It is the third weekend of October, and there is a huge game on the schedule. However, some alarming news has entered the picture, which might affect how that game is played. That is the big story before Week 7 in college football 2020.
Georgia Bulldogs at Alabama Crimson Tide
NCAAF Odds: Alabama -3.5
The massive news hit Wednesday: Alabama head coach Nick Saban tested positive for Covid-19. The instant thought occurred to everyone in college football that Saban won’t be able to coach this game. If the game is played on Saturday, no, Saban won’t be able to coach Alabama from the sidelines or the press box. He won’t be able to attend the stadium because he will be isolating in line with health and safety protocols. If the game does go off as scheduled, Alabama – a favorite of just over a field goal – might lose the man whose presence on a sideline keeps players motivated and on task.
It’s a lot easier to think that Georgia can win on the road with Saban out of the picture. Alabama might rally around Saban and play an emotionally inspired game, but Saban’s inability to make tactical adjustments in the locker room at halftime might hurt the Tide more than many realize.
Statement from the Southeastern Conference Office on Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) October 17, 2020
Breaking: Alabama coach Nick Saban has been cleared to coach in tonight's game against Georgia following a third negative COVID-19 test Saturday, the school announced. pic.twitter.com/gT5hecDdAk
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 17, 2020
UCF Knights at Memphis Tigers
NCAAF Odds: UCF -3.5
The UCF Knights and Memphis Tigers met in the AAC Championship Game in two straight seasons, in 2017 and ’18. Both games were wild and crazy. The 2017 title game produced 117 points, as UCF won 62-55 in overtime. In 2018, Memphis gained leads of 24-7 and 38-21. The Tigers led by 17 points at halftime, but UCF outscored Memphis by 32 points in the second half to win, 56-41. Last year, UCF failed to defend its AAC title.
The Cincinnati Bearcats dethroned UCF in the AAC East Division. Memphis won the AAC West Division title for the third straight year and met Cincinnati in the conference championship game. Memphis parlayed home-field advantage into a victory, which sent the Tigers to the Cotton Bowl. This means either Memphis (2019) or UCF (2017 and ’18) has won the last three AAC titles. This season began with the teams being expected to contend for the league championship once again. Yet, with UCF losing to Tulsa and Memphis losing at SMU, both teams have one loss in conference play.
The loser of this game will therefore have two AAC losses and will have to run the table (most likely) in order to have any real chance of winning the division and getting back to the conference title game. This is not the spot either team expected to be in before the season began. There is an unexpectedly high level of pressure attached to this contest. It’s a game with a lot of pressure for UCF head coach Josh Heupel, who won big in 2018 with previous coach Scott Frost’s recruits and needs to prove he can win with his own players. It’s a game with a lot of meaning for Memphis’s first-year head coach, Ryan Silverfield, who is trying to maintain what Mike Norvell established before Norvell went to Florida State.
Pittsburgh Panthers at Miami Hurricanes
NCAAF Odds: Miami -13
When Miami brought a No. 7 rankings to No. 1 Clemson this past weekend, the matchup was hyped as though Miami belonged in a big game again. However, Miami didn’t belong in the same field as Clemson. The Hurricanes lost, 42-17, and that was with Clemson having three field goals blocked, one of which Miami returned for a touchdown. Clemson also turned the ball over deep in Miami territory. The score easily could have been 55-10. The 25-point spread seemed like an insufficient reflection of the gap between the teams.
Now that Miami has lost big to Clemson, a lot of people who thought Miami was a good team might reconsider. However, if Miami seemed overrated heading into the Clemson game, the Hurricanes might be underrated after the Clemson game. This is an important game for Miami because the Hurricanes’ season will be judged by how they play against all the non-Clemson opponents on their schedule. If Miami wins every non-Clemson game, it will be clear that the blowout loss to Clemson was a product of Clemson being great, not Miami being bad. Miami will turn out to be better than everyone else.
However, if Miami loses to Pittsburgh it will be clear that Miami was a total mirage and a fraud, a team that took advantage of weak opposition early in the season. Miami didn’t prove itself against Clemson, but the proving ground period is just beginning for the ‘Canes.
Kentucky Wildcats at Tennessee Volunteers
NCAAF Odds: Tennessee -6
The other games listed above are bigger than this one, but this is still big. Before the season began, it was widely felt that Georgia and Florida were still the top two teams in the SEC East. That is still probably true, but Florida’s defense has been absolutely atrocious through three SEC games. This gives both Tennessee and Kentucky a path to a second-place finish in the division if they can get hot and stay hot.
Tennessee scored 21 first-half points at Georgia last week and appeared to be on the verge of doing something special under head coach Jeremy Pruitt, but the Volunteers were destroyed in the second half and missed their big chance to make a huge statement. They could be depressed and dejected entering this game against Kentucky — or they could get caught looking ahead to Alabama next week — so it will be a challenge for this team to mentally regroup. The Wildcats could be the value play here in the sportsbook.