Football preview: Alabama takes on Arkansas; retooled Auburn travels to South Carolina; UAB faces undefeated UTSA

Football preview: Alabama takes on Arkansas; retooled Auburn travels to South Carolina; UAB faces undefeated UTSA
Alabama running back Trey Sanders (6) runs the ball during the Crimson Tide's 59-3 shellacking of New Mexico State. This week brings a worthier opponent, the SEC's Arkansas Razorbacks. (University of Alabama Athletics)

This time, the Wesley Cup will stay put.

Generally, when Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon square off in football, the victor gets the prized trophy. But Saturday’s noon meeting between the state’s two NCAA Division III gridiron giants will have a different prize up for grabs as the Panthers and Hawks will play for a berth in the second round of the Division III championship playoffs.

BSC coach Tony Joe White wasn’t surprised at all that the annual foes would be paired in the first round to minimize travel.

“With the NCAA funding all the travel and everything from this point, they try to keep things very geographically centered,” White said. “We felt like if we got in, it would be Huntingdon that we played.”

Huntingdon coach Mike Turk said he and White pondered the possibility of facing one another after the regular season.

“For it to have passed back that way is pretty cool,” he said. “It’s always challenging to play somebody two times in a season, but it’s even moreso when it’s one of your biggest rivals. This will be a little different experience, obviously, from that standpoint, but it’s exciting that two schools from the state of Alabama are competing in the Division III national playoff field.”

The Panthers (9-1) have won the rivalry game three years in a row. On Sept. 11, Huntingdon (8-2) led 9-7 before falling 48-9.

“I think our team has gotten a lot better since then, as most football teams that are still playing at this point have improved over the year,” Turk said. “That’s a pretty common trait for teams that accomplish a lot. I’m sure that their football team is a better football team now than it was at that point as well.”

The most recent outcome notwithstanding, White said the Hawks are a perennial power.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young celebrates during last week’s victory over New Mexico State. (University of Alabama Athletics)

“They’ve won like six or seven (USA South Athletic) Conference championships in the last several years,” the Panther coach said. “They’re always a tough foe.”

BSC, the runner-up in the Southern Athletic Association, rose to No. 19 from No. 22 in the most recent D3football.com ranking.

Meanwhile, Alabama (9-1, 5-1) remained No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings. And while admitting that his team wasn’t perfect in beating New Mexico State 59-3 last week, Nick Saban said the Tide was certainly improved.

“I think we need to build on that,” he said. “I think it is most important this time of year how you dictate tempo, the energy you play with, how you prepare. All those things are critical to how you play.”

Controlling tempo will be key this week as the Crimson Tide closes out its home schedule against CFP No. 21 Arkansas (7-3, 3-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.

“These guys try to go fast. They’re a tempo team,” Saban said. “Any way we can affect them is going to be a benefit to our players.”

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) drops back to throw the ball during last week’s game with Mississippi State. Nix led the Tigers to a 28-3 lead that turned into a 43-34 loss for the Tigers, during which Nix suffered a broken ankle. Auburn faces South Carolina this weekend with backup T.J. Finley replacing Nix. (Todd Van Emst / AU Athletics)

Auburn (6-4, 3-3) dropped out of the CFP rankings this week after a 28-3 lead turned into a 43-34 loss to No. 25 Mississippi State. Adding injury to that insult, the Tigers lost starting quarterback Bo Nix to a broken ankle.

“Guys on the team know what we need to do in order to have guys step up and be able to fill those roles and get ourselves ready to play in this next game,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’ll move forward with T.J. (Finley, the backup QB). He’ll be ready to play and we’ll get the game plan put together for him.”

Auburn also lost placekicker Anders Carlson to a knee injury. Harsin was noncommittal about who will handle kicking duties as the Tigers head to Columbia to face South Carolina (5-5, 2-5) at 6 p.m. Central Saturday on ESPN.

The Conference USA West Division is on the line Saturday as UAB heads to San Antonio to face undefeated and No. 22 UTSA (10-0, 6-0) at the Alamodome. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on ESPN+.

A win will nearly assure the Blazers (7-3, 5-1) of their fourth straight Conference USA West Division title. A UTSA victory would give the Roadrunners their program’s first ever C-USA West Division title.

Even with a win this week, UAB will still need a victory at home a week later against UTEP to repeat as West champ.

“What UTSA has done was unbelievable,” coach Bill Clark said. “They’ve had an unbelievable season. Coach (Jeff) Traylor has done an incredible job. We have been seeing this thing building. We’ve been looking at the players and I think we’ve been seeing them for three years. These guys have helped grow with their program and now here they are in their senior year and some of them super seniors. They are really good across the board.”

The game features two of the league’s best running backs. UAB’s DeWayne McBride has compiled 550 of his 945 total rushing yards in the past four games and nine of his 10 total touchdowns have come during that span. UTSA’s Sincere McCormick is the league’s leading rusher (1,150) and the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year.

In other action:

Furman at Samford: Coach Chris Hatcher certainly doesn’t want his Bulldogs to aspire to moral victories. That said, pushing the Florida Gators of the SEC before falling 70-52 certainly garnered them a large dose of pride. Samford (4-6, 3-4) will try to notch a real victory at noon Saturday against the Paladins (5-5, 3-4).

Alabama A&M faces Arkansas-Pine Bluff this weekend with quarterback Aqeel Glass coming off a record-breaking performance against Texas Southern. (Alabama A&M Athletics)

Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Alabama A&M: The Bulldogs (6-3, 4-3) outlasted Texas Southern 52-49 last week with QB Aqeel Glass throwing for a Division I era program record 462 yards on 33-of-52 passing. He completed five touchdown tosses with no interceptions to surpass his personal record of 446 yards set at Grambling on Oct. 2. Action this week against the Golden Lions (2-8, 1-6 SWAC) is at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Texas Southern at Alabama State: The Hornets (3-6, 2-5) have lost their past four games in a row, including last week’s 44-31 defeat to Mississippi Valley State. They host the Tigers (3-7, 2-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Appalachian State at Troy: The break-even season of the Trojans (5-5, 3-3) can climb over .500 if they can overcome the Mountaineers (8-2, 5-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

North Alabama at Hampton: The Lions (2-8, 1-4) hope to sink the Pirates (5-5, 3-3) at noon Central on Saturday in the final game of North Alabama’s transitional period before becoming a full-fledged FCS program.

South Alabama at Tennessee: The Jaguars (5-5, 2-5 Sun Belt) visit the Volunteers (5-5, 3-4 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky: The Gamecocks (6-4, 3-2) end their regular season against the Colonels (5-5, 3-2) at 1 p.m. Central on Saturday. JSU leads the overall series 10-7 but EKU won the most recent meeting, 29-23, in 2019.

Idle: Tuskegee.

Season completed: Miles, West Alabama.

HIGH SCHOOL PLAYOFFS

Class 7A: With no disrespect to Central-Phenix City (12-0) and Auburn (10-2), who meet to the south, the rematch of Thompson (11-1) and Hoover (12-0) is a made-for-Hollywood meeting of titans. After having won the past two state championships, the Warriors fell to No. 2 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association ranking when they were beaten 24-21 by the Bucs in Hoover on Oct. 22. That win returned Hoover to its former position of No. 1 with the reward of hosting the rematch at 7 p.m. Friday in the AHSAA 7A playoff semifinals. This yields the question: Who is the real big-bad among the state’s biggest football programs?

Class 6A: No. 1 Clay-Chalkville (12-0) welcomes Gardendale (10-2) on Friday.

Class 5A: No. 2 Pleasant Grove (11-1) visits Center Point (9-3) on Friday.

Class 4A:  No. 3 Vigor entertains No. 2 American Christian on Friday. Each is 11-1.

Class 3A:  No. 2 Fyffe (10-1) is home to No. 5 Saks (11-1) on Friday.

Class 2A: No. 5 Spring Garden (12-0) travels to No. 4 Mars Hill Bible (9-3) on Friday.

Class 1A: No. 3 Maplesville welcomes No. 2 Sweet Water. Each of these traditional small-school powers brings an 11-1 record into their Friday game.

AISA: No. 2 Escambia Academy (12-1) faces No. 1 Autauga Academy (13-0) on Friday in the Class AA final in Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl.

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