Ranking College Football's 7 Most Intriguing Rivalry Games Remaining in 2013
Think about it. If you could be 100 percent accurate in predicting that “Ohio State will DESTROY Michigan” this season, why would anyone watch the game?
Yes, the Buckeyes are far and away the better team—at least on paper—but if it's that simple, how do you explain 4-7 Pitt upsetting No. 2 West Virginia in the final game of 2007?
That’s the thing about a rivalry game. It’s unpredictable. Regardless of all the stats, the Vegas line and the perceived talent level of the participants, anything can happen.
There are at least a handful of big-time rivalry games remaining in 2013 that fans should circle on their calendars. The seven ranked herein will have big BCS implications, but note that since we're ranking on "intrigue," it's quite difficult to avoid any subjectivity with the selections.
Whether you’ve got a horse in the race or you’re just an innocent bystander, these clashes are must-see TV.
7. Fresno State vs. San Jose State
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA
When: Friday, Nov. 29
Where: Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
Series Record: Fresno leads 39-34-3
Though it's not a blockbuster rivalry on a national level, the Bulldogs and Spartans have been squaring off since 1921.
What makes the two schools natural rivals is that they’ve shared a conference home since both joined the Big West in 1969. This relationship was suspended when Fresno State moved from the WAC to the Mountain West in 2012, where San Jose State rejoined it this season.
The schools also share regional ties, located only 150 miles apart.
If No. 16 Fresno State wins its next three games (versus Nevada, at Wyoming and versus New Mexico), it sets up a blockbuster game in the finale against San Jose State.
The Bulldogs would be 10-0 and need the road win over the Spartans to finish the regular season undefeated. This is significant, even though they would still need a win in the new Mountain West title game (presumably against Boise State, whom they defeated 41-40 earlier this season).
What’s compelling about the matchup is that the two teams are very similar—both passing teams which have struggled defending the pass.
While Fresno State is ranked No. 6 out of 125 FBS teams in passing offense, San Jose State is No. 9.
On the defensive side, Fresno State is No. 116 against the pass, while San Jose State is ranked No. 82.
Though this game may not decide the national championship, if Fresno State’s pass defense can outperform San Jose State’s, it may throw a wrench into the last-ever BCS standings.
If Fresno State finishes 12-0, which BCS team gets knocked out of a BCS bowl game so it can receive the final non-AQ golden ticket?
6. Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
When: Saturday, Dec. 7
Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
Series Record: Oklahoma leads 83-17-7
With both teams already suffering a loss this season, the 108th edition of the Bedlam series is not likely to have national championship implications.
Unless, of course, every team in the hunt for the BCS title winds up with at least one loss.
What the 2013 game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will impact is a Big 12 race that is far from decided.
The precursor to this scenario is getting Baylor to lose to Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU or Texas in its backloaded schedule.
What will be compelling in this rivalry showdown is watching two traditionally pass-dominant programs square off to see who can run for the most yards. And both teams are ranked among the top 30 in the nation in rushing defense (the Cowboys are No. 19, while the Sooners are No. 29).
What was once a high-flying affair sets up to be a grudge match on the ground.
Can Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland build on the 219 yards and four touchdowns he hung up on Iowa State last week? Or can Oklahoma’s Damien Williams and Brennan Clay combine to grind the Sooners to victory?
Perhaps instead it will be one of four inexperienced quarterbacks from both teams who will be the game-changer.
Either way, it will be worth watching.
Oklahoma has won nine of the last 10 meetings, with its last loss coming in a 44-10 blowout in Stillwater in 2011.
5. Ohio State vs. Michigan
When: Saturday, Nov. 30
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Series Record: Michigan leads 58-45-6
The 110th edition of “The Game” will likely feature an 11-0 Ohio State squad taking on a Michigan team with one or two losses.
If the Wolverines can manage to win out (at No. 22 Michigan State, versus Nebraska, at Northwestern and at Iowa), they would meet Ohio State again the following Saturday (Dec. 7) in the Big Ten championship.
The significance of this game is obvious; it’s the last regular-season game the Buckeyes need to win to move on to the conference title game and perhaps the BCS championship.
For this to happen, Ohio State will have to take care of business at Purdue, at Illinois and versus Indiana. Beyond that, Alabama, Oregon and Florida State would all need to drop at least one game.
Either way, “The Game” looms large for the Buckeyes and represents their biggest hurdle to a perfect finish in the regular season.
If Michigan is to play the giant-killer, it will have to expose Ohio State’s No. 79-ranked pass defense and not fall prey to its own No. 99-ranked pass defense.
More crucially, the Wolverines will have to improve—at least for the game—on their No. 89 ranking in turnover margin. This mark includes 15 takeaways versus 17 turnovers.
Ohio State came up six points short during its last visit to Ann Arbor in 2011, but prior to that, the Buckeyes hadn’t lost in Michigan Stadium since 2003.
4. Oregon State vs. Oregon
When: Friday, Nov. 29, 7 p.m. EST, Fox Sports 1
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
Series Record: Oregon leads 60-46-10
If No. 2 Oregon can survive its road trip to No. 5 Stanford next Thursday night, all that will stand between the Ducks and regular-season perfection are games versus Utah, at Arizona and versus Oregon State.
Other than the Cardinal, the Civil War battle with the Beavers represents the biggest challenge for high-flying Oregon.
What’s interesting about this clash is how the Ducks’ No. 60-ranked pass defense will cope with Oregon State’s No. 1-ranked pass offense.
Though it’s a sure bet that Oregon will manage to score often on the Beavers’ No. 65-ranked scoring defense, what’s compelling is how many points it will take to win.
The home team is 12-4 in the last 16 meetings between the two. The last time Oregon State won in Eugene was in 2007 when it was unranked and upset the No. 18 Ducks, 38-31.
3. Florida State vs. Florida
When: Saturday, Nov. 30
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
Series Record: Florida leads 34-21-2
If Florida State takes care of business against Miami (Fla.) this Saturday and then beats Wake Forest, Syracuse and Idaho, the finale with Florida becomes the next all-Sunshine State game fraught with meaning.
Florida and Florida State have been duking it out yearly since 1958 and consecutively in the season finale since 1977.
If the ‘Noles are undefeated heading into this year’s meeting, a win over a big-time SEC program (regardless of its record) might be just the ticket for a program in desperate need of a big boost in the BCS standings.
This clash will feature two top-ranked defenses squaring off with a high-flying offense (Florida State, ranked No. 3 in scoring) and a low-grade offense (Florida, ranked No. 103 in scoring offense).
It’s difficult to imagine the Seminoles dropping this game—that is, unless they turn the ball over five times like they did last year.
Florida has won seven of the last nine meetings. The last time Florida State won in Gainesville was in 2011.
2. Miami (Fla.) vs. Florida State
When: Saturday, Nov. 2, 8 p.m. EST, ABC
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Series Record: Miami leads 31-26-0
This Saturday marks the most meaningful meeting between the Hurricanes and the Seminoles since No. 5 Florida State hosted No. 2 Miami on Oct. 11, 2003.
That game resulted in a 22-14 Hurricane win that led to a Big East title and a repeat win over No. 9 Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles, on the other hand, rebounded from the first loss and managed to capture the ACC title before being downed again by Miami in the Orange Bowl.
This time around, it’s No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 7 Miami in a battle of unbeatens. The winner will stay alive in the BCS title race, while the loser will hope the other contenders suffer at least one loss.
Though the Seminoles have averaged 52.6 points per game and allowed only 13 per thus far in 2013, it would be a mistake to prematurely mark this game as a “W” for Florida State.
What’s intriguing about the matchup is that Florida State’s defense, which has stifled the run well enough to be ranked No. 30 nationally, gave up 173 yards to running back Shadrach Thornton in its 49-17 win over N.C. State last Saturday.
Prior to posting that number against the ‘Noles, Thornton’s best performance this season was a 71-yard total in the 48-14 win over Central Michigan.
Though this doesn’t spell disaster for Florida State, it does make you wonder how Miami’s running back Duke Johnson—No. 12 in the nation in yards per game (117)—will fare in the rivalry showdown.
The good news for Florida State is that it’s won six of the last eight meetings with Miami, and the home team is 6-1 in the last seven.
1. Alabama vs. Auburn
When: Saturday, Nov. 30
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
Series Record: Alabama leads 42-34-1
The 2013 edition of the Iron Bowl becomes more compelling with every Auburn win.
The Tigers have managed to go from unranked in the preseason to No. 8 in the latest AP poll and No. 11 in the BCS.
With a 7-1 record and games at Arkansas, at Tennessee and versus Georgia upcoming, suddenly the prospect of a one-loss Auburn hosting an undefeated Alabama seems realistic.
If this does happen, the Iron Bowl is the game that decides who represents the division in the SEC title game, the precursor to the BCS championship since 2006.
On paper, the Tide look like the better team and will likely have the guns to expose the Tigers’ No. 106-ranked pass defense. But given that Auburn has surprised everyone in 2013, it makes sense that it would shock the world and keep it close against archrival Alabama.
The Crimson Tide have won four of the last five Iron Bowl meetings, but previous to that run, the Tigers won six straight.