On this glorious Thanksgiving weekend the football gods have blessed us with yet another action-packed rivalry week. Each of the top 4 teams in the country are playing their respective rivals, opening up the possibility for chaos in the playoff picture. There are several top 25 matchups with bowl and possibly playoff implications, but none bigger than this year’s Iron Bowl.
The Iron Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Auburn
A rivalry game that always seems to steal the national spotlight, this year’s game will determine which team from Alabama will advance to the SEC Championship game to play No. 7 Georgia. If Alabama wins this weekend and the SEC Championship game to remain undefeated, they are a sure lock as the No. 1 seed in the CFP. If Auburn secures the victory in both the Iron Bowl and the SEC Championship game, they will have a strong case for the No. 4 seed in the playoff; making the Tigers the first ever 2 loss team to advance to the CFP.
While Alabama has an undefeated record, they have played an uncharacteristically weak schedule thus far, with only 3 wins over ranked teams (then No. 3 Florida St., No. 19 LSU, and No. 16 Miss. St.). Florida St. is now unranked and LSU and Miss. St. never cracked the top 10, making Alabama the only Top 4 team without a win over a current top 10 team (Miss. St. is now ranked No. 14 and LSU is No. 18). In addition to Miss. St. being the only top 15 team Alabama has beaten this year, the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to win this game; showing that this year’s team is not as invincible as it has been in previous years. Bama’s defense gave up 24 points (partly because of several injuries to defense starters) to Miss. St. showing that they are also more vulnerable than they have been in previous years.
Auburn has also had an uncharacteristically weak schedule, with only two wins over ranked teams (then No. 24 Miss. St. and No. 1 Georgia). However, a win over No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl and a win over No. 7 Georgia in the SEC Championship would provide Auburn with enough strength of schedule to secure them a spot in the final four. Despite their weak schedule, they have outperformed their expectations this year bouncing back from a disappointing 2016 season. Much of Auburn’s success can be attributed to their offense, which has scored 40+ points in 8 games this season, including 4 games in a row and their win over Georgia. However, the key to an Iron Bowl victory for Auburn will be how well their defense is able to contain Jalen Hurts and the high-powered Alabama offense.
Auburn’s offense will take advantage of Alabama’s injuries on defense and manage to outscore the Tide in what will be a close low-scoring game.
The Palmetto Bowl: No. 4 Clemson vs. No. 24 South Carolina
This is one of the nation’s most intense rivalries, and with bad blood between the teams after Clemson’s 56-7 dismantling of South Carolina last year, this year’s game should be even more intense. Last year, while up 56-7 Clemson called two timeouts near the end of the game to allow their fans to applaud the seniors in their final game. South Carolina took offense to this believing that the Tigers were gloating their win.
This year is a completely different story. The Gamecocks are having a solid year, and are sitting at No. 24 in the rankings with an 8-3 record thus far. In Will Muschamp’s second year as head coach, South Carolina’s defense has vastly improved. They are allowing 19.6 points per game, putting them at 20th in the country in points allowed per game. In order for South Carolina to put up a fight against Clemson their defense will have to hold Clemson’s prolific rushing attack.
While South Carolina has significantly improved from last year, Clemson is just as good if not better than they were last year. Their defense is 3rd in the country in points allowed per game, and they rank 7th in yards allowed per game. The Tiger’s only drop off from last year has been their offense, which was to be expected after losing once in a lifetime talent, Deshaun Watson. Despite their offensive being slightly worse than last year, they still rank 25th in rush yards per game.
If Clemson beats South Carolina and beats Miami in the ACC Championship game, they too will be a shoe-in for a playoff spot.
Clemson’s defense will shut down the Gamecock offense and the Tiger rushing offense will expose the Carolina defense, despite their improvements. This game will be closer than last year’s game but it will still be a lopsided victory for Clemson
The Game: Michigan vs. No. 9 Ohio State
This year’s game does not have the same playoff implications as last year. Both Michigan and Ohio State had disappointing seasons for their standards. Each had playoff aspirations but Michigan has beaten just one ranked team this season (then No. 17 Florida, who is now unranked) and Ohio State blew their playoff chances by losing to unranked Iowa just one week after upsetting No. 2 Penn State. The Buckeyes’ only shot at making the playoffs now is if they beat Michigan this weekend, beat No. 5 Wisconsin in the BIG 10 Championship, and get some outside help from upsets of teams in front of them. If Ohio State lucks out and manages to sneak into the final four, they too would be the first two loss team to make the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State’s offense, led by the electric J.T. Barrett, is ranked 3rd in points per game with 44.9. They have the 19th ranked pass offense with 293.6 yards per game and the 12th ranked rushing offense with 252.5 yards per game. However, they will face a Michigan defense that is allowing just 17.1 points per game. Unfortunately for the Wolverine’s, their defense is the only advantage they have over Ohio State. Michigan’s offense only averages 26.3 points per game and is 112th in passing yards per game.
Prediction: Ohio State
Urban Meyer will have the Buckeyes ready to win yet another big game as he seemingly always does. J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State offense will shred the Wolverines, leading the Buckeyes to victory and inserting themselves back in the playoff picture.
Photo: Auburn Sports Information