Week 14 of the college football season is here — the next-to-last weekend of the regular season.
The finish line is in sight in a season that continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. This week’s schedule features two matchups between teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
No. 10 Indiana faces No. 18 Wisconsin in a battle of one-loss Big Ten teams. No. 14 Coastal Carolina faces No. 8 BYU in a battle of unbeatens. That is the best game of the week. SEC rivalries between No. 1 Alabama and LSU and No. 6 Florida and Tennessee will only make headlines if there’s an upset.
Every week, Sporting News surveys the landscape looking for Heisman contenders, coaches on the spot, upset alerts and other trends. With that in mind, get ready for Week 14.
LSU’s Joe Burrow used last year’s stage against Alabama in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown to clinch the Heisman Trophy.
A Crimson Tide player could return the favor this year knowing that they are 30.5-point favorites in the rematch, but the only question is which one?
Mac Jones is second in the FBS with a 208.0 passer rating, and that’s the best mark among Power 5 quarterbacks. Najee Harris leads the FBS with 17 rushing touchdowns, and DeVonta Smith leads all Power 5 receivers with 12 TDs.
The LSU game is where Derrick Henry — Alabama’s last Heisman winner — upstaged Leonard Fournette with 210 yards and three TDs. This is a chance for one of those three players to grab the spotlight.
There’s a good chance that all three finish in the top 10 in the final voting.
Coach on the spot
Tennessee entered the season with momentum. The Vols had a top 10 recruiting class in 2020, and Jeremy Pruitt appeared to have the program in the right direction.
Now, Tennesse is 2-5 and up against another rival in Florida. Pruitt is 15-17 the past three years, and an 0-8 record against Georgia, Alabama and Florida has not changed. It’s not just the losses. It’s the average margin of victory against those rivals.
Florida beat Tennessee 34-3 last season. If Saturday’s matchup is somehow worse, that could be big trouble for Pruitt. South Carolina and Vanderbilt have already fired their coaches. Would Tennessee be next in line?
A total of 13 unbeaten teams are left in the FBS. Here is a closer look at that list:
Which conference has the most unbeaten teams? The Pac-12, of course. Keep an eye on those matchups this weekend. No. 23 Washington plays Stanford on Saturday, and Colorado travels to Arizona. No. 17 USC plays on Sunday against Washington State.
In a normal season, Power 5 teams with one loss would still have a chance to make the College Football Playoff.
That is less than half-right this year. Eight Power 5 schools have one loss heading into this week, and only four have realistic College Football Playoff hopes.
This is where the number-of-games argument factors in. No. 4 Clemson (8-1), No. 5 Texas A&M (6-1), No. 6 Florida (7-1) and No. 9 Miami (7-1) have a larger sample size than Indiana (5-1), Wisconsin (2-1), No. 16 Northwestern (5-1) and No. 21 Oregon (3-1).
It’s not ACC or SEC bias at this point. It’s based on the number of games played, and that makes it easier to forgive that one loss. The pending Notre Dame-Clemson and Florida-Alabama conference championship matchups will be de facto Playoff quarterfinals. The other three Power 5 conferences can’t say that.
As for the two-loss Big 12 crowd that includes No. 12 Iowa State, No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 19 Oklahoma State? That’s just too much ground to make up in two weeks.
Think about it …
If Wisconsin beats Indiana on Saturday — and it’s a distinct possibility knowing that Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was lost for the season with a torn ACL — then the Big Ten will have some intrigue heading into the final week of the regular season.
What if Northwestern loses to rival Illinois? That would mean the Wildcats — who would be 6-2 at that point — would go to the Big Ten championship instead of the Badgers, whose best possible finish is 4-1.
Ohio State is on trek to play at Michigan State this week, but what if the game against the Wolverines is canceled? The Buckeyes could be 5-0, but the Hoosiers would likely be 6-2 at that point.
By the rules, Indiana and Northwestern would play in the Big Ten championship game.
If that scenario unfolds, and it’s possible, then the Big Ten should step in and let Wisconsin and Ohio State play for the championship.
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