It gets real now for Mississippi.
The 15th-ranked Rebels and No. 2 Alabama take center stage in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night for a game with no shortage of story lines.
None is bigger than the Crimson Tide’s hankering to avenge last year’s 23-17 loss in Oxford. The loss cost Alabama the No. 1 ranking for six weeks, but it didn’t stop the Tide from going on to win the Southeastern Conference and make the College Football Playoff.
The point is, any loss is an affront to Alabama, and Nick Saban has a knack for not getting beat by the same team two times in a row. In his nine years at ‘Bama, he’s 9-1 in rematches the year after a loss.
The Rebels put 76 and 73 points on their first two opponents, respectively, and are averaging 9.3 yards a play. Let’s see how strong-armed QB Chad Kelly, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, performs when he gets some resistance. Alabama’s defense has forced five turnovers in two games and features one of the nation’s best front sevens.
The other SEC game matching Top 25 opponents has No. 18 Auburn visiting No. 13 LSU a week after nearly getting upset by an FCS opponent.
Auburn, which needed overtime to beat Jacksonville State, must get more out of Jeremy Johnson. He’s already thrown five interceptions, and Death Valley on a Saturday night isn’t exactly the best environment for an opposing quarterback to find his groove.
Notre Dame came into the season believing it had what it takes to win a national championship, and coach Brian Kelly made it clear this week that the Irish’s spate of injuries won’t lower their expectations.
Given the circumstances, it will be a major accomplishment if the Irish go unbeaten — not through the season, but just the next month. Three of their next five opponents are in the Top 25.
The No. 8 Irish are slight underdogs at home against No. 14 Georgia Tech. No surprise there. They’re without their starting quarterback, running back, tight end and nose guard.
DeShone Kizer showed up well filling in for Malik Zaire, who fractured his right ankle in the third quarter last week against Virginia. Kizer threw the winning TD pass in the last minute, and now we’ll see what he can do as a first-time starter.
OLD RIVALS UNDER THE RADAR
Nebraska heads to the Sunshine State to play Miami in its first road game under new coach Mike Riley.
Neither team is ranked, but fans of a certain age remember when a Huskers-Hurricanes game was a special occasion. Four times it decided the national championship between 1983 and 2001.
The nastiness of last year’s game in Lincoln — a 41-31 Nebraska win — showed there’s still some life in this old rivalry. The Huskers will try to hammer away with Terrell Newby against a Miami defense that allowed 223 yards on the ground to Florida Atlantic. Hurricanes QB Brad Kaaya will take his shots against a vulnerable Nebraska secondary.
No. 19 BYU’s game against No. 10 UCLA at the Rose Bowl matches emerging stars in freshman QBs Tanner Mangum and Josh Rosen.
Mangum threw a 42-yard Hail Mary to beat Nebraska on the final play in relief of the injured Taysom Hill, and his 35-yard TD pass in the final minute beat Boise State last week. Rosen, the first freshman to start at QB for UCLA, wasn’t as sharp against UNLV as he was against Virginia in the opener, but he’s still completing 65 percent of his passes for 287 yards a game.
LEGIT OR NOT?
Of the five Big Ten-ACC matchups this week, two in the Tar Heel State merit a look. Everyone in the Big Ten wants to know if Northwestern and Illinois are legitimate. We’ll get a better idea when the Illini visit Duke and the Wildcats go to North Carolina.
Northwestern, in beating Stanford and Eastern Illinois, has gone back-to-back games without allowing a touchdown for the first time since 1958. David Cutcliffe’s Duke offenses have averaged 32 points a game for three straight years.
Illinois has outscored Kent State and Western Illinois 96-3. The question is whether a defense that ranked 118th against the run last year is ready for a Carolina offense that’s rushed for 200 yards in consecutive games.