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Three matchups between ranked teams dot Saturday’s football schedule

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As the college football season enters the last quarter, some season-defining matchups loom, including rivalry games. This week is not one of the most exciting overall, but at least three quality matchups loom.

No. 2 Alabama heads to Starkville to take on No. 17 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs look to knock Alabama out of the national championship picture while throwing the SEC Western Division into total chaos. A victory by Alabama would leave them in the driver’s seat.

The size and scope of the Crimson Tide’s dismantling of No. 9 LSU on the road last week left pundits wondering if this might be Alabama’s best team during the era of Coach Nick Saban. The way they completely stifled LSU’s Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette made it clear throwing the ball is the best avenue to beat Alabama.

The Tide is ranked second in the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 76 yards per game and only 5 touchdowns all season. The Bulldogs are 94th in rushing offense.

MSU has the No. 21 passing attack with 296 yards per game and 22 touchdowns. Their 43rd ranked passing defense hopes to exploit an Alabama passing game that has only 12 touchdowns with 9 interceptions this season.

Individually, the Bulldogs have a big advantage at quarterback with Dak Prescott, but running back Derrick Henry is having a monster season for Alabama. Prescott has thrown for 18 touchdowns with only one interception while Henry has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The game will be televised by CBS beginning at 3:30 p.m. Alabama is a 7-point favorite.

On Saturday evening, another one of the Big 12’s high profile games pits No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor. The scoreboard operator has been warned to be ready.

Both teams bring high-powered offenses. Baylor leads the country in scoring with 63 touchdowns and a scoring average of 57 points per game. The Sooners rank third with 54 touchdowns and a scoring average of 46.

Defensively, Oklahoma has done a better job keeping the opponent’s offense off the field. They allow less than 330 yards of total offense per game and 19 touchdowns, while the Bears have given up 26 touchdowns while allowing 389 yards per game.

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield has thrown for more than 2,800 yards and 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions. But he has been sacked 26 times.

Freshman Jarrett Stidham makes his second career start at quarterback for Baylor’s injured starter Seth Russell. Stidham threw for 419 yards last week and has the nation’s leading receiver in Corey Coleman lined up wide.

The game will be aired on ABC beginning at 8:00 p.m. Baylor is a two-point favorite.

The other Saturday matchup between ranked teams features No. 24 Houston hosting No. 21 Memphis. Memphis is coming off a double-digit loss at home to Navy and may be reeling, while the Cougars survived an upset attempt by Cincinnati.

Both teams have nearly identical offensive numbers and both allow more than 44 points per game. The Tigers have a future NFL quarterback in Paxton Lynch, while Houston sports a balanced offensive attack.

The Cougars are 9-0 and join Memphis as one of three American Conference teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Memphis is 8-1.

ESPN 2 is showing this game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Houston is favored by 7.

One other game to watch: No. 19 UCLA is hosting unranked Washington State. The Bruins will face the nation’s leading passer, Luke Falk, who has thrown for more than 3,700 yards and 33 touchdowns. He averages 415 passing yards per game.

The Cougars are a 10-point underdog, but the Bruins would make a big mistake by taking them lightly. ESPN will telecast the game beginning at 10:45 p.m. Saturday night.

 (Note: all rankings are from the College Football Playoff poll)

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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