As everyone knows, the college football season is starting to head down the home stretch.
We are approaching—starting this Saturday—my absolute favorite time of the year on the intercollegiate gridiron.
This is the time of the year when ancient grudges are renewed. When hatreds are reborn at the level of the Montagues and the Capulets. Or the Hatfields and the McCoys.
These are the games where obscene banners, gestures, and jokes insulting the other team are commonplace. Where it's truly a miracle that fisticuffs and riots among the students, fans, and even the players don't break out on a more regular basis than they already do.
I think I have described rivalry games pretty well.
College football rivalries take the cake over anything at the professional level. I believe that is safe to say.
Put it this way: The Yankees and the Red Sox meet almost twenty times during the baseball season. If A-Rod hits a walk-off home run off of Jonathan Papelbon to win the game for New York, the Red Sox can just try again the next day.
In college football, however, teams only meet ONCE. If UCLA intercepts a Mark Sanchez pass in the end zone with five seconds left to beat USC, the Trojans can't try again until next December.
You see where I'm getting at?
Among the dozens of civil brawls scheduled over the next three weeks are five that I feel are the most intriguing.
I'm sure I will get some disagreements, but here are the handful of mini-Civil Wars - which will be played this Saturday - that have gotten my particular interest:
BIG GAME: STANFORD (5-6) vs. CALIFORNIA (6-4)
This Bay Area grudge match, having been played since the 1890s, holds a particular interest this year because of the Stanford Cardinal's situation.
With a team needing six wins to become bowl eligible, Stanford has been trying to get that 6th win for the past few weeks. It would be their first bowl since 2000.
Having lost to Oregon and USC, now the Cardinal has to try and get win number six in Berkeley, against a solid Golden Bear enemy that wants payback—big payback—for losing the Axe to them last year.
MY PICK: CALIFORNIA
It's a close matchup and will be a tough game. Both teams have good weapons, such as Jarvid Best of Cal and Toby Gerhard of Stanford, but the home field advantage that the Bears will enjoy will ultimately prevail.
Among the bands, Stanford would win in an absolute cakewalk, but unfortunately it's not a band competition.
OLD OAKEN BUCKET, INDIANA (3-8) vs. PURDUE (3-8)
These two Big Ten schools have had a long history together.
Neither team has had a good season, which is what makes this game intriguing. This contest is the season for these Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
There's no bowl game at stake, and nothing on the line for either of these institutions from Indiana. Nothing but pride and that old bucket. These people from Bloomington and West Lafayette have absolutely nothing to lose.
Oftentimes that makes for the most exciting games.
MY PICK: PURDUE.
Their athletes seem slightly better, plus it's a home game for them.
TRAP GAME ALERT:
IRON BOWL, AUBURN (5-6) vs. No. 1 ALABAMA (11-0)
"Roll Tide!" versus "War Eagle!"
"Clean, Good Ol' Fashioned Hate"—That's what this rivalry is called. So much so that at one time these two schools didn't play each other for a forty-year period.
Both teams have much to play for. For Auburn, this is the Tigers' last shot to earn bowl eligibility, while the Crimson Tide is trying to stay on track for the BCS championship.
I'm about to greatly upset everyone in the state of Alabama who follow the Crimson and White, but while they're a good, solid team, I honestly wasn't that impressed when I saw them on TV against Mississippi State.
To me, they're just not what a number one team looks like.
That's why I call this a trap game—Auburn needs this win to get into the post season,and it's against their mortal enemy, whom they would absolutely love to knock out of the BCS.
If that's not motivation, then I don't know what is.
Plus, of Alabama's 11 wins, only Georgia and LSU were considered to have talent approaching theirs. Tulane (ha ha)? Western Kentucky (ha ha)?! ARKANSAS STATE (HA HA HA)?! PLEASE!!
MY PICK: AUBURN in a big upset.
I think the Tide is overlooking those Tigers, just like USC overlooked UCLA in 2006. And if Auburn doesn't beat 'Bama, Florida definitely will in the SEC Championship game.
HOLY WAR, No. 14 BRIGHAM YOUNG (10-1) vs. No. 7 UTAH (11-0)
This is one of the two games that not only intrigue me, I also would very much like to see.
These Cougars from Provo and Utes from Salt Lake City have perhaps the most intense and hated rivalry outside of the BCS conferences. So much so that Utah students have been known to sneak alcohol into the stadium and breathe their boozy breath in their BYU counterparts' faces.
Being that they're devout Mormons, one can imagine the trauma of that.
If it wasn't for the fact that the Cougars lost to TCU, this would have been a true Holy War for the ages, as both teams would've been undefeated.
As such, this game is highly anticipated; a Mountain West Conference title at stake, a BCS bowl on the line for the Utes. Too bad it will probably be on Fox Sports or Versus instead of on ABC.
MY PICK: UTAH, for the home field.
Plus, BYU hasn't looked that great lately, barely beating Colorado State a few weeks ago. These Utes are on a mission; they will not be denied.
APPLE CUP, WASHINGTON (0-10) vs. WASHINGTON STATE (1-10)
Like BYU and Utah, this is the other game that I would like to see, but for completely different reasons.
These two programs in the Pacific Northwest have had seasons as woeful and frustrating as any program has had in recent memory.
One team has fired their coach effective at the end of the year, and is the only BCS conference school without a win. The other team has a brand-new coaching staff with an extreme lack of talent, having only beaten Division 1-AA Portland State.
But you know what? Like the Indiana - Purdue game, it is that lack of success that's making this game interesting. Even more so, because...
FOR THESE HUSKIES AND COUGARS, THIS APPLE CUP IS THEIR WHOLE SEASON. LITERALLY.
Being that there is no post season at stake for either team, they both have this to lose:
This is definitely one game that you'll see both schools let everything all hang out; the intensity will be incredible, as it often is teams playing their rivalry game that are going nowhere.
For both Washington and Washington State, this Apple Cup IS their bowl game, and it will be a certainly satisfying way to end a season for either team. For the Huskies in particular, it will be an excellent way for Tyrone Willingham to go out.
And I'm sure that neither of these teams would have it any other way.
MY PICK: WASHINGTON. Having seen both teams over the course of the season, these Dawgs have a few more good athletes than their counterparts from the Palouse. If Jake Locker hadn't broken his thumb, they would've no doubt won a few games.
Well, there you have it. My view on which rivalry games should get the most attention this season.
Let's see what happens on Saturday.