Thanksgiving Rivalries: Top 20 College Football Rivalry Games This Weekend

Eric Galko@OptimumScoutingFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Rivalries: Top 20 College Football Rivalry Games This Weekend

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    Per usual, Thanksgiving weekend is loaded with great match-ups and intense rivalries. This year, even the NFL has a "rivalry" game, in the "Harbaugh Bowl" on Thursday night.

    Still, sticking to college, this weekend features 20 outstanding games, most of which are included to be some of the biggest rivalries in college football.

    From the Lone Star Showdown to the Egg Bowl  to the Civil War to simply just The Game, it should be a VERY exciting four-day weekend of college football.

Penn State vs. Wisconsin

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    So I know, this isn't really a rivalry. But a match-up of two ranked teams in one of the best conferences in college football? What's not to like?

    Wisconsin has had some heartbreakers that have kept them out of the national title discussion but still look like the Big Ten's best team. And Penn State has won ugly and through adversity. Should be a great battle this weekend.

Houston vs. Tulsa

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    Okay, so still not a great, well-known rivalry. But both teams have two of the best offenses in college football, both can light up the scoreboard, both are arguably the most talented in their conference, and both could win this game.

    Plus, if Tulsa can pull off the very possible upset, it'll throw another BCS "buster" to the side and knock out a Heisman contender in Case Keenum.

"Victory Bell" Game

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    More of a basketball rivalry, this game has been dominated by North Carolina as of late. North Carolina has been able to recruit very well in the past 10 years, while Duke is finally starting to get its feet wet in football success.

    I'd still expect North Carolina to win this one (QB Bryn Renner is a helluva young talent), but don't rule out this Duke team, which is starting to lose that role as the worst ACC team.

Texas Tech vs. Baylor

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    Again, not another set, well-known rivalry, but for these two teams, it might as well be. Texas Tech is Baylor's most frequent opponent all time, and with Art Briles and the Texas Tech offense facing off, it could be a chance to see two exciting, well-executed offenses.

    It also could be Robert Griffin's best chance to shine once again in the spotlight, while it's a chance for Texas Tech to overcome that embarrassment of an effort against Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State a few weeks ago.

The Battle for the "Old Oaken Bucket"

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    This age-old Big Ten rivalry of Purdue vs. Indiana is the first on the list that is a true rivalry (as long as we're going by the naming of a game each year).

    This battle for the Old Oaken Bucket may not be glamorous and may have more of an impact on who's closer to being the worst team in the conference, but the passion in Big Ten rivalries is never something to underestimate.

"The Backyard Brawl"

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    A game that in 2007 ruined Rich Rodriguez's and West Virginia's 10-1 season that would have put them into the National Championship game, this rivalry has developed into one of the most under.

    Four of the last seven games have come down to only 5 points or less, and it has generally featured at least one ranked team.

    I would expect West Virginia and Geno Smith to win this one, but don't count Pitt out in a series they lead lifetime.

The "Apple Cup"

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    Just 10 or so years ago, this game would have major Pac-10 implications. But as of late, both teams have been below their previous standards, especially Washington State.

    But now that Washington (ranked at times the past two years) and Washington State (two Pac-12 wins, OT loss to Utah) are on the way up, this could be a chance to see how these two former Pac-10 greats could be on their way back.

The "Egg Bowl"

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    The Egg Bowl has lacked serious luster in some time, but it's still one of the fiercest rivalries in the SEC in the battle of the domination of the state of Mississippi.

    With Houston Nutt out at the end of the season, the Ole Miss Rebels have shown little focus and willingness to compete (they have been outscored 231-77 in their last six games, all losses).

    Mississippi State should be able to win this one and continue their recent domination.

"Battle of the Barrel"

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    This rivalry between Tennessee and Kentucky hasn't been all that much of a rivalry over the past 20 years. Kentucky hasn't won since 1984 in this yearly tradition.

    And with Tyler Bray back in the lineup for Tennessee, it should be more of the same.

"Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate"

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    It's the battle for Georgia as the Bulldogs of Georgia and the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech face off in one of the two great SEC-ACC rivalries.

    Outside of Georgia Tech's three-point win in 2009, the Yellow Jackets haven't won since 2000, with six of those games being decided by eight points or less.

    Georgia is at 9-2 and in prime position to win the SEC East, while Georgia Tech is at 8-3 and looking for a New Year's Day bowl.

The Crosstown Rivalry

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    USC has only lost this rivalry game to UCLA once since 1999 (disregarding "vacated" wins), but that once was to eliminate USC from the BCS title game by the unranked UCLA Bruins.

    This year, there is no bowl game on the line for USC, while a loss for UCLA would put them at 6-6 and in-line for a relatively bad Bowl Game.

    USC is clearly the better team this year and one of the best in the country, and should be able to finish the UCLA Bruins on a low note once again.

The "Civil War"

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    In the Pac-12's best and most consistently captivating rivalry, the "Civil" War between Oregon and Oregon State has been a fierce battle regardless of the records of both teams.

    While Oregon has won the last three, Oregon State has been competitive in all three, and won the two before that.

    Another key note: the home team has won the game 11 of the last 14 teams. Oregon's home, has won the last three, and has the better talent.

    So, with all the evidence pointing to Oregon, I'll strongly consider picking Oregon State in the upset.

"Florida Cup"

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    In most years, the "Florida Cup" is given to the best team in the state of Florida, including Florida, Florida State, and Miami (Fla.).

    With Florida not playing Miami and Florida State already beating Miami, the winner of this game will be undefeated in the three-way battle, giving the winner of this game the "Florida Cup".

    Both teams have under-performed all year long, but both have promise and coaches that look built for future success. With the game at Florida, I'll give them the slight home-field advantage and therefore the slight victory prediction.

"Legends Trophy"

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    In a match-up that has featured lesser teams in the recent past, the addition of Jimmy Clausen and now Andrew Luck to this game have brought added excitement and talent in the game.

    With both historically successful programs back on the way up, this should make for another exciting game.

    With the best QB in the country in Andrew Luck, Stanford will use their depth in weapons to pick apart this Notre Dame defense, and barring Michael Floyd gaining 200+ yards and 3 TDs, it'll be tough for Notre Dame to hang close all game.

"Commonwealth Cup"

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    In the last 12 meetings between Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Hokies have won all but one. In the last seven years, only one game has been within 10 points. Safe to say, the Hokies have dominated this series as of late.

    But there could be a change of the tides. Mike London has quickly made this Virginia team into a contender, with a win putting this team into the ACC championship game.

    With a lot to play for from Virginia's point of view, and a potential Top 5 finish for the Hokies on the line, it should be a very interesting match-up.

"Carolina-Clemson Rivalry"

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    Now we're at some of the greatest rivalries in college football this year. Both teams didn't have overly high expectations compared to past years, but both were optimistic of the talent they had.

    Now, with South Carolina ravaged by injuries (Marcus Lattimore) and suspensions (Stephen Garcia), they've had to overcome a lot to stay in the Top 15 and in the SEC East mix.

    Clemson, on the other hand, have lost two of their last three to unranked teams, and have gone from possible BCS Title game crasher to fringe Top 25 team.

    Still, a win for both teams could very well mean a Top 15 spot and a shot at a very good bowl game.

"Battle for the Golden Boot"

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    Maybe the most important game of the weekend, the Battle for the Golden Boot is the match-up between No. 1-ranked LSU and No. 3-ranked Arkansas.

    Both teams have been outstanding this year, with LSU being the near-consensus best team in the country, and Arkansas seizing the losses by other teams to quickly shoot up boards.

    This game will no doubt be a close one, with both teams realizing what's at stake. A win for LSU, and they are all but in the Championship game, even if they somehow lose to their SEC East foe. A win for Arkansas, and there will be a three-way tie at the top of the SEC West.

    Here's how the tiebreaker will be figured out:

"Lone Star Showdown"

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    In what could be the final set match-up between these two bitter rivals in a while (thanks to Texas A&M leaving on bad terms for the SEC), this should be an entertaining watch on Thanksgiving Day.

    Texas has struggled since the graduation of Colt McCoy, but their defense has been able to carry this team to a fringe Top 25 season, and a chance to end at .500 in the Big 12 and above .500 for the season.

    Still, Texas A&M has been able to dominate the first half. They'll need to be able to finish this game, as a loss would put them at 6-6, and sixth in the Big 12 conference.

"The Game"

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    Simply called "The Game", this may be one of the top two or three rivalries on any list, challenging the "Red River Shootout" and number one on this list.

    While Ohio State isn't having the usual year thanks to everything surrounding the program, they still have a lot of talent and won't give No. 15-ranked Michigan any free wins.

    Michigan is 9-2, looking for their 10th win for the first time since 2006. They haven't beaten the Buckeyes since 2003, and have been within 10 points since 2006.

    Still, if Denard Robinson can play well and if Brady Hoke wants to prove he was the right hire at Michigan, this is the time to re-assert Michigan in the Big Ten.

"Iron Bowl"

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    Maybe College Football's greatest rivalry, Alabama-Auburn has had huge implications the last three seasons, as two times the winner of the game went on to win the BCS Title.

    This year, Auburn comes in as a major underdog thanks to only a handful of returning seniors, and the loss of Cam Newton to the offense, the key factor that led Auburn to the Championship.

    If Alabama can win this game, they'll be set at No. 2 and likely off for a rematch against LSU in the Championship game.

    If Auburn can pull off the upset, they'll once again finish in the Top 20 and show that Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn are not one-season wonders.


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