With BCS, Conference and Heisman Significance, This Is Best Rivalry Week Ever
It is Thanksgiving weekend, and that means turkeys, dressing, cranberry sauce and, of course, time with the family. Oh, and yes, college football. In fact, not just college football, but college football's rivalry week.
This is the time when states are split down the middle over a ballgame, a time when border states rev up the rivalry and tie bragging rights to the outcome. This is the time of year that many folks feel makes college football so great.
Now, teams that are not having the best season look to play spoiler to their rivals. Now, coaches on the hot seat will look to buy back some goodwill, and their jobs, by beating the teams their fans hate the most.
Rivalry week is when legends are made, championship runs are ended and heroes solidify a legacy.
2013 is no different. There is plenty going on from coast to coast that will make Thursday, Friday and Saturday a big deal on the college landscape.
There are micro storylines, such as coaches on the hot seat, teams looking to end streaks and disappointed squads looking to salvage a season. There are macro storylines, including divisional championships to be decided, conference titles to be secured and BCS bowls in play.
This is a big week, and across the nation, there is plenty to keep an eye on.
Fresno State Tries to Keep BCS Bowl Hopes Alive
The Fresno State Bulldogs have fallen from their longtime 2013 perch at the top of the non-BCS food chain.
As Northern Illinois pulled up to No. 14 in the BCS standings and Wisconsin moved to No. 15, it was the Bulldogs, still undefeated, who took a tumble. Now, sitting at a still-eligible No. 16, Tim DeRuyter's team has to win out and hope that something good happens.
Winning out starts with a game at San Jose State. The former WAC foes certainly do not like each other, and as the Spartans fight for bowl eligibility, upsetting the Bulldogs would be the icing on first-year coach Ron Caragher's cake.
This rivalry dates back to 1921. Although Fresno State leads the all-time series 39-34-3, per Winsipedia, it is the Spartans who got the last laugh in 2011 before the Bulldogs left the now-defunct WAC for the Mountain West. They've reunited in the MWC, both with new coaches since the last meeting. Caragher and DeRuyter are looking to etch their names into the rivalry's history.
DeRuyter's team cannot afford to be derailed if it wants to be there when Northern Illinois falters. As the coach stated to the Fresno Bee, "I really believe at the end of the season that if we take care of what we have to take care of, it'll work out."
Oregon Battling Oregon State and Hoping for a BCS Bowl Shot
Marcus Mariota's Heisman hopes have taken another hit, and more importantly, the Ducks sit behind a host of teams in the BCS at-large pecking order.
Stanford is the Pac-12 North champion, and Oregon's hopes of getting into a BCS bowl as a two-loss team are razor-thin.
To keep those hopes alive, the Ducks have to get a win at home against the Beavers.
A win in the Civil War would push the streak to six and keep the Ducks eligible, though they'll be sitting on the outside hoping the dominoes fall in their favor.
For Oregon State, this is about stopping the streak. "Streak," of course, has multiple meanings here; Mike Riley's team has dropped five straight to the high-powered Ducks, and the Beavers have lost four in a row in 2013. To close the regular season out with a five-game losing streak would continue to erase the goodwill that Riley and this team earned during a six-game win streak.
This weekend, two disappointed teams will step onto the field. Neither wants to walk away the loser. Given how Oregon showed up against Arizona, and knowing this team is further from its goal, it will be interesting to see how the Ducks handle this rivalry game.
Taking Back Los Angeles
In 2012, the UCLA Bruins planted the flag against the USC Trojans on their way to a Pac-12 South championship.
In 2013, neither team will get to the Pac-12 championship game, but the Trojans come in flying high as the Bruins limp into the ballgame.
After starting hot, the Bruins fell to Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks. Since then, Jim Mora's team has limped to this final week. The team has been less than stellar in wins over Colorado, Arizona and Washington, plus the most recent game was a loss to Arizona State. Injuries, predictable play-calling and poor execution have pushed UCLA down the Pac-12 pecking order.
Meanwhile, USC has risen like the phoenix in 2013 following the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin. Interim coach Ed Orgeron is leading the show and has the Trojans playing inspired football. USC is riding a five-game win streak and is 6-1 since making the coaching change.
This game will be for bowl seeding and, more importantly, the claim to Los Angeles domination. UCLA dominated a season ago. It will be interesting, on Rivalry Week, to see if the Bruins can rebound against an enthusiastic Trojans squad playing in the Coliseum.
The Most Meaningful "Duel in the Desert" in a Long Time
Ka'Deem Carey, the Arizona running back, is hoping to find his way to New York City for the Heisman ceremony, and the Arizona State Sun Devils are looking to push their win streak to seven games.
The Sun Devils have a championship date against Stanford looming, and a win over Arizona would put the Pac-12 title game in Tempe. Avoiding a stumble against their in-state rival is a must.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are sitting at 7-4, hoping to get to 8-4 to close out Rich Rodriguez's second season in Tucson. Coming off a beating of the Oregon Ducks, the Wildcats are looking to build on that success heading into the bowl season.
This game should get plenty of eyeballs focused on the state of Arizona, and that is a plus for both sides. Todd Graham and Rodriguez both have surging programs.
Can Ohio State Get Streak to 24?
Michigan's season has not gone the way most Wolverines fans expected it go.
Brady Hoke's team is 7-4 and 3-4 in the Big Ten. A loss to the Buckeyes would mean a sub-.500 Big Ten season for the Wolverines and would only further the questions about when Michigan football will truly be back.
Meanwhile, for the Buckeyes, a team on the outside looking in at the BCS championship game, handling the Wolverines is just another step toward hoping the door opens on a title shot. Should Alabama or Florida State stumble, Urban Meyer's team will be there to pick up the pieces.
This game will feature two quarterbacks who can move. The difference is Braxton Miller has a run game and an offensive line that gives him time, while Michigan's Devin Gardner does not. In order for Michigan to win, the Wolverines will have to find an answer on the offensive line. Through 11 games, the answer has evaded Hoke's team.
Can Clemson End the Streak?
For Clemson's seniors, the goal Saturday is simple: Beat South Carolina.
As senior quarterback Tajh Boyd noted to the Associated Press (via the Gainesville Sun), "It's something that no one has done around here. Not our senior class, not many of the coaches that have been here. It's the one we are waiting for."
This is the ballgame that matters in the Palmetto State. Dabo Swinney's team seems poised to head to the Orange Bowl, and a win over South Carolina is what the Tigers crave.
On the South Carolina side, the goal is to remain a two-loss team and then start hoping the chips fall the right way. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 10, and if they can finish 10-2, they have an outside shot of getting to the Sugar Bowl if Alabama can take care of Auburn.
The Gamecocks are also looking to play good football so they can roll into a potential SEC championship game should the Missouri Tigers go down against Texas A&M.
South Carolina has dominated this rivalry, and Clemson is looking to make a statement.
With the game in Columbia, the nation will be watching a Top 10 ballgame to figure out who owns bragging rights in South Carolina.
What a Difference a Year Makes
In 2012, the Florida Gators gave a beating to the Florida State Seminoles.
In 2013, Florida State is looking to return the favor.
One team is surging to play for a BCS championship, and the other is going to miss a bowl for the first time in two decades.
Down in Gainesville, Florida coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat following a loss to Georgia Southern. The Gators offense has been remarkably pedestrian in 2013 thanks to predictability and injuries. Defensively, this Gators team is bruised and battered. To get a win against Florida State, it will have to get off the mat in a way that the nation has not seen since October.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles are rolling through their competition, and the Gators are the next box this team is looking to check off the "Get to Pasadena" list. The defense has played well, and the offense has been explosive.
Jimbo Fisher and Muschamp, two coaches in BCS bowls following the 2012 season, are headed toward a national title and being home from the holidays, respectively. A miracle win for the Gators would do wonders for Muschamp, but all signs points to the 'Noles walking out of the Swamp as winners.
Missouri Is Playing for an SEC Championship Shot
Saturday night, Michael Sam and the Missouri defense will get their chance to stop former Big 12 rival Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel at home.
A win here would make the Tigers the SEC East champions and send them to Atlanta for a title shot. A loss would drop Gary Pinkel's team into a wait-and-see position on a possible Sugar Bowl berth.
Texas A&M has fallen from BCS eligibility, but the Aggies are not going to lie down.
This game is going to boil down to who wins the battle at the quarterback position. For A&M, that means Manziel has to lead the way to victory. For the Tigers, it means cool, calm and collected James Franklin has to play smart football and get the win.
Manziel is the star, and Franklin is underrated. Manziel has made some mistakes with the football this year. Franklin has been injured and is still getting back to game speed.
With so much on the line, look for Pinkel's team to come out focused.
AJ McCarron vs. Nick Marshall in the Iron Bowl
Four BCS championships in a row. Two Heisman Trophies in those four seasons. Three of the last four SEC championships. That's what you get when you combine these two schools' accolades.
The Iron Bowl is a big deal, folks.
This is Gus Malzahn's first shot at Nick Saban, and the surprise Tigers are ready to go to work against the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban brings a team with title hopes to The Plains. A win here puts Alabama one step closer to its third consecutive BCS championship.
The rivalry is heated. The state will shut down.
AJ McCarron is poised to make his Heisman case against Auburn. Nick Marshall is here to announce his arrival against one of the nation's best defenses. Malzahn is looking to prove he belongs on the big stage. Saban is poised to remind people he's still the best the nation has to offer.
Rivalry week is upon us, and the Iron Bowl, as it has been over the last few seasons, is the game that holds the most weight.