No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 9 Alabama are in strange spots this week. Usually, Nick Saban would be trotting out the usual "rat poison" references as a 12-point favorite on the road in the late stages of another national championship chase.Instead, Lane Kiffin found himself inventing an antidote for the dreaded R.P.
"G.O.A.T. Fuel," he calls it. You know, any talk of the Alabama dynasty being over is motivation for the greatest coach of all time.
"I'm sure that was on his desk Sunday morning," said Kiffin regarding any references to Saban's dynasty potentially crumbling.
The question is what Saban and the Crimson Tide do with those claims. It sure doesn't feel like Alabama should be a 12-point favorite at Ole Miss. This is yet another chance for a former Saban assistant to beat him. That has happened twice in the last five such meetings after never happening previously. Saban opened 24-0 against his protégées.
Kiffin is winless in three tries against his ex-boss. Not without the usual hype. The Rebels visited the Tide undefeated last season. Kiffin told CBS Sports before the game to your "get your popcorn ready." Ole Miss fell behind 35-0 and lost 42-21.
Kiffin is the Twitter troll who never stops trolling. This week, he tweeted a picture of a Saban book on leadership resting atop Ole Miss' defensive call sheet. That could have been a reference to Saban cryptically suggesting in 2020 that Ole Miss' defense knew what was coming from Bama's offense.
More than Alabama's pride is wounded after Saturday's loss to LSU. That result likely bounced the Tide out of College Football Playoff contention before Thanksgiving for the first time.
Ole Miss and Kiffin deserve the love they're receiving. They're on the uptick, in contention for a New Year's Six bowl and still a longshot for the SEC West. But it's Alabama generating most of the headlines.
Another loss would be the most in a season for Saban since 2010 (three). There could be the ugly specter of opt outs before a mid-level bowl game. That's the dichotomy. Saban still has all those NFL prospects. But something happened this year.
The Tide are vulnerable. Their wide receivers lack the ability to separate. There is no shifty, bulldozing running back in the mold of Najee Harris, Derrick Henry or Josh Jacobs. (Jahmyr Gibbs flashes incredible ability but not frequently enough -- and he can't do it alone.) An LSU offensive line with freshmen at each tackle pushed Bama around in the second half to the tune of 148 yards and 7.4 per rush. The reigning Heisman Trophy winne, Bryce Young, was outplayed by Jayden Daniels.
So, there is something more there than just brushing it off as two losses by a total of four points. If Ole Miss needs any motivation -- it probably doesn't -- that 12-point line is hanging out there like a low-hanging tweet.
Who knows what Kiffin will thumb out if his team pulls off the upset? For now, perhaps it's best to say Alabama's current football reputation is an underdog this week.
No. 4 TCU at No. 18 Texas might mark the first time a top-five, 9-0 FBS team goes into a game against a ranked opponent as a touchdown underdog. That line favoring the Longhorns against the Horned Frogs requires some layers of thought.
- TCU's best offensive weapon, WR Quentin Johnston, took two snaps last week against West Virginia due to a lower-body injury. He did practice Wednesday and Thursday.
- TCU is on the road in this rivalry that was ramped up gobs when the Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012. But since then, TCU is 4-1 at Texas and 7-3 overall in the series.
- Texas (6-3) has been playing like it can win the Big 12. It already controls its own destiny for the league title game. It just has to keep winning. Texas is favored over an AP top 10 team for the first time in a decade.
And then there's Texas defensive analyst Gary Patterson, who goes against his old team for the first time. Patterson was fired a year ago at TCU after a 3-5 start. A large majority of Frogs were guys he recruited. You better believe Coach P has something ready for TCU.
"He texted me after the Oklahoma win," new TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. "It was really nice of him to do that. I texted him back. Look, Gary loves TCU and he loves his players. He wants nothing but success for his players."
Except on Saturday.
Win the Big 12 Championship Game, and the Horns go to the Sugar Bowl at 10-3. The last time Texas won 10 and went to the Sugar was 2018. It beat Georgia in that game with QB Sam Ehlinger infamously claiming, "Longhorn Nation, we're baaaack."
Once again, we'll see. This is still quite a comeback from a program that was floundering at 2-2 after an overtime loss Sept 24 at Texas Tech.
LSU point of view
No. 7 LSU can see a national championship from here. At 7-2, it controls its ability to win the SEC West and the SEC, which could mean a spot in the CFP. Try to keep LSU out of the top four if they win out against Arkansas, UAB, Texas A&M and likely Georgia. LSU can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win and an Ole Miss loss.
Daniels is the latest of bloomers. Since losing to Tennessee, he has accounted for 14 touchdowns (seven passing, seven rushing) in the last three games. The only other Power Five quarterbacks since 2000 with those totals in a three-game span are Tim Tebow, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson. It's possible the Arizona State transfer is currently the SEC's best quarterback. Yes, that's considering what Hendon Hooker has done.
Rocky Top not stopped
The further we get away from last Saturday, the better No. 5 Tennessee looks. Those of us who were there witnessed a beatdown. The final score (27-13) doesn't indicate it on paper. That's why the Volunteers (hosting Missouri) still have a heck of chance to get back into the top four of the CFP.
Here's the best-case scenario:
- Win out against Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt
- Georgia wins out as SEC champion
- Ohio State wins out as Big Ten champion
- The Big 12 champion is a team other than TCU with at least one loss
- Utah, already with two losses, wins the Pac-12
That creates at least one, probably even two, spots in the top four where the CFP Selection Committee couldn't help but put Tennessee in.
Here's the worst-case scenario:
- LSU wins out as SEC champion, securing a second SEC spot next to Georgia
- Michigan wins out with a close victory over Ohio State and Big Ten championship win
In that scenario, Tennessee would be all but shut out with potentially two from the SEC and two from the Big Ten making the field, depending what happens elsewhere.
Dawg beat dawg
This is the beginning of the end (of the season) for No. 1 Georgia. There will be a significant challenge at Mississippi State. Mike Leach's offense has been average this season -- by his standards. The SEC's No. 2 passing offense is facing the nation's No. 5 defense. If the Dawgs held Hooker to a season-low 195 passing yards, what will they do to Will Rogers? Look closer at Mississippi State's Quinshon Judkins, who leads freshman rushers with 1,034 yards. Georgia clinches a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win or a Tennessee loss.
Big Ten West parity
If Purdue, Minnesota and Iowa win their games this week, the top of the Big Ten West would have Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota all sitting at 4-3 in Big Ten play with two weeks left. Good luck sorting out that tiebreaker. Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota have never played in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The ACC is almost set
Perhaps the quarterback battle of the year will be aired out at Wake Forest. North Carolina QB Drake Maye is now a realistic Heisman Trophy candidate. Saturday's meeting adds up to a total of 55 touchdown passes between Maye and Sam Hartman. The No. 15 Tar Heels can clinch the ACC Coastal with a win or losses by Duke and Georgia Tech.
Meanwhile, has there ever been a quieter clinching ever? No. 10 Clemson clinched the ACC Atlantic and a spot in the ACC Championship Game last week despite that horrible loss to Notre Dame. It will have to win out against Louisville, Miami and South Carolina to have any CFP chance.
Can't wait for the playoff, episode 373
Just think what No. 22 UCF at No. 17 Tulane would be like with an expanded playoff. The winner would not only be alive for a New Year's Six game (Cotton Bowl, this season) but a playoff spot. Tulane (8-1) hasn't hosted a game between two ranked teams since 1949. The winner will would all but clinch an AAC Championship Game berth. The Green Wave are a witch defensively in the red zone. Only No. 21 Illinois and Georgia have allowed fewer red-zone touchdowns.
Coaching carousel update: Scott Frost looks like a good fit at South Florida, as does Dan Mullen … Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters more and more looks like a slam dunk at Colorado ... Patterson and Bronco Mendenhall have shown interest in the Buffaloes gig, too … Nebraska (at No. 23 Michigan) has lost 20 straight games vs. AP Top 25 opponents. Saturday marks first time the Huskers have been at least a 28-underdog since 2004 … Is this a James Franklin stat or what? No. 14 Penn State (vs. Maryland) is 7-0 against ranked teams, 0-2 against ranked teams … TCU leads the FBS winning six games by 10 points for fewer. Ohio State in 2002 won seven of its 14 games by a touchdown or less on its way to a national title … If No. 6 Oregon beats No. 25 Washington, it will only need to beat No. 13 Utah next week to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game ... Ducks coach Dan Lanning seemingly has squelched any Auburn talk ... Bo Nix leads the FBS with 36 total touchdowns … No. 12 UCLA (vs. Arizona) has scored 30+ points in 12 straight games, the longest active streak in FBS