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THE POTATO COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 14: Rivalry Week, Separation Saturday, the weak fall, the strong advance

Alabama at Auburn, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Auburn is ranked (15), and has something to play for other than just ruining the hated Alabama’s season. Ranked Auburn teams have, legend has it, never lost to ranked Alabama teams when playing in Auburn on November days where the temperature is between 55 degrees Farenheit and 71 degrees Farenheit with a light covering of clouds and the trees of Lee County unleaving.

A win here would give Coach Gus Malzahn his third win over Nick Saban in seven years – better than it sounds – quiet the wolfish fans who howl for his head every time their team loses a lead in the third period, and provide the opportunity to tack on a 10th win in the bowl game, which would not justify his bloated salary, but would help the people who write the checks a little less queasy about signing their names.

Gus has acquired the onus of being considered a 9-3 coach – that is, he goes 9-3 when he has a good team, about every three years, and does a little worse than that in the interim seasons while he’s carefully building his masterpiece out of three-star recruits and seasoned assistant coaches who are paid more than a lot of head coaches and will either go on to a head coaching job or get fired in a few years, depending on the rise of the ever undulating sine wave that depicts Auburn football fortunes.

Amplitude equals victories, each rise and dip represents one season

Come to think of it, Gus may not be generating a perfect sine wave. It’s probably more like a cardiogram of a guy having an ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, a type of heart attack that might well afflict a few fans of both teams this afternoon.

There are two ways of looking at this game for Bama fans. It’s an opportunity for this team to enter into the lore of the great teams that fucked around a lot but managed to come through in the pinch, when the chips were down, the cards were on the table, when the hopes of all the land were upon them, and prevailed. And if their team can’t beat Auburn, you can take comfort in the fact that you won’t be embarrassed in the playoffs by Ohio State or Clemson again. If this game is really a play-in, Alabama’s got to show it’ll show up against the undefeated monsters who still roam the smoking ruins of what were once other teams’ broken dreams and false hope.

This Bama team has has terrible injury luck all season, and it’s not stopping this week. They lost their two best shotcaller linebackers before they’d put on pads. They lost Tua to afreskish broken HIP of all things, against MISSISSIPPI STATE of all people. And the defensive line, which hasn’t been at full strength all season, is beat to a pulp at the worst possible time. A lot of inexperienced players will play today, the very experienced, most talented guys could be riding bikes on the sideline, drinking water with Tua, who’ll be sitting in a golf cart, sending good thoughts.

Freshman Auburn QB Bo Nix is the kind of player you need to get in on, rush hard, knock him down or at least contain him, which is what Florida, LSU and Georgia did. Bo’s best play is when he goes back to pass and nobody’s open – which probably won’t happen much against Alabama’s extremely talented secondary, which has inexplicable difficulty covering guys. Seriously, he’s better at weaving his way between flailing defenders than he is at hitting wide-open receivers between the numbers. He is a gamer, so if he ever does start to click throwing the ball, this could be the day.

Sophomore Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is playing his first big boy game since he stepped in for the fallen Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, lost in that war against the Trojans in a freak accident. Shot in the heel. Can you believe it?

Mac has played well against two teams that I could have played quarterback against and completed most of the short and mid-range passes. But if I were playing behind Alabama’s inexplicably flaky offensive line, I’d have been killed dead late in the second period – about the same time everybody blew their assignments and let those two giant Mississippi State guys through so they could run over and break Tua’s HIP.

But Mac’s been pretty smooth running the team, and he throws a good ball – nothing like Tua’s, of course, which float like a zither in a soft summer dream for yards and yards on a perfect trajectory that enters the the one 6-inch square spot in all the universe where one of the Four Wide Receivers of the Apocalypse can at full speed without breaking stride reach out, snuggle the ball to their bosom and run as far as they have to to get what they want. But on a less-than-superhuman level, Mac can make long throws over the middle, to the left and the right.

If he has time. This is huge.

We’ll see how he does it with those four creatures in the Auburn defensive front crashing through Alabama’s half-assed offensive line and hurling their massive bodies onto his hip and other places. Mac’s got a quick release – he’s probably going to need it a lot today. The weakest link in Auburn’s defense is the secondary, which has been had in the big games. If Steve Sarkisian has come up with some kind of plan to move Mac around in the pocket, and if the offensive line coach has held intensive blocking drills (and don’t jump offsides on third and 1, and don’t come up behind LSU players 10 seconds after the whistle and commit assault in front of the referee, on TV) – if the OL can give the kid three to four seconds, one of those sons of bitches will get open, and he can throw it to them.

Oh, and Alabama’s kicking game. It’s hideous, maybe more than usual. And did you know this date, Nov. 30, is the exact day on which Auburn’s Chris Davis fielded a barely missed field goal 9-yards deep in his own end zone as the final horn sounded, and ran like a bat unimpeded out of Hell into the Alabama end zone in the all-time, most dramatic heart-staking of a hated rival who needed to win to go the national championship game.

Ohio State at Michigan, noon, FOX; and Wisconsin at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. ABC

It’s a rivalry game, and you can throw the records out the window. These two teams don’t like each other. The memories made on this field will last forever in the lore of this great college rivalry.

On the other hand, looking at the position-by-position breakdown, the statistics, the Tarot cards, tea leaves and astrological charts, it looks like Michigan is the snowball and Ohio State is Hell.

In other news, two-loss Wisconsin travels to one-loss Minnesota to play in the snow in a game that might be called “Gateway to Getting Crushed by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.”

I don’t know what happened to Wisconsin – early in the season they looked so good. They always have a big, physical defense, and a lot of giant offensive linemen who can block. They looked like a grand old football team from a golden age, with a dazzling running back who could get 200 a game if they played things right. That defense could stop anyone, it seemed.

Then it all went out the window and down the drain, and the Badgers looked like they woke up and realized they were Wisconsin, who is always good but not quite good enough.

Minnesota has a cool-ass coach with the cool-ass name of P.J. Fleck, and he’s got them playing out of their minds over their heads and into the hearts of a yearning nation. If they beat Wisconsin, they’ll play Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Minnesota’s the one team in the world that’s lucky enough, just talented enough and has the spirit of the true believer deep in their hearts that could help them upset Ohio State, wedging their way into the playoffs as the conference champion. It could drop Ohio State to maybe fourth place in the CFP standings (screwing Alabama in the process, provided it beats Auburn today, a big if), giving the Big Ten two teams in the playoff. Which would be acceptable on first glance, but it omits the critical data that the Big Ten, on the whole, sucks. The three good teams in the league have spent a season racking up wins against over-ranked and over-rated teams buoyed by the likes of ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, who looks at the thing he loves and sees only beauty. I believe that Clemson and LSU could beat every team in the Big Ten in ruthless sequence if that’s what it took to win the national championship.

Clemson at South Carolina, noon, ESPN

Clemson has run the table against the lesser-lights of the ACC, survived a scare at North Carolina 21-20 when UNC, after a brilliant game, ran the worst play imaginable for a two-point conversion that would have won the game and put Clemson in the Orange Bowl playing Notre Dame or somebody.

South Carolina has amassed an underwhelming four wins this year, but one of them was against Georgia, the current No. 4 team in the CFP rankings. Georgia looks to be at least as good as Clemson. Well, almost as good. Or at least worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.

So could lighting strike again. Could South Carolina defensive super-genius Will Muschamp come up with a plan to stop Trevor Goldenlocks and his arsenal of offensive destroyers? And then figure out a way to score a few points that would be more than Clemson?

Let’s put it this way. If this game were a dogfight, Clemson would be a pit bull and South Carolina would be a Chihuahua. Chihuahuas are spirited, fearless, mean, bark a lot, and in a fight with a pit bull always get their heads bitten off.

Georgia at Georgia Tech, noon, ABC

See above. Except Georgia Tech is not a Chihuahua. They’re more like a turtle if it didn’t have a shell.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m., FOX

Oklahoma has to win pretty to stay alive in CFP playoff contention. The Sooners are more than capable of this, but haven’t looked as good the last few weeks as they did early in the season. That’s not the way it’s supposed to go.

It’s not just that they are playing tougher teams – which is problematical in the Big 12 – but the offense has been tragically mistake-prone. They have lost seven more turnovers than the opposition in the last four weeks. I think that’s right. I don’t really feel like looking it up.

Most Alabama fans still love Jalen Hurts, who transferred to Oklahoma when he lost the starting QB job to Tua. Who could blame him? Playing is a lot better for your professional future than drinking water on the bench and saying, “Nice throw, Tua.”

But followers of the Tide also know that Jalen tends to fade late in the season for some reason. He throws bad passes and makes unwise decisions running the ball, on keeping the ball or handing it off to the running back. Two years ago in the Iron Bowl, Jalen looked helpless out there and Bama lost 26-14, which was a worse whupping than it looked like. However, all the right people lost the next week, Alabama backed into the Playoffs and won the whole shooting match when Tua burst onto the scene in the second half of the title game against Georgia trailing 13-0, getting Bama into position to win the game on a last-second chip shot field goal, which the kicker missed, of course. Then in the second overtime, after being sacked for a 16-yard loss, trailing 23-20, he threw a 46-yard scoring strike to Devonta Smith to break Georgia’s heart even worse than usual.

I’m bringing this up because a Jalen fade could take Oklahoma out of the picture and put Baylor back in the picture if they can beat the Kansas Jayhawks today (yes) and then pound Oklahoma in the conference title game.

And also because Auburn has a chance to do to Mac Jones what they did to Jalen that day – flush him out of the pocket, leave no running lanes, and make him sprint east-and-west for the sideline so he can throw an incomplete pass past the first-down marker in the instant before he gets sacked.

And there’s a backup quarterback named Tagavailoa on the Bama bench, Taulia, the younger brother of Tua, with two good hips … just in case….

Utah and Oregon

The PAC-12 duo with a pulse play dogs today – One-loss Utah’s got five-win Colorado at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Two-loss Oregon goes to five-loss Oregon State. Both should leave destruction in their wake, but it’s the Pac-12, so you never know.

If Utah beats Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game next week, they have a good claim to the No. 4 spot in the playoff, but it’ll take a more complex series of reactions than it takes to ignite a small thermonuclear device. One of which could happen today if Auburn upsets Alabama.

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THE POTATO: BAMA FAN’S IRON BOWL PRAYER

It is time once again to reflect on the great danger that confronts our nation. We must unite against a singular evil and make our hearts full, our eyes clear and our minds focused.

There is no greater threat to our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy than the perfidious Auburn War Eagles. The Eagles are a good team, with a solid defense and something that at times closely resembles an offense.

May we in this hour not forget the similar wretched conquest of another great evil that to this day bedevils our lives. With this in mind we devote our will our energy and our spirit to conquer the evil that now assails us, for if there is no victory only misery will be left behind.

May there be no peace for the Eagle of War, whose dark soul brings with it always the stench of putridity. God Bless Roll Tide, and God Bless Alabama, and may the bold spirit of the fallen Tua inspire us who live for justice and fight for right.

Amen.

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THE POTATO: Race for playoffs heats up – as hot as it ever gets because Ohio State, LSU and Clemson are in

Western Carolina at Alabama, noon, ESPN

Life without Tua begins for Bama. The Crimson Tide can do little else but get work for backups Mac Jones and Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s baby brother. Then they have to beat Auburn next week, no small order. and hope all the right teams lose. There are a bunch of them.

Alabama’s got marquee value, as proven by this turkey being on ESPN, and that’ll have to weigh into any hope the Tide has of backing into the playoffs – and probably getting clubbed like a baby seal without the star quarterback. The highlight of the game today will come when Tua hobbles out onto the field (he’s back on campus after hip surgery in Houston earlier this week), and all the fans stand up and cry and cheer and stuff.

Penn State at Ohio State, noon, Fox

I’d have thought Penn State might have a chance today until I saw them get butchered by Minnesota, who promptly lost to Iowa the next week. Today’s line started out at about 17 and went up to 18 1/2, which means many millions were wagered on the Buckeyes. Penn State’s best receiver suffered a head injury and is unlikely to play, and the only chance the Nittany Lions have is to go over the Buckeyes’ defense. The only way they could run on Ohio State is if they let the tailback ride a horse.

Texas A&M at Georgia, 3:30 p.m., CBS

The Aggies are Florida’s last hope to back into the SEC Championship Game next month. The chance of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa’s hip miraculously healing are better. However, an apocalyptic rain is likely for Athens, Georgia this afternoon, so maybe there’s some degree of divine intervention in effect.

Texas at Baylor, Fox Sports 1, 3:30 pm.

Here’s Texas’ chance to let the fans down again. Here’s Baylor’s chance to stay in the hunt for a Big 12 championship and a snub by the playoff committee.

Oregon at Arizona State, ABC, 7:30 p.m.

One-loss Oregon, a high double-digit favorite today, is in the playoff picture if they can win the Pac-12 championship. Interestingly, Oregon has lost its last three games in Arizona. Why that should have anything to do with this mismatch has more to do with magical thinking than reality.

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THE POTATO: Tua was the best I ever saw; player and person

When Alabama’s Tua Tagavailoa went down and didn’t get up last week my heart sank. Head down, on his hands and knees, he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, obviously in great pain. He was fighting back tears. I was terrified.

I prayed out loud about football for the only time in my life that didn’t involve a game I had money on. Oh, God, don’t let him be dying. That’s how bad it looked.

Full disclosure: I graduated from The University of Alabama and worked for the athletic department when I was in school. I hope I developed a reporter’s professional distance in a long career of being a reporter, but I am still grateful to the University, its athletic department and the people there who helped me grow up – sort of – and are largely responsible for every honest dollar I’ve made in my life, few though they may be.

So when I’m not on the clock, I’m for Alabama. That’s my alma mater. I’d be a disloyal, sorry individual unworthy of anybody’s respect if I were not. That’s how I was raised. That’s the world I live in, and I’ll own it.

I admire athletes who play to win and honor the game, and I like the college game more than the NFL, which lost me several years ago. I like Joe Burrow, I like Bo Nix, and that Trask kid from Florida for stepping in when the starter went down. Justin Fields, at Ohio State, Jalen Hurts, of course, at Oklahoma. I really liked poor, old Johnny Manziel, and hated to see his own demons consume him.

But Tua was special. Not only because he was crazy talented, and not just because he was playing for Alabama, my home state that doesn’t get a lot of good ink for a lot of good reasons.

A kid from Hawaii ended up here and brought the family. It was cool. After the game, when the stands were empty, they all went down to the field and sang hymns together. As somebody who has always related religion to football, I like that.

Tua showed those of us in his adopted state the spirit of Aloha, which means hello and goodbye, of course, but which literally means “divine breath:” love, peace, compassion, kindness.

Never more than when, while he awaited major surgery to fix his mangled hip, a video surfaced of him playing the ukulele and singing. That’s how you do it.

He lives in joy and reminded us that football is, after all, just a game – but sometimes is can be something more. Football was his platform, which he used to demonstrate a really good way to live.

He was a great ambassador for his team, his school, and the college game itself. He was admired by his oft-beaten opponents – when he was carted off the field for the last time, Mississippi State fans stood and gave him the “cowbell salute,” standing up and cheering and clanging those damned bells. I heard they’d never done that for a player not wearing their team’s uniform. That’s a hell of a thing if you think about it.

Tua’s the only person who could make me want to give Nick Saban a hug. The coach, who is, you know, kind of a bastard, was heartbroken and hurting, and said as much in a wavering voice at his Monday news conference.

The bottom line, Tua’s got class, something sorely lacking today in sports and America in general.

He was born to it. He’s a champion, and he shared his gifts gladly to all.

They say he’ll be all right. That he’ll get well, and may be able to play again. Hey, God. Me again… A little help.

Aloha.

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THE POTATO: College football analysis, Week 12, with all hell broke loose and the Witch of November a howlin’.

The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

November is a witch goddess who in her kindness blesses disciples of college football with the glorious, cold, blue autumn afternoons we all remember when we remember the games of November. We only remember the good stuff: the spice and heat of hot wings and icy bourbon on the tongue, the warm metal of the hood caressing our asses where we sit and take it all in. A parking lot barely in sight of the stadium knowing there’s a long, jostling walk ahead joined with the drunk, the crazy and the screaming, traffic-dodging, slow-moving herd. At last inside the cathedral of pain, soothing with bourbon from the smuggled flask, behold: the warriors arrive, pouring out of the home-side tunnel and onto the field. A hundred thousand voices roar so loudly the 200-member marching band loses, and becomes only a brass pulse in the maelstrom or sound, and look! Up in the sky! Roaring warplanes appear from nowhere in attack formation, screaming 50 feet over the stadium so low the hot wash of air blows your hat off your head.

Damn, it’s exciting. A spectacle seen nowhere but in America that puts all other sports related mayhem to shame: the running of the bulls in Spain is a croquet match by comparison; the drunken thugs of Manchester United rioting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, the citizens of Rome on their feet as gladiators bleed in the dust of the coliseum, chanting “Nunc autem eum occidere“, echoing in eternity.

But then the damned witch of November rides in cackling on the icy wind, smites your players, who fumble, throw interceptions, miss blocks and tackles and suddenly, all that once was glorious and gold transforms into a flaming pile of shit.

The College Football Playoff Committee tries to make sense of chaos, fails

Like Eric Bana as Hector impaled on the sword of Achilles-playing Brad Pitt before the walls of Troy in a so-so 2004 action movie, old warrior Alabama fell to the ascendant LSU last week. The Crimson Tide, which has been a disorganized mess all season but still did pretty good because the players are all NFL prospects, played its worst first half in modern memory, and LSU struck like a bayou alligator dismantling an unsuspecting family of carefree otters. They turned three unforced Alabama turnovers into 17 points and led 33-13 at the half.

Bama’s offense got it together in the second half and made a run, but the defense continued to mostly look over at the sideline tying to decipher the signals from their frantically gesticulating coaches while LSU snapped the ball and Joe Burrow threw another bullet to another wide-open receiver who had made another member of the Alabama secondary, twist, turn, jump, break-dance and fall down. (Note to Bama coaching staff: Defenses do a lot better when they are facing the other team, not you).

Alabama only lost by 5, which looks better than it was. At no time did Alabama even get possession of the ball when they came within one score of taking the lead. The defense couldn’t get a stop when they had to have one, and barely got any at all.

The resultant rankings for the College Football Playoffs produced great consternation – Alabama fell from No. 3 to No. 5, which the haters felt was not punishment enough. One-loss Oregon, which lost to Auburn on a last-second pass in the first game of the year, is sixth. LSU took over the top spot after Ohio State beat Maryland 73-14. Football karma may catch up to the Buckeye because he went for an onside kick and recovered it leading 52-7, which is just a shitty thing to do.

Clemson can stop whining, now that it’s ranked third the week of the great showdown with Wake Forest, which is probably the third or fourth best team in the egregious ACC and a 34-point underdog.

Georgia is ranked No. 4, that lone fluky loss to South Carolina the only gray mark. This has created the situation where Alabama fans have to cheer for Auburn to upset Georgia, because that’ll move Auburn into the top 10. Alabama has played one ranked team – at home – and bled out under the flashing disco lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium. But the reasoning is, if Alabama can beat Auburn at Auburn – which is anything but a foregone conclusion – it’ll be a win over a semi-decent team, which will improve the optics.

Undefeated Minnesota is ranked 8th and Undefeated Baylor is 13th, proving the little guy gets no love in America, where members of the College Football Playoff Committee and ESPN officials familiar with TV ratings know that a final four of LSU, Clemson, Minnesota and Baylor will attract fewer viewers than “The Beverly Hillbillies – the Missing Episodes” on Roku.

Alabama at Mississippi State, Noon, ESPN

Alabama’s a 21.5 favorite going on the road to Starkville, where Bulldogs Head Coach Joe Moore has put together a 12-10 composite record the last two years and is on thinner ice than usual for a Mississippi State coach. Running back Kylin Hill leads the SEC in rushing with a little more than 1,000 yards and 114 yards per game. Anything good on anybody’s offense presents a true and present danger to Alabama’s defense, which has a lot of talented guys running around like a kicked-open anthill. There’s probably a slightly better chance for me to play quarterback for Alabama than Tua Tungavailoa, whose Heisman hopes are pretty much out the window, even though he’s a really good passer, but always gets hurt before big games.

Nick Saban said he suspended a player for this game for not going to class. Nobody knows who it is. Bama fans have called the prayer chain to ask God not to let it be Najee Harris, the personification of the Alabama running game; after him there is no other.

No. 11 Florida at Missouri, Noon, CBS

The Gators have a slim chance of elbowing their way into the SEC Championship Game if Auburn and Texas A&M beat Georgia the next two weeks. It could happen – but don’t put any money on it. Florida’s a 7-point favorite over Mizzou, which has put together an ugly 5-4 record studded with things like a loss to Wyoming, a 7-point loss to Vandy and a 29-point loss to Kentucky, a convincing 34-14 win over South Carolina, the team that beat Georgia, but a convincing 27-0 loss to Georgia its ownself. At one point in the season I might have thought Florida was flaky enough to lose to Missouri, but I don’t feel that way now. The Gators should win – but should and will are two different things with these guys. Call it a landmine game.

No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn, 3:30 p.m. CBS

Georgia’s incentive to beat Auburn is clear – best shot at getting in the playoffs with two losses if LSU beats them in the Championship Game. Auburn’s incentive to beat Georgia is more ephemeral – you beat your second-biggest rival raising the hopes of your greatest rival, whom you can then beat at home and crush their souls, fuck up their recruiting and rightfully declare yourself the slayer of the Nick Saban Dynasty. At least until next year.

Georgia’s a three-point favorite, which I guess means somebody thinks Georgia kicker Rodriguez will have a good day. His toe was a killing machine last year, right up to the SEC Championship Game, when he missed a 30-yard field goal that would have given the Dawgs a 17-point lead over Bama, but he shanked it, and the Tide came rolling back to win. He missed an OT field goal against South Carolina, the game Georgia lost this year. He’s not like Alabama’s kickers. He’s not bad. He’s good but sometimes has bad days. He better hope today’s not one of them, because putting up any kind of points against Auburn will be crucial. Auburn’s got a very good defense, and is built to take down an offense like UGA’s.

Georgia’s got a better defense, I beg your pardon. They have not allowed a rushing TD this year. They’ve shut out three teams this year. Georgia is the last team on earth playing God’s football – let the defense beat on the other team’s offense, control the ball on offense, run the clock. The only drawback is that Georgia’s run game has not blossomed the way I thought it would this season. It’s good, but it’s not dominating. D’Andre Swift has great numbers – 921 yards going into today’s game, 6.3 yards per carry, 7 TDs, 15 catches for 170 yards and one TD. He’s the kind of guy, though, who could bust loose late in the season and become America’s hero. So, we’ll see.

No. 2 Ohio State at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Here’s another godawful Big Ten game that will end badly for Rutgers, a hopeless amalgamation of sorrow and futility in shoulderpads and cleats. Rutgers is a 34-point dog, but anything less than 60 should count as a loss for tOSU.

But the Buckeyes’ lazy days are over after this. They close out the season against Penn State and Michigan, both of which suck, but are good in the context of the Big Ten.

Indiana is playing Penn State this week – the Hoosiers are ranked 24th, which is different from the way things usually are. No. 15 Michigan plays Michigan State and should kill them and make barbecue out of them, but don’t bet on it. Michigan is half-assed.

Wake Forest at No. 3 Clemson, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Wake Forest is one of the better teams in the ACC, but they’re still pretty awful. Clemson, at last back in the CFP Top 4 and whine-free, is a 5 touchdown favorite, which sounds about right. The Tigers seem to playing their best ball of the year, and peaking at the right time is something Dabo Swinney teams do real well. But it’s hard to tell, because it seems like a lot of these ACC schools have football because people need something to do until basketball season starts.

No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa, 4 p.m., FOX

Minnesota spent a lot of emotional energy taking out Penn State last week. They lit up the Nittany Lions offense in ways somebody not familiar with Big Ten defenses would have thought impossible. The Golden Gophers do pitch the ball around and roll up and down the field. But now they have to go play a pretty decent Iowa team, who has only lost to Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, all closely. So they’re almost as good as those guys, and Minnesota, well, they eked out wins over San Diego State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern to start the year. How good are those GGs? This one will be another indication of their playoff worthiness.

No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m., ESPN

Well, here’s the thing about Ole Miss. They lose a lot, but have been losing by fewer points than they did earlier in the season. They lost by 11 to Missouri, 7 to Texas A&M and 6 to Auburn. Auburn played LSU close. I guess I’m trying to build up some enthusiasm for this turd, but the fact is, LSU is probably going to stomp them flatter than a runned-over nutria rat on Pontchartrain Drive in Eden Isle.

No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor, 7:30 p.m., ABC

Can Oklahoma save the world from an undefeated Baylor waltzing into a semifinal demolition at the hands of Ohio State or LSU? It’s not that done a deal, because the Bears, unlike anybody else in the Big 12, sort of play defense a little bit. That could be enough to be the difference. But win or lose, these two teams could meet again in a few weeks for the Big 12 Championship Game because they have this wonky deal where the top two teams just play each other and the winner gets a trophy.