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Previewing FSU-North Carolina, USF-Temple and Nick Saban-less Alabama vs. Georgia

Can Kirby Smart become the first ex-Saban assistant to beat his former boss' Crimson Tide? And does it count if Saban isn’t on the sideline?
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis will have his hands full, again, with another top-five opponent (North Carolina).
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis will have his hands full, again, with another top-five opponent (North Carolina). [ NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS | Notre Dame Athletics ]
Published Oct. 16, 2020|Updated Oct. 16, 2020

Viewing guide

Lamest time window: Mid-afternoon, because it doesn’t have the quantity of the early shift or the quality of the primetime slate.

Noon: No. 13 Miami (vs. Pitt), No. 15 Auburn (at South Carolina) and No. 18 Tennessee (vs. Kentucky) all have potentially tricky conference games. Prediction: At least one gets upset.

2:30: No. 4 Notre Dame’s lone ACC season marches on with a visit by a Louisville team that I haven’t yet figured out.

3:30: UCF at Memphis should be the most entertaining matchup of the day.

6: Marshall (3-0) has a feasible path to an undefeated season but will have to get past Skip Holtz’s Louisiana Tech team first.

7:30: This isn’t how Florida State fans expected Sam Howell’s first game at Doak Campbell Stadium to look — with the former Seminoles commit starring as the quarterback for No. 5 North Carolina.

Related: Sam Howell is just one of the quarterbacks who got away from Florida State

8: Even with Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban probably sidelined after a positive coronavirus test, No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama is the game of the year.

Local of the week

Plant High alumnus Rex Culpepper will be making his first start for Syracuse since beating cancer in 2018.
Plant High alumnus Rex Culpepper will be making his first start for Syracuse since beating cancer in 2018. [ KEITH SRAKOCIC | AP ]

Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper (Plant High)

This won’t be Culpepper’s first career start; that happened in 2017. But this will be his first start since beating testicular cancer the next summer. The one-time tight end is back at quarterback and, with Tommy DeVito sidelined with a foot injury, atop the depth chart against Liberty.

Related: Rex Culpepper returns as Syracuse’s latest cancer conqueror

Scary without Terry

Tamorrion Terry is one of the most prolific receivers in FSU history, so the Seminoles will miss his presence as he recovers from knee surgery.
Tamorrion Terry is one of the most prolific receivers in FSU history, so the Seminoles will miss his presence as he recovers from knee surgery. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Florida State won’t have Tamorrion Terry available this week after the standout receiver underwent knee surgery. That leaves the Seminoles without many established options. Terry’s 18 career touchdown catches are tied for 13th in program history. The five other receivers on the depth chart have combined for seven career touchdown catches (six by Keyshawn Helton and one by Ontaria Wilson).

History lesson

North Carolina coach Mack Brown was also leading the Tar Heels the last time they were ranked in the top five.
North Carolina coach Mack Brown was also leading the Tar Heels the last time they were ranked in the top five. [ ROBERT WILLETT | AP ]

North Carolina’s last game as a top-five team was in November 1997. Coincidentally, this week’s No. 5 Tar Heels have the same coach (Mack Brown) and face the same opponent (FSU). The No. 3 Seminoles knocked off North Carolina 20-3 in that game to keep Brown winless against his alma mater (0-9 all time).

Bulls' best chance?

Jordan McCloud and the Bulls might not have a better chance to earn an AAC win than this week against Temple.
Jordan McCloud and the Bulls might not have a better chance to earn an AAC win than this week against Temple. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

After a double-digit loss at East Carolina last week, Temple looks like one of USF’s two best hopes for a conference win. The 0-1 Owls are ranked 90th in the SP+ advanced metrics; Navy is the only remaining opponent ranked lower, but the Midshipmen beat Temple last week. A win would be even sweeter for USF because the Bulls have never won in Philadelphia (0-3).

Related: A closer look at Temple, which hosts USF on Saturday

Big plays in the Liberty Bowl

Brady White and Memphis could be in for another shootout with UCF this weekend.
Brady White and Memphis could be in for another shootout with UCF this weekend. [ MARK ZALESKI | AP ]

Because UCF and Memphis have both lost once, the winner won’t try to become a College Football Playoff Cinderella. But this should still be a fun game. UCF’s high-scoring offense is, as usual, one of the most explosive in the nation; only five teams in the nation are averaging more plays of at least 10 yards than the Knights (20.3 per game). One of those five teams? Memphis, which has remained a Group of Five power despite losing coach Mike Norvell to FSU.

Eye on the NFL draft

Alabama's Jaylen Waddle is one of the high-end NFL draft prospects who will be shining in Saturday night's big game.
Alabama's Jaylen Waddle is one of the high-end NFL draft prospects who will be shining in Saturday night's big game. [ ROGELIO V. SOLIS | AP ]

Shockingly, a top-four showdown between Georgia and Alabama is loaded with pro prospects. Who knew? Pay special attention to the Tide’s elite receivers (Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith) against a Bulldogs secondary with potential early-round picks (safety Richard LeCounte and cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes). The matchups likely will decide the outcome — and be broken down by NFL teams during the draft process.

GameDay breakdown

Will Kirby Smart become the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat Saban's Alabama team? And will it count if Saban isn't on the sidelines?
Will Kirby Smart become the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat Saban's Alabama team? And will it count if Saban isn't on the sidelines?

The obvious question surrounding Georgia-Alabama: How will the Crimson Tide do without coach Nick Saban, assuming he remains sidelined after a positive coronavirus test earlier this week? There aren’t many good precedents, and there are no clear answers. The best barometer will be an Alabama defense that struggled last week against Ole Miss but is loaded with talent. Can Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett take advantage of Saban’s absence? And how well will 'Bama make in-game adjustments without its defensive mastermind?

Related: Alabama football coach Nick Saban tests positive for coronavirus

Jimbo after big wins

Jimbo Fisher has a nice history of responding well after monumental wins.
Jimbo Fisher has a nice history of responding well after monumental wins. [ SAM CRAFT | AP ]

Last week’s last-second win over then-No. 4 Florida was Jimbo Fisher’s biggest at Texas A&M. As his No. 11 Aggies travel to Mississippi State, here’s how Fisher’s teams fared after some of the other biggest victories of his career:

Related: Of course Jimbo Fisher’s signature win comes against the Gators

2010: No. 22 Florida State beat the Gators 31-7 to snap a six-game losing streak in the series.

What happened next: The Seminoles lost 44-33 to No. 12 Virginia Tech the next week in the ACC title game.

2012: Fisher earned his first top-10 win by topping Clemson 49-37.

What happened next: USF hung with the 'Noles for 40 minutes before FSU earned a 30-17 win.

2013: No. 5 FSU trounced No. 3 Clemson 51-14 in Death Valley.

What happened next: The 'Noles blew out North Carolina State 49-17 on their way to the national title.

2014: A controversial, last-second pass interference helped No. 2 FSU eke past No. 5 Notre Dame.

What happened next: FSU beat Louisville 42-31 a week and a half later.

2018: Texas A&M outlasted No. 8 LSU 74-72 in a wild, seven-overtime thriller.

What happened next: The Aggies obliterated North Carolina State by 39 points in the Gator Bowl.

By the numbers

The Florida-LSU rivalry won't be played until December because of a coronavirus spike with the Gators.
The Florida-LSU rivalry won't be played until December because of a coronavirus spike with the Gators. [ Times (2018) ]

6 Games postponed this week because of coronavirus outbreaks (Florida-LSU, Florida International-Charlotte, Cincinnati-Tulsa, UTEP-Southern Miss, Missouri-Vanderbilt and Baylor-Oklahoma State)

Related: Florida’s COVID-19 spike is the latest unusual wrinkle to the Gators-LSU series

0 Division I-A players who have scored a rushing and/or receiving touchdown on 40 games. Clemson’s Travis Etienne can become the first this weekend against Georgia Tech

26.3 Kickoff return average for USF’s Johnny Ford. That’s 13th nationally

10 Consecutive home wins for Memphis. The Tigers' last loss at the Liberty Bowl? Against UCF in 2018

7 Sacks by Pitt defensive end Patrick Jones. That’s the most in the nation and sounds like trouble for a Miami offensive line that remains a work in progress

51 Points per game by Alabama’s offense, which leads the nation

12.3 Points per game allowed by Georgia’s defense. That’s tied for fifth in the country

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