Alabama vs. Georgia hype-worthy
The biggest game of the college football season has arrived, and one of the sport’s biggest names might be forced to sit out.
Alabama coach Nick Saban won’t be on the sideline during Saturday night’s game between his No. 2 Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia after testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, a former head coach at Washington and Southern California, will take the reins with the six-time national championship winner in isolation.
Florida’s game against LSU on Saturday was already postponed to Dec. 12 because of an outbreak among the Gators, while four other games — Oklahoma State at Baylor, Cincinnati at Tulsa, Vanderbilt at Missouri and Florida International at Charlotte — will also not be played this weekend because of COVID-19 concerns.
While the season continues to push forward, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 openers loom, it’s time to take stock of the biggest storylines from around the country. Here’s what to watch in Week 7:
Best vs. best: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’ll find out Saturday when Alabama’s offense takes the field against Georgia’s defense. Whether you’re into scoring average (Georgia is allowing 12.3 points per game; Alabama is scoring 51.0 per game), total yards (Georgia is allowing 236.7 per game; Alabama is gaining 560.3) or efficiency (both units rank No. 1 in ESPN’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted metric), these are the two best units in the nation. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is playing lights out, ranking first in the country in passing efficiency with eight touchdowns and one interception through three games. But the Crimson Tide’s first three opponents, Missouri, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, don’t come close to the Bulldogs’ talent level on defense. Led by star safety Richard LeCounte, edge rusher Azeez Ojulari and interior defenders Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis, Georgia has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses, recording 10 sacks in three games and picking off five passes. How the Dawgs limit Alabama’s explosive playmakers — including running back Najee Harris and wide receivers Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III — will decide the outcome.
Bennett’s big break: This game is so big it deserves a second look. Stetson Bennett IV was an afterthought heading into the season behind incoming Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and former four-star recruit D’Wan Mathis. But once Newman opted out of the season and Mathis struggled in the season opener, the former walk-on got his moment to shine. All he’s done is throw five touchdown passes and zero interceptions while calmly leading the offense to wins over Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee. He doesn’t have the big arm of his counterpart Jones, but he’s masterful at working the middle of the field with pinpoint accuracy. Alabama’s defense has taken a step backward from its usual spot among the nation’s best, but the Tide still boast NFL talent all over the field, including defensive linemen Christian Barmore and LaBryan Ray, linebacker Dylan Moses and cornerback Patrick Surtain II. If Bennett can move the ball efficiently, make a couple of big third-down throws and limit his mistakes, the Dawgs have a shot at knocking off the team that has been the biggest thorn in their side for more than a decade.
Can Miami bounce back? The Hurricanes were humbled in Saturday night’s blowout loss to No. 1 Clemson, but a defeat to Dabo Swinney’s national powerhouse, led by stars Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne and a ferocious defense, is no reason to hang their heads. Miami just isn’t on Clemson’s level, as painful as it might be for some fans who yearn for the glory days of “The U” and its transcendent star power. How the program responds to its first loss is the bigger concern. The Canes can’t let Clemson beat them twice, as the old saying goes. Pittsburgh is coming off back-to-back losses after being ranked in the Top 25, and the Panthers have a defense with nearly as much talent as Clemson’s. If this is truly a new era for Miami under coach Manny Diaz, the Canes need to take care of business Saturday. There’s still plenty left to play for this season, including a possible rematch with the Tigers for the ACC title.