Can we really 'throw out the record books' in these rivalry games?
“You can throw out the record books when these two teams get together.”
You’ve heard that old saying about rivalry games from commentators, analysts, fans and everyone else. That belief has endured the test of time and not just in college football, but in every sport.
And rivalry week will prove its legitimacy once again.
The three SEC games with the most national eyes on them this week are Alabama-Auburn, Florida State-Florida and Clemson-South Carolina. Coincidentally, the underdogs in each of those matchups all have the game at home (the Gators are a 2-point underdog to the Seminoles).
There’s certainly reason to believe the Tigers, Tide and Seminoles will win those games easily, but there’s also reason to believe we’re going to see a huge upset in at least one of them. Here’s a few reasons why:
No. 1 CLEMSON at SOUTH CAROLINA
Clemson snapped a five-game losing streak to South Carolina with a 35-17 win over the Gamecocks in 2014. This season, the Tigers are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in every major poll.
There’s a laundry list of things that point to Clemson winning: QB Deshaun Watson is 15-1 as a starter, this is the first 11-0 start for the school since its 1981 national title team, South Carolina just lost to The Citadel and on and on it goes.
Clemson cruising has a strong possibility, but Clemson “Clemsoning” is a small possibility.
First of all, keep in mind South Carolina dealt North Carolina, the Tigers’ likely opponent in the ACC Championship Game, its only loss of the season. The SEC’s worst team (3-8) beat the ACC’s second-best team. Sure, it was Week 1, but it happened.
The Gamecocks also have a receiver you may have heard about. His name is Pharoh Cooper, and he’s nonchalantly had big games against top defenses like Missouri (9 catches, 102 yards) and Vanderbilt (7 catches, 160 yards, TD) despite those teams game planning specifically against him.
By the way, the Tigers have only beaten two ranked teams this season — Notre Dame and Florida State — by a combined 12 points. Meanwhile, they beat a lackluster Louisville 20-17, and they’ve allowed 41 points to NC State and 27 points to an offensively challenged Syracuse team in two of the last four games.
Oh, and the game is at noon.
No. 2 ALABAMA at AUBURN
The Crimson Tide enters the Iron Bowl having won eight straight games after its loss to Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Alabama has won five of the last seven against Auburn.
The Tide may be No. 2 in the CFP rankings, but I think even the committee would admit that Nick Saban’s squad is passing the eye test more than Dabo Swinney’s right now. You don’t get more well-rounded than Alabama: a Heisman frontrunner at running back, a stud receiver in Calvin Ridley and a defense that boasts the best front seven in the country and one of the best secondaries to boot.
So, how in the world can Auburn, the West’s cellar dweller at 2-5 in league play and the only West team not over .500 against SEC competition, pull off the upset?
As bad as the Tigers’ season has been perceived, all of the team’s losses have come by no more than one possession with the exception of its first one, a 45-21 loss to LSU back on Sept. 19.
A lot has changed for Auburn since then, and the same goes for Alabama, whose only loss of the season also came on that day.
For one, QB Jeremy Johnson was removed as the starter and has since returned to the role. He’s coming off a four-touchdown performance that should at least boost his confidence heading into this game.
This is also a chance for Auburn to salvage a disappointing year. The Tigers still have a shot at an eight-win season and the ultimate silver lining with a win over the Tide.
Auburn has to hope for a special combination of things on Saturday: that Gus Malzahn coaching with nothing to lose can make some momentum-building plays, and that Will Muschamp’s defense has come a long, long … long way since the tackling debacle against Leonard Fournette back in Week 3.
No. 14 FLORIDA STATE at No. 10 FLORIDA
Jim McElwain’s “dead fish” analogy was well-documented, and that’s exactly what he wanted. Make no mistake about it.
Over the last three weeks, his team has looked more like trout ready to be served on a silver platter to Alabama on Dec. 5, and not anything close to a College Football Playoff contender.
A late field goal to clinch the SEC East on Homecoming against lowly Vanderbilt, pulling away late against a South Carolina team with the worst record in the conference and an overtime win against Florida Atlantic. Those three performance flops has made the Gators about as disrespected as it gets for a one-loss SEC team heading into the final week of the regular season.
However, let’s pump the brakes on the Gator haters for a second. I’m not saying jump on the bandwagon. I’m just saying let’s pump the brakes.
Right before that three-game stretch of horrible play against equally bad competition, Florida enjoyed an impressive 27-3 win over rival Georgia in a game that provides the blueprint to the Gators’ success the rest of the way under QB Treon Harris.
For instance, Harris went just 8-for-19 passing for 155 yards and a touchdown against Georgia. That’s very similar to his stat line against Florida Atlantic: 8-for-17, 122 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Yet, the Gators dominated the Bulldogs while surviving against the Owls.
The difference was Kelvin Taylor, who had the second-best rushing performance of his career with 25 carries, 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the defense was elite as usual.
It’s a given that Florida’s not going to get much from Harris, but it should get another great effort from its defense. The wild card is the Gators’ ground game. If it shows up like it did with its season-high 258 yards against Georgia, Florida is awfully tough to beat.
And if anything is going to bring out the best in the Gators, it’s the Sunshine Showdown.
Plus, if Ron Zook can beat a top 10 team in Tallahassee and get carried off the field, let’s go ahead and throw out the record books.