On this bye week prior to the biggest game of the season, here is a special Five for Friday viewers’ guide to the weekend in college football from a Clemson perspective…
1. Auburn at Tennessee, 12:00 PM, ESPN. Playing in Knoxville at noon hasn’t exactly been a stroll in the park this season. Just ask South Carolina.
In fact, playing at Neyland Stadium has been a losing proposition for opponents all season long. Tennessee has been absolute garbage on the road—albeit against a road schedule featuring no one ranked lower than 19th at game time—but the Vols are a solid 4-1 at home this season with the only loss coming in overtime to a Georgia team that lost about half of its starters in the game.
Auburn has asserted itself as a force on the national stage throughout the season. Quietly, the Tigers have risen to ninth in the BCS rankings and still have a home date with Alabama on the schedule. Looking past the Vols, though, could prove costly, and it could also rid Clemson of a contender for a BCS berth.
2. N.C. State at Duke, 4:00 PM, ESPNU. This seems like a weird matchup to feature in a space like this. But Clemson will be directly impacted by the result here.
First of all, N.C. State comes into this matchup with an 0-5 conference record. I don’t expect the Wolfpack to win at Duke or Boston College in their next two games, which means they will be 0-7 when Maryland comes to town in late November. Having an 0-8 team on the schedule, in addition to woeful Maryland and Virginia, is not a positive for the Tigers in terms of strength of schedule.
Duke’s position in the Coastal Division is also a potential concern. The whole ACC directly benefits from a Miami-Florida State conference title game. Virginia Tech has lost its luster, but a Hokies-Seminoles matchup wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Georgia Tech is right in position, but that’s not a sexy matchup either.
But the Blue Devils winning this division would be a disaster on the national scene. I think Duke is a quality team but not a division title contender against the caliber of competition Virginia Tech and Miami should represent. A win here would make the Blue Devils 3-2 in league play and, coupled with a Yellow Jacket loss at Clemson, would put them in control of their own destiny in the division race.
3. Virginia Tech at Miami (FL), 7:00 PM, ESPN. Speaking of the Coastal Division, the ACC really needs Miami to keep winning. The reasons why are unfair but unfortunately valid in today’s college football landscape.
Florida State will likely play in the national title game if it wins out. This is apparent after Oregon’s loss last night. But don’t discount the chance a one-loss team from a power conference pushed the Seminoles if there isn’t a quality win to point to coming down the stretch.
Having Miami in the ACC title game accomplishes that goal, unless the Hurricanes fall off the map. Nobody else in the league possesses the ability to boost Florida State’s credibility quite like Miami does, even given how thoroughly the Canes were dominated by the Noles recently.
4. Houston at UCF, 7:00 PM, ESPN2. This matchup might make you cringe until you learn the particulars. These two teams are a combined 7-0 in American Athletic Conference play. UCF is ranked 21st overall in the BCS standings and likely will win its remaining games. Houston has a chance to experience a meteoric rise if it can win at UCF and Louisville in consecutive weeks (highly unlikely).
This is an intriguing matchup of two of the three or four best mid-major teams in the country so far this season. There is a legitimate chance one or more of the excellent non-AQ teams busts the BCS and leaves a team like Clemson out of the picture.
Currently, Fresno State (16th) and Northern Illinois (18th) are the other teams ranked in the BCS standings from non-AQ conferences. I think there’s a good chance one of these teams gets into the BCS, and this week could be a time when the picture becomes clearer.
5. LSU at Alabama, 8:00 PM, CBS. Did you know—not counting a six-loss 2007 season when Nick Saban first arrived—Alabama has lost more home games (3) than road/neutral games (2) in the regular season under Nick Saban? Well, it’s true—and it goes deeper than that. The Crimson Tide has lost a home game in each of the past three seasons.
In addition, Les Miles actually has Saban’s number recently. He is 3-1 against Saban at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which is a ridiculous notion. One could make the argument the Tigers have been the only team in America to consistently challenge Alabama over the past half-decade.
My point is that this game looks like the time when it all comes crashing down on Alabama, which would put Florida State into the driver’s seat and create much havoc from the second spot down into the teens.
In other words, just the way we like it.