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College football preview: It’s November, so this must be ‘Showdown Saturday’

The regular season enters the stretch with four games involving teams in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll, with Alabama and Louisiana State as the main event.

Nick Saban (right) and Ed Orgeron will face off on Saturday.
Nick Saban (right) and Ed Orgeron will face off on Saturday.Read moreBRYNN ANDERSON / AP File

If it's a Saturday in November, it must be Showdown Saturday in college football.

Showdown Saturday I features four games in which opponents ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll meet, led by No. 1 Alabama playing at No. 4 Louisiana State. With a win, the Crimson Tide can clinch the SEC West and knock the Tigers out of a College Football Playoff berth.

Interesting storylines abound in the other big games. The SEC East title will be decided when No. 6 Georgia travels to No. 11 Kentucky. Fifth-ranked Michigan will try to remain the Big Ten's only unbeaten in conference play when No. 14 Penn State visits the Big House. And No. 12 West Virginia plays at No. 15 Texas seeking to avoid a second loss that will crush its CFP hopes.

And even though the game doesn't match ranked teams, undefeated Notre Dame, ranked No. 4 on the initial CFP list, heads to Northwestern, which has won four straight games.

This Tua shall pass

In the Alabama-LSU main event, all eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has put up incredible numbers in the Crimson Tide's 8-0 start.

The most remarkable stat is that Tagovailoa has passed for 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is averaging 13.59 yards per attempt and 19.31 yards per completion, both No. 1 in FBS.

Now for the good stuff: Tagovailoa has yet to play in the fourth quarter all season. He has taken only 57.9 percent of the Tide's 544 snaps. In fact, the Alabama sports information folks say that if you project his numbers as if he had taken every snap this season, Tagovailoa would have 3,568 yards through the air and 43 TD passes.

However, this by far will be his toughest opponent of the season. LSU leads FBS in interceptions with 14 and is seventh in points allowed at 15.1 per game.

"Our challenge is executing and being sound with our execution and alignments," Tagovailoa said. "We've got to execute as a whole offense. It's going to be a hostile environment so I've got to be poised."

Beware of Dogs

After scoring only 16 points in a loss to LSU followed by a bye week, Georgia appeared to regain its offensive mojo last week in a 36-17 win over Florida.

The Bulldogs are averaging 38.6 points and 458 total yards per game going into Kentucky. D'Andre Swift, the St. Joseph's Prep product, has been the team's leading rusher the last two games, picking up a season-high 104 yards in 12 carries against the Gators. Quarterback Jake Fromm is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown for 16 touchdowns.

But Kentucky, which defeated Florida earlier this season, has been tough on defense. The Wildcats lead the nation in points allowed at 13.0 per game and have yielded an average of just 295.3 yards. They held Missouri without a first down after halftime last week.

"They're a very senior-laden team," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "They believe. They have a good coaching staff. They have a good group of young men that fight. When you have a defense that plays like they do, they're in every game."

Return of the Chipster

Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins are not Showdown Saturday participants given their 2-6 record, but they get mentioned because Kelly will be making his much-anticipated return to Oregon's Autzen Stadium since he left in 2013 to become head coach of the Eagles.

During his four years in Eugene, Kelly led the Ducks to the BCS title game and two trips to the Rose Bowl.

"I know it's a great experience and our players are excited about it," Kelly said this week to reporters. "It's one of the cool places in the Pac-12 to play. The fans are unbelievable and it'll be a good experience for our team."

Asked what kind of reception he was expecting, Kelly replied, "I haven't really thought about that. I've got to watch them on film and that gets your full attention, not trying to think about some other things that you don't control."

Sinking Seminoles

Florida State suffered its worst loss in program history last weekend, a 59-10 rout at the hands of No. 2 Clemson. After the game, first-year coach Willie Taggart said he felt "like we had some guys that quit on our football team and that can't be tolerated.

"We've got to do a great job evaluating that film and make sure we've got the right guys battling with us," he said.

Asked Wednesday if there would be any changes in the lineup, Taggart said if there were, "you'll see that on Saturday."

Two players, wide receiver Nyquan Murray and linebacker Zaquandre White, will sit out the first half Saturday against North Carolina State for having thrown punches at Clemson players.

"I think mentally we're a weak football team," Taggart said. "We're not mentally strong yet and that's part of the culture, changing it to what you want."

Expatriate of the Week

Coastal Carolina freshman Massimo Biscardi, a graduate of Downingtown West High School, was named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation's top kicker. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Biscardi currently is 11 of 13 on field goal tries this season, and had kicked three field goals in a game twice – against South Carolina and Georgia State. He made the first eight field goal attempts of his college career.

Games of the Week

Georgia at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: The motivation for this game is simple: The winner captures the SEC East. The question will be whether the Wildcats' defense, which allows 13.0 points per game, the fewest in FBS, can stop Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs' offense (38.6 points per game).

West Virginia at Texas, 3:30 p.m., Fox29: The Longhorns' secondary gave up 321 passing yards in their loss to Oklahoma State. Quarterback Will Grier (324.6 passing yards per game) must like the look of that for the Mountaineers, who want to climb into the College Football Playoff conversation.

Notre Dame at Northwestern, 7:15 p.m., ESPN: The unbeaten Fighting Irish, 5-0 with Ian Book as starting quarterback, are ranked No. 4 on the initial CFP list. They don't want to suffer a similar fate as last season, when they stood at No. 3 for the first two weeks in an 8-1 start, then went 2-2 the rest of the way.

Alabama at Louisiana State, 8 p.m., CBS3: The Tigers are desperate because a loss all but eliminates them from the College Football Playoff picture. They are 14½-point home underdogs, and they have three wins this year as an underdog against teams ranked in the AP top 10 at the time of the game.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 8 p.m., 6ABC: With the Sooners' Kyler Murray and the Red Raiders' Alan Bowman at the controls, points will be scored early and often. The combined averages of the two teams are 91.2 points per game and 1,076.6 yards of total offense.

Star Watch

Gardner Minshew II, Washington State, QB, 6-2, 220, Gr., Brandon, Miss.

Minshew completed 40 of 50 passes for 438 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's victory over Stanford, a win that gave the Cougars back-to-back wins over ranked teams for the first time since 2002. Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, leads the nation with 3,183 passing yards, 397.9 passing yards per game, and 403.9 yards of total offense per game. He has completed 71 percent of his passes and has thrown for 26 touchdowns.