1. Dabo-Dabo Do?
Is this already a foregone conclusion that Nick Saban is leaving to either Texas or the Colts? We already are thinking about possible replacements at Alabama, with 11 other openings around the country and possibly more as the season winds down? Sure Dabo is a former walk-on and played for the Bear, but is he the answer? Doesn’t ‘Bama fan want the flavor-o’month and former O-coordinator Jim McElwein? I find it hard to believe that at 64 Saban wants anything to do with rebuilding anywhere, and yet the man’s ego is a large one and he failed miserably at Miami and going to the Colts would give him the the thing he lacked with the Dolphins – a prettay, prettaaay, prettaaaay good QB. Then again, Dabo says “You don’t ever say ‘never’ when it comes to ‘Bama job” – so something must be percolating…
2. Is Michigan State a Test For Ohio St, or Pop-Quiz?
Ever since it knocked off Oregon to claim the first championship in the College Football Playoff era, Ohio State has been the subject of national fascination. Who is the better fit at quarterback: J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones? Why do the Buckeyes keep playing tight games against clearly inferior opponents?
Saturday brings the program’s first real test since it hoisted the trophy, as No. 3 Ohio State (10–0) will host ninth-ranked Michigan State (9–1) in Columbus. It will provide an indication of whether these Buckeyes have what it takes to defend their title.
So, who emerges from a critical Big Ten clash? Get hyped for the game with the video below.
3. Remote Patrol
The College Football Playoff and conference title races are winding down, with just two more full weekends of football until the league title games. There is still a lot to be decided with many big games left — including six between ranked teams Saturday. While the SEC mostly has a forgettable weekend, it’s a huge week for the Big Ten and Big 12, both of which had backloaded schedules. Attention will be on the Big Ten for much of the afternoon, then shift to the two big prime-time games in the Big 12. Below, we break down all of Saturday’s notable matchups.
(h/t matt brown)
No. 12 Michigan at Penn State
Two things need to happen for next week’s Michigan-Ohio State game to be the Big Ten East championship game in Jim Harbaugh’s first season: Ohio State has to beat Michigan State on Saturday, and Michigan needs to win in Happy Valley. Michigan has been the better team than Penn State this season, but this is still a dangerous game for the Wolverines, who have not won in Beaver Stadium since 2006. Penn State is 7-3 overall but 6-0 at home, beating three Big Ten opponents by a total score of 96-10. Of course, those three opponents were Rutgers, Indiana and Illinois. Michigan represents quite a step up, with a defense that has mostly been outstanding — except for defending the run last week in the tight win at Indiana — and an offense that has gotten improvement out of QB Jake Rudock. After Jordan Howard’s success running against Michigan last week, it will be interesting to see what star Penn State freshman Saquon Barkley can do (he ran for 194 yards in the loss to Ohio State) against the Wolverines. Michigan’s defense should rebound enough to get it done, but the Wolverines have a huge game against the Buckeyes next week and have come one play from losing in each of their last two road games against Minnesota and Indiana.
No. 17 North Carolina at Virginia Tech
North Carolina has rattled off nine straight wins but is still fighting for respect. The Tar Heels moved up to 17th in the playoff rankings, with a lot of ground still to make up because they 1) lost to South Carolina, 2) played two FCS teams in September and 3) have not played a team that is currently ranked. This is a very good team, though, ranking second nationally yards per play and making big strides on defensive under coordinator Gene Chizik. Saturday presents a challenge. This is the last home game at Lane Stadium in the legendary career of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, and the Hokies, at 5-5, are having a rough season but still just need one win to get to the postseason and continue Beamer’s streak of 22 straight bowl games. It’ll be a tough road atmosphere for the Tar Heels, but they are still a tough team to match up with. Their offensive line is good enough to neutralize Virginia Tech’s talented defensive line, and the Hokies just might not be explosive enough to keep up with UNC’s penchant for big plays.
No. 21 Memphis at Temple
With Memphis’ back-to-back losses to Navy and Houston and Temple losing to South Florida last week, this game has lost some luster. Still, it remains one of the best Group of Five games of the year. Temple is trying to maintain hold on the AAC East, and Memphis is trying to stay in the top 25. It’s also an enticing matchup between Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch and the Temple defense, led by star linebacker Tyler Matakevich. This is Memphis’ second season in a row going to Philadelphia, and last season the Tigers edged the Owls 16-13. Expect another close one, but Temple probably doesn’t have quite enough offense to out-duel Lynch.
Purdue at No. 5 Iowa
While the Big Ten East begins its biggest stretch of the season this weekend … Iowa plays Purdue. The Hawkeyes are quietly rolling along, beating Indiana by eight and Minnesota by five. Before a tricky road trip to Nebraska to end the regular season, the Hawkeyes have to fend off Purdue, who in the last three weeks upset Nebraska, got blown out by Illinois and gave Northwestern trouble in a 21-14 loss. Purdue might put up a fight, but Iowa is running the ball too well, with LeShun Daniels racking up 195 yards last week.
Georgia Tech at Miami
12:30 p.m., ESPN3/ACC Networks
In the preseason, this looked like it could be a pivotal game in the ACC Coastal. Instead, Georgia Tech is one of the nation’s biggest disappointments at 3-7, while Miami fired coach Al Golden and has given up 117 points in its last two losses, to Clemson and North Carolina. The Hurricanes are fortunately already bowl eligible — thanks in part to the gift/miracle against Duke — but their struggling run defense could have a lot of trouble with Georgia Tech’s option attack.
Illinois at Minnesota
Noon, ESPN News
Two teams trying to scratch and claw their way to bowl eligibility. Illinois is 5-5 and has Northwestern left after this. Minnesota is 4-6 and has Wisconsin next. The Golden Gophers have put up a fight against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa under new coach Tracy Claeys, but they still haven’t won since Jerry Kill stepped down. This is a chance to come through at home and make the postseason possible if the Gophers can upset the Badgers next week.
No. 9 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State
3:30 p.m., ABC
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett played the best game of his college career in the Buckeyes’ season-changing win at Michigan State last November, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 86 yards and two touchdowns. The Buckeyes offense has been up-and-down all season and has been more effective running than throwing, but this is actually a golden opportunity to get Barrett rolling as a passer again. The Michigan State back seven is a shell of its former self and is especially vulnerable to big plays. If Ohio State can get going in the passing game like last year, that’ll open things up for Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott on the ground against what is an excellent Michigan State defensive line.
The Spartans’ problems are more than just the secondary, though. The offensive line has had injuries, and now star quarterback Connor Cook is dealing with a shoulder injury. While he’s going to play, it’s unclear how close he’ll be to 100 percent. That is bad news against an Ohio State defense that has played at a high level most of the season, ranking fifth in yards per play allowed. The Buckeyes are loaded with talent,starting with Joey Bosa up front. Cook has the shoulder issue, the MSU offensive line has had more problems than expected, the running game is inconsistent and the pass defense has holes. Throw in the fact that Michigan State has played a ton of close games, and it’s hard to see the Spartans taking down the undefeated Buckeyes on the road. This is still a very good Michigan State team, but it’s not the same team we saw the last couple years.
No. 15 LSU at No. 22 Ole Miss
3:30 p.m., CBS
LSU was ranked No. 2 only a couple weeks ago. Now it’s going on the road to Oxford to try to avoid three straight losses, something it hasn’t done since 1999. Just like that, after a crushing defeat at the hands of Alabama and a more unexpected one at the hands of Arkansas, the Les Miles hot seat talk has bizarrely sprung up. Miles is 110-31 at LSU, has won a national title and appeared in another championship game, has won 10 games in seven of 10 seasons and could do so again and he continues to recruit at a high level. Next year, he’ll get Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre, Kevin Toliver and several other talented young players back.
LSU’s November has been frustrating and could get a lot worse, but let’s tap the brakes on bailing just yet. Maybe the end of the season will go poorly … or maybe Leonard Fournette will get rolling again. The Ole Miss defense is solid against the run, but LSU did have success grinding out yards in a 10-7 win last year against the Rebels. (Fournette will surely rack up plenty of yards against Texas A&M next week). The Rebels struggle to run the ball, and while Chad Kelly has been solid at quarterback, he’ll be throwing against one of the nation’s best defensive backfields. It’s quite clear that LSU was overrated at No. 2, but let’s not overreact too far the other way just yet.
No. 24 USC at No. 23 Oregon
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
For a while, this game looked like it would be sort of depressing. Both teams had disappointing first halves of the season, going from the top 10 in the preseason to quickly out of the polls altogether. Now they’ve crawled their way back in, with Pac-12 title hopes still alive. In fact, USC controls its destiny in the Pac-12 South thanks to its head-to-head win over Utah. The Trojans have won four in a row, although the last three have been by eight points or less, and injuries are really taking a toll. Oregon has also won four in a row, including the upset at Stanford, and again three of its four wins have been by six points or less. These are flawed teams, but they’ve taken big steps in the right direction. While Cody Kessler could have a big day against this Oregon secondary, look for the Ducks offense to do a lot of damage with a healthy Vernon Adams at QB.
UCLA at No. 13 Utah
3:30 p.m., Fox
Injuries have hit UCLA hard this season, with linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and cornerback Fabian Moreau all out for the season. Now they’re hitting Utah too. Star tailback Devontae Booker is out for the rest of the regular season after tearing his meniscus. Both UCLA and Utah suffered upset losses last week, with the Bruins losing to Washington State and Utah losing to Arizona, and now the Utes have to move on without their most important player. Booker leads the nation with 268 carries, and he also has 37 catches. No other Utah running back has more than 19 rushes (QB Travis Wilson has 94), and Booker is also second on the team in receptions. Just about everything Utah does revolves around Booker. This isn’t the easiest spot for UCLA, coming off a loss with a freshman quarterback — the very talented Josh Rosen — playing on the road against a solid defense, but even with the Bruins’ injuries, it’s hard to see where Utah’s offense is going to come from.
No. 20 Northwestern at No. 25 Wisconsin
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
In an ideal world for Iowa, the Wildcats and Badgers will play an exciting, down to the wire game that results in both teams staying in the top 25 and boosting the Hawkeyes’ resume. After all, Iowa beat both teams on the road. With Iowa rolling toward the Big Ten West title, this is likely a second-place game in the division, between two 8-2 teams that lean heavily on their defenses. Wisconsin, typically one of the nation’s best running teams, is 89th in rushing this season with a rebuilding offensive line and the absence of running back Corey Clement for much of the year. Northwestern is 116th in yards per play. The defenses are excellent: Wisconsin leads the nation in points allowed and Northwestern is 12th. The over/under of 40 points may be tough to hit.
Arizona at Arizona State
3:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
In a battle of top-15 teams last year, Arizona won the Territorial Cup and the Pac-12 South title in taking down the rival Sun Devils 42-35. It was one of the most meaningful games ever in this rivalry. Now? Both are trying to finish strong after disappointing seasons. Last week was a good start, as Arizona upset Utah at home and Arizona State scored 27 unanswered points to beat Washington 27-17. Arizona is bowl-eligible at 6-5, while Arizona State needs to beat either the Wildcats or California to get to six wins, in a season in which it began ranked 15th in the AP poll. This isn’t quite what anyone thought it would be in the preseason, but it could still be a fun game between evenly matched teams. Arizona does have health concerns, as quarterback Anu Solomon is questionable after suffering a concussion last week.
Wake Forest at No. 1 Clemson
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Syracuse put up a fight against Clemson last week, but Wake Forest just doesn’t have the offense to really threaten the Tigers in Death Valley, although the Tigers are dealing with some injury questions. Even if Clemson is not at full strength, Deshaun Watson and Clemson’s defensive line can dominate this game. The Demon Deacons don’t have the weapons to keep up, and Clemson will take care of business in its final home game before going to rival South Carolina next week.
Charleston Southern at No. 2 Alabama
4 p.m., SEC Network
Sorry, Nick Saban told us that we cannot take the Buccaneers — who are 9-1 and ranked No. 8 in the FCS! — too lightly, so we must acknowledge the existence of this game.
Charleston Southern’s only loss this season was to an FBS opponent. That opponent was Troy, who beat the Buccaneers 44-16. Sorry, Nick?
No. 10 Baylor at No. 6 Oklahoma State
7:30 p.m., Fox
The stat has been repeated a million times, and it will continue until Baylor changes the conversation: Baylor has not won in Stillwater since 1939. It’s worth noting that the teams didn’t play often until the Big 12 was formed, but the Bears’ last trip there was particularly notable: Oklahoma State ended Baylor’s undefeated 2013 season with a 49-17 win. This time, it’s Baylor who is trying to spoil Oklahoma State’s perfect season and keep its championship hopes — which are slim right now — alive. The Bears have to do it without quarterback Seth Russell, who’s out for the year, and now they may have to do it without new starter Jarrett Stidham. In just his second game, Stidham hurt his back in the loss to Oklahoma last week, and he’s considered questionable Saturday night. If he doesn’t play, the Bears will move on to sophomore Chris Johnson, who spent part of this season at receiver.
Given that uncertainty, and given Oklahoma State’s run of close games — except the TCU win, in which the Cowboys capitalized on turnovers — it’s hard to know just what to expect on Saturday night. Oklahoma State has played well, even successfully using a two-quarterback system with sophomore Mason Rudolph and senior J.W. Walsh. James Washington has broken out as a big-play receiver, and the defense has taken step forward this season behind star pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. But like with Michigan State earlier this year, the question is whether the wheels will come off: Oklahoma State has won four close Big 12 games and has often had to come from behind, including in last week’s frightening 35-31 win at Iowa State. With Baylor’s quarterback situation a wild card, Oklahoma State stands a solid chance of winning another big game and setting up a Bedlam for the ages.
No. 18 TCU at No. 7 Oklahoma
8 p.m., ABC
Just as Baylor has a quarterback issue as the Big 12 hits the middle of its big games amid a backloaded schedule, TCU faces one as well with Trevone Boykin questionable after he injured his ankle in last Saturday’s close call against Kansas. Making things worse, TCU will play the rest of the regular season without star wide receiver Josh Doctson, who played last week after a wrist injury but was clearly not 100 percent. If Boykin doesn’t play, TCU’s starter will be freshman Foster Sawyer, whose only completion on seven attempts last week was at least a touchdown.
Given TCU’s injury problems on offense, and given the problem it has had on defense all season, it’s increasingly difficult to see the Horned Frogs winning in Norman. Oklahoma is playing at extremely high level, with a balanced offense that features quarterback Baker Mayfield making a move in the Heisman race, as well as a defense that ranks sixth in yards per play. Mayfield has weapons around him, led by Sterling Shepard and Samaje Perine, and the offense has hit its stride under new coordinator Lincoln Riley. While the loss to Texas keeps its playoff hopes in question, Oklahoma has looked like one of the four best teams in the country.
Mississippi State at Arkansas
7 p.m., ESPN
A week after LSU got blown out by Alabama, Arkansas was there to pile on against a broken-down team. Now the same situation presents itself: Mississippi State was demolished by Alabama, and it has to turn around and travel to Fayetteville to meet an Arkansas team that’s poised to go from one of the season’s biggest first-half disappointments to a possible second-place finish in the SEC West. Two of Arkansas’ wins have been in multiple overtimes — one a miracle against Ole Miss — but the Razorbacks are playing well, particularly quarterback Brandon Allen and tailback Alex Collins. Dak Prescott can have some success against this Arkansas defense, but the timing for the Hogs couldn’t be much better.
Boston College at No.4 Notre Dame (at Fenway Park)
7:30 p.m., NBCSN
Notre Dame is a playoff contender, but the most interesting part about this game will likely be the aesthetics of playing in Fenway Park. Otherwise, while the Boston College defense is excellent (first in yards per play), its offense has been a disaster (126th in yards per play). The Eagles defense might keep them somewhat close to the Fighting Irish, but it’s unlikely to ever feel close. They’re going to need to force turnovers and capitalize on short fields. Otherwise, there’s no reason to be confident in a team that hasn’t scored more than 17 points against an FBS opponent and has a 3-7 record.
Georgia Southern at Georgia
7 p.m., ESPNU
This is such a dangerous game for Georgia, who is 7-3 but has had coaching issues and major issues on offense. The Bulldogs escaped with an ugly win over Auburn last week, and next week they draw Georgia Tech’s option offense. In between, they take on Georgia Southern’s explosive option offense. Remember, the Eagles — who were at the FCS level at the time — beat Florida two years ago in a game in which they didn’t complete a pass. It’s worth pointing out that Georgia Southern, who is 7-2, lost its season-opener 44-0 to West Virginia. (To be fair, quarterback Kevin Ellison missed that game.) This is a dangerous Eagles team, but it lacks depth and can’t come anywhere close to Georgia’s overall talent. Still… Just don’t sleep on this team, Georgia. Georgia Southern leads the nation in rushing, averaging a ridiculous 6.7 yards per carry.
No. 16 Navy at Tulsa
7 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Before next week’s showdown against Houston, with the AAC West on the line, Navy has to go on the road and out-score a dangerous Tulsa team. The Golden Hurricane are just 5-5, trying to get to the postseason, and under former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, they are capable of putting up a bunch of points behind their passing game. However, Tulsa also isn’t particularly capable of stopping anyone, with the nation’s No. 116 run defense. That doesn’t bode well for a matchup against Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s option attack.
Tennessee at Missouri
7:15 p.m., ESPN2
Missouri got a nice win last week over BYU after a tumultuous week on campus followed by the unexpected announcement of coach Gary Pinkel’s impending resignation for health reasons. The Tigers, who have struggled on offense all season, are now 5-5, meaning they need to beat either the Volunteers or Arkansas to get to six wins and a bowl to try to send Pinkel out on a high note. Their defense has kept them in games all season, and their defensive front can certainly frustrate Joshua Dobbs and the Vols. It’s still just so hard to trust the Mizzou offense, as the Tigers have scored only three touchdowns in the last five games — although all three came in the last two. Tennessee has just been the better all-around team.
California at No. 11 Stanford
10:30 p.m., ESPN
The most ridiculous college football ending of all time happened in the Nov. 20, 1982 matchup of rivals Stanford and Cal. There has never been a Cal-Stanford game since then in which The Play has not been mentioned, and that’s not going to change now:
It’s more relevant than ever this year, in a season that has featured repeated miracle finishes: Michigan State against Michigan, Georgia Tech against Florida State, Miami against Duke, Arkansas against Ole Miss. There have been numerous stunning plays late in games this season, and now Cal and Stanford meet in a late-night time slot, where the Pac-12 frequently features wild endings.
But maybe we shouldn’t get our hopes up, because the odds of Cal’s defense slowing down Christian McCaffrey are not favorable.
Colorado at Washington State
10:45 p.m., ESPN2
Wazzu’s fantastic season continues, with coach Mike Leach and quarterback Luke Falk leading the team back from a devastating loss to Portland State, to a 7-3 record overall (5-2 in the Pac-12). The Cougars are headed to their second bowl game since 2003 and already have their most wins in a season since they posted three straight 10-win seasons in 2001-03. Last week, they upset UCLA on the road on a late touchdown. This week, Falk — the nation’s leading passer — should have no problem helping Wazzu pull away against a Colorado defense that ranks 86th in yards per play allowed.