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Week 9 - Coaching Matchups


1. Mark Richt vs. Jim McElwain: It seems like every week we're holding a referendum on the Mark Richt era at Georgia. We'll refrain from such grandiosity this week and just lay out the facts: In a year when Georgia was predicted to win the SEC East and preseason Nos. 2, 3, and 4 have all been worse than expected, a Florida win would drop the Bulldogs to 5-3 (3-3 SEC) and all but wrap up the division championship for the Gators. That would mark 10 straight seasons without an SEC championship and three straight without an SEC East title in a stretch where the division has been spectacularly mediocre. So, there's your referendum.

2. Temple DC Phil Snow vs. Notre Dame OC Mike Sanford: Why isn't the ESPN-certified Game of the Weekend higher on this list? In some ways, Temple has already achieved victory just by getting to this point, with GameDay on campus in the morning and ABC broadcasting the contest to a national network audience at night. But a win wouldn't actually change their standing on the national scene. Sure, a victory over Notre Dame and a possible undefeated season would do wonders for the program in numerous ways, but the Owls' fate will be sealed by what they do in AAC play. What Saturday does offer is a chance for coordinator Phil Snow, with his No. 10 ranked yards per play defense and No. 8 scoring defense, to show off on the brightest of stages.

3. Mike Leach vs. Stanford DC Lance Anderson: Just like we all thought after each lost on opening weekend - Stanford and Washington State meet with first place in the Pac-12 North on the line.

Wazzu's 103rd ranked yards per play defense isn't slowing a Stanford offense led by FBS's all-purpose yardage leader Christian McCaffrey, so it'll be up to Luke Falk and the Cougars' offense to hold serve when they get the chance. These two teams lead the Pac-12 in scoring in conference play. Washington State has scored 45 or more in three straight games, and Stanford hasn't been held below 31 since its bizarre 16-6 opening day loss to Northwestern.

4. Tom Herman vs. Derek Mason: Led by quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., and his 25 total touchdowns, Houston's offense has been dynamic, bombastic, unstoppable... against a putrid schedule. The 7-0 Cougars have risen to 18th in the Associated Press poll against teams that are a combined 11-32 on the year, plus FCS Tennessee Tech. Houston has faced more defenses ranked 106th or lower in yards per play allowed (four) than defenses ranked in the top 70 (one).

Now enter Vanderbilt. The 'Dores struggle to move the ball, but Mason's defense can flat shut people down. Vandy ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense and has allowed but two touchdowns in the entire month of October. For Herman's offense, this will be the biggest test of the season.

5. Sonny Dykes vs. Clay Helton: Beware the Playing Under An Interim Coach Trojans. Much like 2013, it appears all USC needed to figure itself out was to replace head coaches. Two years ago, USC fired Lane Kiffin after a 3-2 start, played well in a close loss at Notre Dame, then immediately ripped off five straight wins. This year's Trojans started 3-2, watched Steve Sarkisian lose his job, played well in a close loss at Notre Dame, then came home and stomped No. 3 Utah. Cal, meanwhile, has seen a 5-0 start vanish with two straight losses to Utah and UCLA. Road trips to Eugene and Palo Alto await. The Bears need this one.

6. Kevin Sumlin vs. Repeating History: Thirteen days ago Texas A&M was undefeated with a chance to jump to the front of the line in the SEC West and nationally with a win over Alabama. And then its offense fell apart. The Aggies have scored only one offensive touchdown over their past two weeks - two less than they created for the opposition. A&M quarterbacks completed 40-of-90 passes for 4.64 yards per attempt with one score and five picks in losses to Alabama and Ole Miss. As such, Kevin Sumlin threw open his quarterback job.

One year ago, Texas A&M also started 5-0 and then tumbled into a mid-October losing streak, on its way to a 7-5 finish to the regular season. Sumlin also replaced his starting quarterback at this same spot on the calendar, and the Aggies went out and survived Louisiana-Monroe 21-16. South Carolina isn't what they were at the beginning of this decade, but they aren't ULM, either.

7. Mark Stoops vs. Butch Jones: Stoops has made tangible improvements at Kentucky, but he won't truly take the next step until he conquers Tennessee. His Wildcats have been outscored by Tennessee 77-30 in two meetings to date. But these Vols are 3-4, fresh off a tough loss in Tuscaloosa, and heading to Lexington. In other words: as vulnerable as they'll ever be. Tennessee, meanwhile, has to win this game to avoid this season falling from "slight disappointment" to "abject failure." Oh, isn't the SEC just the best?

8. Mike Gundy vs. Kliff Kingsbury: Oklahoma State was not ranked in preseason. Here's how they rose from there to 12th in the AP and 10th in the Coaches' Poll: non-conference wins over Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and UTSA, a win at Texas under incredibly fortunate circumstances, a win over Kansas State under even more fortunate circumstances, a legitimately impressive overtime win at West Virginia, and a working bye week against Kansas. In other words, they're the most untested 7-0, Top 10 team since 2013 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders, who won their first game versus a ranked Big 12 team under Kingsbury and have now lost 10 straight, need one more win to return to bowl eligibility. This would be a great time to get it, and thereby reclaim some momentum lost in setbacks to TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma.

9. Dabo Swinney vs. Fate: Clemson has won 35 straight games against unranked opponents, as tomorrow's foe - NC State - is. The last of those losses came Nov. 19, 2011, in Raleigh, where the Tigers will be Saturday. It also came the week before an important game against a hated rival (South Carolina). The Tigers host Florida State next week. This would be an awful time for a (Redacted)ing, wouldn't it?