Mississippi State's Dan Mullen said two months ago that whoever wins the SEC West is "the best in the country."
If only it were that simple.
While the coach looks like a prophet with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas holding down the top three spots in the national rankings and BCS standings, their 1-2-3 status sets up some potentially wacky scenarios.
The prospects go beyond a much-talked about LSU-Alabama rematch. The eventual national champion could come out of the Southeastern Conference and not have won the league title or its division crown. It's not out of the question that both BCS game participants were just wannabes in the SEC West as the league seeks its sixth-straight national title and third in a row for that division.
"I think if LSU and Alabama win this week, we're probably at a 90 percent chance that they're playing each other for a national championship," said Brad Edwards, a BCS and college football analyst for ESPN. "That 10 percent is if LSU loses to Georgia in such a way that it would discourage voters from keeping them in the top 2."
But if Arkansas beats LSU and Alabama wins — it sets up a three-way tie in the SEC West.
The tiebreaker will come down to head-to-head competition between the two teams ranked highest in the BCS standings. LSU won at Alabama 9-6 in overtime three weeks ago; the Razorbacks fell 38-14 in Tuscaloosa in September.
"In order for Arkansas to win the tiebreaker, I feel like they're going to have to do something so impressive that they end up getting a lot of first-place votes," Edwards said. "A lot of people have to move them over Alabama and into the No. 1 spot.
"What they essentially need is for Alabama to beat Auburn and go backward in the rankings, which isn't likely to happen."
But if Arkansas wins this week and loses the division tiebreaker, Edwards said the Razorbacks still wouldn't necessarily out of the national title picture.
It's so confusing, Tennessee defensive tackle Malik Jackson came up with his own ratings system after playing all three teams.
"I mean, they're all 1-1-1," Jackson said. "You really can't make out a difference, especially between LSU and Bama."
This situation is unheard of even in the SEC, which was the first league to split into divisions in 1992.
It's just the third time three teams from the same division been ranked in the top 5, according to STATS LLC. The Big 12 South did it on two consecutive weeks in November 2008 with No. 2 Texas Tech, No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Oklahoma.
It's the first time since the final regular season poll in 1971 that one league has had teams 1 through 3: The old Big Eight's Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado.
"You don't expect it to be 1-2-3, but you expect it to be the best division in the country," Auburn tight end Philip Lutzkenkirchen said. "We're looking forward to trying to change that top 3 a little bit."
One benefit of three division rivals topping the field is that there are more head-to-head comparisons. Tennessee and Mississippi State have both played all three and Auburn is about to join that group.
The Bulldogs lost 19-6 (LSU), 24-7 (Alabama) and 44-17 (Arkansas).
"When you look at those three teams they can keep playing each other and you'd probably have different results every time because of the differences in the teams," Mullen said. "Each one of them has a strong point that is stronger than the other team. It depends on whose strengths get highlighted during the game."
The Volunteers fell to LSU (38-7) and Alabama (37-6) by nearly identical scores and lost to Arkansas 49-7. Coach Derek Dooley says "it's not surprising" those teams comprise the top 3.
"We played those three teams, and they put it to us pretty good," Dooley said. "I mean, I think you look at the last five, six years this league keeps bringing in and attracting a lot of great players. The more great players that get in the league, the more chance you have of having some teams that can compete at that level."
Alabama coach Nick Saban won't even talk about Arkansas-LSU or the BCS.
"Nothing matters except how we play in this game," Saban said. "That's all that matters. In fact, I think I'm going to tell the team that if they want to watch the LSU-Arkansas game, turn it off and go watch some Auburn film. That game means nothing to us either."
LSU's Will Blackwell understands how Saban feels. The Tigers' guard would just as soon not share the lofty position with other West teams. They're rivals after all.
"We don't want them to do good and they don't want us to do good," Blackwell said. "It's part of the game, but they're ranked in the top 3, more power to them."Comment on this story
For Arkansas, the days leading up to the big national stage have been marred by tragedy. Tight end Garrett Uekman passed away suddenly Sunday.
But the Razorbacks know what a special position they're in on the field after rebounding from the Alabama loss with seven straight wins.
"Basically to me it's a game for the SEC title and the national championship game," Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson said. "The winner of that game has a good chance of going to the next stage."
AP Sports Writers David Brandt, Kurt Voigt, Beth Rucker and Brett Martel contributed to this report.