It’s rivalry week in college football. And along with the tradititonal jousting between the fans and alums, there are critical national championship implications to consider. And not even Alabama, Tiebreaker.com’s top-ranked team, is completely out of danger.
If anything, Nick Saban wasn’t looking at The Tide’s 10-10 halftime tie against The Citadel with dread. Come on, be serious. Alabama was like an old truck on a cold Tuscaloosa morning. It just took a few cranks for the engine to purr.
No team had been within 16 points of Alabama at the half all season. But once the second half began, The Tide rolled to three quick touchdowns in four minutes and put The Citadel in its proper FCS place with a 50-10 win.
What it provided was the perfect teaching moment for a coach who might have had trouble convincing his team everything wasn’t perfect.
So now, the nation’s top team prepares for Auburn, the appetizer for its SEC championship game next week against Georgia. That matchup is guaranteed, no matter what happens on Saturday.
Saban decided not to rest QB Tua Tagovailoa against The Citadel. Perhaps he had a premonition. Out of necessity, the Heisman candidate threw for 340 yards and four TDs before coming out.
The Tide is also expected to have leading rusher Damien Harris on Saturday. He has cleared concussion protocol after getting banged up last week. Harris has rushed for 678 yards and seven TDs.
The Tigers also had a few problems last week against Duke, its lockdown defense allowing the Blue Devils to move freely in the first quarter. Clemson hadn’t allowed more than one TD since its game against Syracuse on Sept. 29.
They were leading 7-6 before freshman Trevor Lawrence threw a TD pass before the half. And just like Alabama, they eventually untied the knots and rolled to another convincing ACC win.
Now comes its big rival, South Carolina. If the Tigers win, all they will need to do to reach the Final Four is beat Pittsburgh in the ACC championship game. And that shouldn’t be a big problem.
The Irish turned in a spectacular performance last week against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium, deprived of a shutout in the last few seconds when the Orange, who been turned over three times, inexplicably decided to kick a field goal instead of coach Dino Babers just accepting his fate.
The only time the Orange gained more than 15 yards on any play was on the final drive that led to the field goal. The Irish have defeated opponents by at least 10 points in seven of the last eight games.
With Ian Book (292 yards, two TD passes) back at quarterback, Notre Dame gained 463 yards (6.3 per play) against a pretty good defense. Now they need to beat USC (5-6) on Saturday in Los Angeles to complete an unbeaten regular season and glide into the Final Four for the first time.
From Michigan’s perspective, it’s been years since the Ohio State game has been so important. If the Wolverines win, it will be hard for the committee to overlook them, unless something bad happens in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern.
They also had a few problems last week distancing themselves from Indiana until the third quarter. Congratulations go to freshman Jake Moody who kicked a program-record six field goals. Michigan won 31-20.
Ohio State is coming off a troubling close call at Maryland, a shootout finally won in overtime. The Buckeyes allowed the Terps (5-6) to score 51 and gain 535 yards. So the Buckeyes should be stoked, particularly since Michigan is a four-point favorite. Remember, Michigan has beaten Ohio State only twice in the last 17 years and not in Columbus since 2000. When Harbaugh signed his deal in 2014, changing that was likely in the first paragraph.
One thing Michigan’s top-ranked defense might have to deal with is the injury defensive end Chase Winovich suffered last week. He is the Wolverines defense what Nick Bosa was to Ohio State before leaving the program earlier this season.
The Bulldogs have hung on quite well after their loss to LSU. And now they get their chance to prep for next week’s Alabama rematch against the Ramblin’ Wreck.
What’s cool about Georgia Tech? It runs the triple-option, just like The Citadel does. Ask Alabama about the problems it can cause a defense.
If there is something new about Georgia it’s the progression of freshmen James Cook and Justin Fields. Sharing time with starting QB Jake Fromm, he threw for 121 yards, two TDs and ran for 100 yards in a 66-27 win over UMass that cost Minutemen coach Mark Whipple his job. Cook scored two TDs.
Whatever happens on Saturday, Georgia must still avenge last year’s national championship loss to Alabama to get a Final Four invite. Oklahoma has been hovering for some time.
One thing for the Bulldogs to worry about is the absence of linebacker Monty Rice. He was hurt during warmups before the UMass game and has been hobbling around campus on crutches this week.