22 Reasons Rivalry Weekend Is the Best Sports Weekend of the Year

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIINovember 19, 2012

22 Reasons Rivalry Weekend Is the Best Sports Weekend of the Year

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    Rivalry weekend is one of the most anticipated weekends of college football. Even the term itself elicits memories and emotions that don't exist in any other sport.

    With the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Daytona 500, the Stanley Cup and many more sporting events that cater to specific people's tastes all year long, what makes rivalry weekend so much better?

    Here are 22 reasons that college football's rivalry weekend is always the best weekend of the year.

Comparing It to the National Championship

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    College football's national championship game is nationally televised and highly anticipated. Even the casual college football fan can find a reason to tune in to the No. 1 vs. No. 2 match for the crystal football.

    So, why isn't the title game the best weekend in sports? First, it's not always on a weekend. In fact, more often than not, it isn't on a weekend. It's only fallen on a weekend once. The 2002 national championship game took place on Friday, Jan. 3, 2003.

    The major reason that national championship "weekend" can't compete with rivalry weekend is that it only involves two teams from no more than two conferences. While most matches have been highly entertaining, the SEC vs. SEC matchup last year was anticlimactic.

    Alabama and LSU had already played that season, and many people remembered every single play of the 9-6 bout won by LSU in overtime.

    Rivalry weekend involves so much more than just one game, and every game holds some sort of major implication in the balance.

    Rivalry weekend > national championship weekend.

Timing

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    The Super Bowl occurs on the first Sunday in February, which means it falls within a week of Groundhog Day. That's not exactly a holiday one would expect to have off work.

    The Super Bowl is the biggest event in American sports, of course. Nobody is going to claim that any one rivalry game could compete with the Super Bowl.

    However, rivalry weekend is still so much more than just one game. Yes, the NFL has a playoff. Yes, it is ridiculously inclusive, allowing over one-third of NFL teams to compete for the Super Bowl every year.

    Rivalry weekend falls on Thanksgiving weekend. There is no better holiday for sports than Thanksgiving for many reasons:

    1) Family is already gathered.

    2) Nobody has to take time away from the football games to cook, because there are enough leftovers to feed a small army for a month.

    3) If you're searching for things to be thankful for, a television to watch the game on is a great place to start.

    So you're sitting around the house with a bunch of family members, a couch, a T.V. and some free time. Lucky for you, there are plenty of meaningful college football games to watch. Not only that, but most generations in your house will even recognize the fields, stands and uniforms of the teams that are playing.

    Well, except for Oregon. Oregon's uniforms are almost never the same twice. That's the Ducks' tradition.

    Thanksgiving weekend > Groundhog Day

The New Year's Day Bowls

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    There is one other weekend in the sports realm that can at least compete with rivalry weekend, and that's New Year's Day. The bowls that are scheduled for that holiday are the foundation on which the legend of college football is built.

    Without the bowl games to gain exposure, it's hard to imagine a sports world that's not completely dominated by the NFL. These bowls built college football's reputation, and they will always hold a special place in our hearts and in our living rooms.

    The trump card for rivalry weekend can be summed up in one word, "sanctions." This year's Rose Bowl will not feature the best team in the Big Ten, though it will schedule the conference's champion. Ohio State currently holds an 11-0 record, and would be slated for a potential national championship berth or a Rose Bowl appearance if not for sanctioning.

    Rivalry weekend, on the other hand, occurs during the regular season. Nothing short of the NCAA "death penalty" can mess with rivalry weekend. Rivalry weekend is pure, and it's all about football. There are no politicians during rivalry weekend, only football teams.

    Rivalry weekend > New Year's Day bowls

The Last Chance

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    For many major college football programs, this is the last weekend to make it to the postseason. (The Big 12 has assigned its teams two bye weeks in order for their "rivalry weekend" to coincide with championship weekend.)

    Any team entering rivalry weekend with a 5-6 record has one more shot at getting that coveted sixth win. In most years, there is at least one rivalry that features two 5-6 teams. That means that the winner of the rivalry game will play in December, and the loser will pack up and go home until August of the next year.

    The motivation for the games during rivalry weekend is the highest of any weekend during the regular season, and the games are always hard-fought and entertaining.

History

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    With all the conference realignments, dissolving conferences and general tomfoolery occurring in college football these days, it's a wonder that we can even keep tabs on what team plays in what conference.

    Most college football fans were raised in a home that appreciated the game and relished the powerful matches that are always slated for rivalry weekend.

    Your grandparents and great-grandparents may not know who the heck is in the chartreuse gloves with the big "O" on their helmets, but you can bet your last buck that they'll instantly recognize both uniforms during the Notre Dame vs. USC game on Thanksgiving weekend.

    The amount of history on-screen during rivalry weekend is unmatched by any other sport on any other weekend. "Mommy, why do they play this game if they always lose it?" asks a little Golden Domer. Mommy answers, "This is our year, son, you just watch."

    Rivalry weekend is an annual test of how far your football program has actually come. Nobody plays you harder than your annual arch-rival. Even a bad season can feel good if you blow out your opponent on rivalry weekend.

    Many of these rivalry games have been taking place for over 100 years. With so much changing each year, these games conjure up unique memories of the years gone by.

    Where were you when Auburn spoiled Alabama's national championship season in 1989? You probably remember that. Where were you when they beat Kentucky that same year? Yeah, nobody cared then, either. (It wasn't basketball.)

Tailgating Weather

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    Toward October, fans all across the nation start to feel the "football front" sweep across America. From Florida to Oregon, the last remnants of summer fade into the past and the collegiate hoodies, gloves and toboggans all come out of the closet.

    Between October and early December, a bunch of people standing around a grill with paper plates just makes total sense. As the month of December wears on and the snow and ice pile up on and around that grill, cookouts become less and less common.

    Late November is the perfect time to tailgate, fire up a grill or just generally enjoy the texture and scent of the fall-to-winter air. You will never hear of games being played on the "frozen tundra" of any field in November. From Happy Valley to the Rose Bowl, the weather is perfect.

    It's called football weather, and rivalry weekend provides the best football of the season. The January playoffs for the NFL don't even come close as far as tailgating is concerned.

    November weather > January weather

Passion

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    There is no more passionate weekend in college football than rivalry weekend. During the regular season, you run across heated rivalries from time to time. Notre Dame vs. Michigan qualifies, as do many other games throughout the year.

    On rivalry weekend, though, there are houses, families, couches, pets and entire yards divided between bitter rivals. For one afternoon, relationships across the nation are suspended pending the outcome of these rivalry games.

    The wife gets the cat and the fish and roots for Auburn while the husband roots for Alabama with the dog and the chinchilla. The children pick sides, either using food or the pets to make the ultimate game-time decision as to what team they will pull for.

    Nobody really cares whether Ohio State beats the UAB Blazers in the middle of the season. Almost everyone within 300 miles of the game cares whether the Buckeyes beat Michigan, especially if Ohio State and Michigan enter the game undefeated.

Upsets

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    The prearranged rivalries that always occur do not take into account any team's projected talent. Alabama played Auburn in 2010, when both teams were similarly equipped. Championship hopefuls take on bowl-ineligible teams each and every year.

    For instance, undefeated Notre Dame will take on the four-loss USC Trojans. With a win, the Irish will likely punch their ticket to Miami. If USC wins, then they have just played spoiler to the Notre Dame championship run of 2012.

    Upsets don't mean nearly as much in any other week than they do in the final week of the season. In 1989, an 8-2 Auburn team took down an undefeated Alabama to spoil a potential national championship run.

    Victory is much sweeter when you are severely outmatched. Yes, upsets can occur in any weekend of college football, but that isn't really the point. If Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame or Georgia gets knocked off by their rival, they will hear about it for months to come...constantly.

Proximity

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    Many college football rivalries are in-state. South Carolina has a major in-state rivalry with Clemson, Alabama has Auburn, Georgia has Georgia Tech, Florida has Florida State and there are many more.

    Some of the most heated rivalries in sports are between two schools in close proximity to one another, and it creates a rivalry that takes on a life of its own. Ohio State and Michigan aren't in-state, but they are close.

    The rivalry gets talked about for the entire year, and it's a whole lot of fun. If Michigan defeats Ohio State this year, the rival fan bases will have lots of exchanges like this:

    Michigan fan: We beat the crap out of you this year.

    Ohio State fan: So what? We only had one loss. We would have played in a BCS bowl if we were eligible.

    With an Iron Bowl win over Alabama, Auburn would be able to claim the "state championship" for a year. The rivalries themselves create an atmosphere of anticipation unmatched in any other sport. (Basketball has a couple of city rivalries like the Lakers and Clippers, but not nearly as many as college football.)

    Intertwined fanbases make rivalry weekend something truly special in the world of sports.

Lack of Professional Teams

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    Some states have a lack of professional teams, such as Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska, Virginia, West Virginia, Oregon and Oklahoma.

    Without a local pro team to root for, college sports take over those states. The absence of a pro team makes the rivalries a great source of entertainment. Oregon vs. Oregon State, Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State and others create a "state championship" situation that carries from year to year.

    Without exaggeration, these state championships are the biggest sporting events of the year for each of these states. Where the NFL doesn't have a team, there are plenty of colleges ready to offer football fans something to watch.

    Rivalry weekend certainly doesn't disappoint when it comes to quality games. Most of these states probably don't even care that they don't have an NFL team.

Guaranteed Quality Cross-Conference Matches Annually

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    While teams like Oregon, Kansas State and Alabama play a few out-of-conference foes each year that are much lower quality than these teams should be playing, there are plenty of quality cross-conference matches that occur every single year. Just during rivalry weekend, here they are:

    South Carolina vs. Clemson

    Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

    Florida vs. Florida State

    Vanderbilt vs. Wake Forest

    Notre Dame vs. USC*

    Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Florida State all have BCS hopes riding on the results of rivalry weekend.

    Not every year gives us a rivalry weekend with BCS hopes on the line for more than one team, much less five teams across three games.

    Every year, the ACC and the SEC clash on rivalry weekend, and it's almost always a fireworks show. Streaks come and go, and so do champions. BCS at-large bids are won and lost in some of those games every year, even as conference championship runs remain intact.

    For instance, if Florida State loses to Florida, the Seminoles would still be the favorite to win the ACC title. However, if the Seminoles won, the Gators would likely be knocked out of the BCS picture.

    Quality matches that reach across conference barriers don't happen that often outside of rivalry weekend. That's what makes the weekend so special.

    *Notre Dame vs. USC would be cross-conference if Notre Dame were to join a conference.

Sheer Number of Games

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    Rivalry weekend is home to a 57-game schedule, according to ESPN.com. Not all of those are true rivalries, but here is a short list of some of the themed rivalries going down this week (not including the cross-conference matches already covered):

    Purdue vs. Indiana

    Washington vs. Washington State

    Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State

    Tennessee vs. Kentucky

    Oregon vs. Oregon State

    LSU vs. Arkansas

    Alabama vs. Auburn

    If you include the cross-conference games from the previous slide, that's a total of 12 games between major rivals.

    To put that into perspective, the NFL playoffs only allow 12 teams to battle for two spots in the Super Bowl. There are as many long-standing rivalries taking place this week as there are teams in the playoffs.

    Winner: rivalry weekend.

Music

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    If there's one thing that rivalry weekend inspires, it's great performances by the marching bands. With visiting recruits in attendance, it's important to make a great impression on them in every way possible.

    One of the ways you can do that is with a stellar performance during the halftime show. Yes, there's an advantage for the home team, but that's why most of these rivalries switch fields every year.

    Others are played on a neutral field every year, which gives both bands an equal opportunity to impress. Marching bands may not be the biggest bargaining chip that a team can bring to the table, but it sure makes a heck of a tiebreaker.

    Ohio State is a prime example. "The Best Damn Band in the Land" steps out onto the field, and there are few words that describe what transpires. The most fitting word would be "concert," but that word has lost all meaning (link to dictionary.com entry) due to overuse by the pop music industry.

    The "real" definition is all the way down at third now, and that is:

    3. agreement of two or more individuals in a design or plan; combined action; accord or harmony
    Ohio State's marching band acts in concert like few bands across the country. The quality of performance really fits the band's name every time they step onto the field. The Buckeyes aren't the only ones that field a top-notch band, either. There are dozens of bands across the nation that are of the same quality, even though their director may not be as good.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

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    While some coaches have already been terminated (Joker Phillips and Derek Dooley), others can give the schools a solid reason to let them stay.

    While this is unlikely, Auburn's Gene Chizik could pour some water on his hot seat with a win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

    The same can be said for many coaches across the nation. Lane Kiffin, who is reportedly on a warm seat, could cool his down with a win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (After all the sanctions that have hung over the program, it would surprise me if he were really on the hot seat. Just to be bowl-bound after all that trash is an accomplishment.)

    There are many teams with horrible records this season. Rivalry weekend gives everyone from the coaches to the fans a reason to hold their heads up high and say, "We may have sucked this year, but it could have been worse."

    Sometimes, a rivalry win is all that's needed to turn a lost season into proof of improvement.

Divisional Battles Galore

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    Stanford can still find a way to make Oregon the Pac-12 North Division champion. All the Cardinal would have to do is lose to UCLA to put the Ducks in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl.

    Of course, if the Cardinal beat UCLA, the reward would be a Pac-12 title game the very next week. It would be *drum roll* Stanford vs. UCLA. Ta-daa!

    Other divisional battles on the line include the SEC West Division, as an Alabama loss would create the dreaded three-way tie in the west. (LSU beat Texas A&M and lost to Alabama, Texas A&M beat Alabama and lost to LSU and Alabama beat LSU and lost to Texas A&M.) Tiebreakers are fun, aren't they?

    Of course, if Nebraska finds a way to lose to Iowa, then the Michigan Wolverines could go to the Big Ten championship game by upsetting the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    Basically, the Rose Bowl is completely up for grabs. Six teams are in contention for that bowl alone, and two will be eliminated this weekend. Some of these scenarios are unlikely, but an SEC team in the national title game was unlikely entering last week, right?

It's a Great Excuse Not to Go Shopping

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    Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest shopping day of the year. Historically, there used to be huge deals on that day, but the savings has dropped considerably since 2006. (Personal experience reading the fliers each year for electronics.)

    There are deals to be found, and there's always someone in the family that wants to go shopping. They didn't care enough to camp out the night before, but after the gigantic lines have already formed, they want to go "see what's left."

    While it may be a fine response to the average family member, "We're not doing that crap" is not likely to go over well with a spouse or significant other. That's when you get to break out the trump card: "I would have camped out if you wanted to, but I can't go today. The game starts at (insert kickoff time here)."

    If they didn't camp out and they're not leaving until after they've woken up on Friday, the truth is that there's no way they'll be home before kickoff. The latest game involving a top-25 team starts at 8 p.m. (ET). There's no way you get home before then if you leave anywhere after 9 a.m.

    Furthermore, there's no way you find any really great deals worth going out for if you leave after 9 a.m. (Trust me, the laptop I've written all 200 of my Bleacher Report articles with cost me $250 over three years ago. I know Black Friday shopping.)

    *In the next five slides, we will cover the five biggest games of rivalry weekend to show that there's no sports weekend that can compete with the level of football that goes on every year.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines: "The Game"

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    What's on the line: Ohio State's perfect record and an outside shot at the Rose Bowl for Michigan.

    Undefeated Ohio State is under sanctioning, and Michigan has already lost three games this season. While that may look bad on the surface, two of Michigan's losses came to the current BCS No. 1 and No. 2 teams, Notre Dame and Alabama.

    Michigan has only one conference loss, and a win here would really make the season special for Michigan fans. While the conference championship is not a realistic goal (Nebraska would have to lose to the 4-7 Iowa Hawkeyes for Michigan to get in), taking down the Buckeyes is a perfectly reasonable request.

    Ohio State has won five games this season by a touchdown or less, even taking Purdue and Wisconsin both into overtime to find the win.

    Michigan has the talent to get the win over Ohio State, and the Wolverines have played with far less motivation all year long than they will against the Buckeyes.

    The same can be said of the Buckeyes, though and beating Michigan is simply a way of life at Ohio State. If Urban Meyer really wants to see what an upset fanbase sounds like, he'll lose to Michigan after an 11-0 start to the season.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. USC Trojans

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    While the rivalry doesn't have a catchy nickname, it doesn't really need one. Especially this season, with so much riding on the game.

    What's on the line: Notre Dame's national championship berth and USC's pride.

    After entering the season as the favorite to end the SEC's streak of national championships, USC has fallen to a 7-4 record entering rivalry weekend.

    While the national championship season was lost long ago, a great feat of redemption would be handing the BCS No. 1 Irish their only loss of the regular season. That will be tougher than originally expected, as Matt Barkley will not be playing in the game.

    The Fighting Irish are all set to play in the national championship if they defeat the Trojans. In fact, there's a potential "Game of the Millennium" brewing if the chips fall just right. The first step is for Notre Dame to take down USC.

    After that, it's all up to another team, who will be covered later in the show.

Oregon Ducks vs. Oregon State Beavers: "The Civil War"

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    What's on the line: Oregon's decent shot at the Rose Bowl.

    Stanford beat both Oregon and Oregon State already, so the Cardinal are set for the Pac-12 title game if they can get past UCLA this week.

    However, if the Oregon Ducks can rebound after last week's loss to the Cardinal, they have a shot at the Pac-12 title game. All they would need is for UCLA to beat Stanford this week.

    If Oregon were to drop a second game in a row, Stanford would have virtually no choice but to represent the Pac-12 North Division in the conference championship.

    Oregon's Rose Bowl hopes are still very much alive, but a win over Oregon State is the only portion of the equation that they control.

    Welcome to rivalry weekend, folks. Even the games that "shouldn't" matter suddenly do matter. For this game, that's mostly thanks to the fact that Oregon State has been playing some excellent football all year long.

South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Clemson Tigers

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    South Carolina and Clemson is one of the most heated rivalries in the southeast. South Carolina has no professional football team, though the Carolina Panthers were named as such to reflect representation of both states.

    The fact that the Panthers are located in Charlotte, North Carolina tends to identify them with the northern of the two states. Plus, South Carolina and Clemson have been battling since 1896. You don't replace a rivalry like that without putting a pro football team right in the middle of South Carolina.

    What's on the line: Both teams' bid for a BCS at-large bid.

    With Clemson sitting at No. 11 and South Carolina sitting at No. 12 in the BCS Standings" href="http://espn.go.com/college-football/rankings" target="_blank">latest BCS Standings, the loser of this game runs the high risk of dropping out of the top 16. Clemson may barely survive and move into the BCS anyway, but it's unlikely.

    South Carolina is behind five other SEC squads on the BCS list. Carolina's shot at the Sugar Bowl is a long one, at best, but a loss here would absolutely kill its chances.

    A team from the Palmetto State could make the BCS. This game will probably decide which team that could be.

Florida Gators vs. Florida State Seminoles

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    BCS No. 4 Florida and BCS No. 10 Florida State face off during rivalry weekend to determine who the state's best football team is. (Traditionally, the Miami Hurricanes are in this mix, but they're lagging a bit behind the other schools in their rise to the top.)

    What's on the line: Florida's probable spot in the Sugar Bowl and long shot for the national championship game.

    Whether Alabama or Georgia wins the SEC championship game (assuming they make it through rivalry weekend with wins), the loser will fall behind Florida if the Gators beat the Seminoles. The SEC champion will likely go to the national championship game.

    That will leave the Sugar Bowl wide-open for the next-highest-ranked SEC team. With a win over Florida State, that would be the Florida Gators.

    Interestingly enough, Florida sits at No. 4 behind Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia. During rivalry weekend, if Notre Dame loses and Georgia, Alabama and Florida all win, things could get extremely interesting.

    Since Oregon is right behind Florida in the rankings, it bears mentioning that Florida faces No. 10 while Oregon faces No. 15 this weekend. Even if Oregon beats Oregon State, it's unlikely the Ducks will jump the Gators.

    If the top three SEC teams win, and Notre Dame loses, another all-SEC national championship game looks like a real possibility. If that's not something that interests you, you just became a de facto Notre Dame fan for a week.

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers: "The Iron Bowl"

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    What's on the line: Alabama's berth in the SEC championship and potential shot at a repeat national title.

    Auburn has some serious talent in its locker room. No, the season's 3-8 record with no conference wins does not reflect that. You see, with the Iron Bowl, things like that don't matter.

    Back in 2009, Auburn got out to a quick 14-0 lead over the Tide due to a perfectly executed on-side kick that led to the second touchdown just minutes into the game. Alabama took the entire game to close the gap, and Greg McElroy still had to orchestrate a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. At the time of kickoff, Auburn was 7-4 and had even lost to Kentucky. Alabama was 11-0.

    In 2010, the Tide had a 24-0 lead over the Auburn Tigers led by Cam Newton. Before halftime, Newton and company cut that lead. By the end of the game, the Tigers had settled for a 28-27 victory and an eventual trip to face Oregon in the national title game.

    The Iron Bowl likes to destroy statistics majors. It breaks them down and makes them cry. Once in a while, the score "makes sense," like last year's 42-14 blowout by the Tide. However, that's pretty darn rare. Every member of Auburn's staff, from Gene Chizik to the ball boy, is looking for redemption. A win over 'Bama would give them that.

    Look for every play that has tripped 'Bama up throughout the season. Auburn will break out the entire bag of everyone's tricks to try to knock the Tide out of title contention, conference or national. It's always exciting.

All of This Happens in One Weekend

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    Okay, so we've just covered enough excitement to account for weeks of any other sport. From the World Series to the NBA Finals, you could piece together a 25-page article that could get you this excited about all those sports combined.

    That's college football's ultimate trump card. This happens every year. Sometimes it happens more than once, as we have seen throughout 2012. Starting with Louisiana-Monroe over then-No. 8 Arkansas, the upsets flowed week after week, with little exception.

    Just when everyone thought the SEC's national championship streak was definitely ending, the conference is back in the mix. (This doesn't mean they'll win, but they will probably be represented.)

    Rivalry weekend is loaded with a ridiculous amount of talented teams that play their hardest game of the season against the team that likely is filled with a bunch of players they were also recruiting.

    There is no stage that is more intensely set in any other sport, and this happens every year with zero exceptions. Welcome aboard the college football fan bandwagon. You're going to have a lot of fun crammed into six all-too-short months.