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Top storylines for college football’s Rivalry Week

Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh will clash in college football Week 12
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Huge questions that must be answered.

Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh will clash in college football Week 12

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Rivalry Week is finally here, and with it comes some huge questions that must be answered before the College Football Playoff picture can be completed.

Michigan and Ohio State will play “The Game” for the right to play in the Big Ten Championship. Auburn will attempt to knock ‘Bama off its perch as the top team in the nation in the Iron Bowl. West Virginia will try to play spoiler against Oklahoma and reach the Big 12 Championship Game. USC is going to do its best to upset Notre Dame.

These are just a few of the huge games on the slate in college football Week 13, which is better known as Rivalry Week.

 

UCF tries to keep the streak alive

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Rodney Dangerfield of the college football world UCF Knights are going for their 11th win in a row this year, and 24th overall extending back to the start of last season.

Standing in the way of their continued success is a South Florida program, led by Charlie Strong, that has underwhelmed all year long. Last Saturday’s bad loss to Temple was the Bulls’ fourth straight defeat, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to hang with the Knights on either side of the ball.

The expectation here is that McKenzie Milton and Co. will run roughshod over their in-state rival on Black Friday. Whether that gets the attention of the selection committee remains to be seen.

 

Prairie Mountain Rivalry should be a barn burner extraordinaire

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If you happened to be watching the epic Monday night matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, then you got a taste of what’s likely to come on Friday evening when West Virginia hosts Oklahoma.

Neither the Sooners nor the Mountaineers feature defenses that have been overly successful at keeping opponents from racking up points on the scoreboard. And these two offenses, led by two of the most dangerous passers in the nation — Will Grier and Kyler Murray — make putting up 50-burgers look easy.

In the end, it might just be Murray’s ability to do things with his legs (like this) that puts the Sooners over the top. The winner of this game will go on to play in the Big 12 Championship Game with an outside shot of making it into the College Football Playoff.

 

Wazzu on the cusp heading into the Apple Cup

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cougars do manage to win out — beating Washington on Friday night and then Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game — they will have a chance to sneak into the playoff. They’ll need some help, of course, because right now one-loss teams Oklahoma, Georgia and Michigan are all ahead of them in the eyes of the committee.

Washington State must first handle its own business, of course. The Huskies aren’t quite as good this year as they’ve been in recent years but are still a dangerous opponent and are going to be fighting tooth and claw to earn a ticket to the conference title game.

The strength-versus-strength battle between Heisman candidate Gardner Minshew and the Cougars’ offense and the stout Huskies’ defense should be fantastic. It’s tough to bet against the ‘stache, though, as Minshew has his team on an incredible roll right now.

If the Cougars lose, then the Pac-12 will have absolutely no chance to be represented in the final four.

 

Gamecocks looking to crash Clemson’s party

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There’s only been one team this year that can boast the same level of week-in, week-out domination we’ve seen from Alabama. That team is obviously Clemson, which has already punched its ticket to the ACC Championship Game.

However, if South Carolina somehow conjures a method of slowing this juggernaut down and pulls off the stunning upset, the entire playoff picture would be thrown for a loop. Imagine, just for a moment, that Clemson loses. Then imagine that Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game while Notre Dame and Michigan wins out.

Even if the Tigers went on to beat Pitt in the ACC title game, it’s not a guarantee they’d get into the playoff in that scenario. So, it’s vitally important that Dabo Swinney and Co. take the Gamecocks seriously.

 

FSU with its back against the wall to get into a bowl game

Joe Rondone/Tallahasse Democrat via USA TODAY NETWORK

Florida State did not fare well this past month going up against the likes of Clemson, NC State and Notre Dame. Going into Week 12, it appeared the Seminoles’ chances of earning a bowl bid had already gone out the window and were being swept away for good. Then, a rousing win over Boston College gave Willie Taggart some hope.

Saturday’s game in Tallahassee is huge. If Florida State can beat in-state rival Florida in the Sunshine Showdown, it will finish the season with six wins. And while expectations were much higher than that to open the season, in hindsight this would be a tremendous accomplishment.

Of course, the Gators are formidable, and it’s going to take nothing but FSU’s best to pull off the upset. Even on the road, Florida is favored to win by nearly a touchdown.

 

Can Auburn pull off another Iron Bowl stunner?

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers aren’t as dangerous this year as they were a year ago, but it would be foolish to believe they don’t have at least a puncher’s chance to stun the Crimson Tide once again. After all, only a week ago, The Citadel gave ‘Bama a run for its money during the first half. So, anything’s possible.

Oh, who are we kidding? Of course Alabama will win.

The Tide are at home, and last weekend’s embarrassing first half was just what the doctor ordered to keep this team in the right mindset the rest of the season. Featuring one of the most-potent offenses in the nation and one of its most uncompromising defenses, Alabama will almost certainly roll over Auburn in blowout fashion.

 

Mountain West Mountain division up for grabs

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night’s game between Utah State and Boise State might end up being one of the best of Rivalry Week. The Mountain West Mountain division is the prize given to the winner.

Currently, the Aggies are undefeated in conference play and have lost just once this season. Featuring a very formidable defense and an offense that scores 49 points per game, they can drop the hammer on opponents. However, Colorado State nearly beat them last weekend, so there obviously is some vulnerability there.

On the other side, the Broncos are always dangerous at home and are actually favored to win by a field goal. With six straight wins under their belt, including a huge victory over Fresno State, they have gotten hot at the right time.

 

Fighting Irish win against USC and they’re in

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This one’s real simple. If Notre Dame beats its rival on Saturday in Los Angeles, then the Fighting Irish are in the College Football Playoff. Last weekend’s impressive display of dominance over Syracuse left no doubt about that.

And on paper, this should be a cakewalk for the Irish. USC is floundering, having lost two straight and four of its last five games. Head coach Clay Helton’s job is on the line, regardless of what the program says publicly. And based on what we’ve seen from the Trojans this year, they don’t have what it takes — on either side of the ball — to knock of Notre Dame.

 

Fun Belt showdown between Troy and Appalachian State

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Appalachian State has owned the Sun Belt the past two years and has been one of the most formidable Group of Five teams in the FBS since 2015. Troy, which famously took out LSU last year and upset Nebraska while taking a big chunk of cash again this year, stands in the way of a three-peat in the Sun Belt East for the Mountaineers.

Raw numbers suggest the home team will prevail. The Mountaineers score more points, allow fewer points and are extremely good defensively, allowing just 282 yards per game. However, the Trojans haven’t lost in conference play yet this season and have displayed a penchant for showing up big in big games the past couple of seasons.

For what it’s worth, the last time Troy traveled to Appalachian State, it lost by three points in triple-overtime.

 

‘The Game’ is so huge this year

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College football fans will get to eat their desert before dinner on Saturday, because “The Game” between Michigan and Ohio State is taking place at noon, ET.

The winner will advance to the Big Ten Championship Game and face Northwestern. Obviously, that team will have the inside track to make it into the College Football Playoff, while the loser will almost certainly be on the outside looking in.

Michigan features the nation’s best defense and has an offense that has gotten better as the season has progressed. Ohio State has been stumbling and bumbling its way through the schedule, sometimes winning more due to luck than anything else.

In addition to this game being of utmost importance on the national stage, these two teams quite simply do not like one another. Michigan’s Karan Higdon has already guaranteed that his team will prevail, and it’s hard to argue against him.

But anyone who thinks they’ve got college football figured out hasn’t watched very much of it. We can’t wait to see how the most important game of Rivalry Week plays out.

 

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