News, thoughts and more from the world of college sports across the nation and Long Island.
Games to watch Saturday
The college football season clearly has saved its best for the last regular season weekend off the season. Alabama plays at Auburn, Florida hosts Florida State, Texas A&M visits Missouri and Ohio State is at Michigan. Each of those games, and a few others not mentioned, could have some sort of effect on the BCS national championship and the Heisman Trophy race.
No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) @ No. 4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1), 3:30: Outside of a 49-42 win at Texas A&M and a tough 20-7 victory at Mississippi State and its annual tussle with LSU, Alabama hasn’t had any problems plowing through its schedule. Saturday’s game should present the Crimson Tide’s stiffest challenge to date. Why? Because Auburn can run the ball. The Tigers are ranked 2nd nationally in rushing offense (320.3 ypg). Alabama is 4th nationally in run defense (91.3), which means something has to give. If Auburn can run the ball just enough to keep Alabama’s offense off the field, this game will be close.
Auburn arguably has had the best RB trio in the country in Tre Mason (1,153 yds, 17 TDs), Cameron Artis-Payne (568 yds, 5 TDs) and Corey Grant (557 yds, 5 TDs). QB Nick Marshall’s dual threat ability (823 yds, 9 TDs) has made the Tigers that much tougher to defend. But Alabama has shown it is up to the task. In a 52-0 win over Arkansas, the Crimson Tide held the Razorbacks nearly 50 yards below its season average of 211 yards. Alabama also held LSU, which averages just over 197 yards on the ground, to 43 yards. Marshall is going to have to loosen up Alabama’s defense with some passing early to get the running game on track.
As for Alabama, A.J. McCarron should be especially fired up. Aside from the fact that a win puts Alabama closer to the national title, the Heisman Trophy up for grabs. A big time performance could put him ahead of Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Some of McCarron’s best games have come against Alabama’s toughest competition. He threw for 334 yards and 4 TDs against Texas A&M and completed 70 percent of his passes and tossed 3 TDs against LSU.
The back seven is where Auburn is vulnerable. The Tigers are 44th in the country in pass efficiency defense. Their secondary was blitzed in a 45-41 win at Texas A&M (469 yds) and gave up 415 yards passing in a 43-38 win over Georgia. Granted Georgia and Texas A&M have great passing attacks, but Auburn can’t let McCarron sit in the pocket and pick them apart. Expect a high-scoring affair and Alabama to finish off the Tigers with a strong fourth quarter.
No. 21 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) @ No. 5 Missouri (10-1, 6-1), 7:45: It all comes down to this for Missouri: beat the Aggies and advance to the SEC title game on Dec. 7. Lose and South Carolina gets the nod. Missouri showed its defensive muscle in a 24-10 at Mississippi last week. Ole’ Miss totaled just 378 yards, including only 126 on the ground. It’s going to take an even bigger effort to slow down Johnny Manziel. Manziel had his worst game of the season against LSU last week, completing just 16 of 41 passes for 224 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. Manziel, assuming he has made the decision to move on to the NFL, will want to go out with a blast.
Offensively, Missouri received a boost with the return of QB James Franklin, who missed four games with a shoulder injury. The senior was efficient against Ole’ Miss, completing 12 of 19 passes for 142 yards. He also ran for 42 yards on eight carries. Missouri will certainly need Franklin to get comfortable again and return to mid-season form if the Tigers are to hold off the Aggies.
No. 24 Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) @ North Carolina (6-5, 4-3): If Duke wins, the Blue Devils will get to 10 wins for the first time in program history and advance to the SEC title game…No. 3 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) @ Michigan (7-4, 4-3): You can usually throw out the records when these two play. Not this year. Michigan just isn’t that good. But the Buckeyes can't sleepwalk through this one…No. 2 Florida State (11-0, 8-0 ACC) @ Florida (4-7, 3-5): The only reason this game is mentioned is because it has Heisman Trophy implications. Florida is terrible this year…