BY RALPH D. RUSSO
No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson are facing ranked foes this weekend, but the conventional wisdom is neither will be tested.
The Crimson Tide, after running roughshod over LSU last week, returns home to face No. 18 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon. Alabama is a 25-point favorite. Later, the Tigers visit No. 17 Boston College, where they are favored by almost three touchdowns.
The weekend doesn’t have a nickname, like Showdown Saturday, but with only four more weeks of football until the playoff field is set, they are all big.
What you need to know for week 11 of the season.
No. 8 Ohio State at No. 24 Michigan State
For all their issues through nine weeks of the season, the Buckeyes are 10th in the playoff rankings and still in position to win the Big Ten by simply winning all their remaining games. Easier said than done, but it’s all there.
The Spartans present an interesting challenge. Michigan State’s offense is 116th in the country in yards per play (5.00) and has been shuffling between Brian Lewerke, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, and redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi. Seems like a good weekend for the Buckeyes to get their struggling defense (82nd in the nation at 5.82 per play) back in order.
But on the other side of the ball, Michigan State has one of the best run defense’s in the country to throw at an Ohio State running game that has at times left quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the offense one-dimensional.
An Ohio State victory sets up an almost inevitable Big Ten East title game between the Buckeyes and No. 4 Michigan in a few weeks, but Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has made a career messing up best laid plans for the those two teams.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
We all know a quarterback is almost a lock to the win the Heisman and that quarterback is probably Tua Tagoaviloa of Alabama. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Haskins could still have a say, too.
Etienne is the one running back left who might be able to break into the field. His biggest issue is touches. The sophomore is averaging just under 13 carries per game, but 8.6 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns. If Boston College can mount a challenge against the Tigers in prime time, maybe they will give Etienne a few more meaningful touches and the chance to direct some Heisman attention his way.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
9 — Touchdowns allow by Mississippi State this season, fewest in the country.
21 — Consecutive games won by No. 11 Central Florida. The Knights try to make it 22 against slumping Navy.
162-30 — The combined score of the last three games Michigan played against Rutgers, all won by the Wolverines. No. 4 Michigan is at Rutgers on Saturday.
0-9 — No. 16 Fresno State’s record at Boise State. The Bulldogs visit the blue turf on Saturday.
1984 — The last time Kentucky won at Tennessee. The 12th-ranked Wildcats try to make it victories in consecutive seasons against the Volunteers on Saturday.
OFF THE RADAR
UAB (8-1, 6-0) has won seven straight games, a program record, and can clinch the Conference USA West Division by beating Southern Mississippi on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. In just its second season after restarting the program, UAB could lock up a spot in the league’s championship game.
The Blazers have held five of six C-USA opponents to seven points or less.
HOT SEAT WATCH
The Sunflower Showdown between Kansas and Kansas State has been dominated by the Wildcats, who have won nine in a row. But both teams slog into this at 3-6, needing to win out to become bowl eligible. Kansas has already said coach David Beaty won’t return after this season. What about K-State coach Bill Snyder? The 79-year-old Hall of Famer signed a contract extension before the season, but that seemed more symbolic than anything else. There is mounting sentiment that it is time the program moved in a new direction, but Snyder doesn’t seem to want to budge. Losing to the Jayhawks might change that dynamic in Manhattan.
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