorite to win the East, the Tennessee Volunteers seem very close to seeing the wheels fall off of a once promising season. After starting 5-0, the Vols have dropped three straight SEC games, the latest of which was an embarrassing loss to South Carolina on Saturday.

While Butch Jones and company have a tough road to Atlanta, their path is certainly not a complicated one. Tennessee must win every remaining SEC game on the schedule, and then receive some help from Florida. If the Vols are able to win out and bring their conference record to 5-3, and Florida loses two of three to match that record, Tennessee would own the tie breaker and would represent the East in the SEC championship game.

While that seems like a lot of moving parts, Tennessee isn’t quite dead yet given the strength of Florida’s remaining schedule. But with all of the drama being reported out of Knoxville today, it is probably best that the Vols focus on taking care of their own business for the last month of the season.

Kentucky Wildcats (5-3, 4-2 SEC)

SEC games remaining: Georgia, at Tennessee

Even the most optimistic of Kentucky fans would not have envisioned a scenario where the Cats still had a shot at this thing in November. Even as recently as three weeks ago, Mark Stoops and his staff were on the hot seat. But thanks to some smash mouth football and a stingy Stoops-led defense, Kentucky is now in a promising position.

Much like Tennessee, Kentucky needs Florida’s help to have any shot at winning the division. If Florida happened to lose out, Kentucky would only need to split the two remaining league games.

But if the Gators finish 1-2 moving forward, Kentucky must beat both Georgia and Tennessee to take the East. And while that sentence may have sounded insane in any of the last 30 seasons, those games both seem within reach for these battle-tested Wildcats.