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.