It’s the annual Iron Bowl, but this one doesn’t feel like the ones in the past decade or so.
You could make a case that neither is playing for any conference or national stakes. The SEC Championship Game is set with Georgia vs. LSU.
As for the playoffs, Alabama’s path is far from clear. Strength of schedule is the Crimson Tide’s albatross, even if Alabama wins at Auburn. According to the Sagarin computer rankings that USA Today publishes and is sometimes a decent indicator of how the playoff committee thinks, Alabama’s strength of schedule is ranked 63rd in the country. That’s the lowest in the Nick Saban era, by far. Among Sagarin’s top 20 teams, only one has played a weaker schedule — Minnesota, ranked 20th by Sagarin, has played the 68th strongest slate.
The playoff rules say that if everything is essentially equal, the committee should rank a conference champion over a non-champion. In the past, it wasn’t equal, and it didn’t matter if Alabama won the SEC. This year, it matters. One-loss champions from any Power Five conference have an edge.
The last time neither team was trying to play for a championship was 2007 when Auburn beat Alabama 17-10 — Tommy Tuberville’s final grand moment with the Tigers.
Anyway, on to the picks:
No. 5 Alabama (10-1) at No. 15 Auburn (8-3): If you’ve thrown the record books out the window because that’s what you’ve been told to do whenever two big rivals get together, go outside, pick up those books and bring them back in.
The better team almost always wins this game. If you browse through the seasons and judge who was better each year, that team usually won the Iron Bowl, too. Granted, in some seasons, that team can be judged better because it won this game.
The only outliers would be 1948, 1972, 1984, 2002 and 2017. This year, Alabama is better, even without Tua Tagovailoa. … Alabama 31, Auburn 20.
No. 12 Wisconsin (9-2) at No. 8 Minnesota (10-1): Minnesota still can make a case for making the College Football Playoff, but the Golden Gophers would need to beat Wisconsin and then Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. … Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 21.
Texas A&M (7-4) at No. 2 LSU (11-0): Last year, A&M beat LSU 74-72 in seven overtimes. This year, it will be decided well before the end of regulation.
LSU’s Joe Burrow has 41 touchdown passes and ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, just behind Tagovailoa. Former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) is third, and former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields (Ohio State) is fourth. … LSU 44, Texas A&M 28.
Florida State (6-5) at No. 11 Florida (9-2): Florida’s only losses are to LSU 42-28 and Georgia 24-17. Is Florida back? … Florida 31, Florida State 22.
No. 7 Oklahoma (10-1) at No. 21 Oklahoma State (8-3): The Sooners have lost some steam but they’re still winning. They’re 3-0 since losing to Kansas State, having beaten Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Christian by a combined eight points. … Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 35.
No. 3 Clemson (11-0) at South Carolina (4-7): If the playoffs started today, I’d bet on Clemson to win it all. It’s amazing that the committee seems to be including Dabo Swinney’s team in the top four almost begrudgingly. … Clemson 44, South Carolina 10.
No. 19 Cincinnati (10-1) at No. 18 Memphis (10-1): This is Memphis’ first game this season against a team ranked in Sagarin’s top 30. Memphis is No. 21 and Cincinnati is No. 29. … Memphis 28, Cincinnati 21.
No. 1 Ohio State (11-0) at No. 13 Michigan (9-2): Ohio State has won seven straight in this series and 14 of the last 15. … Ohio State 24, Michigan 13.
Louisville (7-4) at Kentucky (6-5): These two schools didn’t start playing annually until 1994, and it’s been a good one, although it seemed more fun when they played in September. The game moved to November in 2014. Louisville leads the series 15-10, including six of the last eight. Kentucky won last year 56-10. … Kentucky 33, Louisville 31.
Vanderbilt (3-8) at Tennessee (6-5): Five games into the season, it seemed like a lock that Jeremy Pruitt would be gone at the end of the year.
Now, the Vols almost certainly will win this one to move to 7-5. A potential bowl win would make it 8-5. Either way, a winning record is pretty big after starting 1-4. Pruitt seems to have righted the ship. ... Tennessee 35, Vanderbilt 13.
Last week: 9-1. Missed on Arizona State’s upset win over Oregon.