Forget it, Jake. It’s 2020.
The most unusual college football season in history rolls along, albeit with myriad fits and starts thanks to COVID-19. Three games involving top 10 teams originally scheduled for this weekend have been postponed, and the biggest game in terms of the rankings will be likely be without an iconic head coach.
But at the end of this journey, the hope remains to stage a College Football Playoff. The impact on the race for the big prize will be quite limited on this reduced slate of games, but here are the five with some potential ramifications.
No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS
In truth, the year’s first top-five showdown will ultimately not alter the playoff situation much for either team. It will be a nice perk for the winner, especially if the Bulldogs can pull off the road victory. But win or lose, both would still have a clear path to the SEC championship game, where it’s quite possible they’ll meet again.
Nick Saban’s absence from the Crimson Tide sideline due to a positive coronavirus test is the most talked-about story line entering the weekend, though how much that actually affects the game itself remains to be seen. There’s nothing amiss with the Alabama offense that is averaging 51 points a game and has QB Mac Jones moving rapidly into Heisman consideration. What has Crimson Tide fans concerned is the uncharacteristic lack of playmaking from the defense that has managed only five sacks and 20 tackles for loss through three games. Missing S Jordan Battle for the first half following a targeting ejection late in the Ole Miss game won’t help matters. The Bulldogs enter with the stingiest defense in the SEC, but LB Monty Rice and Co. will still be hard pressed to keep all of Alabama’s weapons in check for a full 60 minutes. The Georgia attack isn’t quite as prolific, but QB Stetson Bennett has emerged as the right man for the job for now.
Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle breaks free for a touchdown after catching a pass against Texas A&M at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Photo: Gary Cosby Jr, The Tuscaloosa News)
No. 1 Clemson at Georgia Tech
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
The Tigers cleared their first major hurdle with ease on their quest for a sixth consecutive ACC title. After taking charge quickly against Miami, they’ll try to maintain focus as they hit the road. The Yellow Jackets will be at a talent disadvantage, but they’re a more confident group in Geoff Collins’s second year at the helm with a pair of ACC wins in hand.
While there’s been little to complain about from the Clemson offense, QB Trevor Lawrence would like to see more consistency from his receiving corps. S Juanyeh Thomas and the Yellow Jackets’ secondary must figure on that being a priority and prepare accordingly. Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims still plays like a freshman at times as he has eight INTs along with his five TD throws. He’s also not afraid to take off, though he’d do well to avoid Clemson LB Baylon Spector.
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Pittsburgh at No. 12 Miami
Saturday, noon ET, ACC
The Hurricanes’ loss to Clemson wasn’t a title killer, but they’ll almost certainly have to run the table to earn a possible rematch with the Tigers. The task begins at home against the Panthers, who started out 3-0 but are now coming off back-to-back one-point losses.
Miami dual-threat QB D’Eriq King was bottled up for most of the night by Clemson. Should Pitt attempt a similar approach –and DEs Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver are capable of it – he’ll have to compensate with better aerial deliveries. Panthers QB Kenny Pickett is as tough as they come, but he could be slowed by a bad ankle if he’s able to go. His ground support is limited, and ‘Canes LB Gilbert Frierson and friends want to keep it that way.
No. 11 Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Meanwhile back in the SEC, the Aggies’ much needed triumph against Florida kept their hopes of winning the West alive. They’ll need help, of course, and they have much to do themselves starting with this trip to Starkville to meet the wildly inconsistent Bulldogs.
Assuming QB K.J. Costello retains the starting job – an incredible statement considering his performance at LSU just three weeks ago –, his obvious first priority will be eliminating the interceptions. He shouldn’t have to worry much about the Aggies’ pass rush that has generated just four sacks thus far, so A&M Ss Demani Richardson and Leon O’Neal will have to make their tackles stick. Somewhat lost in the Bulldogs’ offensive woes, the defense has performed well with LB Tyrus Wheat and DE Marquiss Spencer getting into the backfield often. A&M QB Kellen Mond and RB Isaiah Spiller, however, enter the contest with momentum after huge outings against the Gators.
No. 14 Auburn at South Carolina
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
Like the Aggies, Auburn is also not out of the picture in the SEC West. In one regard the Tigers are in better shape, as their loss to Georgia was outside the division. Their challengers from the East this week are the Gamecocks, who got into the win column at the expense of Vanderbilt but could use another victory with more heft.
QB Bo Nix remains a source of frustration for Tigers’ fans, despite having big-play threats like WRs Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz in his arsenal. LB Ernest Jones and the South Carolina defense, which has held its first three opponents to just 6-for-31 on third down, will be another difficult assignment for Nix. Gamecocks QB Collin Hill and RB Kevin Harris lead a balanced if not particularly flashy attack that will keep prolific Auburn LB Zakoby McClain busy.
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