Top-ranked Alabama (8-0) had an open date to prepare for Saturday’s marquee matchup with No. 11 LSU. There’s debate on whether that was a good thing.
Seventh-ranked Auburn (8-1) handled tumbling Arkansas 35-17 on the road and looks to do the same Saturday at tumbling Tennessee.
Jacksonville State (7-2) thumped winless Austin Peay 42-10 in an Ohio Valley Conference tuneup for Saturday’s home opportunity against Eastern Kentucky.
Alabama: Open-date debate
Who remembers when the number of opponents taking an open date before playing Alabama was a controversy?
LSU and Alabama both had open dates before this week’s showdown in T-town, and the question becomes whether it was a good thing.
If Alabama coach Nick Saban had his preference this past week, the Crimson Tide would have played. Alabama clearly was rounding back into championship form, so the open date pressed pause on positive momentum.
Then again, Saban had two weeks to prepare for one of the biggest games on Alabama’s schedule. That’s almost always a good thing.
LSU needed an open date after suffering the upset at Ole Miss on Oct. 19, and the Tigers essentially got two, including their soft landing against Furman on Oct. 26. LSU will have had three weeks to think about the game that could make its season after losses to Ole Miss and Georgia.
Then again, will three weeks be enough for LSU’s defense, not one of the Tigers’ best in recent years, to find a way to stop an Alabama offense that’s hitting on all cylinders?
Four might not be enough, considering that LSU ranks 50th in the country against the run.
Auburn: Getting to 10 … more?
The path to double-digit victories keeps looking less treacherous for Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC).
Remember two weeks ago, when this week’s game at Tennessee looked more perilous? Tennessee had just pushed Georgia to overtime and upset South Carolina.
The Vols’ momentum has clearly stopped. They lost 45-10 at Alabama on Oct. 26 then 31-3 to Missouri on Saturday, so Auburn’s five-game winning streak looks more likely to grow at Knoxville on Saturday.
That would make nine victories and leave Auburn, which went 3-9 a year ago, needing to win one game between Georgia, Alabama and a bowl opponent to make it 10.
Georgia got running back Todd Gurley back for the first time in a month Saturday, and he ran for 100 yards in a victory over Florida. Still, the unranked Bulldogs have to come to Jordan-Hare Stadium to play an Auburn team now ranked in the top 10 in every major poll.
Top-ranked Alabama will be favored but still has to come to Jordan-Hare. If the Iron Bowl winds up being a showdown between unbeaten Alabama and one-loss Auburn for the SEC West Division title, expect an atmosphere a la 1989.
Should Auburn somehow come through these final three regular-season games without a loss, the Tigers will have the chance to finish with 13 victories.
Finishing with double-digit victories would be an amazing accomplishment, considering where the Tigers were this time a year ago.
JSU: Big opportunity
Here comes that team again, and Eastern Kentucky brings an opportunity for JSU at home.
The Gamecocks can vanquish demons in this series, most of all that 24-point lead they blew in the final seven minutes two years ago, the last time EKU came to JSU Stadium.
A victory can also all but assure JSU a nine-win season in Bill Clark’s first season as head coach.
The Gamecocks (7-2, 3-2 OVC) held serve against winless Austin Peay on Saturday. They should beat Southeast Missouri at home in the regular-season finale.
To get to nine victories, JSU, picked fourth in the OVC in preseason, needs to beat one of two teams picked ahead of it in the OVC. It’s hard to see that happening at second-ranked and preseason OVC favorite Eastern Illinois (8-1) in two weeks, so second pick EKU (6-3) at home is the best chance.
That’s not to say that it’s a great chance. EKU rolled to a 44-0 rout of No. 23 Tennessee State on Saturday, and TSU handled JSU 31-15 at JSU this season.
So beating EKU would give JSU an upset to offset the loss to Murray State that shouldn’t have happened.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.