The pandemic continues to grip college football. At least a dozen games were postponed or canceled on what traditionally has been the final weekend of the regular season. Some matchups that were lost included those involving No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 19 Southern California.
The Crimson Tide (7-0) will carry on without head coach Nick Saban, who tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19. That doesn’t diminish their motivation at all for the Iron Bowl amid constant reminders that the Tigers (5-2) ended their playoff hopes last year with a 48-45 victory.
After sitting in the shadows of Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, quarterback Mac Jones has emerged as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He has completed 77% of his passes for 2,436 yards and 18 touchdowns with three interceptions. DeVonta Smith has 65 catches for 903 yards and 10 TDs.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix’s numbers aren’t as good — 61%, 1,627 yards, 10 TDs, five interceptions — and his top running back, Tank Bigsby, is listed as questionable for the game.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney entered the new practice week still complaining about the postponement of his team’s game last week against Florida State, after the Seminoles decided they couldn’t play when hearing about a Clemson player’s positive test after the team arrived in Tallahassee.
So the guess is that when Trevor Lawrence returns to the lineup after five weeks away from competition because of his own coronavirus battle, he will be allowed to crank up the offense (503.6 total yards per game) and make a point that Clemson (7-1) is a deserving top four team in the College Football Playoff picture.
The Panthers (5-4) have the ACC’s best defense, allowing 312 yards per game, but quarterback Kenny Pickett and friends may not be able to keep up with the Tigers offense.
Justin Fields showed last week that he was human, throwing his first three interceptions of the season in what became a stressful 42-35 victory over Indiana. While the Buckeyes (4-0) rolled up 607 total yards, they allowed 491 passing yards, including four completions of at least 50 yards, to the Hoosiers. They rank 115th in FBS in pass defense (291 yards per game).
The Fighting Illini (2-3), 28½-point underdogs, are coming off an excellent effort at Nebraska in which they forced five turnovers and gained 490 yards on offense.
With the Wildcats (5-0), there is no questioning their defense — averages of 12.6 points allowed (fourth in FBS), 100.6 rushing yards (14th), 314.6 total yards (15th). But the offense is barely doing enough to get by, ranking 106th in total yards at 336.4 per game. The unit averaged 3.9 yards per play in the win over Wisconsin. Still, the Wildcats should be able to feast on the Spartans (1-3), a team that has committed 14 turnovers in four games.
The Aggies (5-1) showed up in the first College Football Playoff rankings knocking on the door at No. 5, and wins over the Tigers, as well as Auburn and Tennessee, would leave them in prime position to move into a semifinal berth if one of the top four falters. Quarterback Kellen Mond (1,468 passing yards, 16 touchdowns) will go up against the pass defense of the Tigers (3-3) that is allowing 336 yards through the air per game (125th out of 127 FBS teams).
The Gators (6-1) welcome back tight end Kyle Pitts (Archbishop Wood), who missed two games with a concussion after a hard hit against Georgia. Quarterback Kyle Trask leads the nation with 31 touchdown passes and will be voted No. 1 on a number of Heisman Trophy ballots. At last count, the Wildcats (3-5), who gave up 63 points to Alabama last week, were down 18 players after coronavirus testing.