Predicting the Winner of the College Football's 10 Biggest Rivalry Games

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2012

Predicting the Winner of the College Football's 10 Biggest Rivalry Games

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    Though the recent unprecedented round of conference realignment moves has cost college football a handful of its most storied rivals, the good news is there is still a boatload of hate to love in institutional gridiron play.

    Indeed, gone forever are classic clashes such as Nebraska vs. Oklahoma and Texas vs. Texas A&M, but still alive and well are a long list of hate fests that keep opposing fans passionate and onlookers delighted.

    The following slideshow not only highlights 10 major college football rivalries yet to be played in 2012, it goes one bold step further and predicts a winner in each grudge match.

    As far as projections go, rivalry games are among the most difficult to predict; when unbridled passion and long-standing angst is thrown into an arena like college football, anything can and will happen.

Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Time TBA

    Location: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.

    The 107th playing of the contest aptly titled “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” may mean more, from a postseason standpoint, to the Bulldogs, but this still a game that both squads will be eager to win.

    Though Georgia should be an overwhelming favorite in this grudge match, the Yellow Jackets’ run-dominated option offense presents an interesting matchup with the Bulldogs defense.

    At the end of the day, Georgia’s D is nowhere near the force it was in 2011, a fact that is illustrated by a No. 11 national rank in rushing defense a year ago vs. a No. 45 rank thus far in 2012.

    This all gets more interesting when you throw Tech’s No. 4-ranked rushing attack into the mix.

    This game might be closer than anticipated, but it’s difficult to imagine the Bulldogs laying an egg, at home, to a four- or five-loss team from the ACC.

    Winner: Georgia by 10

Ohio State vs. Michigan

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Noon ET

    Location: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

    One of the longest-lasting and most heated rivalries in the history of the game, Ohio State and Michigan have been squaring off for bragging rights since 1897, when William McKinley (from Ohio) was President.

    The 108th meeting between the two bitter foes could mean perfection for the postseason-banned Buckeyes and a shot at a Big Ten title for the Wolverines.

    Either way, the two squads are eerily similar on paper (both have athletes at QB and can run well but struggle to pass), but Michigan has the better of the two defenses.

    To illustrate from a very broad perspective, Michigan is ranked No. 13 nationally in scoring defense vs. Ohio State’s rank at No. 45.

    Breaking this down further, the Wolverines are No. 1 nationally vs. the pass while the Bucks are a dismal No. 94. Significantly, it is Ohio State which enjoys an advantage vs. the run with a No. 16 ranking vs. Michigan’s No. 44 mark.

    Though the rushing D number may seem the most critical in a clash of two rushing teams, if Denard Robinson can be even marginally successful throwing the ball against the Bucks’ No. 94-ranked pass defense, it could get ugly.

    Michigan hasn’t won a game in the Horseshoe since 2000, and this may be their best shot in years.

    Winner: Michigan by 3

Oregon vs. Oregon State

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Time TBA

    Location: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.

    The 116th playing of the Civil War could be among the most meaningful in the history of a rivalry that dates back to 1894, when the state of Oregon was only 35 years old.

    On the line for both the Beavers and Ducks (if they take care of business between now and then) could be a shot at a Pac-12 title game and a Rose Bowl berth. Beyond these titillating prizes for Oregon is a shot at a return to the BCS title game.

    The key to Oregon State being able to pull off what would more than likely be considered a huge upset is shutting down an Oregon offense that ranks No. 1 nationally in scoring. This is an attack built firmly on the foundation of a No. 2 ranking in rushing yards vs. a No. 76 mark in passing.

    This leads to a provocative little fact about the Beavers: Their rushing defense currently ranks No. 5 nationally, allowing a mere 91.8 ground yards per game.

    Of course, the Beavers must also be able to score points and not turn the ball over a zillion times if they really expect to dethrone the Ducks, but this is still one of the most intriguing strength vs. strength clashes on our list.

    Winner: Oregon State by 5

Army vs. Navy

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Dec. 8, 3 pm ET

    Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.

    Though the 113th playing of Army vs. Navy won’t be fraught with BCS meaning, it will decide which academy will take home the coveted Commander in Chief’s Trophy.

    Indeed, by virtue of both the Black Knights and Midshipmen besting Air Force earlier in the season, this game has hardware beyond pride for its winner.

    With both these teams running a very similar option offense, this grudge match may well come down to who can stop whom from operating a well-oiled ground attack.

    And the advantage in this category goes to Navy, which touts the No. 68-ranked rushing D (162 yards per game) vs. Army’s No. 114 unit (219 yards per game).

    When you throw in some concrete results that include the Midshipmen’s six wins vs. the Black Knights’ two victories, it’s difficult to see 2012 as the year that Army sinks Navy for the first time since 2001.

    Winner: Navy by 10

Notre Dame vs. USC

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, 8 pm ET

    Location: Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif.

    The Irish and Trojans have been battling it out for the Jeweled Shillelagh (an Irish club or bat awarded the winner) since 1926, and 2012 will mark the 84th time the two teams have duked it out.

    This is a contest that may well stand between Notre Dame and perfection, and it may also serve as key to USC’s quest to save a seat on the BCS express, if that’s even still a remote possibility.

    The game itself will come down to USC’s No. 24-ranked scoring offense taking it to Notre Dame’s No. 2-ranked scoring D. If the Trojans do score enough points to knock off the Irish, it will likely come against Notre Dame’s No. 21-ranked pass defense as opposed to its No. 11-ranked rushing D.

    On the other side of the ball, can the Irish’s sometimes-impotent offense (ranked No. 72 in scoring) take advantage of a USC defense that has floundered to a No. 49 ranking in scoring?

    The turnover battle may be the deciding factor in this one: Notre Dame has turned the ball over only 11 times this season, while this Trojan squad has committed 21 turnovers.

    Winner: Notre Dame by 3

Alabama vs. Auburn

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Time TBA

    Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

    The 2012 edition of the Iron Bowl won’t have any bearing on the SEC race, but if the Crimson Tide remain undefeated until the final Saturday of the regular season, this game will be significant as the closer.

    On paper, there may be no bigger mismatch than the Tide and Tigers on our list, and to illustrate, check out some simple stats that spell out a fate that doesn’t need a soothsayer’s skills.

    Yes, here we have Alabama’s No. 17-ranked scoring offense squaring off with Auburn’s No. 61 scoring D, and then, even more unsettling, it’s the Tide’s No. 1-ranked scoring D taking on the Tigers No. 112-rated scoring O.

    Yikes.

    Winner: Alabama by 21

South Carolina vs. Clemson

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Time TBA

    Location: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

    Another in-state tour de force featuring two solid teams, the 110th meeting between South Carolina and Clemson should be a doozy.

    Though the Gamecocks’ chances at a BCS run are paper thin, the Tigers could still be in the mix by the time Nov. 24 rolls around, making the annual grudge match a meaningful affair.

    As far as which team walks away with a win in this one, Clemson and South Carolina match up beautifully, as this features a productive Tiger offense taking on a stifling Gamecock defense.

    On the other side of the ball, it's Clemson’s questionable D trying to contain what has been a stalled Gamecock offensive attack.

    At the end of the day, South Carolina has played a more perilous slate, and the combination of the fear of a third loss and the better defense will carry the Cocks in a nail-biter.

    Winner: South Carolina by 2

USC vs. UCLA

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 17, Time TBA

    Location: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

    The 82nd battle for the Victory Bell may propel one of its worthy contestants into the second-ever Pac-12 title game or, then again, maybe it won’t.

    Either way, this rivalry affair will have more meaning than it has had in years, which should fire up college football fans in L.A. who have been waiting for local relevancy.

    The Bruins haven’t beaten the Trojans since 2006, and what doesn’t bode well for them in 2012 is a pass defense that ranks No. 73 nationally. It’s a group that has given up, on average, 245.2 yards per game.

    And let’s not forget that what the Trojans have done well this season is throw the ball. USC is No. 17 nationally in passing yards (vs. No. 75 in rushing yards), averaging over 312 yards per game through the air.

    Though the Trojans may pick up loss No. 4 in the finale vs. Notre Dame, they should be able to survive a clash with their crosstown rivals.

    Winner: USC by 9

Florida vs. Florida State

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Time TBA

    Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.

    In a game that won’t have a thing to do with who wins the ACC or SEC, the 2012 edition of Florida and Florida State should ooze with BCS implications.

    Can a one-loss Florida jump into the BCS crock pot? Could a one-loss Florida State make a run at a BCS title?

    Either way, either the ‘Noles or Gators must win this game to keep their dreams alive.

    This matchup will feature two top-tier Southern-fried defenses: Florida is ranked No. 4 in scoring D, while Florida State is a small step up at No. 3.

    Both squads have held opponents to, on average, 12 measly points per game.

    So, everything comes down to who can manage to tack points on the other guy’s stifling defense, and the clear advantage in this category goes to Florida State.

    Yes, while the Gators have sputtered to a disturbing No. 79 ranking in scoring O, the Seminoles have soared to a No. 3 mark.

    Simply put, Florida State’s offense is way better, and it also has a level of balance between running and passing that Florida can’t touch.

    Winner: Florida State by 7

Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State

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    Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Time TBA

    Location: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.

    The 107th edition of the game lovingly known as “Bedlam” could mean a BCS at-large bid for the Sooners or a better bowl bid for the Cowboys.

    Either way, look for this game to be a slug fest as the little brother (played by the scrappy Mike Gundy-coached Cowboys) tries to ice the big brother (Bob Stoops and his visor followers) in Norman for the first time since 2001.

    Though the Sooners have lost two home games in a season for the first time in the Stoops era, it’s important to remember that these losses were to top-ranked K-State and Notre Dame.

    In other words, proceed with caution before buying an orange banner with T. Boone Pickens hollering, “We beat OU back-to-back for the first time since 2001-02!!!!”

    As for the actual matchup, you’ve got a top-ranked Oklahoma offensive unit against a mediocre Cowboy defense and then the No. 17-ranked Sooner scoring D trying to contain the No. 8-ranked Oklahoma State scoring O.

    At the end of the day, this is Bob Stoops at home trying to avoid loss No. 3 (at home), which should equal a Sooner win.

    Again, we’re going with the defense in this one, and we’re banking on the fact that the talented Sooners will have something to prove.

    Winner: Oklahoma by 10