Clemson's only legit ACC threat, three-TD 'dog Boston College set for biggest game in a decade
The Eagles might be the only team that can actually beat the Tigers before the College Football Playoff
We're talking a crushing ground game! We're talking Alumni Stadium at night! We're talking Saturday night wind chill in the 20s! These are the things an upset are made of.
Well, maybe. Whether those conditions will catch up with Clemson remains to be seen. We're 11 weeks into the season and No. 2 Clemson at No. 17 Boston College qualifies as game-of-the-week material.
Keep telling yourself that. The Tigers have laid waste to the ACC lately, averaging 60 points in their past four games. They have all but gotten their College Football Playoff invite in the mail.
Boston College isn't a name brand, but it is a threat. At 7-2, the Eagles control their destiny in the ACC Atlantic, just like Clemson. If they succeed, they control the Tigers' national championship destiny, too.
You see, the College Football Playoff (like the BCS before it) has diminished the value of a conference title. Admit it, the first thing that comes to mind this time of year is the top four, not conference championship games.
Beyond Clemson, those who can clinch at least a tie for their division this week: Michigan, Northwestern, UAB, UCF and Houston.
BC could throw a giant smoke bomb into the ACC and playoff races. This is the Eagles' biggest game since their 2007 ACC championship appearance. That's so long ago that the BC coach back then, Jeff Jagodzinski, now has a job at Notre Dame. That would be Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Tailback AJ Dillon, day-to-day with an ankle injury, gives the Eagles their best chance. He runs behind an offensive line populated with four seniors and a sophomore. Together, they have 159 career starts.
"Every yard is a tough, dirty yard against BC," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "This is the biggest game of the year."
We'll see -- if Trevor Lawrence can play in the cold. We'll see -- if sold-out Alumni Stadium makes a difference. The last time the Eagles won this game at home was 2010. We'll see -- if the Tigers are playoff worthy like we think.
"When I think about BC, I think about pride, I think about toughness, I think about physicality," Swinney said.
We'll see. Clemson is favored by three touchdowns.
1. Letdown game for No. 1 Alabama? Hardly:, I failed to give props to Alabama defensive end Quinnen Williams. The rising star had a career game against the Tigers -- 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss -- and was named the SEC Player of the Week by CBS Sports. He is the first Alabama player to reach those minimum numbers in each category since 2000.
This is very bad news for No. 16 Mississippi State, the latest challenger to the throne. The Bulldogs have allowed an FBS-low nine touchdowns. Interesting, because Alabama averages seven touchdowns. Nick Fitzgerald (last in accuracy among SEC starters) will be on the run because that's what he does best. A win would tie an Alabama school record -- 24 straight home wins.
2. Irish without their favorite Book: The first real cold snap of the season is moving into South Bend, Indiana, this weekend. That, among other things, negates the loss of Ian Book, No. 3 Notre Dame's starting quarterback. Book is reportedly out for the Florida State game with rib and back injuries. Meanwhile, FSU has pretty much been doubtful for the entire season.
We'll see how the Men of Tally fare in northern Indiana. Florida State (4-5) needs to win two of its final three to avoid a losing season for the first time in 42 years. Snow is expected Friday. Temperatures should fall into the 20s by game time. Those should close to ideal conditions for backup Brandon Wimbush, the Irish's fifth-leading rusher who helped beat Michigan in the opener.
3. Bedlam: Pack a calculator. In their past eight meetings, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have combined for almost 8,000 yards and 634 total points. That's coming off last year's 62-52 epic won by OU that featured almost 1,500 total yards. Nothing less is expected this time as the No. 6 Sooners try to keep their fleeting playoff hopes alive. Oklahoma State is hard to figure out. Mike Gundy is 2-15 against the Sooners as a player and coach. The Cowboys are 2-0 against ranked teams this season, 3-4 against everyone else.
4. SEC on their mind: No. 5 Georgia has to wait four long weeks before the SEC Championship Game. That means four long weeks preserving a playoff shot. No problem keeping interest against No. 24 Auburn. It was the Tigers who all but knocked the Dawgs out of playoff contention last November. (You might remember the ultimate revenge, knocking Auburn out of the playoff in the SEC title game.) Auburn is coming off its second win this year (vs. Texas A&M) posting less than 300 total yards, including less than 100 rushing yards. It hadn't won such a game like that since 2008.
5. Gus' job security: Good to know Gus Malzahn will make it all the way to the second year of his seven-year, $49 million contract.Couldn't pass on that bit of news. That's job security, Auburn-style. That's also what a .671 winning percentage, three BCS/New Year's Six bowls, one SEC championship and two wins over Nick Saban will get you.
6. In case you missed it ... and you probably did, No. 8 Washington State kept its hopes alive in a last-minute Pac-12 (Way) After Dark win over Cal last week, 19-13. Going to Colorado, Wazzu is coming off its fewest points in a win in five years. No worries, quarterback Gardner Minshew's mustache has its own social media account. Colorado can't account for much of anything having lost four in a row.
7. The Grandud of Them All? The last time the Rose Bowl included a legitimate four-loss team was 1984. That was the season Rick Neuheisel led UCLA to Pasadena at 6-4-1. We say "legitimate" because a scandal-ridden Big Ten (sound familiar?) allowed Wisconsin, at 8-5, to play for the Roses in 2012 as the third-place team in the Leaders Division. That was the season both Penn State and Ohio State were ineligible because of postseason bans.
This year there is a very real possibility of a four-loss (or worse) Pac-12 team getting to Pasadena. Every team in the South Division has lost at least three games. Currently, Utah, Southern California and Arizona are tied at the top -- all at 4-3 in conference play. Close behind is fourth-place Arizona State (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12), which actually controls its own destiny to get to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
There is even a road for UCLA, at 2-7, to play for the Roses: (a) Win the final three against Arizona State, USC and Stanford, (b) Colorado loses to Washington State or California, beats Utah to finish no better than 4-5 in the conference, (c) Utah loses to Oregon and Colorado to finish 4-5, (d) UCLA then would need Arizona, Arizona State and/or USC to finish no better than 5-4 in the league. UCLA would have tiebreaker over Arizona, Arizona State and USC. Bruins enter the Pac-12 Championship Game at 5-7 overall. The Bruins knock off the North champ, finish 6-7 and go to the Rose Bowl. Someone alert Neuheisel.
8. Buckling Buckeyes: If No. 18 Michigan State beats No. 10 Ohio State -- entirely possible -- and No. 4 Michigan defeats Rutgers, the Wolverines effectively clinch the Big Ten East. Michigan would be two games ahead of Ohio State with two to play. In that scenario, Ohio State would be out of playoff contention. It's already trending that way. The Buckeyes' defense continues to slip -- 82nd in yards per play, 112th in plays allowed of more than 30 yards. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins is going have to play pitch-and-catch, a lot.
9. Quick kicks: Notre Dame once again became the all-time winningest program in history (winning percentage) when it beat Michigan on Sept. 1. However, you won't see that in any record books. Don't forget the Irish had to vacate 21 wins from this year's academic fraud penalties ... A sad goodbye to Wisconsin (at Penn State) nose tackle Oliver Sagapolu, whose career is over with season-ending arm surgery.... No. 9 West Virginia (hosting TCU) is 7-1 for the second time in three years ... And the Big 12 gets ripped for its lack of defense? Ole Miss (at Texas A&M) is second in SEC total offense, last in total defense ... The winner of Troy-Georgia Southern will be in control in the Sun Belt East to play in the conference's first championship game ... UAB (hosting Southern Miss) is the only FBS team with three shutouts. Its seven-game winning streak is the longest in school history -- by three games ... For the second consecutive year in the Pac-12, at least 11 of the 12 conference teams have three losses. This time before the second week of November.
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