Heat up your Thanksgiving leftovers and get cozy. College football’s regular season is about to wrap up with a bang.
From rivalry games with playoff implications to last-minute Heisman statements, this weekend of college football has much more to offer than last week’s subpar menu. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the things to be paying attention to this weekend.
The Iron Bowl
The Alabama Crimson Tide look to close out the regular season with a clean 12-0 record. To do that, they must go on the road and win the Iron Bowl against in-state rival Auburn. This one could be a problem for Alabama.
Auburn has already dismantled one No. 1 team on their home field this month, embarrassing Georgia just a couple of weeks ago to thrust themselves into the SEC and even the playoff picture. And there are a good number of reasons to like Auburn this week. Jarrett Stidham has been a great addition to the Auburn offense and Kerryon Johnson has been a workhorse in the running game. Better yet? The defense has held three of their last four opponents to 20 points or fewer. This is a darn good Auburn team. But Alabama is a great team, and when the stakes are high, they tend to play their best.
Sure, Alabama was on the ropes not too long ago at Mississippi State, and their win against LSU was not quite as decisive as some would have expected. But I’m not going to fall into a trap of thinking Alabama doesn’t play one of their best games of the season with the stakes as high as they are in this game. One thing I will always trust Alabama to do is show up in a big game. The track record, though not 100 percent perfect, is too good to ignore.
I like Alabama to win on the road, and again next week in Atlanta.
Wisconsin, Ohio State play this week to make sure the Big Ten Championship Game actually means something next week
Wisconsin and Ohio State are already locked into the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis next week, and the playoff discussions have been flying left and right about both the Badgers and Buckeyes. Simply put, if Wisconsin wins out, they’ll be in. If Ohio State wins out, I feel pretty good about their playoff chances despite their two bad losses. But what if either team should lose this weekend? What if BOTH teams lose this weekend?
Odds are these two Big Ten division champs won’t go 0-2 this week, but it is pretty obvious that a win by Minnesota against the Badgers or a win by Michigan against the Buckeyes would throw a nasty curveball at the Big Ten’s playoff outlook. Wisconsin could go 12-0 and lose to Ohio State. If the Buckeyes have three losses, they will not go to the playoff even with the Big Ten crown. And if Wisconsin stumbles against Minnesota but beats Ohio State, the damage may already have been done in the eyes of the committee.
Minnesota has not beaten Wisconsin since 2003. Jim Harbaugh’s record against Ohio State is well documented. I won’t call for an upset, but I will put the Buckeyes on upset alert.
TCU eyes rematch with Oklahoma
The Horned Frogs are one win away from clinching their berth in their first Big 12 championship game, where they would square off once more with the Oklahoma Sooners. To get to the conference championship game, all TCU has to do is beat Baylor (1-10), bringing the first season of the Matt Rhule era in Waco to a merciful end. It’s hard to think of any reason to think Baylor will pull off the mammoth upset here. TCU is just too strong in all areas compared to Baylor, so the Horned Frogs should feel good about their chances Friday afternoon.
Should Baylor do the unthinkable, then Iowa State will still have a chance to get to the Big 12 championship game. BUT, Iowa State needs to win and have a few other teams in the conference take a loss too in addition to TCU. So TCU is still looking pretty solid for the Big 12 championship game.
Bryce Love is about to chew up Notre Dame
Stanford’s fate in the Pac-12 North will be decided by the result of the Apple Cup at the same time the Cardinal are taking on Notre Dame. The possibility of making a playoff push has been extinguished in Palo Alto by having three losses this season, but they could still manage to win the Pac-12. If Washington State beats Washington in the Apple Cup, then Stanford will play USC next week for the Pac-12 championship. If Washington State beats Washington, then Mike Leach and the Cougars are heading to their first conference championship game to face USC.
One of the big reasons for Stanford’s success this season has been running back Bryce Love. Certainly on his way to New York in a few weeks as a Heisman Trophy finalist, the Doak Walker Award finalist could manage to close out the regular season on a high note that could make for an interesting Heisman conversation in the coming weeks.
Love, the nation’s leader in rushing yards per game (172.3 ypg) should have some opportunities to rack up some big yardage. Notre Dame has allowed over 230 yards in each of their last three games against Wake Forest, Miami, and Navy. We’ll give the Irish a pass for that Navy yardage as that is all Navy does, but the stars may have been aligned for Love to get one last spotlight opportunity to make a Heisman statement against a top 10 team.
And of course, if the Cougar help out a little bit, Love will get another crack at USC next week to help his Heisman Love campaign. I’m not sure the Irish have enough cures for their ills this week, on the road against a team that runs like Stanford.
The most important rivalry game in Florida in 2017
Who would have seen this one coming when this season got started? The Florida-Florida State rivalry game will rightfully be an afterthought this weekend due to how the season has played out for the Gators and Seminoles, which means you can focus more of your energy on the UCF-USF game this weekend.
Kicking off Friday afternoon in Orlando, the Knights and Bulls are playing the game of the year in the AAC and perhaps the entire Group of Five. The stakes could not be higher, as the winner of this rivalry game will advance to the AAC championship game to play Memphis, putting them in position to make a possible trip to a New Years Six bowl game.
Before the season started, USF was by far the runaway favorite in the AAC and the Group of Five picture, but the Bulls have taken a backseat to the undefeated UCF Knights with head coach Scott Frost continuing to see his profile enhanced and discussed for possible jobs at Nebraska or any other power conference job on the market.
At 10-0, UCF is the only G5 program without a loss and they remain the highest-ranked G5 program in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee (who still has them behind 3-loss Mississippi State, probably because the Bulldogs played Alabama tough in a losing effort at home that one week). But USF is 9-1 and should not be taken for granted here. UCF has been far more productive and consistent than their rivals from Tampa, but this is the moment for Charlie Strong and Quinton Flowers to prove they were worthy of the preseason buzz.
Fresno State and Boise State playing for home-field advantage
Get ready for Round 1 between Boise State and Fresno State. The two Mountain West Conference division champions close out the regular season this weekend in Fresno, and they will meet again next week in the MWC Championship Game. It’s a weird situation that sort of takes away from the importance of this game. The site of the MWC championship game will be decided after the conclusion of this game. It is not a guarantee the winner of this game will receive home-field advantage, but that is absolutely what should happen.
If you have not been paying attention to Fresno State, you have missed a solid coaching job by Jeff Tedford.
Here are my straight-up winners for Saturday in the top 25;
- No. 1 Alabama over No. 6 Auburn
- No. 3 Clemson over No. 24 South Carolina
- No. 4 Oklahoma over West Virginia
- No. 5 Wisconsin over Minnesota
- No. 7 Georgia over Georgia Tech
- No. 21 Stanford over No. 8 Notre Dame
- No. 9 Ohio State over Michigan
- No. 10 Penn State over Maryland
- No. 17 Washington over No. 13 Washington State
- No. 16 Michigan State over Rutgers
- No. 18 LSU over Texas A&M
- No. 19 Oklahoma State over Kansas
- No. 20 Memphis over East Carolina
- No. 22 Northwestern over Illinois
- Fresno State over No. 23 Boise State