(CBS Local)- The college football season is entering its final weeks and CBS has a double-header of SEC action heading fans’ way this Saturday when #6 Florida clashes with Tennessee in Knoxville and #1 Alabama heads to the Bayou to face LSU. For the Gators and Tide, the weekend represents one of the final chances to impress the College Football Playoff Committee prior to the final rankings on Sunday, December 20. For the Volunteers and Tigers, it’s a chance to build some optimism and maybe, just maybe play spoiler for their rivals.
The action starts first in Knoxville with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. EST on CBS. It’s been a rough season for Jeremy Pruitt’s program. Following a 2-0 start, they have lost five straight games all by double digits. As CBS Sports’ Carter Blackburn points out, the all-SEC schedule hasn’t given the Vols a chance for any “get right games” that they might usually have in a non-pandemic season. This Saturday is no different as the Gators bring Heisman contending quarterback Kyle Trask and his arsenal of weapons to Neyland Stadium.
The Gators’ senior QB has been the talk of the country this season completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,810 yards and 34 touchdowns with just three picks. The leap he has taken has stunned many, Blackburn included.
“I think Kyle Trask is the most unlikely Heisman front runner of my lifetime, because this is a guy who had zero FBS scholarship offers his senior year of high school, he’s a guy who was injured and it took an injury to Feleipe Franks to even get him in the starting lineup again,” said Blackburn.
Trask’s demeanor and focus on just the game in front of him, not any of the Heisman hype, impressed Blackburn when speaking with the QB in preparation for Saturday’s game. It’s one of the biggest reasons, along with having weapons like tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Kadarius Toney, that Blackburn believes he’s been able to have so much success.
That success is likely to continue this week against a Volunteers team that has been below average against the pass, allowing 8.8 yards per attempt, 13 yards per completion and nearly 250 yards per game through the air. The Gators enter the game as 17.5-point favorites. But, there is still a path that Blackburn is watching for that could see the Vols pull the upset.
“If there is a path for Tennessee, it’s running the football and playing keep away, which Kentucky did pretty well in the first half, against Florida,” said Blackburn. “They played the time of possession game and if Tennessee is able to run the football consistently against the Gators and play keep away. Then there’s your path for the Vols. They have the ability, but that will be the matchup that Tennessee has to win is, is the offensive line against the Florida defensive line.”
“Would Take A Minor Miracle” For LSU To Pull Upset Against Alabama
The primetime matchup, set for an 8:00 p.m. kickoff, sees the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide head to Baton Rouge for this year’s meeting with LSU. What was circled as a marquee matchup prior to the season has lost a bit of its luster as the Tigers have struggled following a large number of players turning pro or opting out of the season.
The numbers, the sheer loss of talent including (Terrance) Marshall, opting out is very very difficult to overcome,” said Blackburn.
While that’s not what LSU fans want to hear considering the success of programs like Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State in rebuilding on the fly, it certainly is the truth this season. After leading the country in offense last season, the Tigers have fallen back down to a more average 56th putting up 30.4 points per outing.
But, the biggest loss may have been defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who took over as head coach at Baylor. The Tigers are allowing nearly a full nine points more on defense per game going from 21.9 last year to 30.3 this season. That’s not a good recipe for pulling an upset against the Tide who have seen quarterback Mac Jones develop further and put himself in the Heisman conversation.
“I think that Jones has made one of the biggest steps in the SEC this year,” said Blackburn.
It’s not just Jones. The Tide, as usual, have a full complement of stars on defense and that unit has coalesced in the last four weeks. Prior to a late fourth quarter touchdown from Auburn last week, Alabama hadn’t allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters.
“My favorite stat about Alabama this year is four defensive touchdowns scored six rushing touchdowns allowed on the year,” said Blackburn. “That’s incredible when you know you’re a pick six and a fumble recovery away from scoring as much from your defense as you have allowed opponents to rush the football into the endzone.”
That combination of factors is why the Tide are favored by 29 points entering Saturday and, as Blackburn puts it, the Tigers would need “a minor miracle” to pull off the upset.
The 2020 college football season has had its share of surprising moments, maybe another could come Saturday. Either way, it’s a chance for fans to see a pair of teams that are fighting for a playoff spot in doubleheader action on CBS beginning with College Football Today at 3 p.m. EST.