- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The SEC West teams are lined up in almost perfect marching order. No. 7 Auburn, No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 LSU and then only slightly out of step, No. 12 Arkansas.

A picture of symmetry and stability, right? Not even close.

The first half of the season has produced upsets, fantastic finishes and some downright bizarre endings in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. If the bunched-up rankings are any predictor, there’s plenty more drama to come.

Three story lines to keep an eye on:

_ Pretenders or contenders. The league’s only remaining unbeaten teams, Auburn and LSU, have been about survival not muscle-flexing dominance. And Mississippi’s season didn’t end with an opening double-overtime loss to lower-division Jacksonville State.

_ Win, you’re in. It’s early, but four of the six teams control their own destiny in the West race. Only Arkansas (4-1, 1-1) and Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2) need help to win it.

_ Roll Tide? Alabama (5-1, 2-1) isn’t on top, but the defending national champions are still squarely in the division mix.

There’s not a clear-cut favorite in the West after No. 10 South Carolina toppled the two-time defending champion Crimson Tide to end a 19-game winning streak. Now the West is anything but a one-team race.

“It is all jammed up,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “There are a lot of good football teams. Anybody can win. It’s tough. This Western side is very, very difficult. We’re right in the middle of it. Usually, Alabama has been so far ahead of everybody, but now it’s different. LSU and Auburn are undefeated, but there is still a lot of football left.”

Nutt and the Rebels get a shot at staking their claim to the title Saturday when they play at Alabama. The picture could clear up some with Auburn hosting Arkansas this weekend.

But Alabama’s loss didn’t exactly lead to dancing in the streets around the SEC West_ four teams in the division still have to play the Tide.

“We can’t put too much into Alabama losing,” Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. “You can’t put too much in Auburn’s being ranked and undefeated.

“The thing is, you’ve just got to go in there and you can control what you can control. I mean, if you don’t, somebody else will. You try to stay as far away from that as you can.”

The Razorbacks (4-1, 1-1) are a wildcard. They lost the head-to-head meeting with the Tide 24-20, leaving them hoping for another Bama loss.

Mississippi State is the outsider. Only three SEC West matchups have been played so far, and the Bulldogs are 0-2.

Story Continues →