Two storylines are at work in Week 9 of the college football season.
First, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Auburn find themselves in must-win situations to avoid a second loss that would knock them out of College Football Playoff consideration.
Second, victories by No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Louisiana State mean they are likely to clash in their Nov. 9 showdown at Tuscaloosa as the first 1 vs. 2 matchup since 2011 when these two teams battled in Baton Rouge in the “Game of the Century”, won 9-6 by the home team. Both the Tide and the Tigers have next week off.
Yes, Wisconsin’s mistake-filled upset loss last week at Illinois as a 30-point favorite took the luster, the sheen, the shine, the spotlight, yada-yada-yada, off this matchup. Not many think the Badgers will recover from that calamity, especially in Columbus against one of the hottest teams in the country.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has said all the right things, though, that the game is still interesting, and Wisconsin is still dangerous despite what happened. He knows that Jonathan Taylor, who reached 5,000 career rushing yards last week, is a threat who can help keep the ball away from the Buckeyes’ offense.
The Badgers’ defense is still first-class, but Ohio State’s offense averages nearly 50 points and 527 total yards per game behind quarterback Justin Fields (22 touchdowns, one interception). And the only defense ranked better statistically in the nation than Wisconsin is – you guessed it – the Buckeyes.
This intriguing duel matches the dynamic LSU offense, led by Heisman Trophy frontrunner Joe Burrow, and an Auburn defense, anchored by tackle Derrick Brown, that ranks in the top 20 nationally in rushing and total yards allowed and hasn’t given up more than 24 points in a game this season.
What we left out is that Auburn has some holes in its secondary, and Burrow has thrown for 29 touchdowns (tied for first in FBS) and 2,484 yards (second). The visitors average 36 points per game and may have to score more to have a chance at the upset. If they can get their running game (239.6 yards per game) going, that will help.
Then again, Auburn has lost nine straight in Baton Rouge dating back to 1999.
The Fighting Irish aren’t the only team that needs this game. What about Michigan? Counting his team’s narrow loss last week at Penn State, Jim Harbaugh has lost eight straight games and 10 of 11 to top-10 teams in his time as head coach of the Wolverines. He is overdue.
The Wolverines got their offense going last week, and their defense held Penn State to one touchdown in the last 2½ quarters. Notre Dame is averaging almost 40 points in its last three games.
This is the 44th meeting of these rivals, and it could be the last one for a while. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told the Associated Press that if there is a next meeting, it probably won’t be before 2028.
The Crimson Tide will be without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered a high ankle sprain last Saturday and underwent a procedure that may allow him to return to the lineup for the much-anticipated showdown against LSU in two weeks. The starting berth goes to redshirt sophomore Mac Jones, whose backup will be Tagovailoa’s little brother, Taulia, a freshman. Alabama is riding an 88-game winning streak against unranked opponents.
After riding their defense for a five-game stretch, allowing just 25 points during that time, the Ducks yielded 31 points last week at Washington but still gained their sixth straight win. The Cougars will provide a similar test to that defense behind quarterback Anthony Gordon (29 TD passes), but Oregon averages more than 44 points per game at home when its quarterback, Justin Herbert, starts.
Pay attention to the Golden Gophers, who have yet to lose and will host Penn State in two weeks in what could be a battle of unbeatens. If they win Saturday and Wisconsin loses, the Gophers will take a two-game lead in the Big Ten West. Even with being shut out by the Nittany Lions, the Terrapins are averaging 35.6 points per game.
Expatriate of the Week
After finishing his career at Wisconsin with the highest winning percentage (26-6, .813) of any starting quarterback in program history, Malvern Prep graduate Alex Hornibrook has pretty much watched from the sideline as a fifth-year senior at Florida State. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound West Chester native has played in three games, completing 72.2 percent of his passes for 655 yards and six touchdowns. In his only start, Hornibrook hit on 29 of 40 throws for 316 yards and three touchdowns against North Carolina State.