Going Inside The Helmets For Key Rivalry Games: Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan, Norte Dame-Stanford & OU-Oklahoma State
Thanksgiving weekend used to be the traditional big-rivalry time in college football. And while we still have Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan and USC-UCLA, the sport is still missing Oklahoma-Nebraska and Texas-Texas A&M. That’s what “progress” (conference realignment) has done for some traditions.
The new tradition, of course, is to make your conference championship game and, for the elite, the four-team College Football Playoff. This weekend will determine all of the former and set up the last run for the latter. Then there are just some interesting games to watch because they are the ultimate rivalries for schools and it’s fun to watch games between teams that just don’t like each other.
Meanwhile, coaches are resigning, being fired or – as is the mysterious case with Les Miles at LSU – agreeing to buyouts the size of some small nations’ economies ($15 million!). This in an already-crowded field of vacancies. There’s more openings in college football right now than in a Nevada brothel.
Now, onto this week’s games. All times Pacific Time.
Friday’s College Football Rivalry Games
WASHINGTON STATE at WASHINGTON (Apple Cup, 12:30 p.m., Fox)
This rivalry game may not exactly be the apple of many people’s eyes, but in the land of the apple trees it’s the core of the whole season. The Pumas come in at a very surprising 6-3 (surprising because they have been lame cats for several years) while the Huskies haven’t won two games in a row since September. And that was against Sacramento State and Utah State. Considering U-Dub won last week it’s hard to see the ‘Dogs doing it again this week. Winner: Washington State.
IOWA at NEBRASKA (12:30 p.m. ABC)
This is much of the country’s first chance to actually watch Iowa, and will the Hawkeyes suffer from a case of stage fright? To this point, they’ve been playing at some county fair off in the cornfields where the only ones who could see them were wearing overalls. Now, they step into the bright lights of what amounts to prime time. Much of the country may look at them as an oddity, like a giant fish that washed up on the beach. “Hmm, what IS that thing!?” That’s what happens when you somehow manage to play 10 games in obscurity. Winner: Iowa
OREGON STATE at OREGON (1 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The interesting thing to keep an eye on here is will this or Saturday’s Clemson-South Carolina game be the biggest rivalry game blowout? The Ducks are shaking their tail feathers again while the Beavers are just turning tail (they lost 52-7 to U-Dub last week). Oregon, meanwhile, can concern itself with looking good and trying on its new uniforms. Winner: Oregon
BAYLOR at TCU (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Big 12’s big game is not so much anymore. In fact, with TCU’s starting quarterback and running back out, this one could turn into a washout (and it’s going to be pouring in Waco). The Bears, who are also down to a backup quarterback, will be feasting on the Horned Frogs’ weak defense like it’s a salmon run. Winner: Baylor
Saturday’s College Football Top Rivalry Games
OHIO STATE at MICHIGAN (9 a.m., ABC)
Brutus should be made to go stand in the corner of the classroom for holding the college football world in suspense this season, tricking everyone into thinking this is a championship-caliber team when the entire time it was ripping apart like a cheap shirt. Internally it was imploding, yet that only rose to the surface last week. Not only did the Buckeyes somehow manage to gain just 150 yards with all that offensive talent but they decided that their pro careers were more important than the Michigan game. If you don’t think Jim Harbaugh is using that as extra motivation then you don’t know the Wolverines play in the Big House. Winner: Michigan
CLEMSON at SOUTH CAROLINA (9 a.m., ESPN)
First, Steve Spurrier quit. Then – hardly surprisingly – his former team did the same. When the coach throws up his arms in the middle of the season, is it a surprise that the players do it, too? The Gamecocks head into this game not looking to pick a fight. They are hoping the visiting felines will come in and take care of business without leaving paw prints all over Williams-Bryce. Winner: Clemson
VIRGINIA TECH at VIRGINIA (9 a.m., ESPNU)
Would you bet against a team named the Hokies, with a turkey as a mascot, on Thanksgiving weekend? Or would you expect them to be a turkey? And get roasted? Surely the Gobblers (that actually used to be their nickname, back when the school was the less fearsome-sounding Virginia Polytechnic Institute) can win this one for the ‘ol Beamer and get the team into a bowl game for its outgoing coach. Off the field, by the way, the school has scored a big triumph; it has discovered a mechanism of the brain that leads to memory loss as a part of Alzheimer’s disease. Winner: Virginia Tech
ALABAMA at AUBURN (12:30 p.m., CBS)
When Alabama wins this game of late – and it’s done so in five of the past seven years – it tends to do so in a rout. The scores of a few recent games are 49-0, 42-14 and 36-0. When Auburn wins, it’s by a bouncing ball along the sideline that somehow never bounces out of bounds and a fluke return of a long field goal that fell just short of crossing the goal post. Former Auburn coach – and Alabama assistant – Pat Dye said it would take a dozen kick sixes for the Tigers to win this one. Auburn’s once-fearful offense is reduced to a few running plays and quarterbacks who can’t throw the ball more than on thee-yard swing passes. The Pachyderms, on the other hand, are on a stampede and will stomp into Jordan Hare and stomp the hosts. Winner: Alabama
PENN STATE at MICHIGAN STATE (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Sparty sparked up last week and won with not one but two backup quarterbacks. Now all Michigan State has to do is not fold like a tailgate table. Fortunately for MSU, the Nittany Lions are still a wounded animal and will soon be licking their wounds from a painful end to the season (this would be three straight losses). Winner: Michigan State
UCLA at USC (12:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2)
The Bruin on campus is in “hibernation (that is to say hidden under a big blue box looking more like a Christmas present than the statue of a mascot) and Tommy Trojan is wrapped in cellophane. It MUST be a rivalry game! For years, this was one of of the best and most exciting of all rivalry games when the teams were not that good. Which is pretty much the case this year. Still, by the miraculous mediocrity of this side of the league, the winner will advance to the Pac-12 Championship game. There’s so many injured players on both sides they could be playing this game in the hallways of the USC Medical Center rather than at the Coliseum. Despite the Prognosticator’s wariness of the Trampolines bouncing up twice in successive weeks, and at least one player thinking about playing in the title game while he laid on the ground after recovering a fumble to secure the Utah win, the Bruins are just slightly the better overall team. Winner: UCLA.
NOTRE DAME at STANFORD (4:30 p.m., FOX)
The Irish arrive at the Farm almost like bank robbers on the lam. So far, they’ve escaped close game after close game, like a criminal staying one step ahead of the law. True, the Irish have had a lot of injuries but when you count a loss (to Clemson) as the shining highlight of your season, then clearly this is a team that’s bound to get captured. The Cardinal – despite two mysterious losses – are going to be the sheriff in this one. Winner: Stanford.
OKLAHOMA at OKLAHOMA STATE (5 p.m., ABC)
It will be Bedlam were the Pokies were to pick off the Sooners. They got their eyes poked out last week by Baylor and now host a team that’s ready to lower the boomer on the conference. The Prognosticator is still not fully confident in OU based on its teases of recent years but is less confidence in a bunch of Cowboys who always seem to be walking the bride up the aisle but never manage to arrive with her at the alter. Winner: Oklahoma.