Despite a 2019 season that has been relatively light on upsets, college football has delivered once again this year. As we enter the holidays and the close of the regular season, Rivalry Week is officially upon us.
And there's a lot to be thankful for this rivalry week:
- Lovie Smith's beard.
- Chuba Hubbard's legs.
- Tua Tagovailoa's legacy.
- Chase Young's closing speed.
- The Pac-12's rebound.
- Clemson's winning streak (now at a nation-leading 26 games and counting).
- The transfer portal that delivered us three possible Heisman Trophy finalists -- Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields and Joe Burrow.
- Possible Armageddon: Is it really feasible for the top three in the College Football Playoff to lose this week and still get in? The short answer is yes for Ohio State, LSU and Clemson.
Consider this a Thanksgiving entree into the implications of Rivalry Week, the last full week of college football this season.
Iron Bowl: No. 5 Alabama at No. 15 Auburn
This isn't the Alabama of 2011 or 2017. In other words, it's not a squad so powerful that it got into the championship chase (winning it all both times) even though it finished second in the SEC West. Cutting to the chase: The Crimson Tide seemingly have to blow out the Tigers to even be in the playoff conversation. That's what has to happen first if chalk holds (Ohio State, LSU and Clemson winning their respective conference title games next week).
Meanwhile, the Tide goes against the nation's best defensive line with a backup quarterback (Mac Jones) on the road. A win would be Alabama's first against a currently ranked team this season. Given all that, what are the odds of Alabama laying a 40-7 licking on Auburn? The view from here -- not good.
The Game: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 13 Michigan
We all know the stakes. Ohio State is the most complete team in the country. Jim Harbaugh has lost four in a row to the Buckeyes. Michigan has lost the last seven overall and 14 out of the last 15. The stored-up angst in The Big House could power Toledo. It's up to Harbaugh and the Wolverines to release the energy.
Simply, this could be the biggest win of Harbaugh's college career., Michigan has a chance. It's playing better of late, physical and is at home. For most of the season, Michigan has not been a flashy team (67th nationally in explosive plays). In the last few weeks, that has changed. In November, the Wolverines are tied for first in the Big Ten in plays of 40+, 50+ and 60+ yards.
That's what it will take to beat Ohio State. That and some more Buckeyes turnovers. It would be nice if the Michigan tight ends chip star defensive end Chase Young. Penn State largely ignored that key element against the nation's best defensive player last week.
The Play-in Game: No. 12 Wisconsin at No. 8 Minnesota
Is this Minnesota's biggest game ever? It is, at least in the modern era. The Gophers haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1962. Minneapolis is on fire for this game, which will determine the Big Ten West winner. Just about the "worst" Minnesota can do at this point with a win Saturday is make it to the Rose Bowl. That's assuming it doesn't beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
If Michigan beats OSU, that would put the Rose Bowl folks in a bind: take the name recognition and massive following of Michigan or the title game loser with a following of its own that would invade Pasadena, California. The Gophers have proved they can beat the best, knocking off top-10 Penn State. That's something Alabama hasn't done. A Minnesota victory sets up a win-or-go-home de facto CFP quarterfinal in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Bedlam: No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 21 Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy laid out a list of Oklahoma quarterback greats this week: Thomas Lott, JC Watts, Steve Davis, Jamelle Holieway, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray. None of them, he pointed out, ran as much in a season as Jalen Hurts (180 attempts and counting). "[Oklahoma is] a wishbone team, guys," Oklahoma State's coach told reporters. "They're just lined up in the spread."
For most of the season, opponents have known what's coming from Hurts and the Sooners, and they still can't stop it. In this always-entertaining rivalry, Hurts has to learn how to hold onto the ball, especially in the red zone. A win keeps the Sooners in the playoff conversation. They've already clinched a Big 12 title game berth against No. 9 Baylor (playing Kansas). Bet the over and don't be surprised if the Cowboys pull the upset with Hubbard, the nation's leading rusher. The last seven meetings have averaged more than 82 total points.
Overtime revenge: Texas A&M at No. 2 LSU
The Tigers are pissed. I know this because they got jumped by Ohio State in the latest CFP Rankings … also, because they're still smarting from that seven-overtime loss to the Aggies last year in College Station, Texas. TAMU had hats made up commemorating last year's game. The score -- 74-72 -- is carved into the Aggies' Gator Bowl rings.
"Interesting," said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who will be playing his final home game. We already know Burrow is a baller. Name the number of quarterbacks who have completed 79 percent, thrown for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. There hasn't been one, ever, until Burrow.
He needed multiple IVs after his last effort against the Aggies. He was one of the last players out of the locker room before he was stabilized. So, yeah, is that a rivalry? For one night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you better believe it.
Right to be sacrificed: No. 24 Virginia Tech at Virginia
The winner gets Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. That winner also may want to consider water boarding as an alternative. Someone had to win the ACC Coastal. If Virginia (8-3) triumphs, it will become the seventh team in seven years (in a seven-team division) to win the Coastal. Virginia Tech (8-3) has won 16 in a row in the series and survived a roller coaster in 2019: It has played three quarterbacks, posted back-to-back shutouts, won in six overtimes and lost by one point at Notre Dame. With Clemson ahead for the winner, the loser enjoys the relief of not being a three-touchdown underdog next week.
Sunshine State Showdown: Florida State at No. 11 Florida
Florida is looking at history. If Dan Mullen wins this, he will become the third coach in Gators history to win 10+ games in back-to-back seasons. The others? Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. The Gators (9-2) are borderline for a New Year's Six bowl. Florida's only losses have come to No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Georgia. With a win over Miami in its season opener, UF is looking to end 2019 firmly as the top team in the Sunshine State.
Florida State is still looking for a coach. The Seminoles are at one of the low points in the program's history. Former coach Willie Taggart didn't last two seasons. They don't have a replacement for him three weeks before the early signing period. Interim coach Odell Haggins has guided the Noles to two straight wins, which gets them to bowl eligibility. There is something to be said for that.
Florida State has won seven of the last nine. Nice stat. The Gators and Noles have split the last 14 meetings. Florida has not defeated FSU in The Swamp since 2009. Take the Gators to roll.
Speed bump: Colorado at No. 6 Utah
The Utes have a 7 percent chance of getting into the playoff, according to some matrix or another. Wait, what? South Carolina had a 10 percent chance of winning on the road at Georgia. Something is wrong here. Either the proper people aren't watching, or they're Utah deniers. The Utes have won their last seven games by an average of 29. The defense is led by defensive end Brandon Anae, who is sort of a junior version of Chase Young. Anae has 12 sacks. Against Arizona, the starting defense played less than 40 snaps. Anae had seven tackles.
Tailback Zack Moss was injured in Utah's only loss (USC) then rebounded to put up 1,200 yards to date. Quarterback Tyler Huntley has gotten steadily better. Seven percent chance? Finish with wins against CU and Oregon, and let's see what the math geniuses say.
Mountain Rest: No. 20 Boise State at Colorado State
Boise State (10-1) is a two-touchdown favorite trying to stay alive for the Cotton Bowl. Does coach Bryan Harsin hang around? His name has come up at both Arkansas and Florida State. There are coaching implications for both teams if Mike Bobo (28-34) doesn't make it back for a sixth season. Colorado State (4-7) hasn't beaten a ranked team in 17 years. Boise has won 10 games for the 17th time in the last 21 seasons.
Prelude to a rematch? No. 19 Cincinnati at No. 18 Memphis
The winner will be in command of the automatic Group of Five berth in the Cotton Bowl. For now. There's also the chance the AAC could cannibalize itself. If Memphis wins, it clinches the AAC West, but that sets up a rematch with Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game. The Bearcats then could potentially take the conference out of the Cotton Bowl by splitting with the Tigers.
If Memphis loses, Navy can grab the West by beating Houston (with the Army-Navy Game still to go on Dec. 14). That's all assuming No. 20 Boise State (10-1) wins out, which is still assuming a lot. Check back. Commissioner Mike Aresco says a two-loss AAC champ should trump any other one-loss Group of Five champion.
- No. 3 Clemson at South Carolina: Has there ever been a 4-8 team that has beaten a top five? South Carolina will have that chance as Clemson tunes up for the ACC Championship Game, which will be a tune-up for the playoff.
- No. 4 Georgia at Georgia Tech: Over/under on getting Jake Fromm, D'Andre Swift and the rest of the first-teamers out of there: opening series of the third quarter. Georgia is favored by four touchdowns.
- Louisville at Kentucky: Who's the second-best team in the ACC? It might be the Cardinals, who have gone from 2-10 to 7-4 under first-year coach Scott Satterfield. They're going to have to create some kind of award for Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr: receiver turned quarterback turned 1,000-yard rusher (he's 49 yards short). Not bad for a guy who led the Wildcats in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches last season.
- Oregon State at No. 14 Oregon: I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a shootout in the Civil War. Last week against Washington State, the Beavers threw for 600 yards, caused five turnovers and lost. Oregon has gone for at least 470 yards five times. The Ducks' playoff hopes are dashed. A Pac-12 title and/or Rose Bowl still in play.
- Egg Bowl -- Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Thursday): For a couple of average programs, there always seems to be speculation and intrigue attached to the Egg Bowl. New Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter is behind Matt Luke (15-20 in his third season), so that's squared away. But Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead may be in play either way on this one. The Bulldogs (5-6) need a win to get bowl eligible.