Here comes October, and that’s glad tidings in Alabama. Nick Saban has owned the month, lock, stock and Halloween pumpkin, going 52-3 with the Tide. But 53-3 might be a little tricky, so that’s where we begin with this week’s Moments of Truth.
(all times Eastern)
When last seen in road uniforms, Alabama had to fight for its life to get out of Austin, Texas unscathed. Presumably, many of the flaws from that 20-19 near-miss with the Longhorns — the work of the offensive line comes to mind — have been corrected, since the Tide have won their past two home games by a combined score of 118-10. But that was against outmanned quarry, and now we’ll see how the Tide can roll against a ranked opponent — and when the audience is hostile, not to mention mostly dressed in one color. Arkansas has called for a fan Red Out Saturday. It’s like going to Defcon 1.
The Bryce Young Heisman re-election campaign is moving along with a 68.8 percent completion rate and 13 touchdowns to go with two interceptions, aided by many helping hands; 17 different Alabama players have already caught a pass this season. Those numbers might get a boost Saturday in Fayetteville since the Razorbacks are 126th in the nation, allowing 302 passing yards a game. But Arkansas has also sacked the quarterback 20 times to lead the country, so there’s that. And the Razorbacks won’t lack for motivation to reverse one very ugly trend. Saban has dominated them even more than he has October, going 15-0 against Arkansas while at Alabama by a combined score of 626-235. There’s something to be red-outted about.
Could be the game of the year in the ACC with the two pre-season favorites bumping into one another, and now they might have to do it around a hurricane. So the plot thickens with the wind and rain of Ian, but it was already pretty compelling. This is the first time in history that the teams meet with both in the top-10.
North Carolina State can prove this is its moment in the sun, even if there probably won’t be any Saturday. The Wolfpack haven’t won at Clemson in 20 years. They haven’t been in the-top 10 for 20 years, either. The quarterback back then was Philip Rivers, and he was the father of one child. Now his alma mater is finally back in the top-10, and he has nine kids. Clemson always plays with its playoff destiny on the line, and has a pass defense to tighten after leaking for 337 yards and six touchdowns through the air by Wake Forest. The Tigers got away with that and won in double overtime. Speaking of double overtime, the Wolfpack went two OTs to beat Clemson last season. Something for both sides to think about as they get their rain parkas out for Saturday.
LATEST RANKINGS: NC State and Tennessee rise, enter AP poll top 10
This twosome is accomplishing feats unseen in generations. Kentucky hasn’t been ranked this highly in 45 years. Ole Miss has won 12 consecutive home games for the first time since 1964. With a victory, Kentucky would have its first road win over an SEC West team since 2009, its first nine-game winning streak since 1977, its first victory at Mississippi since 1978. Ole Miss comes off the first 10-win regular season in school history. The Rebels have trailed a total of 3:52 this season, all against Tulsa. The last time both these teams were ranked coming into the game was 1958.
Kentucky has held its first four opponents under 200 passing yards for the first time in 33 years. Ole Miss has had someone break 100 yards rushing in four consecutive games for the first time this century, one reason why the Rebels are fourth in the nation by grounding out 280.8 yards a game.
So it’s a match of two teams, and two coaches, savoring good times. Be it Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, who has grown a football program in the soil of basketball holy land, and is rather quietly now 11th in the FBS in tenure at his school. Or Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin, whose long, winding and sometimes stormy road through the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC – among other places – has led to happy days in Oxford. He’s been effective at bringing in reinforcements. Of 125 players on the Ole Miss roster this season, 56 are newcomers.
Here’s a textbook case of something has to give. On one bench, the Michigan offense that leads the nation by scoring 50 points a game. On the other, the Iowa defense that is No. 1 in the land with a paltry 23 points allowed, the lowest for the Hawkeyes in 66 years. The Iowa defense has scored as many touchdowns as it has allowed this season – two. Michigan has put across 26 touchdowns. In a matchup like that, what will decide it? Maybe the other side of the equation, when the Michigan defense faces an Iowa offense that is 120th in the nation in scoring.
Hard to tell if the Hawkeyes have been studying the films of their last meeting with the Wolverines, since all the tapes might have been burned in an Iowa City bonfire. That was the 2021 Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan 42, Iowa 3.
Time for reminiscing, and Oklahoma State fans are excused to leave the room. Big 12 title game last December, Baylor leading 21-16 in the 80 seconds, but Oklahoma State with first down at the Bears’ 2-yard line. Score, and the Cowboys would be league champions, and quite possibly in the College Football Playoff. Two lousy yards to glory, and four plays to get them. They tried a run and gained one yard. Another run for nothing. An incomplete pass. A fourth down run was stopped at the goal line. Game over, playoff hopes crushed. That memory of anguish will linger, especially Saturday.
But it’s a new season. The Cowboys have produced 51.7 points a game to lead the nation -- Michigan is slightly ahead in points strictly from its offense – and will take that firepower to Waco to try to at least wash some of the sour taste away from 2021. Some, not all. It’s not the easiest place to do it. Baylor has won nine home games in a row.
Whose 4-0 is to be believed? UCLA has blown through Bowling Green, Alabama State, South Alabama and 0-4 Colorado. Washington hasn’t played a road game yet. Friday night in the Rose Bowl will validate someone’s Pac-12 contention plans.
Washington is a particularly interesting case of revival. The Huskies were 4-8 last season, the final game an unsightly 40-13 pounding at home by Washington State. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was part of the meltdown at Indiana, completing only 53.7 percent of his passes and throwing seven interceptions with four touchdowns for the Hoosiers. Then he headed 2,200 miles west. Now Washington is unbeaten under new coach Kalen DeBoer and Penix is presiding over the nation’s top passing offense, with his 12 touchdowns, one interception and 64.3 completion percentage. And he hasn’t been sacked yet. That renaissance gets its first road test.
The Gophers are starting stack up a huge pile of shiny numbers that is impossible to miss. First in the nation in total defense, third in total offense (the only other teams with both units in the top 15 are Georgia and Alabama, so they’re keeping fast company). First in third down conversion and third down conversion defense. They just waxed Michigan State 34-7 for their most lopsided win in the series since 1958. The 24 points allowed are the fewest after four games at Minnesota since 1961. Need we go on?
True, the early schedule of New Mexico State, Western Illinois, Colorado and a struggling Michigan State does not qualify as a definitive test. But a team plays whomever is in front of it, and when the combined score after three quarters is 156-3, well . . . Minnesota deserves watching. So this is no time to stumble over a Purdue bunch that has the talent to make trouble, but the bad habit of doing things to get in its own way. Not that it’s relevant yet, but Minnesota has never played in the Big Ten Championship Game. And its last Rose Bowl was 60 years ago.
Homecoming in Lawrence, and the alums can see what all the fuss is about. The polls are not yet fully on the 4-0 Jayhawks’ bandwagon yet, with Kansas still unranked, but that could change with a win over a 3-1 Iowa State team that beat Iowa. To understand the amazing reclamation project of second-year coach Lance Leipold, consider that Kansas has a chance to go 2-0 in the Big 12 this week. In the past 13 seasons, the Jayhawks were 8-106 in league play. They have 27 touchdowns so far in four games. That’s more than they had the entire 2017 season . . . or 2015 . . . or 2013 . . . and just five behind last year.
And as far as the computer engineering major at quarterback, punch in these Jalon Daniels numbers: A 71 completion percentage, 11 touchdown passes, one interception, averaging 8.4 yards per carry. No wonder the party is growing. A crowd of more than 47,000 is expected Saturday. Last season, attendance for Kansas homecoming was 25,106. If there was a vote taken right now for national coach of the year, we’re talking landslide.
This time last year, Florida State was 0-4. Now the Seminoles are 4-0. No ACC team has executed a U-turn like that in 39 years, and it has the Florida State faithful thinking the world is back in its proper orbit, with the Seminoles the only unbeaten team in the state of Florida. If the joy of rejuvenation is to continue, they’ll have to do something about the Wake Forest offense, which has put up 171 points in four games and nearly gunned down Clemson last weekend with six touchdown passes and 337 yards in the air by Sam Hartman. Then again, Florida State’s Jordan Travis passed for 321 yards against Boston College.
Is Florida State back? Can Wake Forest quickly recover from the frustration of the Clemson loss? Pertinent questions, but not as pertinent as this one: What’s Hurricane Ian going to do to this game?
In the 1836 election for president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston drubbed Stephen F. Austin by nearly 4,000 votes. Here we are 186 years later, and nothing much has changed, at least in football. The 96th Battle of the Piney Woods is the second longest series in the FCS, pairing rivals 100 miles apart, and it has not been much fun lately for Stephen F. Austin. Sam Houston has won 10 meetings in a row to open a 59-34-2 gap in the series.
Time for the fortunes to change? Sam Houston is 1-2. Stephen F. Austin is 2-2 and comes off, well, let’s call it a dominant performance. To fill a sudden hole in the schedule, the Lumberjacks played Warner, a tiny NAIA school from Florida that started 18 freshmen. It ended 98-0.
Sam Houston will be a sterner test, but the real challenge might be keeping this rivalry going at all, now that the Bearkats are headed for Conference USA next year while Stephen F. Austin stays behind in the WAC. The Lumberjacks better get their revenge while they can.
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