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Gainesville native Blake Sims leads Alabama into Saturday’s game against Florida.
The games ranked highest in matchup quality will be competitive games between two highly ranked teams in ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). Based on this metric, here are the top four games for Week 4.
Florida at Alabama: 91.6 pregame matchup quality
In a meeting of schools that have won four of the past seven SEC titles, third-ranked Alabama is a 73 percent favorite to beat Florida, according to FPI.
These teams will again play a big role in the conference race, as the Gators have the best chance to win the SEC East at 37 percent.
Alabama has a with a 25 percent chance to win the division and a 16 percent chance to win the conference, both best in the SEC.
This game is the only meeting of units ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's efficiency rankings this week, as Florida's ninth-ranked defense will try to slow Alabama's seventh-ranked offense.
Clemson at Florida State: 90.5 pregame matchup quality
This is the only remaining game between ranked teams this week, and the top-ranked Seminoles are a 77 percent favorite over No. 22 Clemson, according to FPI, even without QB Jameis Winston for the first half.
It's only Week 4, but the ACC title may be on the line, as Florida State (61 percent) and Clemson (14 percent) are FPI's favorites to win the conference.
Strength will battle strength, as Clemson ranks fifth in defensive efficiency and will try to slow a Seminoles offense that gained 565 yards of total offense against the Tigers last year.
Florida State won that game 51-14 after leading 27-7 at halftime, with a 93 percent win probability at the break.
Mississippi State at LSU: 90.1 pregame matchup quality
LSU has dominated the series, winning 14 straight and 21 of the last 22 meetings. Mississippi State last beat the Tigers in 1999, a one-point home win.
LSU's pass defense has been its strength this year. The Tigers have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation (11.2) and are one of three teams yet to concede a completion on a pass thrown at least 15 yards downfield.
FPI gives the Tigers a 61 percent chance to beat the Bulldogs.
Oklahoma at West Virginia: 87.2 pregame matchup quality
West Virginia has been one of the biggest surprises in the FBS this season. The Mountaineers have jumped 24 spots from their preseason rankings, the third-largest increase of any Power Five school.
FPI gives Oklahoma 77 percent odds to win, and this is one of three remaining games in which the Sooners have a predicted win percentage below 80 (at TCU and vs. Baylor are the others).
That relatively easy schedule means the Sooners have 18 percent odds to win all their remaining games, behind only BYU's 21 percent chances.
One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but just with all offensive philosophies, there are positives and negatives to both. Each coach offers insight into his offense on the eve of the ACC showdown between No. 1 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson. Jared Shanker spoke with Fisher about his "complex" model, which backup quarterback Sean Maguire will operate without restrictions, and David Hale talked with Morris about his "left lane" preference.
Fisher looks at championships and points, not plays
Toward the end, he was asked about the latest trend in college football offenses. It’s no longer just spread offenses and no-huddle drives, but now coaches, including Saturday’s opposing offesive coordinator, have their eyes on running as many plays as possible with the intention of reaching 100.
“We scored the most points in NCAA history and didn’t go no huddle,” Fisher said in August. “And Alabama didn’t win a bunch of national championships with no huddle.”
The fifth-year Florida State coach wasn’t criticizing the up-tempo faction of coaches -- in 2014 that’s a losing battle as far as numbers go -- but pointing out that recent national champions, himself included, aren’t relying on any gimmicks offensively.
Florida State is No. 1 in the country again, and while Fisher said his teams are capable of exhibiting no-huddle and up-tempo concepts, why would he mess with a winning formula?
With the overhaul of offensive philosophies throughout the country -- five of the top-10 teams in the AP poll are spread, up-tempo or both -- Fisher said it is an advantage when his pro-style Seminoles line up on offense.
“Being able to play conventional plays into our hands because not many people are doing it,” Fisher said in August. “It used to be the teams that spread, you don’t know how to play it [on defense]. Now all teams are playing spread, it makes the team you’re playing, say they’re a 4-2-5 nickel defense, now they have regular people running with a 260-pound tight end, 240-pound fullback and take an iso or counter. How much time do they see it in practice and practice against it?”
Several players have referred to Fisher’s offense as “complex,” and Fisher himself said it’s “probably a little more NFL-laden” with multiple-line protections, formations and the freedom for the quarterback at the line of scrimmage to make checks between a run or pass.
“It’s been successful, and it develops guys for the league,” Fisher said. “You go to school to be a lawyer, you go to the best law school. You want to be an NFL player, you go to teams that run NFL systems. When our guys get [to the NFL] they say they’re very comfortable, the schemes and concepts are very similar.”
Morris not deviating from uptempo style
In fact, if Morris has a regret this season, it’s that he hasn't been aggressive enough.
In the opening week of the season, Clemson was saddled with awful field position throughout a disastrous second half at Georgia. Morris decided to go conservative, hoping to avoid a bad mistake. It was the wrong move. The Tigers had seven second-half drives and punted seven times. A three-point game at the start of the fourth quarter ended as a 45-21 Georgia win.
“Obviously if I had to do it over, I’d have thrown three straight deep balls,” Morris said. “If I’d known we’d be three-and-out, I’d have made everybody in the stands go, ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh.’”
Most of the time, that’s exactly what Morris wants to do. In his three-plus seasons at the helm of Clemson’s offense, the fireworks have been routine, and the pace has been frenetic. Among Power 5 teams since 2011, Clemson has run the second-most plays and ranks seventh in touchdowns, sixth in passing yards and seventh in plays of 20 yards or more. Morris has been at the forefront of the fast-and-loose style that has turned offenses like Clemson, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oregon into the some of the most entertaining spectacles in college football.
Morris’ offensive philosophy stands in stark contrast to the man calling plays for Clemson’s opposition this week, and the contrasts in style between Morris’ game plan and Fisher’s makes for lively debate. In each of the past two seasons, Fisher’s pro style has won the day, and last year, it set scoring records and paved the way to a national title. Still, Morris doesn’t see the head-to-head showdown Saturday as a referendum on his approach.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Morris said. “You’re just trying to get your guys to play at a high level. And in games like this, your big-time players have to show up, and it’s our job as coordinators to put them in a position to be successful.”
And if putting players in position to succeed is the ultimate goal, it’s hard to argue with Morris’ up-tempo style. While Fisher’s playbook is mercilessly complex, the main goal of Morris' offense is simple -- to move fast and make quick decisions. That means paring down the decision-making to the most important details and then letting athletes go out and make plays.
Still, at the end of the day, Morris said the underpinnings of what he does aren't a whole lot different than Fisher’s philosophy.
“You try to find weaknesses and exploit them and do what you do good,” Morris said.
Of course, what Morris does best is to open up the throttle and let the offense test its limits.
“I’m used to putting it in the left lane and put the hammer down,” Morris said.
1. Sure, No. 5 Auburn greatly benefited from No. 20 Kansas State’s red zone miscues and three missed field goals in Thursday night's 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But give the Tigers some credit for making plays when it mattered most, especially on defense.
Auburn limited the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards on 30 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and surrendered only one run longer than 10 yards to KSU tailback Charles Jones, who came into the game averaging 6 yards per attempt. Also, Auburn only allowed two passes of more than 15 yards, and held quarterback Jake Waters to minus-7 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Auburn might not yet have a championship-caliber defense, but it is certainly making strides under second-year coordinator Ellis Johnson.
We’ll see if No. 22 Clemson can keep it close in Saturday night’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Winston is suspended from playing in the first half after making vulgar comments in the FSU student union Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire is expected to make his first career start. Maguire hasn't started a game since November 2011, when he was a senior at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey.
3. Although hindsight is 20/20, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo accepted blame for not having tailback Todd Gurley more involved in the offense when the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at South Carolina’s 4-yard line in the closing minutes of last week’s 38-35 loss. UGA attempted a play-action pass on first-and-goal, and quarterback Hutson Mason was penalized for intentional grounding. After two more plays, the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score, and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.
Bobo's first-down call was an aggressive one, and it can certainly be argued that he should have put the ball in the hands of Gurley, who might be the country's best running back. But if the play-action pass had worked, we'd be talking about how brilliant Bobo's call was. And, of course, if Bobo had called for Mason to hand the ball to Gurley on four straight plays and the Bulldogs didn't score, we'd be talking about how vanilla and uncreative his play calling was.
4. West Virginia's defense surrendered 447 yards of offense in last week’s 40-37 win at Maryland, but Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said 188 yards came on three plays. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw a 77-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and had a 75-yard scoring run of his own. The Mountaineers didn't give up a touchdown after Brown’s long run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half (the Terps kicked a field goal and scored on a long punt return in the fourth quarter).
West Virginia will need a similar defensive effort if it’s going to upset No. 4 Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday night. Last season, the Sooners defeated the Mountaineers 16-7, their fewest points total during the previous two seasons.
5. Oregon’s recent dominance over Washington State is making it one of the most lopsided conference series in the country. The No. 2 Ducks have won seven straight games over the Cougars heading into Saturday night’s game in Pullman, averaging 52.4 points per game with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points. Ouch.
"We're in charge. It's our team. That's our thought. We went with the consequences and we're ready to move on," Fisher said Thursday.
Florida State interim president Garnett S. Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox suspended the No. 1 Seminoles' star quarterback for the first half of Saturday's game against No. 22 Clemson in a joint statement Wednesday. They denounced Winston's behavior, calling it "offensive and vulgar."
Fisher's name was not on the statement, which raised eyebrows and questions as to whether this was a decision that came down from the administration rather than Fisher.
"They're always involved in university policies," Fisher said. "That's things at Florida State, the way we do it."
Fisher was asked a follow-up question about whether he usually is the one to mete out punishment, but he did not respond.
He also declined to divulge what Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, told him about what happened outside the student union building Tuesday, instead saying the team is preparing for the 8 p.m. ET kickoff Saturday against Clemson. The winner of this game has won the ACC the past three seasons.
"He was wrong, and he made a mistake and a bad error in judgment," Fisher said. "That's water under the bridge. We got to move on and get ready for this game."
Fisher also said in an interview on SiriusXM's College Sports Nation channel that he doesn't think Winston is a "bad kid" but that he makes "bad decisions."
"What his problem is, he doesn't always see the danger in all the situations," Fisher said Thursday.
Backup quarterback Sean Maguire
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