With apologies to Notre Dame and its faithful followers, especially those who believe a bias exists against their beloved Irish, the reality heading into Week 13 of the college football season is that the top-ranked team in the nation’s game at four-loss Southern California isn’t all that enticing in the grand scheme of things.
At best, that contest ranks – at best – seventh on the “must see” list, considering five other matchups pit ranked squads against one another and unbeaten, but BCS-banned Ohio State takes on No. 19 Michigan.
Now, if the Irish should lose to the Trojans, that’s another story … to pick up on later.
For now, though, we look at the true No. 1 storyline entering the weekend, and while it isn’t crystal clear to most, it should be. Treated like the little brothers in the backyard trying to hang with the cool teenagers when it came to respect and rankings, Florida State and Clemson get cracks to show they belong, facing in-state “big brothers” Florida and South Carolina.
The latter two’s worthiness to be linked with the country’s elite has never been questioned all season. After all, the Gators and Gamecocks play in the SEC, the ultimate big-boy league on the college grid scene. The Seminoles and Tigers? Hmmm, well, they’re OK … but they play in that so-so circuit, the ACC, and nothing they do deserves serious recognition.
Unless, of course, they knock the snot out of their opposition this Saturday … and don’t for a minute think that isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
Frankly, the 10th-ranked ’Noles standing within the hearts and minds of voters – and computers – is both dumbfounding and disturbing. They have one loss, by a single point at North Carolina State, and pretty much have dominated every other team they faced – even Clemson, at least in the last 20 minutes of their contest back in September. They have one of the nation’s best QBs in EJ Manuel, a truly balanced and dangerous offense and a defense that ranks fifth in the nation in points allowed.
There is no argument that the No. 4 Gators have played a better schedule, but their main claim to fame is a 44-11 victory against South Carolina that looks like a tremendous beatdown on the scoreboard but was anything but on the field. Florida was outgained in the contest, and was throughout it. But it cashed in on turnovers. Since then, it has lost to Georgia, been outplayed by Missouri and Louisiana-Lafayette and struggled against FCS middleweight Jacksonville State.
Obviously, on any given Saturday, any team can step up and top another – but the Gators getting more due than the ’Noles prior to this one … are you kidding? If there is a football god, he/she needs to right this wrong and show everyone that Florida State is, and has been, the better squad this season.
No. 11 Clemson just may be the most entertaining offensive team in the country. It has a great, “worthy of Heisman consideration” QB in Tajh Boyd, two tremendous receives in DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, and soon-to-be, two-time, 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington in the backfield.
What it doesn’t have is a great defense … or any semblance of respect around the country.
It’s one loss was to Florida State, with the ’Noles performing at a level in the second half that teams on Sunday don’t reach … two months ago – yet it hasn’t made a dent in the top 10 despite demolishing every team in its path by Xbox efficiency.
That being said, expect the Tigers to have more difficulty handling No. 12 South Carolina than their ACC brethren has with its nemesis in Tallahassee, Fla. The Gamecocks have stabilized somewhat after the crushing loss of star RB Marcus Lattimore, they have a pretty stout defense and, after all, they won this same matchup a year ago by three TDs without Lattimore around then, either.
Then again, pride is on the line … for Clemson, Florida State, and the ACC.
OTHER KEY GAMES
No. 1 Notre Dame (11-0) at Southern Cal (7-4) – Had the Trojans not collapsed the second half of this season, not lost starting QB Matt Barkley to injury and not experienced his backup Max Wittek barking how the Irish were going down this week … the Irish very well could have done just that. Now, well, the chances are slim to none.
No. 5 Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) at No. 15 Oregon State (8-2, 6-2) – Best game apparently no one is talking about. Let’s stick with the status quo.
No. 9 Stanford (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) at No. 17 UCLA (9-2, 6-2) – Could be a precursor to the Pac-12 title game in two weeks. Does anyone outside the state of California care?
No. 21 Oklahoma State (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) at No. 13 Oklahoma (8-2, 6-1) – Yawn. Does anyone, even those inside the state of Oklahoma, care?
No. 19 Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big 10) at No. 00 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) – Can the Wolverines just beat the Buckeyes so we don’t have to hear Ohio State fans whine and moan how they got screwed out of a national title this season for the remainder of this millennium?
ON UPSET ALERT
No. 23 Kent State vs. Ohio (Friday morning)
No. 19 Rutgers at Pittsburgh
No. 7 LSU at Arkansas