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College football weekend preview: Asante Samuel’s NFL audition and UF’s historic offensive fireworks

Plus, some coaching carousel names to know, why UCF-Cincinnati is one of the day’s most intriguing matchups and a Pinellas County product in CBS’ marquee game.
Florida Gators star Kadarius Toney is part of an offense that's on a historic pace.
Florida Gators star Kadarius Toney is part of an offense that's on a historic pace. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Nov. 20, 2020

Viewing guide

Lamest time window: None. There are good games at every spot on the schedule. And the way things are going with coronavirus cases, enjoy every game you can, just in case ...

Noon: Can No. 9 Indiana hang with No. 3 Ohio State? If not, flip to an excellent Sun Belt showdown between Appalachian State and No. 15 Coastal Carolina.

3:30: No. 7 Cincinnati will try to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive with a trip to UCF.

7:30: Bedlam between No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Oklahoma.

10:30: No. 20 USC will try to extend its early string of ridiculously good luck against Utah.

Eye on the NFL draft

FSU's Asante Samuel (seen here against the Gators in 2018), has been playing like an early-round pick.
FSU's Asante Samuel (seen here against the Gators in 2018), has been playing like an early-round pick. [ "BRONTE WITTPENN | TIMES" ]

Florida State’s struggles have made it easy to overlook the fine season from defensive back Asante Samuel (three interceptions, six pass breakups). Playing No. 4 Clemson gives him a bigger spotlight this week. How often will the presumptive No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, challenge Samuel? And how will Samuel perform against a superstar? NFL teams will be watching.

Related: Florida State quarterback Chubba Purdy out for the season after surgery

More UF fireworks

Kadarius Toney is a big part of a Florida Gators' offense that ranks among the very best in program history.
Kadarius Toney is a big part of a Florida Gators' offense that ranks among the very best in program history. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

The No. 6 Gators enter Vanderbilt having scored at least 35 points in eight consecutive games. That’s tied with stretches during the 1996 and 2008 national title seasons for the longest streak in program history. Expect another big output against Vanderbilt. The Commodores have given up at least that many points in four of their last five games to put Derek Mason on the hot seat.

Related: Why Florida’s Kyle Trask is a game-managing star

Bearcats at the Bounce House

Cincinnati's Luke Fickell leads one of the nation's best defenses but will face an explosive UCF offense this weekend.
Cincinnati's Luke Fickell leads one of the nation's best defenses but will face an explosive UCF offense this weekend. [ AARON DOSTER | AP ]

Although it’s not a ranked game, No. 7 Cincinnati at UCF might be the most intriguing contest because of the contrasting styles. The Knights, as usual, have one of the nation’s top offenses: They lead the country with 619 yards per game and 68 plays of 20-plus yards. The Bearcats’ defense, however, is elite. Cincinnati ranks fourth in yards per play allowed (4.25) and third in scoring (12.4 points per game allowed). A strong showing will be further proof that Cincinnati is a serious playoff contender.

‘Cats keeping it close

Northwestern is off to its best Big Ten start since 1996 thanks to a strong defense and an ability to eke out close wins.
Northwestern is off to its best Big Ten start since 1996 thanks to a strong defense and an ability to eke out close wins. [ MICHAEL CONROY | AP ]

No. 19 Northwestern is 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1996 thanks to three consecutive victories by one score. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Since Pat Fitzgerald took over in 2006, the Wildcats have won 48 one-possession games (tied with Navy for most in the country). Their defense might be good enough to keep it tight against No. 10 Wisconsin.

Local of the week

Nevada's Jermaine Ledbetter (a St. Petersburg native) blocks for quarterback Carson Strong against UNLV earlier this season.
Nevada's Jermaine Ledbetter (a St. Petersburg native) blocks for quarterback Carson Strong against UNLV earlier this season. [ JOHN LOCHER | AP ]

Nevada offensive lineman Jermaine Ledbetter (Boca Ciega High)

SEC postponements mean CBS’ coveted 3:30 TV window goes to Nevada-San Diego State. It’s nice exposure for both Mountain West teams and their players, including Ledbetter, a captain and starting left guard for the 4-0 Wolf Pack and their top-15 offense.

GameDay breakdown

Can Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler light up Oklahoma State's top-tier passing defense?
Can Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler light up Oklahoma State's top-tier passing defense? [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]

Whether Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy can improve to 3-13 against rival Oklahoma hinges on one matchup: whether a top-10 Cowboys passing defense (169 yards allowed per game) can contain Spencer Rattler and Oklahoma’s top-10 passing offense (350 yards per game). If Gundy’s team can slow down the Sooners, the Cowboys are good enough offensively to win. But don’t expect Oklahoma State to have enough firepower if Bedlam turns into a shootout.

Coaching carousel

The Jim Harbaugh era feels as if it's nearing its end at Michigan.
The Jim Harbaugh era feels as if it's nearing its end at Michigan. [ TONY DING | AP ]

South Carolina firing former UF coach Will Muschamp on Sunday was the first big domino to fall in what could be an odd hiring season, because of the economic struggles brought on by the pandemic. Here are some names to watch this week and beyond:

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: Harbaugh’s contract expires after next season, and his Wolverines’ ugly 1-3 start makes it look as if the khaki one won’t be in Ann Arbor much longer. Especially if he loses to Greg Schiano and Rutgers this weekend.

Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech: After starting with back-to-back top-25 seasons, his Hokies have tumbled. They’ve been unlucky during a 4-4 start, but some of that falls on his coaching. Pitt is beatable this weekend before hosting mighty Clemson.

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers have been this season’s darling, leading into this huge Sun Belt game against Appalachian State. Will Chadwell be able to turn this year’s success into a Power Five job (like South Carolina)?

Matt Campbell, Iowa State: The No. 17 Cyclones are off to their first 5-1 conference start ever heading into this game against Kansas State. Campbell’s name came up in the FSU coaching search, but he opted to stay. Is there a job —college or pro — that would entice him to leave this cycle?

Hugh Freeze, Liberty: The former Ole Miss coach isn’t beloved in the coaching community, but his No. 21 Flames are 8-0 and have already beaten two ACC teams before facing another this weekend (North Carolina State). He seems destined for another Power Five job, whether it’s this cycle or next.

QB change at UGA?

There are rumblings that USC transfer JT Daniels could start for Georgia this weekend.
There are rumblings that USC transfer JT Daniels could start for Georgia this weekend. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]

Georgia is out of the playoff picture because of its subpar quarterbacking. That might change this week. There are rumblings — including a report from al.com — that five-star USC transfer JT Daniels has progressed enough with his knee injury and everything else to start for the No. 13 Bulldogs against Mississippi State. If that happens, we’ll see whether he can resuscitate Georgia’s offense.

Related: How Florida Gators are changing travel after the coronavirus outbreak

By the numbers

Dan Mullen's Florida Gators are off to a great start through the first 32 games of his tenure.
Dan Mullen's Florida Gators are off to a great start through the first 32 games of his tenure. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

26-6 — The record for Dan Mullen, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer through 32 games at UF

1,034 —Rushing yards by Iowa State’s Breece Hall, the only player to break the 1,000-yard mark so far

7.89 — Yards per rush by Florida International’s D’vonte Price, who’s on track to set a school record

67-28 —Oregon’s record since Chip Kelly left after the 2012 season

8-18 — Kelly’s record as a college coach since leaving the No. 11 Ducks, which will host Kelly’s Bruins

17 — Consecutive times Ohio State has beaten ranked Big Ten teams, leading into a top-10 showdown with Indiana. That’s the longest streak in the AP poll’s history