As you all know, it's Thanksgiving week. It's also time for some of the greatest rivalries in college football. We'll take a look at every Top 25 matchup, plus a couple that are outside of the Top 25. Oh, and some advice: don't eat so much turkey that you'll miss Friday's games because you're in the bathroom all day.
Last week's predictions: 15-5 (missed on LSU, Michigan State, Arizona, Stanford, and Rutgers)
Lone Star Showdown: #3 Texas (11-0, 7-0) at Texas A&M (6-5, 3-4); 8:00 PM ET/7:00 PM CT, ESPN (HD)
Point Spread: Texas -21
It's been just another ho-hum year at Texas. Eleven wins in a row to start the season, a win over Oklahoma, and overall domination of the Big 12 South have all added up to another great chance for Texas to take their place in the National Championship after essentially being cheated out of a spot in 2008.
However, they can't overlook Texas A&M heading into the Big 12 Championship. The Aggies have clinched bowl eligibility under second-year coach Mike Sherman, and Jerrod Johnson has been a godsend this season with a 24-5 touchdown/interception ratio. While you should expect A&M to bring their best game for the Lone Star Showdown, it won't be enough to get past the Longhorns.
Prediction: Texas 38, Texas A&M 21
Illinois (3-7, 2-6) at #5 Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0), Noon ET/11 AM CT, ABC (HD)
Point Spread: Cincinnati -21
The Cincinnati Bearcats have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2009 season, as they were predicted to finish around 4th in the Big East pre-season. All they've done since is win ten games in a row, including victories over 7-3 Rutgers (47-15), No. 16 Oregon State (28-18), and 7-3 West Virginia (27-24).
The Illinois Fighting Illini have been the polar opposite of the Bearcats. Predicted by many to finish in the top half of the Big Ten and go to a good bowl game, they have bombed under coach Ron Zook and embattled quarterback Juice Williams. Their only FBS wins this season are over 5-7 Michigan and 6-6 Minnesota. In six of their ten games, they've failed to score above 14 points.
Although the Illini surely want to save a terribly disappointing season, this is not the place to do it.
Prediction: Cincinnati 41, Illinois 14
The Iron Bowl: #2 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) at Auburn (7-4, 3-4); 2:30 PM ET/1:30 PM CT, CBS (HD)
Point Spread: Alabama -10
It's been a fairly surprising year for both teams. Alabama was expected to possibly take a seat behind Ole Miss at the start of the season, and Auburn was expected, at best, to match their 5-7 record of 2008. However, both teams have overachieved, as Alabama romps into the Iron Bowl red hot after beating Mississippi State and Chattanooga by a combined score of 78-3.
Auburn, however, has been on a semi-downslide. After a 5-0 start, they've dropped four of six to get to their current 7-4 record. Hidden in that record are a couple of impressive wins, such as their 41-30 win over a good West Virginia team, a 26-22 win over a Tennessee team that came within a blocked field goal of beating the Tide, and a 33-20 win over an Ole Miss team that just whipped Tennessee 42-17 and held off LSU 25-23.
Auburn may have caught Alabama at the right time, because the Tide might be looking ahead to that huge SEC Championship game with Florida that will determine one of the participants in the National Championship game. Auburn literally comes here with nothing to lose: the best they can finish in the SEC is 4-4, and they already have a bowl bid clinched. Don't forget that Auburn has had a whole year to think about that 36-0 drubbing at the hands of the Tide last season.
Expect Auburn to throw everything you can think of at Alabama. However, Alabama will hold on for an extremely tight Iron Bowl victory.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Auburn 21
The Backyard Brawl: #8 Pittsburgh (9-1, 5-0) at West Virginia (7-3, 3-2); 7:00 PM ET/6:00 PM CT, ESPN2 (HD) (Co-Game of the Week)
Point Spread: Even/Pick'em
The point spread suggests that this one will be an extremely close game. With the last two editions of TBB in mind, you have to believe they're right. Pittsburgh has taken the last two games of this rivalry dating back to 1895—a massive 13-9 upset of WVU in 2007 as a four touchdown underdog, and a 19-15 win at Heinz Field last year in which LeSean McCoy scored a touchdown with 52 seconds left to win it for the Panthers.
This year, Pitt is having their best season since Dan Marino called himself their quarterback. With a 9-1 start and the unofficial Big East championship game next week against Cincinnati, they're having one of the best seasons in Panthers history. However, the Mountaineers of West Virginia are here to crash the party.
West Virginia has had recent struggles after a 6-1 start, dropping games to South Florida and Cincinnati. However, they're still an extremely dangerous team at 7-3 and with the 1-2 punch of Jarrett Brown and Noel Devine. If Bill Stewart has any kind of a brain, he'll use Devine to his advantage in this game. I think the pressure on the Panthers will be too much and WVU will pull out a tight win in the 102nd edition of the Backyard Brawl.
Prediction: West Virginia 27, Pittsburgh 24
Nevada (8-3, 7-0) at #6 Boise State (11-0, 7-0), 10:00 PM ET/9:00 PM CT, ESPN2 (HD)
Point Spread: Boise State -13.5
No matter what the Boise State Broncos do, it just isn't enough for voters. They've had "early troubles" in games against Idaho and Utah State (63-25 and 52-21 wins), "struggles" against Louisiana Tech and Tulsa (45-35 and 28-21 victories), and they've only played one good opponent, which was Oregon (a 9-8 victory in a game that wasn't as close as the final score suggests).
Maybe they'll get some respect if they have another large victory over the second-best team in the WAC—Nevada. Last week, the Wolf Pack became the first team in NCAA history to boast three 1,000 yard rushers in one season. Colin Kaepernick, their quarterback, is one of those 1,000 yard rushers, but he obviously can throw as well, with a 16-5 touchdown/interception ratio and a 60% completion rate.
Nevada obviously wants to wreck the Boise State BCS dreams, but with a lot on the line for Boise, it's just not going to happen. I think Nevada will play a good game for the first half, but they'll have a couple of second half turnovers that take them out of the game.
Prediction: Boise State 42, Nevada 17
Saturday, November 28th
Carolina-Clemson Rivalry: #15 Clemson (8-3, 6-2) vs. South Carolina (6-5, 3-5); ESPN (HD)
Point Spread: Clemson -3
The Clemson Tigers have already clinched their first ACC Championship in an over-achieving year for the school. In a division Florida State was predicted by many to win, Clemson stormed from a slow 2-3 start to win six in a row and grabbed the Atlantic Division by the throat. It's not like those three losses were bad either—except for the Maryland loss. Their three losses were by a combined 10 points, with two of them coming to No.5 TCU (14-10) and No.7 Georgia Tech (30-27).
South Carolina has had a horrible last month of the season, losing four of five after being ranked as high as No. 21. Without a good quarterback at his hands (Stephen Garcia, face it, you're just not good), Steve Spurrier has been unable to get anything going in the latter season for Carolina as they've slipped into an extended slump.
It's a home game for the Gamecocks and they want to steal one from Clemson, but it's just not going to happen.
Prediction: Clemson 34, South Carolina 20
Carolina-State Rivalry: #23 North Carolina (8-3, 4-3) at North Carolina State (4-7, 1-6)
Point Spread: North Carolina -6
Just around five years ago, you would have expected this matchup to be flip-flopped, with NCSU being the ranked team and North Carolina at the bottom of the ACC. Now, North Carolina has revived their football program into a very strong group of players, while State has declined ever since Phillip Rivers departed the program.
Last year, the Tar Heels were thrashed by the Wolf Pack 41-10 at home. Without question, the Tar Heels have the much better defense, while State has the far superior offense. Defense wins games, and I'm going with that ideal for this game. I fully expect at least two of North Carolina's scores to come from NC State turnovers.
Prediction: North Carolina 24, North Carolina State 14
The Egg Bowl: #20 Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3) at Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5), 12:21 PM ET/11:21 AM CT, SEC Network
Point Spread: Ole Miss -8
After a No.8 preseason ranking and an early jump to No.4 in the polls, Ole Miss has been somewhat of a disappointment. However, the Rebels have looked extremely focused on finishing the rest of the year strong. For istance, in their last two games, they've destroyed the much-praised Tennessee defense 42-17, and literally clocked No.17 LSU 25-23 as time ran out on the Tigers at the Ole Miss 5 yard line.
Mississippi State has over-achieved as well, as they came within a foot of defeating LSU, losing 30-26, and giving No.1 Florida a tough challenge at home before going down 29-19. Pretty good for a team that was expected to take their lumps and finish with around three wins.
The pressure is all on MSU quarterback Tyson Lee, as he needs to have a strong final game as a Bulldog. He has had struggles all year long, and as far as I know it's not certain how much he will play against Ole Miss. He needs to keep his mistakes to a minimum, but it won't happen against a tenacious Ole Miss defense.
Prediction: Ole Miss 24, Mississippi State 10
Bedlam: #11 Oklahoma State (9-2, 6-1) vs. Oklahoma (6-5, 4-3), FOX Sports Net
Point Spread: Oklahoma -9.5
When it comes to Bedlam, this is how the roles are usually assigned: Oklahoma plays the Big 12 perennial contender while Oklahoma State plays the middling spoiler. This year those roles are reversed, as Oklahoma State has lived up to a preseason top-ten ranking and is having one of the best seasons in school history. On the flip side, Oklahoma has suffered badly from the loss of Sam Bradford, having an extremely disappointing year after being ranked No.3 before the season.
The Cowboys will possibly be without starting quarterback Zac Robinson, who is suffering from a shoulder injury and sat out the entire game against Colorado. If he can't play, sophomore Brandon Weeden—who led Oklahoma State to a 31-28 comeback victory over Colorado last week—will start.
Weeden was lucky against Colorado because 1) it was Colorado, and 2) they're prone to defensive implosions. Against what has been a good Sooners defense—aside from the Texas Tech loss—he'll have a ton of trouble if he's the one starting.
Prediction: Oklahoma 21, Oklahoma State 17
New Mexico (1-10, 1-7) vs. #4 TCU (11-0, 7-0), 1:00 PM ET/Noon CT, The Mtn. (HD)
Point Spread: TCU -44.5
In one of the worst mismatches of the entire season, New Mexico—one of the worst teams in Division I-A—gets stuck with playing No.4 TCU—the best non-BCS school in the nation. There won't be a single starter for TCU playing after the third quarter in this blowout.
Prediction: TCU 52, New Mexico 7
Commonwealth Cup: #14 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2) vs. Virginia (3-8, 2-5); 3:30 PM ET/2:30 PM CT, ABC/ESPN (HD)
Point Spread: Virginia Tech -16
Virginia Tech's had a pretty good year. Their only losses have been to three ranked teams (No.2 Alabama 34-24, No.7 Georgia Tech 28-23, and No.23 North Carolina 20-17), and they've basically played close to what they were expected to do, aside from winning the Coastal Division.
Virginia has had a horrendous season, losing to William and Mary in the first game of the year and basically ending the season before it even started with a 0-3 start. They looked to possibly refire the engines after winning three straight games, but five losses in a row since have defined Virginia's extremely forgettable 2009 season.
Al Groh's job is possibly on the line with this game. The Cavaliers may want to win it for him, but it's just not happening against a great Hokies team. Virginia will only trail by a score after three quarters, but Virginia Tech will score a touchdown in the fourth quarter to ensure another Commonwealth Cup victory.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Virginia 20
#19 Miami (FL) (8-3, 5-3) at South Florida (7-3, 3-3); 3:30 PM ET/2:30 PM CT, ABC/ESPN/ESPN-GP (HD)
Point Spread: Miami -5
You think Miami likes to play these in-state schools? They've played Florida A&M, Central Florida, and now the University of South Florida just this season in out-of-conference play. The game with USF, though, is a new rivalry in which the teams will play the next five season finales together.
For South Florida, it's a great opportunity to start this new rivalry with a bang and a potentially resounding upset. For Miami, it's an opportunity to up their record against teams from the state of Florida to 4-0 in 2009 (when you count in Florida State). It's also a chance for the Hurricanes to firmly assert themselves as No.2 in the state and knocking on the door of No.1 Florida.
South Florida has already played Florida State on the road and beaten them 17-7. I expect South Florida to put it all on the line for a chance to increase the number of "real" football teams in the state of Florida to four, but Miami will withstand the Bulls' charge and hold on for a close victory.
Prediction: Miami 34, South Florida 27
Sunshine Showdown: Florida State (6-5, 4-4) at #1 Florida (11-0, 8-0); 3:30 PM ET/2:30 PM CT, CBS (HD)
Point Spread: Florida -24.5
Florida is a huge favorite in the 54th edition of this rivalry—dating back to 1958—for good reasons. First, the Seminoles have lost the last two by a combined score of 90-27 and have not won in the rivalry since 2003. Second, the Seminoles are without their backbone, quarterback Christian Ponder, who was basically the whole team for them most of the season.
Florida just continues to roll right along as if no one can faze them. Despite good challenges from several teams this season, they are still undefeated and looking at a great SEC Championship matchup with No.2 Alabama for a spot in the National Championship game. Just like it's been the past two years and three out of the last four, this one will end in a rout.
Prediction: Florida 42, Florida State 14
The Holy War: #22 Utah (9-2, 6-1) at #18 BYU (9-2, 6-1); 5:00 PM ET/4:00 PM CT, CBS College Sports/The Mtn. (HD) (Co-Game of the Week)
Point Spread: BYU -7.5
Utah has had a season right around what they were expecting after they were issued a No.18 preseason ranking. BYU, however, had BCS hopes after their defeat of then-No.3 Oklahoma 14-13. Then they were blown out at home by both Florida State and No.4 TCU at different parts of the season and they sit at 9-2.
When these two teams meet, you're almost always guaranteed a great game. In 2006, John Beck scrambled for what seemed like forever until he threw a touchdown to put BYU on top with no time remaining, 33-31. In 2007, BYU scored a touchdown with around a minute to play to win 17-10. Last year was a rare exception, as Utah dismantled BYU, 48-24.
This season, BYU's out looking for revenge and I'll give it to them in a close game.
Prediction: BYU 27, Utah 24
Battle for the Golden Boot: Arkansas (7-4, 3-4) at #17 LSU (8-3, 4-3); 7:00 PM ET/6:00 PM CT, ESPN (HD)
Point Spread: LSU -3.5
Arkansas has defeated LSU the past two meetings in the Battle for the Golden Boot—50-48 in a triple overtime classic in 2007 and 31-30 last year in a game in which Arkansas trailed 30-14. It's been a resurgent year for Arkansas and the second "down" year in a row for LSU.
Arkansas finished a rough 5-7 season last year with the big 31-30 win over LSU and carried some of the momentum over into 2009. The result has been a potent offense led by quarterback Ryan Mallett, a transfer from Michigan.
LSU started the season ranked No.11 and jumped as high as No.4, but they have cooled off over the past few games and lost a tough one to Ole Miss, 25-23, under some extremely questionable decisions by head coach Les Miles.
I fully expect LSU to be extremely ticked off over the last two losses to Arkansas and their loss last week, and Mallett will be heavily abused by the LSU defense in this game.
Prediction: LSU 28, Arkansas 10
Bayou Bucket: Rice (2-9, 2-5) at #25 Houston (9-2, 5-2); 8:00 PM ET/7:00 PM CT, CSS
Point Spread: Houston -29.5
Rice has had an extreme downturn after a great 2008 season, going from 10-3 with the quarterback/wide receiver combo of Chase Clement and Jarrett Dillard, to 2-9—and almost certainly 2-10—with basically bare cupboards from last season's team. However, the Owls have improved heavily in the past three weeks, winning two straight and losing a game to SMU by three. In their first eight games, the closest they came to a victory was a 27-10 loss against Tulsa.
Houston has been one of the better mid-major teams this season, beating then-No. 5 Oklahoma State 45-35 in an early season shocker, Texas Tech at home 29-28, and taking down Mississippi State on the road 31-24. Houston has showcased a strange ability to play down to other opponents, though, losing 58-41 to UTEP and 37-32 to UCF, which gave Central Florida their first win over a Top 25 opponent.
None of this falls on Heisman candidate Case Keenum, who has been nearly flawless the entire season. Keenum boasts 4,599 passing yards, a 70 percent completion rate, and 36 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions, giving off shades of great Houston quarterbacks of past like Andre Ware and Kevin Kolb. Expect Keenum to throw all over the Rice defense, which has been close to a sieve nearly all season long.
Prediction: Houston 59, Rice 21
Clean, Old Fashioned Hate: Georgia (6-5, 4-4) at #7 Georgia Tech (10-1, 7-1) ; 8:00 PM ET/7:00 PM CT, ABC/ESPN2 (HD)
Point Spread: Georgia Tech -8
Georgia and Georgia Tech's seasons have been polar opposites, with one being wildly disappointing and the other wildly amazing. Georgia is the former, having a horrific season after being ranked No.13 pre-season. They lost at home to Kentucky for the first time since 1977, to Tennessee 45-19 and Florida 41-17, and their defense is perhaps the worst in Georgia football history.
Georgia Tech, however, has performed far above expectation. After a 9-4 season in which Paul Johnson introduced the triple option, the Ramblin' Wreck have been wrecking the rest of the ACC with the triple option this season as well. Save for a 33-17 loss at Miami (FL) on one of those unlucky Thursday nights, the Yellow Jackets have been nearly flawless on offense, with Josh Nesbitt leading the attack at quarterback.
Georgia Tech's offense spells trouble for Georgia's horrible defense. Expect this one to be ugly from the start.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 56, Georgia 20
The Victory Bell: UCLA (6-5, 3-5) at #24 USC (7-3, 4-3); 10:00 PM ET/9:00 PM CT, FOX Sports Net
Point Spread: USC -13
What an unusual season it has been for the Trojans. Their defense has completely disappeared (55 points surrendered to Stanford, 47 to Oregon, and 36 to Oregon State), and they've suffered the worst loss under Pete Carroll this season—twice. Losses of 55-21 to Stanford at home and 47-20 to Oregon on the road have completely embarrassed the Trojans, and they'll want to get everything back under control with a victory over UCLA.
However, UCLA has other ideas in mind. Remember the 13-9 victory over a national championship-bound USC in 2006? Or the UCLA domination of the series from 1991 to 1998, including the 1994 31-19 win in which they knocked USC out of a Rose Bowl berth? UCLA knows they can win this game, and they'll be going in with this mentality.
USC's season is all but shot; the best bowl they can realistically hope to go to now is the Holiday Bowl, which is for the second selection out of the Pac-10. The sting of not being able to go to a BCS bowl for the eighth consecutive year for USC has to hurt. While I don't think UCLA will win this game, expect USC to have major difficulty en route to a victory.
Prediction: USC 24, UCLA 13
Games/Rivalries Outside of the Top 25:
The Border War: Missouri (7-4, 3-4) vs. Kansas (5-6, 1-6) (Arrowhead Stadium); 3:30 PM ET/2:30 PM CT, ABC/ESPN-GP
Point Spread: Missouri -3
Despite the combined record of these teams sitting at 12-10 and 4-10 in the Big 12, the Border War is always a good game. The last two games have been split—Missouri won 36-28 in 2007, and Kansas won 40-37 last year. Mark Mangino is possibly playing for his job after the "extreme anger management issues" reports came out about him. While it will be another good game, Missouri will prevail in the end in a close one.
Prediction: Missouri 34, Kansas 28
Bayou Classic: Southern University (6-3, 3-2 SWAC) vs. Grambling State University (6-4, 5-2 SWAC) (Louisiana Superdome); 2:00 PM ET/1:00 PM CT, NBC (HD)
Fine, go ahead and laugh at me for including a Division I-AA game. What you can't discount, though, is the fact that the Bayou Classic has been played 35 times, and literally, it's almost even: Southern University leads the series 18-17. They've won twelve of the last sixteen meetings, but Grambling has taken three of the last five.
And, if anything, you'll get to see two of the greatest bands ever in college sports: the Southern University Marching Band, also known as the Human Jukebox, and the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band (according to Wikipedia; you can add "The World Famed" to the beginning of that). You'll see elaborate performances from both sides before the game, at halftime, and after the game.
I'm going to be watching and I expect you to do the same.
Prediction: Grambling 28, Southern 17
Notre Dame (6-5) at Stanford (7-4, 6-3); 8:00 PM ET/7:00 PM CT, ABC (HD)
Point Spread: Stanford -10
What better reason to watch this than to witness the end of the Charlie Weis era? Also, you may see another inept effort by the Irish and, for sure, several closeups of Jimmy Clausen's black eye.
Prediction: Stanford 38, Notre Dame 24
Questions and comments are always welcome.