The Iron Bowls are always massive, and this should be another historic one with major national implications on the line for the Crimson Tide and the Tigers. Jordan-Hare Stadium will be a rockin on Saturday at 2:30 PM. The state has been buzzing all week about this epic showdown between these 2 storied programs in what, on paper, looks like another sensational Iron Bowl, the 82nd edition. The Crimson Tide leads the series, 45-35-1, but this one seems as evenly matched as you can get.
Can Jalen Hurts and the great Calvin Ridley take the Tide one step closer to the playoff and a fifth national championship in Nick Saban's illustrious 11 years at the helm at the University, where he has amassed a 125-19 record, 5 SEC championships, and 4 national championships in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015. Can Kerryon Johnson, Jarrett Stidhmam and the tough Auburn defense get the Tigers over the hump and get them right into the thick of the playoff race, and in super position to be a playoff team if they could then beat Georgia the next week. Those 2 riveting questions loom.
This is all phenomenal stuff. Can't wait.
And the national picture is really scintillating right now. My 4 playoff teams are Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma and Clemson going into this weekend in that order. Herbie likes Oklahoma as the best team. I agree that Baker Mayfield and OU are prolific, but their defense has shown vulnerabilities. Auburn and Alabama have super teams, so does Clemson. I want to let it shake out through championship weekend, but those would be my 4 right now. If Bama were to lose to AU, they could still get in. If Auburn defeats Alabama and then knocks off Georgia again, I could see Bama getting in. If the Tide is victorious this weekend, they should be in and would be a 2 touchdown favorite over the Dawgs.
Clemson needs to win this weekend and defeat Miami in the ACC title game next Saturday. But they have a scrappy South Carolina team on the road Saturday and then an excellent Miami team in the ACC title game in Charlotte. N.C. a week from Saturday. Oklahoma needs to defeat West Virginia this Saturday at home, which is no total guarantee, and then defeat TCU in the Big 12 title game a week from Saturday. No guarantee there either. Auburn and Georgia are definitely still in it, and I have to say Ohio State is still in it. Ohio State has to hope for some pretty massive chaos and they have to beat Michigan and Wisconsin. Wisconsin is also still very much alive, but needs a little help. They have to win out as well, obviously, or they're done. A Miami-Clemson game with a winner just barely getting over the hump would make it interesting for the selection committee if they wanted to choose a 1 loss Miami team if it's Miami or an undefeated Wisconsin team. I think they'd choose Wisconsin. But Wisconsin has some serious work ahead of it next week against Ohio State.
So it all makes for some sensational college football this weekend and next as we get closer and closer to the postseason with the majorly entertaining bowl games throughout the holiday season, and the electric college football playoff. A lot of football left to decide things. Makes for some terrific action and some nervous times, starting this Saturday, and particularly in this state.
Here's a look at this week's games.
Last time: 13-11
Overall: 185-69, 73%
All games Saturday unless otherwise noted. All times Central.
No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) @ No. 6 Auburn (9-2, 6-1)
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn (87,451)
Brad, Gary, Allie
Bama by 4 1/2
Bama is led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has completed 123-of- 201 passes, 61%, for 1,828 yards, 14 TDs and just 1 int. Those are exceptional numbers, particularly the touchdown to Interception ratio. Jalen has really hit it off with first year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and they have teamed up together to become a juggernaut in leading the Crimson Tide offensive attack. Damien Harris has put together a sensational year running the football rushing for 855 yards on 104 carries, an 8.2 yard average, and 11 TDs. He's been spectacular. He hasn't been a workhorse though as the Tide is loaded at running back with Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris for cleanup duty along with Brian Robinson Jr., who looks very promising as well. Jalen's favorite target, as expected coming into the year, is Calvin Ridley, who I look for to be a top 10 draft choice in the NFL draft next April. Calvin has caught 52 passes for 858 yards and 3 TDs, but has been a dominant player much like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper were. They are both having stellar NFL careers, particularly Julio, and I expect Amari to keep trending well as an NFL wideout also. Calvin is along that same lineage as those 2. He's a terrific player. The leaders on defense are the great safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and linebacker Rashaan Evans along with safety Ronnie Harrison. All 3 are stellar. I'd call Minkah the heart and soul of the defense. He's been a little banged up, but should be ready to go. The Tide is only giving up 10 points per game, which leads the nation.
For the Tigers, it starts with Kerryon Johnson. The splendid running back has rushed for 1,172 yards and 16 TDs. That's a big wow. Jarrett Stidham has really settled in at quarterback and completed 181-of-267 passes so far this season for 2,445 yards, 16 TDs against just 4 interceptions. That 1-2 combo is pretty terrific also. And Stidham has some stellar targets in Ryan Davis, who has caught 58 passes for 564 yards, and 5 TDs, along with the explosive Eli Stove, who has caught 26 passes for 238 yards and run for a TD, and Darrius Slayton, another electric receiver who has caught 19 passes for 533 yards and 5 TDs. He's averaging 28 yards per catch. Slayton is just a take it to the house kind of player like Stove.
The defense has been phenomenal this season. The great defensive end Jeff Holland has 12 tackles for loss of 74 yards and 9 sacks for 61 yards. Linebacker Deshaun Davis leads the defense in tackles with 58 and has 4.5 tackles for a loss of 21 yards and 2 1/2 sacks. Auburn is only giving up 16.6 points per game. tied for 8th in the country. The secondary is led by the stellar safety Tray Matthews.
The Tide will be without left guard Ross Pierschbacher, who has a high ankle sprain. Linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are possible, but we'll see. Everybody else should be good to go.
For the Tigers, linebacker Tre' Williams is very questionable with a shoulder injury. Nickelback Jeremiah Dinson is out, but Javaris Davis came in for Dinson in the second half last Saturday against LA Monroe and gave the Tigers a big lift, so there should be no drop off there. Williams' injury is a little more concerning, but the Tigers have pretty good depth at linebacker.
ESPN's Rece Davis asked Gus last night, who was on the playoff show, what he thought would be the key factor to winning this football game. Gus prophetically said the line scrimmage. On both sides of the ball, I like the Auburn Tigers. I like Braden Smith and the AU offensive front over Bama's defensive front. With Jeff Holland, Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown, I like that AU defensive line over the Alabama offensive line. I favor the Tigers in the trenches. My wife's not going to like this and she's not going to believe it either for that matter. I may be looking for somewhere else to eat on Thanksgiving. Maybe Brownie'll have me over.
Auburn 28, Alabama 27
No. 7 Georgia (10-1) @ Georgia Tech (5-5)
Dawgs by 11
Like the Dawgs to keep advancing in the playoff picture and set up a massive SEC championship game by blasting the Jackets in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.
Georgia 45, Tech 24
No.9 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) @ Michigan (8-3, 5-3)
OSU by 12
I see this as a closer game than expected. Ohio State has to have it if they want any shot at the playoff. Michigan can't stand these guys and feel robbed last year when the Big Ten refs wouldn't call pass interference on the Buckeye defensive backs and they gave Ohio State a first down on a fourth down play that could have ended the game and clinched it for the Wolverines. This will be close. Michigan's quarterback situation is just not strong right now due to injuries. There will be gusts of 21 MPH, so the running game will be crucial. What the heck, I'll take the upset.
Michigan 17, Ohio State 14
No.3 Clemson (10-1) @ No. 24 South Carolina (8-3)
Clemson by 14
I see the Gamecocks giving Clemson a battle. The Tigers have the playoff in their sites, but they have work to do with the Gamecocks and the Canes next week.
Clemson 28, South Carolina 24
Florida State (4-6) @ Florida (4-6)
FSU by 5 1/2
I like the Noles here in a game with teams that had high hopes coming into the season, but had some tough luck with player suspensions (Florida) and then firing a coach, while the other side dealt with a devastating injury to their quarterback that has really deflated their season. Like the Noles here though.
FSU 31, Florida 24
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) @ No. 14 Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3)
State by 15
Dan Mullen and his State program are having a super year. Love what Mullen does in Starkvegas. He keeps it going tomorrow night in the Egg Bowl.
State 45, Ole Miss 28
Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3) @ LSU (8-3, 5-2)
LSU by 10 1/2
Kevin Sumlin has been totally disrespected in College Station. I wish he could find a better situation, where people don't treat him with disrespect. UCLA would be a good landing spot for Sumlin. I see him giving O and the Tigers everything they want. Sumlin's had a pretty good year this season. They are unrealistic out there. He's a good coach.
LSU 31, A&M 28
Louisville (7-4) @ Kentucky (7-4)
Ville by 10
I like Petrino and Lamar Jackson to get the job done in Lexington. Should be some offensive fireworks.
Louisville 48, Kentucky 45
Vanderbilt (4-7, 0-7) @ Tennessee (4-7, 0-7)
UT by 1
These 2 programs have unfortunately had tough seasons. Vanderbilt could never recover from the Alabama demolition and Tennessee just stumbled their way along before they fired Butch Jones and struggled last week at home against LSU. Should be a pretty good game though. UT has massive injuries on their offensive line and other positions, so I'll take the Dores in an upset. They really need it.
Vanderbilt 31, Tennessee 30
Missouri (6-5, 3-4) @ Arkansas (4-7, 1-6)
Mizzou by 10
Missouri has been the biggest surprise in the SEC. Drew Lock has been terrific at quarterback for the Tigers. A season which at the beginning looked like it would be dismal, has turned out extremely well. Impressed by this group. They take care of business in Fayetteville and move on to a very good bowl game.
Missouri 42, Arkansas 31
No. 2 Miami @ Pittsburgh
The Canes are trying to cap off a spectacular regular season at 11-0 and head to the ACC Championship game with a chance to knock off Clemson and be in the playoff in Mark Richt's second year. They had to cancel a game due to Hurricane Irma so they only play 11 regular season games. They've had a super season. They have an excellent quarterback in Malik Rosier and a stellar running back in Travis Homer.
Miami 45, Pitt 27
West Virginia @ No.4 Oklahoma
Herbie says OU is the best team in the country and Baker Mayfield the best player in the country. I would agree with the latter, but still withholding judgment on the former till after next weekend. This is a dynamic offense and Mayfield, despite some of his emotional tantrums, is superb. But this isn't a kick in.
Oklahoma 48, West Virginia 42
South Florida @ No. 15 Central Florida
This is a huge game as the winner clinches the American Conference East title and plays Memphis in the American Conference Championship game next Saturday. UCF has been terrific this season going 10-0 and is in great shape to clinch a New Year's Six Bowl as the Group of Five's highest ranked team if they can win out. They also had to cancel a game, the Georgia Tech game, due to Hurricane Irma. But this is no gimme either. If UCF wins, there is no guarantee next week against Memphis. I like this talented UCF team to get the job done, but I also like this game to be close.
UCF 35, South Florida 31
No.8 Notre Dame @ No. 21 Stanford
I would like to have a reason to pick the Cardinal because I always enjoy watching their teams. I just don't see them having enough offensively to defeat the Irish. Notre Dame aims to capture a New Year's Six Bowl and makes a pretty good case with a 10-2 season and a victory at Stanford to cap it off. Stanford will still go to the PAC-12 title game versus USC if Washington State loses to Washington. Should be an electric game Saturday Night in Palo Alto.
Notre Dame 31, Stanford 28
No. 5 Wisconsin @ Minnesota
The Badgers will have a strong resume heading into the Big Ten Championship game next Saturday if they take care of business this Saturday and move to 12-0. They will finish 12-0 overall and 9-0 in the Big Ten with the victory.
Wisconsin 35, Minnesota 17
Virginia Tech @ Virginia
I'm going to take the upset here. The Cavs have come on lately and look like a pretty solid team to me.
UVA 31, Va Tech 28
Navy @ Houston
I see this close, Navy plays everybody tough and played Notre Dame really tough at South Bend last week, losing 24-17. So I'll take the Academy in an upset.
Navy 34, Houston 31
Texas Tech @ Texas
Tom Herman is aiming to finish his first season 7-5 and win a solid bowl game, and with his No.5 ranked recruiting class in the country, has big things lined up for the Horns.
Texas 48, Texas Tech 28
No. 13 Washington State @ No. 17 Washington
This is a huge game for Washington State because if they are victorious, they would move on to the PAC-12 title game to face USC. And, with a victory there, get in a New Year's Six Bowl. The Rose Bowl will be hosting a semifinal playoff game so Washington State would most likely go to the Fiesta Bowl. But I don't see that happening. I like the Huskies in the Apple Cup.
Washington 35, Washington State 27
Oregon State @ Oregon
This shouldn't be that great a game, but I like the name of the rivalry, the "Civil War." Willie Taggert is recruiting well in Eugene and should have Oregon back in the mix for the PAC-12 title sooner rather than later.
Oregon 42, Oregon State 24
Arizona @ Arizona State
PAC 12 Network
Zona is favored by 2 1/2 in the "Territorial Cup," but I still like the upset here. Both coaches have done good jobs with their programs. Rich Rod and Todd Graham have led their teams to 7-4 and 6-5 seasons at Zona and Zona State respectively. Like the Sun Devils to pull off the upset at home in the desert.
Zona State 38, Zona 35
North Carolina @ NC State
NC State has put together a solid year at 7-4. UNC has had a miserably tough year due to injuries. Know they can regroup. NC State keeps building under Dave Doren. The Tar Heels have gotten better though and will compete well.
NC State 38, North Carolina 31
No. 22 Northwestern @ Illinois
Fox Sports 1
The Wildcats finish off a very solid season with a 9-3 record and head to a solid bowl game as they take care of business in Champaign over an Illinois program that is trying to rebuild under Lovie Smith.
Northwestern 42, Illinois 24
UTEP @ UAB
C-USA TV, on the computer
UAB finishes off an 8-4 regular season under Coach Bill Clark and head to a bowl game. Even though they lost to the Florida Gators last week rather handily, it was a super experience for the team and they played hard. Nice job by Coach Clark this season and well done by the Blazers. A bowl game in their first year back is superb.
UAB 38, UTEP 10