Saturday Football: Nick Saban-less Alabama, Clemson challengers and upset alert
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Good morning and happy Friday! This weekend’s slate of games has taken a beating as COVID-related cancellations have popped up in the Big 12 and the SEC. Still, there are some big matchups on the schedule that should be interesting to watch.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss how Nick Saban’s absence will impact Alabama against Georgia. We’ll also put a few teams on upset alert and take a look at whether or not anyone can challenge Clemson in the ACC. Let’s get started!
Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of a game vs. Georgia. How will it affect Alabama?
Alabama coach Nick Saban is undoubtedly the greatest current college football coach, and many consider him the greatest of all-time. So, this week’s news that he (and Alabama AD Greg Byrne) had tested positive for COVID-19 sent shockwaves throughout the college football world.
So, it appears Saban won’t be on the sidelines when No. 2 Alabama hosts No. 3 Georgia on Saturday night. How will that impact the game? Many have weighed in on it this week:
- Saban named OC Steve Sarkisian as the acting head coach. After his diagnosis, Saban was still holding out hope that he’d be able to be in contact with his team on gameday somehow, but NCAA rules prevent that. So, what will Sarkisian be entrusted to do? The offensive play-calling will still be his job against Georgia, Saban said, even as he also serves as head coach. Sark has head-coaching experience at Washington and USC, so he’s familiar with the responsibilities. Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes writes that this is a chance for Sark to start rewriting his narrative after a rough ending at USC and a couple of down years as the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
- Naturally, this is not an ideal situation for the Crimson Tide. Saban’s presence on the sideline is huge. So, how will it affect Alabama? ESPN’s David Pollack said that not a single thing, not even the coin toss, goes off without Saban having a plan for it. Can Kirby Smart take advantage? SEC Network host Paul Finebaum explained it this way: “The best coach in the game will not be in the biggest game and he’s facing someone who knows every one of his moves.”
- FSU coach Mike Norvell already missed a game earlier this year. Now, Saban will at least be out for this weekend’s action. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara writes that this is a major blow for college football, not only for Saturday’s game against Georgia, but in general around the sport.
Fortunately, it seems that Saban is asymptomatic at this point. The latest update from his doctor was a good one. Hopefully, he’s able to return to the sidelines and to practices safely soon. But, on Saturday, it’s going to be very strange to not have him on the sidelines against his former assistant Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs.
There have already been four FBS games postponed for this weekend (Mizzou-Vanderbilt, LSU-Florida, Cincinnati-Tulsa and Baylor-Oklahoma State). However, there are still some intriguing matchups on the schedule for Saturday.
So, which teams are favored to win in some of the more important games on the schedule? Let’s take a look at some of the favorites as things stand on Thursday evening:
Friday, Oct. 16
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- No. 17 SMU (-6.5) at Tulane
- No. 14 BYU (-5.5) at Houston
Saturday, Oct. 17
- Pitt at No. 13 Miami (-13.5)
- No. 15 Auburn (-3) at South Carolina
- No. 1 Clemson (-27.5) at Georgia Tech
- Kentucky at No. 18 Tennessee (-6)
- Louisville at No. 4 Notre Dame (-16.5)
- UCF (-3.5) at Memphis
- No. 11 Texas A&M (-5.5) at Mississippi State
- No. 5 North Carolina (-13.5) at Florida State
- Boston College at No. 23 Virginia Tech (-12)
- No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama (-4)
Will we see some more carnage in the rankings? There have been plenty of upsets already this season, so we’ll see which squads can avoid losing as big favorites this weekend.
- Mac Jones vs. Bryce Young was a somewhat legit battle this summer. Now, Jones has locked down the QB1 spot at Alabama and is playing incredible football. Saturday Down South’s Matt Hinton actually has Jones atop his weekly SEC QB rankings. Check out the full rankings here.
- Another Manning is making waves in the football world? It’s true. The elite 2023 prospect (and son of Cooper Manning) is already making headlines. ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren and Craig Haubert profile the young star-in-the-making as he tries to keep his legacy separate from his famous uncles’ (Peyton and Eli) and grandfather’s (Archie) legacies.
- It’s almost unfair how much depth certain schools have at different positions. There are some truly elite position groups out there in the college football world in 2020. But, which eight stand out above the rest? Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon ranks the best position groups in college football in 2020 thus far.
- The Big Ten always plays stout defense, and 2020 will be no different. There are some elite athletes taking the field starting next weekend for teams around the conference. Saturday Tradition’s Phil Ervin ranked the 20 best defenders in the B1G for this upcoming season.
ALL CLEMSON CONFERENCE
The ACC surprisingly has 3 teams ranked in the Top 5. But can anyone really dethrone No. 1 Clemson?
The ACC has been the victim of finger-pointing and name-calling from other conferences around college football over the last few seasons. The league’s lack of depth behind Clemson has been criticized beyond exhaustion. The jokes about the Tigers’ softer-than-toilet-paper schedule have been repeated more frequently than a broken record.
But the unique circumstances of the 2020 season have provided the ACC with an opportunity to prove there’s more to the conference than Clemson. Notre Dame is ranked as the No. 4 team in the country after a 3-0 start, sitting in the conference on a one-year lease. North Carolina has risen quickly to the No. 5 spot, also beginning the year with three straight wins. Yes, that’s right, the ACC has three teams ranked in the top five spots of the Associated Press Poll. Do either the Fighting Irish or the Tar Heels actually pose a threat to top-ranked Clemson, though?
- Clemson is still clobbering every opponent in sight. During the 4-0 start, the Tigers have been every team on the schedule by three scores and have an impressive 29-point average margin of victory. Even against No. 7 Miami, Clemson cruised to a 42-17 win, and it could’ve been worse if not for a bone-headed mistake by Dabo Swinney to attempt a long field goal before halftime, which the Hurricanes blocked and returned for a touchdown. So far, it’s been smooth sailing for the nation’s top-ranked squad.
- Life tends to be easier with two Heisman Trophy candidates. Right now, the top two spots on ESPN’s Heisman Watch belong to QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne. That could change when the B1G and Pac-12 start playing, but for now, both guys certainly deserve it. Lawrence has thrown for 1,140 yards and 10 touchdowns while maintaining a 72.4% completion rate and also rushing for 4 scores. Etienne has racked up 392 rushing yards, 245 receiving yards and 5 total touchdowns. That’s a tough combination to stop.
- Notre Dame has to look much better to challenge Clemson. The 42-26 victory over Florida State last weekend is a bit misleading, because the Fighting Irish struggled with the Seminoles for a good chunk of the contest. Head coach Brian Kelly said that defense has to get better before this week’s matchup with Louisville in South Bend. To be at Clemson’s level, it’ll have to get a lot better.
- Mack Brown’s Tar Heels are the surprise of the season. OK, so we all expected Brown to bring relevancy back to North Carolina’s football program. But even the head coach himself says that the team is “ahead of schedule,” and he’s surprised by the progress made this year. Is this a team that could attempt to steal the ACC crown away from Clemson? Right now, Brown is focused on his team getting better each week, which includes this weekend’s game against Florida State.
- We probably won’t learn much more this weekend about the ACC. Clemson, Notre Dame and North Carolina all play opponents with .500 records or worse. All are heavy favorites to win, according to ESPN’s FPI. Clemson is given a 95.5% chance to beat Georgia Tech, Notre Dame has an 87.2% chance to take down Louisville and North Carolina is listed with a 75% chance to defeat Florida State. It could be a ho-hum weekend in the ACC.
It’s difficult to tell if Notre Dame and North Carolina are serious contenders to Clemson this season, or if the Tigers are still head-and-shoulders above the rest of the ACC. If all three teams keep winning, though, it’s going to set up a really fun November and December for the league.
JUST FOR FUN
We’re currently experiencing a surge in offensive output through the first few weeks of the 2020 season. We’ve seen some record-setting passing performances, particularly in the SEC. For today’s quiz, can you name the quarterback that leads each FBS conference currently playing football (ACC, Big 12, SEC, AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt) in passing yards?
Scroll down to see the answers to today’s quiz.
Even with a pared-down schedule, a few ranked teams face tough tests. Which squads are on upset alert?
The weekend’s schedule isn’t as loaded with intense games as it was a few days ago, thanks to a few COVID-related postponements. However, there’s still plenty of action scheduled, including a couple of games tonight and several ranked teams in action on Saturday.
So, which teams need to be careful in this weekend’s games if they don’t want to end up with a bad loss on their resume? Let’s take a look at four ranked teams that are on upset alert this weekend:
- Keep an eye on the battle of the Cougars tonight in Houston. Since Houston has only played one game thus far, we have no idea how good Dana Holgorsen’s crew is. At 4-0, though, the stakes are high for BYU. Jay Drew of the Deseret News breaks down why this game is so important to BYU. After a narrow win over UTSA last weekend, BYU will need to avoid an upset in Houston tonight.
- There are a couple of potential upsets in the SEC, including Auburn. The Tigers head to South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks, who are desperate to keep their momentum going after a win at Nashville last weekend. Many will pick Auburn to win this game, but Saturday Down South’s Keith Farner breaks down three advantages the Gamecocks have over the Tigers.
- How much of a fluke was Mississippi State’s Week 1 win at LSU? Well, the wheels have fallen off the Bulldogs’ offense the past two weeks. In fact, last weekend, Mike Leach’s offense didn’t manage a single point in a 24-2 loss to Kentucky. Mississippi State is considering a QB change against a red-hot Texas A&M team this weekend, but will that be enough to pull off the upset? Saturday Down South’s Brian Stultz explored three ways the Air Raid offense must adjust. The Aggies are riding high after beating Florida last week, so this has “trap game” written all over it.
- The Miami Hurricanes are fresh off a tough loss at No. 1 Clemson. The Hurricanes were thoroughly outplayed in the 42-17 loss to the Tigers. Now, they return home to face a feisty Pitt team led by QB Kenny Pickett, who leads the nation in passing yards. The Hurricanes can’t afford to have a hangover and let last week’s bad loss continue to send them spiraling. That’s what Miami teams would do the past few years. Is the 2020 squad different? Or, will the Panthers continue to be a tough out in ACC play?
As we continue to navigate the dicey waters of the 2020 football season, we’re sure to continue seeing upsets on a weekly basis. Just last week, after all, Florida and Texas bit the dust. Who will lose this weekend? We’ll find out over the next couple of days!
Here are the quarterbacks currently leading each active FBS conference in passing yards:
- ACC: Kenny Pickett, Pitt — 1,389 yards
- Big 12: Sam Ehlinger, Texas — 1,211 yards
- SEC: K.J. Costello, Mississippi State — 1,168 yards
- AAC: Shane Buechele, SMU — 1,326 yards
- Conference USA: Jack Abraham, Southern Miss — 1,112 yards
- Sun Belt: Colby Suits, Louisiana-Monroe — 1,121 yards
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I bleed orange and blue. I understand the magic of packing The Swamp and having all of our fans, especially at a home game against LSU. But really, Coach Mullen should be more focused on getting a new defensive coordinator, because we are being slammed in our secondary and going through our front lines against the run. That’s where our focus should be, not putting all of our fans and visitors to the stands and into The Swamp at risk for not only getting COVID, but also spreading COVID, not just throughout the state, but throughout the country.”
– Florida commissioner of agriculture and consumer services Nikki Fried took a shot at Florida DC Todd Grantham while discussing Dan Mullen’s “pack The Swamp” comments. The embattled coordinator can’t even watch the news without getting roasted these days!
TWEET OF THE DAY
This season was always going to require a lot of patience and flexibility with regards to the schedule, but Tulsa has had a roller coaster campaign already. By the count above, that’s three canceled games, two postponed (one of which was played at a later date) and only one game played as scheduled. Hopefully the Golden Hurricanes can have a bit more luck getting games in moving forward.
This edition of the Saturday Football newsletter was written by Adam Spencer and Dustin Schutte.