The 2020 college football season enters November with the best slate of games yet.
Two top-10 showdowns. The Pac-12 returns. All but three AP Top 25 teams are in action this weekend. The first set of College Football Playoff rankings will be released Nov. 24. For the moment, college football is back.
The big showdowns will help solve the puzzle. No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Florida meet at 3:30 p.m. ET in an elimination game between two one-loss teams, not only for a berth in the SEC championship, but also the Playoff. No. 1 Clemson travels to No. 4 Notre Dame for a 7:30 p.m. showdown that will shape the ACC championship race.
Star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, will not play. Two more games between ranked teams are on the schedule as well: No. 9 BYU visits No. 21 Boise State at 9:45 p.m. Friday, while No. 23 Michigan faces No. 13 Indiana on the road at noon Saturday.
Every week, Sporting News surveys the landscape looking for Heisman contenders, coaches on the spot, upset alerts and other trends. With that in mind, get ready for Week 10:
Lawrence’s absence impacts the Heisman Trophy race, even if SN outlined the case to keep the star quarterback in the race when he returns to the lineup. D.J. Uiagalelei can make a statement with a win against Notre Dame, but two quarterbacks can get in that mix this weekend.
BYU’s Zach Wilson, who has 2,152 passing yards and ranks third in the nation with 19 touchdowns, could put the Cougars in prime position for a New Year’s Day 6 Bowl — and perhaps the Playoff conversation — with a victory against Boise State.
Notre Dame’s Ian Book is 26-3 as a starter, and this is his moment to put a stamp on that career with a victory against Clemson. Book’s only losses in his career are to Clemson, Georgia and Michigan, all ranked teams at the time. This is a chance to knock off a big-time opponent.
In 1990, BYU’s Ty Detmer edged out Notre Dame’s Raghib Ismail for the Heisman Trophy; Detmer finished third the following season. The Irish have had just three players finish in the top five of the Heisman voting in the last 30 years: Manti Te’o finished second in 2012, Brady Quinn finished third in 2006 and fourth in 2005 and Reggie Brooks finished fifth in 1992.
Coach on the spot
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask could also enter the Heisman mix with a good game against Georgia, but the bigger headlines focus more on coach Dan Mullen this week.
Mullen was reprimanded by the SEC and fined $25,000 for his role in an on-field brawl before halftime against Missouri on Oct. 31. He chose that time and place to wear a Darth Vader costume in the postgame news conference. All that happened after Florida missed three weeks because of COVID-19 concerns.
Mullen can silence the critics, however, with a victory against No. 5 Georgia. Mullen is 0-2 against the Bulldogs at FLorida, and the Gators have lost those two meetings by an average of 13 points per game. Win this game, and Florida emerges as the leader to reach the SEC championship game. Lose, and the distractions that emerged after a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 10 will continue.
The last time Indiana beat Michigan was on Oct. 24, 1987, in a 14-10 slugfest in Bloomington, Ind. Now the Hoosiers come into the matchup ranked No. 13, 10 spots higher than the Wolverines.
Yet Michigan is still favored. Two weeks after Michael Penix Jr. gave Indiana fans their most memorable football moment in decades, coach Tom Allen has a chance to lead another program-altering victory.
Of note: That last Indiana victory came the year after Jim Harbaugh graduated from Michigan. Given the fallout from last week’s 27-24 loss to Michigan State, there is much more pressure on the Wolverines here.
No. 12 Oregon and No. 20 USC are the only Pac-12 teams in the AP Top 25 heading into the conference’s opening weekend. Like the Big Ten, the conference faces a slim margin for error in terms of getting all six regular-season games in before the conference championship.
The Ducks are projected to make the Playoff in SN’s latest bowl projections heading into the opener against Stanford.
Tyler Shough or Boston College transfer Anthony Brown will start at quarterback in new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme, which will have to compensate for the loss of tackle Penei Sewell, who opted out for the 2020 season. The defense, led by SN Preseason All-American Kavyon Thibodeaux, should be solid.
USC returns quarterback Kedon Slovis and a talented roster, but Clay Helton’s job security remains the eternal conversation. A bright-and-early noon ET opener against Arizona State is tricky. The winner will have a leg up on the Pac-12 South race.
Think about it …
The Big 12 might end up the most entertaining Power 5 conference championship race in November.
The conference has four ranked teams, and every team has at least one conference loss in the round-robin schedule. That said, the Big 12 is the best bet to miss the Playoff: No team has made it with two losses, and the ACC and SEC have an advantage with No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama, respectively.
That calls into question what college football wants. Is it better to watch Alabama, Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State burn through their respective conferences? The Pac-12 is playing a half-season. The Big 12, which seemingly checks all the boxes fans want, won’t have a Playoff team because there is no dominant team in the conference this year.
Is that a case for — or against — an eight-team playoff in the future?
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