This will be the only time this season when an American Athletic Conference game will make the lead of this column, but Saturday night isn’t just any American Athletic Conference game.
It’s the Coaching Bowl – when two of the nation’s hottest coaching candidates meet, as Justin Fuente and Memphis travel to play Tom Herman and Houston. It would surprise no one if both coaches are at different schools next year, and one of them could be South Carolina’s next coach.
For now, Fuente and Herman are focused on the AAC West race. The Cougars are 9-0 and ranked No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Tigers are 8-1 but ahead of Houston at No. 21 in the rankings.
“Nothing surprises me with this crazy committee thing,” Herman said on SiriusXM College Sports Nation this week. “I don’t know. I guess a loss to Notre Dame is better than beating Vanderbilt 34-0, or a loss to Navy is better than beating Louisville on the road and staying undefeated. I’m not sure what the committee’s looking at.”
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Memphis lost to Navy this season, and Navy, which is also ahead of Houston in the rankings, lost to Notre Dame. Las Vegas, at least, likes the Cougars, who are 7-point favorites.
Here’s what I’m wondering with three weeks left in the regular season: Will South Carolina fans, or fans of any school looking for a coach, be as fired up if that coach finishes 9-3 or 10-2. It’s not like great coaches don’t lose games, and Fuente and Herman have some tough ones down the stretch.
Against the spread: Houston
Georgia at Auburn (minus-1 1/2), Noon
A lot of people (sheepishly raises hand) thought this game was going to be played twice this season – once this week and again in the SEC championship game. Instead, these are two teams trying to salvage something out of their season. Auburn starting Sean White is questionable because of a knee injury.
Alabama (minus-7 1/2) at Mississippi State, 3:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs are flying under the radar, and their 13-point loss to Texas A&M looks worse and worse by the day. But this is a losable game for the Crimson Tide.
North Carolina State at Florida State (minus-8 1/2), 12:30 p.m.
Why Dalvin Cook hasn’t jumped to the top of the Heisman race, I don’t know. Maybe a big game this week will change that.
Straight: Florida State
ATS: Florida State
Clemson (minus-29) at Syracuse, 3:30 p.m.
It looks like the Tigers can coast into the ACC Championship Game. That’s got to be scary for Tigers fans.
Miami at North Carolina (minus-13), 3:30 p.m.
The Tar Heels will be the team waiting on the Tigers in the ACC title game.
Straight: North Carolina
ATS: North Carolina
Oklahoma State (minus-13 1/2) at Iowa State, 3:30 p.m.
This is the last easy one for the Cowboys before the most interesting closing stretch in the country. Unbeaten Oklahoma State hosts Baylor and Oklahoma in the final two weeks.
Straight: Oklahoma State
ATS: Oklahoma State
Michigan (minus-13 1/2) at Indiana, 3:30 p.m.
We’re all killing time before the Nov. 28 Michigan-Ohio State game.
Arkansas at LSU (minus-7 1/2), 7:15 p.m.
The Razorbacks have won three in a row and averaged 56.7 points per game doing it. Playing in Tiger Stadium at night is no easy feat, but this is too many points.
Oregon at Stanford (minus-10), 7:30 p.m.
This is a fascinating season in the Pac-12, even though Oregon isn’t what it used to be. The Cardinal’s on an eight-game winning streak.
BYU (minus-6 1/2) at Missouri, 7:30 p.m.
The only real intrigue in this one is because of what has happened on Missouri’s campus this week. On the field, the Cougars are much better.
Oklahoma at Baylor (minus-3), 8 p.m.
The Bears have had the upper hand of late, and they’re at home.