National pregame: SEC takes center stage
The SEC has reached its zenith. The top two teams in the AP poll. Five of the top 10. And in a season that already has produced memorable conference showdowns – LSU-Florida, Auburn-Florida – we now get them on a weekly basis, fast and furious. A steady stream of games that will help decide the national championship.
Auburn-LSU on Saturday. Georgia-Florida the next week. LSU-Alabama the week after that. Georgia-Auburn the week after that. The Iron Bowl on November 30. The SEC has the college football stage, and the SEC has earned it.
Here are the top 10 non-Big 12 games of this week:
1. Auburn at LSU, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS: An LSU victory would set up an Alabama-LSU showdown on November 9 that would rival any regular-season game in recent years. An Auburn victory could throw the SEC West into chaos.
2. Wisconsin at Ohio State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox: This shaped up as a battle royale of unbeatens – until Illinois happened. Can a team that lost to the Illini beat the Buckeyes?
3. Notre Dame at Michigan, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: This rivalry is an underrated casualty of conference realignment. The Wolverines and Fighting Irish played 31 times from 1978 through 2014. But Notre Dame’s alliance with the ACC halted the series, and the 2018-19 games are the last scheduled.
4. Southern Cal at Colorado, 8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2: USC is 4-3 overall and unranked, but the Trojans lead the Pac-12 South, by virtue of a tiebreaker over Utah.
5. Penn State at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: The Spartans looked overwhelmed in blowout losses of 34-10 to Ohio State and 38-0 to Ohio State. But you’ve got to think Michigan State is capable of an upset.
6. Virginia at Louisville, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ACC Network: The Cavaliers appear to be the ACC’s second-best team. But beyond Clemson, every team looks about the same.
7. Central Florida at Temple, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2: The loser is virtually eliminated from contention in the American Conference East Division.
8. California at Utah, 9 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: The Golden Bears won at Seattle and played tough in Eugene. Can they win in Salt Lake?
9. Utah State at Air Force, 9:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2: If Utah State wins, it turns the Mountain West’s Mountain Division into a Utah State-Boise State showdown. But the Falcons are favored.
10.Washington State at Oregon, 9:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: The Ducks look like the class of the Pac-12, but there’s something gnawing that suggests the Cougars are capable of a breakout game.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT: Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead
Joe Moorhead seemed like a strange hire after the 2017 season. A good coach, no doubt, who had helped turn around Penn State as offensive coordinator. But a lifelong northeasterner, transplanted to Starkville, Mississippi? Who thought that was a good idea?
Then Moorhead had a solid first season succeeding Dan Mullen, who took the Florida job. Mississippi State in 2018 went 8-5 and beat Kansas State, Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
But now the Bulldogs are 3-4, with the only Power 5 Conference victory over Kentucky. After a loss at Tennessee on October 12, Moorhead sounded despondent over the rigors of the SEC.
His name has even been mentioned as a candidate at Rutgers. I don’t think Moorhead is resigning to go to Rutgers, but what if Mississippi State doesn’t mind if he does go back to New Jersey?
The Bulldogs play Saturday at Texas A&M, and a bowl game is not assured for Mississippi State, which has gone bowling every season this decade. Without a victory over the Aggies, the Bulldogs might have to win at Ole Miss to be bowl eligible.
That would be even more pressure for Moorhead.
UPSET SPECIAL: Tennessee over South Carolina
South Carolina football is on the upswing. The Gamecocks won at Georgia 20-17, then played tough against Florida before losing 38-27.
But Tennessee football is on the upswing, too. The Volunteers opened the season with a dispiriting loss to Georgia State and eventually were 1-4.
Then Tennessee beat Mississippi State and last week played Alabama relatively tough, before losing 35-13.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt has been under fire all season, but he’s got the Vols playing hard again. Tennessee isn’t a home underdog often to a fellow member of the SEC’s middle class.
The Gamecocks have had two straight emotional games. Hard to stay at that level. South Carolina is 4-1/2 point favorite Saturday in Knoxville, but let’s go with Tennessee in the upset.