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College football preview: USF-Cincinnati, why FSU could snowball and can Jimbo Fisher finally beat Nick Saban?

Will Muschamp is 2-6 in the Florida-South Carolina series with the same record on each side. Not a good sign as he faces the Gators.
Johnny Ford has had a nice start to the 2020 season for USF.
Johnny Ford has had a nice start to the 2020 season for USF. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 2, 2020
Updated Oct. 2, 2020

Viewing guide

Lamest time window: This is a good slate, but noon is the only slot without a top-20 matchup, if you have an errand that can’t wait.

Noon: How much can Will Muschamp’s defense challenge the No. 3 Gators in Gainesville?

Related: Dan Mullen earned his gift from Steve Spurrier. But his Gators have bigger goals than a $2 bottle of wine

3:30: If No. 13 Texas A&M doesn’t improve drastically from last week’s too-close-for-comfort win over Vanderbilt, they’ll be in big trouble at No. 2 Alabama.

4: Florida State shouldn’t be in for a close one against Jacksonville State … right?

6: The battle for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, thankfully, continues during the pandemic, starting with Navy-Air Force.

7:30: End the day with the first top-10 matchup of the year, No. 7 Auburn at No. 4 Georgia.

Fords motor

How USF running back Johnny Ford stacks up against Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford, the Alabama transfer from Armwood High:

USF’s Johnny Ford

USF's Johnny Ford has been one of the most explosive backs in the country.
USF's Johnny Ford has been one of the most explosive backs in the country. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

5-5, 172 pounds

Former three-star recruit

Leads the Bulls with 141 yards (9.4 per carry)

One of four players nationally with two rushes of at least 40 yards

Related: A closer look at No. 15 Cincinnati, which hosts USF on Saturday

Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford

Armwood High alumnus and Alabama transfer Jerome Ford has had a nice start in Cincinnati.
Armwood High alumnus and Alabama transfer Jerome Ford has had a nice start in Cincinnati. [ JAY LAPRETE | AP ]

5-11, 215 pounds

Former four-star recruit

Second on the team with 62 rushing yards

One touchdown rush in each of the first two games

Going sideways?

Will the Florida State Seminoles spiral after last week's blowout loss at rival Miami?
Will the Florida State Seminoles spiral after last week's blowout loss at rival Miami? [ MICHAEL LAUGHLIN | Sun Sentinel ]

Even before FSU lost at Miami, ESPN’s Rece Davis said he could envision the Seminoles' season going south in the event of a blowout. Welp.

Here’s how FSU and other state schools have fared after recent humiliations in rivalry games:

Related: Why a youth movement could be risky at Florida State

Clemson 45, FSU 14 (2019): The Seminoles lost two of their next three, including 22-20 at Wake Forest the next week, before Willie Taggart’s dismissal.

Clemson 59, FSU 10 (2018): The 'Noles dropped three of their final four to secure their first losing season since 1976.

Georgia 42, Florida 7 (2017): The Gators spiraled after Jim McElwain’s finale, getting trounced by Missouri the next week and losing three of their last four.

FSU 41, Miami 14 (2013): The Hurricanes dropped their next two to slide from 7-0 and seventh in the country to unranked. They finished 9-4.

Local of the week

TJ Chase was a blue-chip recruit from Plant City before signing with Clemson and transferring to Florida Atlantic.
TJ Chase was a blue-chip recruit from Plant City before signing with Clemson and transferring to Florida Atlantic. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Florida Atlantic receiver TJ Chase (Plant City High): The former blue-chip Clemson signee was one of six receiver transfers Willie Taggart added in the offseason. The Owls' opener against Charlotte will be our first look at what he and the former Florida State/USF coach can do at their new stop.

Nick Saban vs. Sabanites

Jimbo Fisher is 0-3 against his old boss, Nick Saban, including Florida State's season-opening loss in 2017.
Jimbo Fisher is 0-3 against his old boss, Nick Saban, including Florida State's season-opening loss in 2017. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher knows the history —Nick Saban is 19-0 against his former assistants as the head coach at Alabama.

“Hopefully we can end that streak,” said Fisher, Saban’s former offensive coordinator at LSU.

If not, the streak could still be in jeopardy. Saban’s next three games are all against former assistants (Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt).

Jimbo Fisher: 0-3 (0-1 with Florida State, 0-2 with A&M)

Jim McElwain: 0-3 (0-2 with Florida, 0-1 with Colorado State)

Derek Dooley: 0-3 with Tennessee

Related: Five things we’ve learned about college football in the coronavirus era

Will Muschamp: 0-3 (0-2 with Florida, 0-1 with South Carolina)

Jeremy Pruitt: 0-2 with Tennessee

Mark Dantonio: 0-2 with Michigan State

Kirby Smart: 0-2 with Georgia

Billy Napier: 0-1 with Louisiana Lafayette

UCF D

UCF's defense has been a turnover machine so far.
UCF's defense has been a turnover machine so far. [ GERRY BROOME | AP ]

One of the season’s most pleasant surprises is UCF’s defense. Only Virginia (10) has forced more turnovers than the Knights (nine), but UCF has played one fewer game. Even if the turnovers dry up, expect the defense to continue to dominate against Tulsa, which was a mess in its season-opening loss to Oklahoma State.

Eye on the NFL draft

Trey Lance (right) has earned first-round buzz as the star quarterback at North Dakota State.
Trey Lance (right) has earned first-round buzz as the star quarterback at North Dakota State. [ SAM HODDE | AP ]

If Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are the draft’s top two quarterbacks, then North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is No. 3. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound redshirt sophomore has starred at Carson Wentz’s old school, and because Division I-AA remains limited because of the pandemic, this home game against Central Arkansas will be Lance’s only game of the fall. This is his chance to prove himself as a top-10 pick.

GameDay breakdown

Former USC quarterback JT Daniels has finally been medically cleared from his knee injury.
Former USC quarterback JT Daniels has finally been medically cleared from his knee injury. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]

No. 4 Georgia struggled offensively in the first half against Arkansas. Maybe JT Daniels can change that. Now that the five-star transfer quarterback from USC has finally been medically cleared from his knee injury, we’ll get a real glimpse of whether the Bulldogs can be a championship contender. But if Daniels struggles, Auburn is good enough to earn the win.

Stat of the week

Auburn's Bo Nix will try to continue a quirky stat in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.
Auburn's Bo Nix will try to continue a quirky stat in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

In the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, Auburn has a winning record at Georgia (18-15 in Athens), and Georgia has a winning record at Auburn (17-12-1). That could be good news for the visiting Tigers.

Know the name: Ulysses Bentley IV

SMU running back Ulysses Bentley IV, left, is tackled by North Texas safety Makyle Sanders during a game last month in Denton, Texas.
SMU running back Ulysses Bentley IV, left, is tackled by North Texas safety Makyle Sanders during a game last month in Denton, Texas. [ AL KEY | AP ]

SMU’s awesomely named running back leads the nation with 380 yards (10.6 per carry) and seven rushing touchdowns. He’s a key reason why the Mustangs are 3-0 heading into an interesting AAC contest with No. 25 Memphis. An SMU win should vault the Mustangs back into the Top 25 and solidify them as an AAC contender.

By the numbers

Will Muschamp has struggled on both sides of the Florida-South Carolina series.
Will Muschamp has struggled on both sides of the Florida-South Carolina series. [ MIC SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY LLC | Associated Press (2019) ]

2-6 —Will Muschamp’s record in the Florida-South Carolina series. He’s 1-3 with the Gamecocks after going 1-3 with the Gators

60 —Career touchdown passes by Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper. The former four-star recruit redshirted on the 2016 Clemson team that won the title in Tampa and could challenge FSU’s shaky defense

6-16 —Jimbo Fisher’s career record against top-10 teams, including a 1-7 mark with the Aggies

8 — Times the Gators have topped 500 yards of offense in Dan Mullen’s 27 games. UF hit that figure only twice in the final 27 games before his arrival

Related: Why Kyle Trask is drawing Joe Burrow comparisons from one SEC Network analyst

3 — Career kickoff return touchdowns by Kansas State’s Joshua Youngblood (Berkeley Prep). That’s fourth in school history. Can he add on another against a Texas Tech team that ranks in the bottom 11 nationally in kickoff coverage?

1999 — The last time Oklahoma lost back-to-back games (against Notre Dame and Texas in Bob Stoops' first year). That covers 40 rebound games and is the longest active streak in the nation, following last week’s loss to Kansas State.

21 — Consecutive wins at the Bounce House for UCF. Only Clemson (23) has a longer home win streak

2-6 — Texas' record against TCU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12