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Each week, we’ll talk to our reporters on the ground to get their thoughts on the biggest happenings during the college football season. With Week 4 comes a new name under center at Florida and a proving ground for Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Meanwhile, Georgia and Michigan attempt to shape the narratives of their respective seasons.
A CROSSROADS FOR THE HARBAUGH ERA?
People love to talk about Jim Harbaugh. There’s buzz when he wins and jokes when he loses. So whatever happens when he leads No. 11 Michigan on the road against No. 13 Wisconsin will generate plenty of conversation.
The tone of said conversation, however, will hinge on the outcome. A win would announce the Wolverines as a threat to shake up the College Football Playoff. A loss, on the other hand, would throw another vat of gasoline on the Harbaugh-is-overrated fire, a flame around which some seem to delight in dancing.
“[Michigan was] the media’s pick to win the Big Ten and heard the rumbling of doubters when it got pushed to double overtime in the Big House by Army, said John Borton, who covers Harbaugh’s team for TheWolverine.com. “A stumble out of the gate in the Big Ten would convince many that one of the nation’s toughest schedules could simply prove too much for this crew.”
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TRASK BRINGS SENSE OF MYSTERY TO GATORS OFFENSE
Sure, Tennessee is struggling under Jeremy Pruitt. Sure, No. 9 Florida will roll into its Saturday game against the Vols as a double-digit favorite. But giving a longtime backup quarterback his first start in an SEC rivalry game is, well, less than ideal. That’s what the Gators will do over the weekend, though, as Kyle Trask, who has played in five games and completed just 27 passes in his college career, will get the start in place of the injured Felipe Franks.
Exactly what Florida has in Trask is anyone’s guess, so even Jacquie Franciulli, who covers UF for GatorsTerritory.com, offers a bit of a verbal shoulder shrug when asked what to expect from the Gators’ offense under its new starter.
“This is going to be his first start since his freshman year of high school,” Franciulli said. “This is going to be the first time in years that he will face off against a defense that has prepared for him, so it’s hard to put too much on him without seeing a full game from him.
“As he showed against Kentucky, Trask is more of a pocket passer and a gunslinger. I expect Florida to really use that to their advantage, especially with its very talented receiver room.”
Head coach Dan Mullen will likely also feature packages for redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones, adding another wildcard to what is already a massively intriguing situation in Gainesville.
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QUANTIFYING GEORGIA-NOTRE DAME STAKES
Let’s get this statement out of the way early: There are no must-win games in September. In reality, both No. 3 Georgia and No. 7 Notre Dame could suffer a loss this weekend and manage to forge a (extremely difficult) path into the College Football Playoff. Still, one of them is going to be dealt a debilitating blow come Saturday.
These sorts of stakes are what makes college football’s regular season great. They’re also the kind of thing that make for a nervous fall Saturday, For Georgia, the game somehow seems bigger than even the playoff. So while the contest won’t define the Kirby Smart Era, Anthony Dasher, who covers the Bulldogs for UGASports.com, has a hard time finding a non-conference game to use as a comparison for the weekend’s enormity.
There’s a reason the absolute cheapest ticket Seatgeek.com listed on Thursday morning was $313, after all.
“As far as non-conference games are concerned, this is arguably the most anticipated in recent memory,” Dasher said. “There have been some huge non-conference games against Clemson. Oklahoma State has been to Athens, along with Boise State and Colorado. But nothing compared to this. Longtime Georgia employee and historian Loran Smith believed it’s the biggest non-conference game in Athens since 1929 when the Bulldogs hosted Yale in the first-ever game played at Sanford Stadium.”
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GROW-UP TIME FOR BO NIX
Auburn true freshman quarterback Bo Nix has been ... fine. He’s thrown for a total of 545 yards to go along with four touchdowns and two interceptions in his three career starts. Nothing about Nix has been awful or exceptional.
The time for living in the middle ends on Saturday, however, as No. 18 Auburn travels to a face off with No. 17 Texas A&M in what will be a loud and imposing environment. Fairly or not, it’s time for the young quarterback to perform, as nobody will treat him with kid gloves if he fails.
“Nix has been decent this season; nothing more and nothing less,” said Jay Tate, who covers the Tigers at AuburnSports.com. “He’s an interesting case insofar as he’s a true freshman guiding an offense that lacks a great offensive line or great tailbacks. Plus, the pressure is on for Gus Malzahn after a down year in 2018. That’s a lot for Nix to process.”
The most important stats for Nix this weekend, of course, are wins and losses. Quarterbacks tend to carry the load of defeats and bask in the glory for victories, after all. The context of this game will only amplify things in that front.
“A win pushes Auburn into the AP top five and likely quiets doubters who harbor major concerns about how this group will score against the SEC’s best defenses,” Tate said. “ A loss sets an ominous tone ahead of a must-win trip to Florida.”
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