College Football Overtime (cont.)
Please tell all those economic experts who chart stuff not to freak out if America's spending is down on Black Friday. A whole lot of folks are going to be inside, glued to the tube.
When the television schedules were set last summer, no one could have predicted that the nation's top three teams would all be playing the Friday after Thanksgiving, all against formidable foes. Forget fighting crowds at the mall. Sit back and enjoy one heck of a triple-header: No. 2 Auburn at No. 9 Alabama at 2:30 p.m. ET, followed by No. 20 Arizona at No. 1 Oregon at 7 p.m. and No. 3 Boise State at No. 19 Nevada at 10:15 p.m.
(If that's not enough to hold your attention, West Virginia and Pittsburgh -- both possible BCS auto-qualifiers -- meet at noon, and Colorado visits Nebraska at 3:30 in their last meeting as Big 12 foes.)
Obviously, the main attraction is the Iron Bowl. While this is the fourth time since 2004 that one of the two has entered the showdown holding national-title hopes, we must go back to 1994, when 10-0 Alabama beat 9-0-1 Auburn, to find a meeting where both teams were so highly regarded. And even that one couldn't hold a candle to the hype surrounding this year's game, due in large part to CamGate.
Auburn had its first bye of the season last week, while Alabama had a de facto bye, hosting first-year FCS program Georgia State last Thursday. Tide coaches and players didn't hide from the fact that they'd already begun planning for Newton and the Tigers, and Saban answered his first questions about the game before he'd even left the field at Bryant-Denny on Thursday, saying it would be "bad for college football" if Newton wasn't allowed to play against the Tide and that Alabama was focused on "containing the outside" to take away Newton's big runs.
First of all, barring some drastic turn of events in the next five days regarding the NCAA investigation into Newton's recruitment, the Auburn star will play. And while this isn't the first tough defense Newton and the Tigers have faced (LSU ranks fifth nationally), this game versus the defending national champs has long been anticipated as Auburn's make-or-break date with destiny.
Adding to the drama: Should Auburn fall, the Boise State-Nevada game later that same night would suddenly take on huge importance. With the Broncos in a tightly contested duel with TCU for the status of "next in line," an impressive showing against a ranked foe could be the decider. Colin Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack come in ranked third nationally in total offense (537.7 yards per game) and have played the Broncos close in the past, losing 69-67 in Kaepernick's first start back in 2007, 41-34 in '08 and 44-33 last season.
For its part, Boise is coming off a 51-0 shutout of Fresno State that prompted veteran Bulldogs coach Pat Hill to say: "We've played against some pretty darn good football teams in my time. Never have we been manhandled like that."
Cam Newton, Oregon's offense and Boise's defense all on one Friday. Who needs Saturdays?
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
Auburn at Alabama, Friday (2:30 p.m. ET): We've seen Cam Newton do pretty much everything imaginable; now we get to see him do it on fresh legs. Alabama will need huge games from Mark Barron and Dont'a Higtower to contain the Tigers star. Or it will need Rhodes Scholar finalist Greg McElroy to throw for 400 yards.
Arizona at Oregon, Friday (7 p.m. ET): Cal delivered the blueprint for slowing down Oregon: rotating defensive linemen, playing man coverage and faking a lot of injuries. The Wildcats have the speed up front to do much the same, but the Ducks have yet to score fewer than 52 points at Autzen Stadium this season.
Boise State at Nevada, Friday (10:15 p.m. ET): The Broncos held Hawaii to its lowest yardage total in 12 years and handed Fresno State its first shutout in 12 years. Boise's defense isn't looking to make history in Reno, just to slow down a Nevada team that's averaging 44 points and put up 52 when Cal came to town.