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From the Rivals corner: Inside Alabama-LSU showdown, Wisconsin's must-win and more

Part of the Yahoo Sports family, Rivals.com offers in-depth coverage of nearly every college program across the country. With local experts dialed into every move on campus, fans can get unparalleled coverage of their favorite teams. 

Each week, we’ll talk to our reporters on the ground to get their thoughts on the biggest happenings during the college football season. This week brings a familiar interim head coach to Florida State, a must-win game for Wisconsin and a meeting of national title contenders in Tuscaloosa.

SABAN’S JUGGERNAUT CAUGHT IN MOMENT OF WEAKNESS?  

Alabama has won five of the last 10 national titles and hasn’t lost at home since 2015. The Tide haven’t dropped a game to LSU on any field since 2011 and have outscored the Tigers 93-26 in their last four meetings. So why then does Nick Saban’s team feel vulnerable in the week leading into this year’s showdown. 

Some of that has to do with LSU, of course, The Tigers are 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Tigers have a Heisman candidate in quarterback Joe Burrow and one of the top freshmen in the country in defensive back Derek Stingley. But the status of injured Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa also plays a part. If ever there was a time for Ed Orgeron to change the momentum of the series, Saturday could be it. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban paces during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Kyle Henderson, who covers the Tide for BamaInsider.com, expects Tagovailoa to play (like most of the college football world). Just how effective he’ll be, however, seems like more of a crapshoot. 

“Saban maintains that Tagovailoa’s status for Saturday will be a game-time decision,” Henderson said. “However, early indications suggest the left-hander will be ready to go against LSU. Tagovailoa looked to be moving well during the brief media viewing period of Monday’s practice.”

“Last year, Tagovailoa underwent the same tightrope surgery on his left ankle before returning in 27 days for the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma. It helps that this year’s injury isn’t on his plant foot, which could contribute to a speedier recovery. Tagovailoa completed 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards with four touchdowns against Oklahoma after coming back from last year’s surgery. While he probably won’t be completely back to 100 percent Saturday, I wouldn’t be surprised if he performs better than expected against LSU.”

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DO-OR-DIE FOR SKIDDING WISCONSIN 

It wasn’t so long ago that Wisconsin looked like a candidate to win the Big Ten and challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Badgers opened the season 6-0 behind one of the country’s most dynamic players in running back Jonathan Taylor and a stout defense.

Since then, however, the Badgers have managed to lose back-to-back games to Illinois and Ohio State. Combine that with the existence of undefeated Minnesota, and you get a Wisconsin squad now facing a Big Ten West elimination game against Iowa on Saturday.

The stakes are high, and Jon McNamara, who covers the Badgers at BadgerBlitz.com, has an idea on what needs to happen in order for Wisconsin to rise to the occasion.

“Wisconsin knows it almost certainly has to win out for a spot in Indianapolis,” McNamara said. “The loss to Illinois was a head-scratcher, but Ohio State was simply more talented on both sides of the ball in UW’s most recent defeat. In order to snap the losing streak, the Badgers need to get Jonathan Taylor rolling again and, potentially, stretch the field a bit more vertically. That will be easier said than done against a good Iowa defense, though.”

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LIFE AFTER TAGGART AT FSU

The Willie Taggart Era at Florida State was as short as it was rocky. Taggart coached just 21 games at the school before being fired in the wake of a 4-5 start and 27-10 loss to rival Miami. The Seminoles are in the midst of a national coaching search and speculation about who’s next has long since set in. Still, there’s also the business of a football game against Boston College this weekend. 

Interim head coach Odell Haggins has been in this spot before. The veteran assistant coach took over when Jimbo Fisher skipped town for Texas A&M in 2017 and went 2-0 in the role, defeating Louisiana-Monroe before beating Southern Miss in a bowl game. This time, however, he’ll need to best a few conference opponents, starting with the Eagles, in order to keep things afloat. 

Ira Schoffel, who covers FSU at Warchant.comrecently explored the reasons Haggins is appealing as an interim coach. 

“Florida State's administration could have gone with other options for the interim role, but athletics director David Coburn said the entire program's respect for Haggins made him the obvious choice in another difficult time,”  Schoffel wrote. “He described Haggins as a ‘beloved figure’ in Seminole athletics.”

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