College Football Rivalry Games That Won't Even Be Close in 2017

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2017

College Football Rivalry Games That Won't Even Be Close in 2017

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Every year, you look forward to them—not only because every college football game is important, but also because it means year-round bragging rights.

    It's the rivalry game, and they're waged all across the sport every season.

    As a matter of fact, rivalry games by nature are often competitive; you can throw out the record books. Many times, they're with neighboring states or teams from within the same borderscivil wars waged on the gridiron.

    But what happens when the games aren't competitive? Fans get mad, coaches get fired and things generally spiral out of control. It's not normally a good thing to fail to at least hold up your end of the side of the rivalry. When teams get blown out, things get ugly.

    So, what teams are on "anger watch" in 2017? Let's take a look at some rivalry games that won't be that close in the upcoming season and why.

Tennessee at Alabama (Oct. 21)

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    For years, the Third Saturday in October was one of the most famed, fearsome rivalries in all of college football, known for its competitiveness and characterized by streaks.

    Then, Nick Saban came along. 

    Since then, the Volunteers haven't had any luck against their hated rivals to the South.

    But Alabama has been the least of their troubles. The Vols have wandered in football's wilderness, moving from coach to coach and failing to throw up much resistance to a Crimson Tide program that has consistently become college football's best. 

    It has been 10 years since the Vols beat 'Bama. It's not that they've just lost, either. They've been embarrassed, losing by an average of 35-11 since last winning 16-13 way back in 2006.

    That streak is only going to get longer in 2017.

    Though head coach Butch Jones has returned the Vols to respectability, they still aren't yet on UA's level.

    They proved that last year. When UT had a chance to prove it had closed the gap with all that talent in '16, injuries and ineptitude got in the way. The Tide rolled 49-10 in Knoxville, taking all the momentum from a 6-1 start to the year and stifling it.

    From there, UT coach Butch Jones and the Vols had a rocky finish, and now, they've got a lot of new faces. Meanwhile, Alabama returns quarterback Jalen Hurts, its full stable of offensive playmakers and still a ton of talent in its defensive factory.

    None of that bodes well for the Vols as they travel to Tuscaloosa where Alabama will make it 11 in a row.

Pittsburgh at Penn State (Sept. 9)

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    Before Penn State made its magical run that ended with a frenetic Rose Bowl loss after winning the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions were limping along through a bad beginning to the 2016 season.

    In that time, they lost 42-39 to rival Pittsburgh in the schools' first meeting on the field since 2000. It had been a storied rivalry that saw the two Pennsylvania teams battle to plenty of close meetings in a series the Nittany Lions lead 50-43-4.

    That loss wound up stinging even more in the long run as PSU's end to the season could have proved it belonged in the College Football Playoff. That loss to the Panthers probably kept them out.

    They'll exact revenge in 2017.

    Though this is normally a game where the records can be thrown out, PSU head coach James Franklin simply returns too much offensive talent with which Pitt can't contend, especially considering all the talent losses for the Panthers.

    PSU quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley and a stable of able receivers could shred a Pitt defense that must find playmakers. Also, the Panthers lost star quarterback Nathan Peterman, running back James Conner and offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

    One team has to deal with too much change while the other is gearing up for a championship run. That doesn't bode well for the Panthers.

Oregon State at Oregon (Nov. 24)

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    Just how ugly can things get when you lose a rivalry game?

    Ask the mighty Oregon Ducks, a once-proud program that faltered to a 4-8 record last year that saw head coach Mark Helfrich fired because he took a team that had been consistently playing for important hardware and all of a sudden was getting embarrassed.

    A 34-24 loss to Oregon State in Corvallis last season likely helped usher out the inevitable. The Oregonian's Ken Goe chronicled the end of the Helfrich era after the loss in the "Civil War":

    Helpless is not a good look for an FBS football team that was playing for the national title less than two years ago. It felt a lot like the end of the Helfrich/Chip Kelly era, when the Ducks made up for what they didn't have with flash, flair and innovation. There is nothing flashy about being knocked on your posterior on play after play after play.

    The Beavers aren't a bad program, seemingly on the rise under head coach Gary Andersen. But 2016 felt like a blip on the radar screen for the Ducks, who went out and made one of college football's best hires by bringing in offensive-minded head coach Willie Taggart from South Florida.

    All Taggart does it win. He rebuilt the Bulls after taking Western Kentucky to new heights. He also went out and pegged Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to be his defensive coordinator in Eugene. He's got his work cut out for him to transform a historically horrible Ducks defense from '16.

    But the duo is capable. They'll make things a lot better in Oregon this year, even if the Ducks aren't competing for the title. A season-ending domination of Oregon State at home will leave a sweet taste in the mouths of Ducks fans desiring a quick fix.

USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 21)

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    For years, these two storied programs have traveled cross-country to take on one another each season. 

    This season, USC has to take its national title hopes on the road to South Bend to take on a Fighting Irish program just looking for some sort of rebound under embattled coach Brian Kelly, whose team doesn't look like the one that was playing for the national title in 2013.

    The Irish went 4-8 last season, and while Notre Dame will get things back on track with a winning record this season, they won't be able to compete with the Trojans, who look like a national title contender with quarterback Sam Darnold at the helm.

    Clay Helton has his USC team rolling, and with so much offensive talent and playmakers returning, they'll have enough to overcome the departures of staples such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree' Jackson. 

    By the time USC rolls into Notre Dame, the Trojans will be humming right along. Though the Irish have won four of the past seven meetings, this year's game will look a lot like last season's. In that one, Jackson scored two special teams touchdowns and caught a scoring pass in a 45-27 win.

    He may be gone, but returning is running back Ronald Jones II, who rushed for 134 yards. He should run roughshod over a rebuilding defense again this year.

    It won't be close. Again.

Oklahoma at Texas (Oct. 14)

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    Tom Herman is going to bring plenty of heat and headlines to Texas this year as the Longhorns are going to be on the tips of everybody's tongues again following the forgettable tenure of Charlie Strong.

    But they aren't ready to win big. Simply put: They aren't ready to beat the big boys like the hated rival Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Rivalry.

    This is truly one of those games that always winds up close, as the past four years show. Even during the tough times, Texas-Oklahoma is tight. Last year, the Sooners squeaked out a 45-40 win. The year before, the 'Horns won 24-17. The year before, OU won 31-26, and the year before that, UT won 36-20.

    In 2017, there are just too many variables for Texas to hang. 

    The Sooners return quarterback Baker Mayfield and have a bunch of talented, potentially elite offensive players to replace stat-rakers such as Dede Westbrook and running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.

    Texas is going to beat some teams it shouldn't this year, and Herman is going to make an impact that will continue to grow over the next couple of years. But for a team still trying to settle on a quarterback and learn the nuances of a new system, helmed by Herman and new coordinator Tim Beck, it won't be pretty.

    By the end of the year, Texas will know who its playmakers are and the guys around which it will build Herman's strong era. But those decisions won't be known by mid-October, and Bob Stoops' team will take advantage of that.

Florida State at Florida (Nov. 25)

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    Even though the Florida Gators have been the beast of the SEC East the past couple of seasons, they've still not been able to crack the code on Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles.

    As a matter of fact, Florida State owns the Gators as of late, winning the past four games against the bitter rivals and six of the past seven. In the current streak, three of those games weren't even close. FSU won 31-13 a year ago, 27-2 in '15 and 37-7 in '13.

    Now, take into consideration that Florida has no idea who its quarterback is going to be, hasn't yet defined who its playmakers are going to be on offense and has lost the bulk of the defensive stars who carried the Gators to the vast majority of their wins in the first two years of the Jim McElwain era.

    There's just not enough talent on Florida's roster to keep things close this November.

    The Seminoles will be returning second-year quarterback Deondre Francois, along with an improved offensive line and a bunch of defensive stars. Though Dalvin Cook is gone to the NFL, stud freshman Cam Akers, junior Jacques Patrick and others will fill in nicely.

    This game has the potential to be a three-score finale. By the end of the season, Fisher's team will be playing for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Even though the Gators may be in the mix for a spot in the SEC Championship Game, they won't be able to keep it close yet again against FSU.

    The 'Noles are dominating Florida on the recruiting trail, and it's translating on the field.

    "McElwain's longevity in Gainesville will ultimately be determined by his ability to compete and beat Jimbo—during the first week in February and the last week in November," wrote Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi after Florida's loss last year.

California at Stanford (Nov. 18)

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    Christian McCaffrey is gone and is not running through that kick defense for another special teams touchdown.

    That won't matter in the least.

    Though the defenseless era of Sonny Dykes is over in Berkeley, the remnants of his tenure will be felt for a while, though the Justin Wilcox era will probably shore up that area in the next couple of seasons. He won't be able to rebuild the Bears on that side of the ball in time for it to make much of a difference in 2017.

    When you also factor in that quarterback Davis Webb is out of eligibility and Cal has plenty of questions on offense as well, that doesn't bode well for its rivalry game against Stanford.

    Cardinal coach David Shaw has one of the most consistent programs in the country, and though Stanford will have to replace its do-it-all star in McCaffrey, the Cardinal actually should be a better all-around team in 2017.

    Shaw has done an exceptional job rebuilding his team through recruiting, and Stanford looks like a team ready to break out. By the end of the season, a lot of the young stars in a strong '17 recruiting class will be on the field and shining, especially across that offensive front.

    The Cardinal beats teams with discipline, toughness and terror in the trenches. Those are just the places where Cal is weak. Though Wilcox will try to establish that mentality in the future, it's going to be difficult to transform a program in a year.

    That will manifest itself in a lopsided score when the Bears travel to Palo Alto.

Wisconsin at Minnesota (Nov. 25)

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    In the world of the Big Ten, where the bulk of the talk centers around Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Penn State's James Franklin, there are plenty of other coaches deserving of headlines.

    One you don't hear about too often is Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who quietly has continued the silent but violent power program in the conference. All the Badgers do is win, and even though they haven't quite made it to the sport's pinnacle, they're consistently strong.

    That will be the case again in 2017 with a lot of defensive playmakers returning as well as some steady difference-makers on offense like quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

    It's the mixture of players who'll help the Badgers blitz Minnesota this year. The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe will stay with Wisconsin for the 14th consecutive year. The Golden Gophers haven't claimed it since 2003, and they've only won that game twice in the past 22 years.

    With new coach P.J. Fleck at the helm of the Gophers, they feel they'll be firmly in the conference mix soon enough. And they may. But the loss of players such as quarterback Mitch Leidner, along with much of the defensive line and secondary, will be difficult to overcome.

    One positive for Fleck is the fact that he has one of the best running back duos in the conference in Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, but it's difficult to see them gaining too much traction against Wisconsin's stout front seven.

    All that equals an eighth consecutive double-digit loss to the Badgers.


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