Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Some storied rivalries might breathe their last


Here's what conference realignment has wrought: It's a little easier to forget ...

To forget that Texas' Ricky Williams once sprinted 60 yards against Texas A&M to sew up the Heisman.

To forget that the first, only and real Game of the Century might never be played again.

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To forget that after almost a century, Kansas has had to rewrite its fight song.

There is a certain sadness as we head into rivalry week. Some of the games we'll watch are as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce. They are comfortable as a nap on the couch after Thursday's feast.

There just aren't as many rivalry games, and there will be fewer in the future. College football marks the rhythm of our lives this time of year. Ohio State-Michigan is always the last Saturday in November. Georgia always plays Georgia Tech this time of year. Same for the Backyard Brawl. Southern California-UCLA. The Iron Bowl. Oh, the Iron Bowl.

But there is a hole where celebration used to be this week. With Texas A&M leaving for the SEC, this might be the last A&M-Texas game for a while. Kansas-Missouri will played for the 120th, and perhaps, last time with the Tigers moving on to SEC. West Virginia-Pittsburgh is up in the air with the Mountaineers headed to the Big 12.

Do you care? You should, because if they can throw Oklahoma-Nebraska in the ditch, no rivalry is safe.

"It is the painful collateral damage of conference realignment," says our Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart. "We've already lost Nebraska-Oklahoma. We're going to lose Texas-Texas A&M. Other rivalries are on the chopping block because of the money to be made. That's sad if you're a traditionalist like us."

In the arms race for television dollars and BCS bids, traditional rivalries have become easy casualties. Consider realignment the bulldozers and rivalries the rain forest. In that sense, God's lush greenery has been replaced by condos.

Bit-by-bit, we've come to accept it. There is no choice. In a way, we have ourselves to blame. The game has become so popular that conferences have become content farms for revenue. Damn century-old relationships.

Kansas already has had to change its fight song to delete references to Colorado and Nebraska. Too bad for Dumpy Bowles, who wrote the original I'm a Jayhawk in 1912. The first line of Texas A&M's fight song is, "Goodbye to Texas University ..." There will be a literal farewell when the Aggies play host to the Longhorns on Saturday.

Like a lot of divorces, this one is based on irreconcilable differences. A&M can't stand Texas in the best of times. The Longhorn Network was the spark that drove the Aggies permanently to the SEC. A&M wants to keep playing. Texas' stance is, "We're not the ones who left the conference." Pregame: Texas A&M-Texas

If it's, say, Mississippi State-A&M on Thanksgiving weekend in the future, it won't have the same ring to it.

Kansas-Missouri is the second-most played rivalry in FBS, tracing its roots back to the Civil War. It reached a new level when the game was moved to Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium in 2007.

The prospects about future meetings sound familiar. Missouri wants to play. Kansas is ambivalent at best.

That's part of the reason Boise State is still weighing its options on whether to change leagues after all of one year in the Mountain West. Boise is one of the most isolated campuses in the country, but at least it plays most of its games left of the Rockies. Coach Chris Petersen has his roots in Oregon and Cal-Davis.

Now Boise officials have committed to a more geographically diverse future. If the new Big East ever comes together, the Broncos will be playing in what has been speculated to be the Big East's West Division.

How do rivalries form with thousands of miles between participants?

Scouting the Nation

Nitty meet gritty: MIT, a super computer, Jerry Palm and Joe, the bartender at your favorite hang, have all confirmed there is a strong likelihood the SEC will have two teams in the BCS title game.

But as Palm eloquently pointed out, there are other possibilities that range from three SEC teams in the BCS to one in the championship game.

Me? I'll go with LSU in a squeaker over LSU. Arkansas has this recent mojo over the Tigers. The Hogs will play their game of the year in Baton Rouge. LSU has yet to face a quarterback currently ranked in the top 20 in pass efficiency. It has faced one (West Virginia's Geno Smith) in the top 20 in total passing yards. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson is 12th.

But the Tigers haven't allowed a touchdown pass since Oct. 8 while picking off seven themselves. Pregame: Arkansas-LSU

Alabama beats Auburn because this is a game made for Trent Richardson to make a Heisman push. Five teams have rushed for at least 227 yards against the nation's No. 98 rush defense. Pregame: Alabama-Auburn

That eliminates Arkansas and puts Georgia within an SEC title game upset of leaving Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Stanford with a slight glimmer of hope.

Any further questions, ask Joe the bartender.

.718 That's the combined field-goal percentage of the kickers in the seven selected significant games* this week. WWL thought it would do the research since kicking games have recently impacted the seasons of Alabama, Boise State, Oklahoma State and Oregon.

The figure is slightly above the national success rate of .703 at this point. Most accurate going into this week -- USC, trying to "clinch" the Pac-12 South vs. UCLA, .822. Least accurate, Alabama (at Auburn), .592.

It's a just feeling, but don't you think some scrawny field-goal kicker is going to be lining up for something significant at least once before midnight on Dec. 3? The particulars:

1. USC, .882 2. LSU, .875 3. Cal, .833 4. Ohio State, .813 5. Arkansas, .739 6. Auburn, .733 7. Michigan, .692 8. (tie) Penn State, Wisconsin, UCLA, .666 11. Arizona State, .650 12. Oregon State, .619 13. Oregon, .615 14. Alabama, .592

* Selected games: Arkansas at LSU; Alabama at Auburn; USC at UCLA; Oregon State at Oregon; Cal at Arizona State; Ohio State at Michigan; Penn State at Wisconsin.

Why not Houston?: The Cougars are sitting there at No. 8 in the BCS. It's possible that six of the seven teams above them could lose. If there are only two unbeaten teams left in the country, Houston deserves a shot.

Here's why: It has already beaten the possible Pac-12 South champion in UCLA. It is in a league, Conference USA, that is better than the Big East, a BCS AQ conference. You can talk about strength of schedule, but Houston will have played a stronger conference schedule than Boise State when it went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2007 and 2010.

Also, which one-loss team are you going to elevate over Houston? There's only one it would have to beat out -- Boise State. In that scenario, LSU would be undefeated. Meanwhile, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Stanford would lose their second game.

That said, there's a huge hurdle before Houston gets there -- at Tulsa on Friday for the Conference USA West title. The Conference USA championship game follows on Dec. 3.

Just planting the seed.

Fifth anniversary of the greatest college football weekend ever: The emotion of Nov. 18, 2006, in Columbus cannot be forgotten -- or duplicated. That weekend it was all about football and sadness and exhilaration and emptiness and joy. That day, Ohio State and Michigan were 1-2 in the BCS. The Buckeyes won 42-39 in The Shoe. The previous day, Bo Schembechler passed. Lloyd Carr released pent-up emotion over the loss of his mentor and cried in the postgame press conference.

Everyone -- Michigan, Ohio State, fans, sportswriters, the BCS -- was wrung out at the end of that day. Ohio State went on to play for the national championship. The Wolverines were never the same. They began the next season by losing to Appalachian State in what turned out to be Carr's last season.

Since then, there has been the RichRod era, and a slow resurgence under Brady Hoke. Saturday will mark 2,926 days since Michigan beat Ohio State. For the first time in years, the Wolverines have the better team.

Ohio State might be getting Urban Meyer soon, but this a potential life-changing moment for Michigan football. If not now, when? Bo will be watching. Pregame: Ohio State Michigan

Viva Virginia: Chase Onassis Minnifield was destined to be a success. That's why his dad, former Pro Bowl cornerback Frank Minnifield, named him after Chase Manhattan Bank (first name) and billionaire shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (middle).

Chase, Virginia's star cornerback, was money last week when he ran down Florida State's Bert Reed at the Virginia 1. That was maybe the key play in Virginia's 14-13 victory that put the Cavaliers in a winner-take-ACC Coastal Division game against Virginia Tech on Saturday in Charlottesville.

FSU settled for a field goal on the play after Minnifield's stop. If it scores a touchdown, Virginia loses and is an afterthought -- its usual place in the public consciousness this time of year. Instead, it is 8-3, its best record after 11 games since 2007. Virginia has become one of the late-season feel-good stories. In his second year, coach Mike London is one of the hottest properties in the country. His program is two games away from its first BCS bowl and first major bowl since the 1991 Sugar. During Virginia's four-game winning streak, sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco has thrown seven touchdown passes against one interception.

And if you think it's not a football school, when the team returned back from FSU at 4 a.m. Sunday, the Virginia band was there along with a couple of dozen students to celebrate one of the biggest wins in years. Pregame: Virginia Tech-Virginia

Fearful predictions: A week from now, Urban Meyer will be at Ohio State, Turner Gill will be out at Kansas, Dennis Erickson will be joining Ron Zook on a hotter seat and Ole Miss will still be looking for a coach.

Something to chew and spit out: Shame on the Ray Guy Award voters for not making LSU's Brad Wing one of its three finalists for best punter. Not only is Wing among the nation's best at his position, he was arguably of the MVP of the Alabama game.

His 73-yarder against the Tide flipped the field at a key point in the game. Thirteen times his punts have been returned this season. Opponents have managed six yards on those returns, an average of less than half a yard per kick. More than half of the native Australian's 40 punts have landed inside the 20.

Don't know what the Ray Guy's qualifications are, but they aren't for best punter. That designation belongs to the former Australian Rules Football player in Baton Rouge who can kick with either leg.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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