Ranking the 10 Most Exciting Rivalry Games of Week 14
When you hear the words "pageantry" and "passion" as they relate to college football, the first thing that usually comes to mind is rivalry week. At no other time in the season do fans display their true colors more than when their favorite team squares off against a well-known enemy, and we've reached that time in the 2013 season.
A number of rivalry games will take place with conference and national title hopes at stake, but even teams without a whole lot left to play for will surely take the field with more fire than in any other week of the year.
We're taking a look at the best rivalry games in Week 14, so notable matchups, such as Oklahoma-Oklahoma State and Army-Navy, are left out because they occur later in the season.
In considering the order of this list, we used two factors equally: What's at stake this season and what kind of tradition does the game have? Not all rivalries are created equally, but what kind of implications one has on the college football landscape in 2013 will certainly be considered.
With that said, let's take a look at the top 10 rivalry games of Week 14.
10) Georgia-Georgia Tech
The Georgia-Georgia Tech game is simply referred to as "clean, old-fashioned hate" by fans and those associated with the rivalry. The phrase accurately describes what occurs when these two teams meet, and it's why the game makes the top-10 list now.
Despite neither team being in the hunt for a national title, this game will still bring out the best both squads have to offer, and the storylines are never ending.
Start with Georgia, which entered the season with national title hopes only to see them take a major hit in its season-opening loss to Clemson. After that, a rash of injuries turned the Bulldogs' normally ferocious growl into a mere whimper, although quarterback Aaron Murray still admirably led his team to seven wins, including victories over South Carolina and LSU.
We say led, of course, because Murray will no longer be wearing a Bulldogs uniform after suffering a season-ending injury against Kentucky. For Mark Richt's team, this is all about continuing to develop young talent and capturing an emotional win to enter bowl season on a positive note.
Meanwhile. Georgia Tech entered the year with thoughts of potentially putting together an ACC championship-worthy campaign, and a 3-0 start that included a 38-14 trouncing of Duke put them on track to reach their goals. The hot start was followed by three straight losses, however, and the Yellow Jackets now sit at 7-4.
Georgia owns the all-time series lead at 63-39-5 and will be looking to extend its current four-game winning streak over Paul Johnson's squad.
9) Arizona-Arizona State
The Territorial Cup is the trophy given to the winner of the annual matchup between Arizona and Arizona State. Although it's not a rivalry that makes a mark on the national radar, this game will nonetheless feature two very talented teams coming off program-defining wins.
In 2012, Rich Rodriguez took his team north to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks and left 49-0 losers, but running back Ka'Deem Carey and the Wildcats flipped the script on Saturday when they dominated Mark Helfrich's team 42-16 behind the excellent play of Carey and quarterback B.J. Denker.
Although the only thing at stake for the road team here is bowl positioning, a win over the Pac-12 South champion Arizona State Sun Devils would signal to the rest of the league that the Wildcats are a team to be reckoned with in future years.
Arizona State has won six straight, including a 43-38 victory at UCLA on Saturday that secured a place in the Pac-12 championship. The Sun Devils will be taking on Stanford in that one regardless of what occurs against the Wildcats, but a win would give Arizona State home-field advantage.
If you were creating a list of the top 10 rivalry games regardless of what year it was, you probably wouldn't find this particular matchup on it, but with both teams playing well and riding a wave of positive momentum, this figures to be one of the better contests of Week 14.
8) Duke-North Carolina
Typically reserved for the hardwood, the hype surrounding the gridiron matchup between Duke and North Carolina in 2013 is more than justified.
While the Tar Heels have seen glimmers of hope in recent years, Duke has been flat-out awful for pretty much the duration of college football's storied history. That all began to change in 2012 when the Blue Devils reached a bowl game.
Suddenly, people were not only curious about when the two programs would meet in basketball, but also when the football game was taking place.
North Carolina has won five straight games, which would look more impressive if not for Duke's current string of seven. Ah, but let's not bury the lede too far here: With a win, Duke will capture the Coastal Division title and take on Florida State in the ACC championship.
With six wins on the year, the Tar Heels are headed to a bowl game regardless of what happens, but what better way to close out the regular season than to put a dagger into the heart of their rivals' magical run?
In most years, you wouldn't be blamed for skipping out on the Duke-North Carolina football game, but it figures to be pretty special in 2013.
7) Oregon-Oregon State
At No. 7 you have your classic matchup between big brother and little brother; at least, that's how it might be described over the past five seasons.
The Ducks are winners of five straight over the Beavers but are coming off one of their worst losses in recent memory, a 42-16 defeat to Arizona. Oregon State isn't faring much better, having just been pounded by Washington 69-27.
If you're looking for defense, you're looking in the wrong place. Ditto for a game with conference or national title implications.
Still, the Civil War tends to create excitement one way or another, and Oregon still has quarterback Marcus Mariota and a bevy of offensive weapons looking to turn the page from last Saturday. There's also the opportunity to win their 10th game of the season, something the Ducks failed to do even once before the year 2000.
The Beavers have a potent passing attack led by quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks, but it's been stifled in recent weeks. A trip to Autzen will either be the perfect remedy or salt in the wound for Mike Riley's team, which desperately needs some positive momentum coming off four straight losses.
Despite what's occurred in recent weeks, the Civil War still figures to be an exciting matchup that will bring hope to one team and send another packing into a long and lonely December (though both will get bowl invites regardless).
6) Stanford-Notre Dame
The first non-traditional rivalry to make the list is Stanford-Notre Dame, but those of you who might scoff at its inclusion are in need of a little history lesson.
Despite never playing in the same conference, the Fighting Irish and Cardinal have met 27 times. The modern-day rivalry began in 1988 and has been played in every season except '95 and '96.
This isn't strictly about convincing you the rivalry is legit, though; it's also included here because both teams are ranked in the latest edition of the BCS standings.
In short, the game is relevant on a national level and figures to be highly competitive. Although Stanford has been one of the more dominant teams in 2013, the Cardinal play a style of football that doesn't typically produce blowout wins. Even if David Shaw's team plays to its No. 8 ranking, the Fighting Irish figure to have a puncher's chance in the fourth quarter.
Last season, the two squads played a thriller in South Bend that resulted in a controversial finish when Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor failed to reach the end zone despite appearing to have the ball over the line following a second effort. The Fighting Irish secured the overtime win, and of course, went on to play for the national championship.
A win by Notre Dame wouldn't have any effect on Stanford's spot in the Pac-12 title, but it would help Brian Kelly's team gain some confidence heading into a 2014 season that could be big. If you enjoy good defense and a strong running game, don't miss out on this Stanford-Notre Dame game.
5) Florida-Florida State
Before the season began, Florida-Florida State had all the makings of a late-season rivalry game with major national title implications. In a way, it still does, but only for one team in attendance.
While Florida State is riding an undefeated season and No. 2 BCS ranking, the Gators are, well, perhaps at one of the all-time low points in program history.
Will Muschamp's squad has lost six straight games, and while the schedule hasn't been easy, two of the losses are to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern, both of which came at home as well. Against the Eagles, the Gators lost 26-20 despite not giving up a single passing yard.
Needless to say, Gainesville has seen better days, but Saturday probably won't be one of them. Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles have been dominant all season and own a 37-point win at Clemson. The offense, led by quarterback Jameis Winston, has yet to be stopped consistently this season, and though the Gators feature plenty of talent on defense, it's unlikely they'll be able to slow down the 'Noles.
The rivalry still ranks high on our list because it features a team right in the thick of the national title race. A win will keep Florida State in great position to earn tickets to Pasadena, while a loss—especially one to a team like Florida—would take it out of the race entirely.
You never say never when it comes to rivalry games, and if the ball bounces funny in the first quarter and the Gators can hang around, anything can happen.
Neither USC nor UCLA is going to win the Pac-12, and neither team will play in a BCS bowl, so why is this rivalry up at No. 4? It matters more than it has in quite some time and features a pair of teams that will enter 2014 with extremely high expectations.
The Bruins' hopes of reaching the Pac-12 title ended with a 38-33 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, but Jim Mora's team has a lot to be proud of this year. Quarterback Brett Hundley is continuing to develop and hone his enormous talent while the youthful defense figures have the upper hand against any offense in 2014. The only losses UCLA suffered this season were to Stanford, Oregon and the aforementioned Sun Devils, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
Across town, USC is riding a huge wave of success behind interim head coach Ed Orgeron. The Trojans have won five straight games, including a 20-17 upset of Stanford. The maturation of quarterback Cody Kessler has been fun to watch, and a win versus the Bruins would leave little doubt as to the current direction of the program.
You can use words to talk up just about any football game, but the rankings also back up the hype: USC sits at No. 23, just one spot behind UCLA.
In 2012, UCLA put USC out of its misery, 38-28, and knocked quarterback Matt Barkley out of the game. A year later, the Trojans are out for revenge, and no matter what happens this time around, it might just be one giant preview for the 2014 edition of the rivalry, which could be the biggest game of them all.
3) Ohio State-Michigan
The 2013 "Game" doesn't have as much flavor as past matchups, which at times have featured two top-10 teams vying for a spot in the national title.
This particular rivalry earns major points in the "tradition" category, which is aided by the fact that the Buckeyes still have a decent shot to play for all the marbles.
What weighs down the normally gigantic rivalry is the recent play of the Michigan Wolverines, which looks nothing like the team that notched a 41-30 victory over Notre Dame back in September. Since then, quarterback Devin Gardner has refused to quit turning the ball over, and the offense looks more hapless than it ever did during the Rich Rodriguez era.
That might come off as a bit harsh, but the Wolverines own just two wins in their previous six games, and they don't look much like a team ready to take on the Buckeyes.
Over at Ohio State, Urban Meyer's team is undefeated for the second season in a row and in prime position to reach the national championship should either Florida State or Alabama lose. Quarterback Braxton Miller has hit his stride, and the defense, led by linebacker Ryan Shazier, is both physical and talented.
At times, however, the Buckeyes have looked rather average, which is partly what makes their trip to Ann Arbor so intriguing. Last season, the Big Game looked like a mismatch, yet Ohio State won by just five points at home.
You can't begin the discussion of rivalry games without mentioning Ohio State and Michigan, and with the Buckeyes in the national title hunt, this contest ranks right up there with the best matchups in Week 14.
2) Clemson-South Carolina
You know the rivalry is big when its participants have met a total of 110 times. When both of those teams happen to be ranked in the top 10, it's even bigger. With BCS invitations at stake, it doesn't get much more exciting than Clemson-South Carolina.
The Tigers are 65-41-4 all-time against the Gamecocks in a series that dates back to 1896. There have been some thrilling games with both squads ranked, but it's hard to top the hype being built in anticipation of Saturday's tilt.
With a win, Clemson will practically assure itself a spot in a BCS bowl game, and the Gamecocks can help strengthen their case with a victory of their own.
Dabo Swinney's team is led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, a big-armed, dual-threat talent who's thrown for 3,248 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. Steve Spurrier's club gets offensive production from a number of sources, but quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will need to play well for the Gamecocks to come away with a win.
With so many great rivalry games taking place in Week 14, it could be difficult to catch them all without a time-machine. If yours happens to be broken, then at least make sure Clemson-South Carolina stays on the menu because the Tigers and Gamecocks are both hungry to own bragging rights in their home state, and you can bet this contest will deliver for four quarters.
Was there ever any doubt about the No. 1 rivalry of Week 14? Or any week for that matter?
If you have any reservations about Alabama-Auburn being in the top spot, consider that there are probably Tigers' fans reading this wondering why their team was listed after Alabama in the headline and earlier in this sentence. Whatever edge one side can gain on the other, big or small, matters.
It just so happens that the 2013 Iron Bowl has both SEC and national title implications hanging in the balance. The winner will play for the conference championship game, and the loser will be sent packing, perhaps even to a non-BCS bowl since only two teams per conference can play in a BCS game and Missouri is sitting patiently at No. 5.
If Auburn wins, it'll secure a position as the best one-loss team in the country and the go-to squad to play for a national championship should either Florida State or Ohio State lose. Depending on how voters feel about the Tigers' performance, they may even sneak into the title game.
If Alabama wins, it means the Crimson Tide will have wrapped up an undefeated regular season, which won't surprise too many folks in the college football world. With AJ McCarron at quarterback, T.J. Yeldon at running back and a filthy defense led by linebacker C.J. Mosley, most people expected Nick Saban's team to seriously contend for a third straight national title.
Auburn was coming off a 2012 campaign in which it had just three wins, though, so the fact that Gus Malzahn's team is now 10-1 with a chance to play for the SEC championship is mind-blowing.
We have no idea how this one is going to play out, but you can count on two things for sure: It's going to be loud, and it's going to be a physical game. Buckle up and make sure you don't miss out on the best rivalry game (or just game, period) of Week 14.