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THE POTATO: Yeah, yeah, it is championship weekend, do your Christmas shopping instead

Oklahoma vs. Baylor, noon, ABC

Since Utah puked on its shoes and got stomped by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, it looks like this one could be for the fourth spot in the playoffs. LSU needs to beat Georgia pretty good, and it’ll open up for the winner of this game.

The last time these two teams played, Oklahoma helped Baylor to a 25-point, second-half lead by committing two turnovers that led to two touchdowns, a scenario that will give broken-hearted Alabama fans a frisson of foul memory after last week’s Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide’s former quarterback, Jalen Hurts, led a furious second-half comeback, and the Sooners had a field-goal kicker who could make a field goal, so they won a thriller 34-31 to hand the Bears their only loss. The Sooners had dropsy again and lost three turnovers the next week and squeaked out a 28-24 win over TCU. Then the next week, their rival Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy had a press conference, and with his mullet and spit flying, declared the Oklahoma offense a glorified wishbone – as if that was an insult, because the wishbone will kick your ass if you aren’t careful. So Hurts went out and ran for 160 and threw for 160 hitting 13-0f-16 to eight different receivers that included himself against token resistance and beat Gundy like he stole something, 34-16.

Unlike everybody else in the league, Baylor does have a defense, but Oklahoma has Jalen Hurts. I like Jalen. Again.

Georgia vs. LSU, 4 p.m., CBS

Not many people are giving Georgia a chance. But I still believe that anybody with a good defense has a chance. Georgia’s offense is sketchy at best, but LSU’s defense is a cruel joke.

LSU is probably in the playoffs unless they lose really bad. I don’t think Georgia can beat them really bad – if they do it’ll be because somebody missed an extra point or fell down covering a punt or something. Georgia’s got a bunch of injuries, but the one that matters is receiver Lawrence Cager, who is the big dog. The Dawgs are a different team with him in the game, which means they’re a hell of a different team when he’s not, and not in a good way. Devonte Wyatt is nicked up – he’s the other slightly smaller big dog. Without them, Jake Fromm is a really ordinary quarterback. Running back D’Andre Swift is also dinged up, and if he’s not able to do much, then Georgia effectively has no offense, a thing ordinarily required to win a football game.

If LSU wins, it’ll probably win big enough to get Oklahoma in the top four and play them in the first round, which may be a big mistake.

Clemson vs. Virginia, 7:30, ABC

Oh, Dabo. Please stop whining. This week he said we’d all missed out on a “beautiful football team” because nobody gave them any respect and blah, blah, blah.

Look, basically, Clemson has 12 light scrimmages from August to December and is far enough ahead by the third quarter of every game to work on all the things they need to work on to get better. With this schedule, Clemson should be Playstation 5 set to “juggernaut” by now.

Virginia is an exciting little team, and I like their quarterback. I hope they enjoy their trip to the Orange Bowl after Clemson cleans their clock.

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m., FOX

This is the best chance for a competitive game, and it’s not real good. Wisconsin has a plain, old team that plays big boy football. They block, run unspectacularly but efficiently; if the quarterback throws it, and it’s close enough to the receiver, he’ll probably catch it. The defense is solid, everybody looks like they know what they’re doing and they all face the same way when they line up.

Ohio State will probably murder them.

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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.