Where some folks’ Thanksgiving cornucopia is stuffed with gourds, grapes and corn, others are jam-packed with shiny cups, a Jeweled Shillelagh, a golden egg, a platypus and the axe of a certain legendary lumberjack.
Yes friends, its rivalry weekend: That magical mix of half-digested turkey, in-laws using your shower and top-tier college football between schools who celebrate the love of hate.
The added twist this year is the race to the College Football bracket, where these games mean not only bragging rights but also stand between top-ranked programs and the chance to play for a national championship.
The national TV picture is oozing with goodness in Week 13, beginning with a pair of Thanksgiving night games featuring Texas and Texas A&M, who used to meet annually on Turkey Day, but for now have alternate partners listed on their dance cards.
Friday’s schedule looks like a regular-season Saturday, running all-day with the highlights being Arizona-Arizona State (FOX) in the mid-afternoon and Virginia-Virginia Tech (ESPN) in primetime.
Saturday is about as good as it gets: Ohio State-Michigan (ABC), South Carolina-Clemson (ESPN) and Georgia-Georgia Tech (SEC Network) early, Florida-Florida State (ESPN), Mississippi State-Ole Miss (CBS), Notre Dame-USC (FOX) and Minnesota-Wisconsin (Big Ten Network) in the mid-afternoon and Auburn-Alabama (ESPN) and Oregon-Oregon State (ABC) in primetime.
Enjoy all the feasts that come with our national day of Thanksgiving and on a personal note, I’m thankful for your readership.
Thursday, Nov. 27
7:30PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 5 TCU (9-1) at TEXAS (6-5): TCU has only beaten Texas twice in the last 31 tries and hasn’t won in Austin since 1994. The Horned Frogs have to win this game, preferably with style points, to make headway in the race to the CFB Playoff. Remember that after this game TCU has Iowa State left in its finale, making the game with Texas its last opportunity to impress the committee vs. a team with a winning record. What’s intriguing about this matchup is pitting Gary Patterson’s No. 2-ranked scoring offense against Charlie Strong’s No. 24-ranked scoring defense. This is the best defense the Horned Frogs have faced or will face this season. On the flip side, check out TCU’s secondary, the same unit that has given up 340-plus passing yards in each of its last two outings, take on a Texas passing attack that continues to gain momentum, hanging up 305 yards on Oklahoma State last week.
7:30PM ET, ESPN: LSU (7-4) at TEXAS A&M (7-4): The Aggies have dropped three straight to the Tigers, last winning in 1995 in College Station. Tune in to see LSU’s No. 6 rank in pass defense tested against Texas A&M’s aerial attack, ranked No. 10 in the nation. The mismatch on the other side of the ball is the Tigers rushing attack, not necessarily Wisconsin but ranked No. 35 in the FBS take on the Aggies, ranked No. 106 vs. the run. Check out A&M wide receiver Josh Reynolds (#11), a sophomore and first-year starter who is tied for No. 3 in the nation in receiving touchdowns with 12.
Friday, Nov. 28
11:00AM EST, ESPNU: NORTHERN ILLINOIS (9-2) at WESTERN MICHIGAN (8-3): Things get kicked off an hour early on Friday with this MAC clash between perineal powerhouse Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, a team that has risen from the ashes for its best mark since going 9-4 in 2008. Check out the Huskies’ No. 18-ranked rushing attack—headlined by quarterback Drew Hare (#12) and running back Cameron Stingily (#42)—squaring off with a Bronco defense that has held its last four opponents to fewer than 90 yards rushing. On the flip side, check out Western Michigan true freshman running back Jarvion Franklin (#31), No. 7 in the FBS in yards per game (130.27) and No. 2 in rushing touchdowns (23). Only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon has scored more (25). If the Huskies win this game, they clinch the MAC West, if WMU wins and Toledo loses to Eastern Michigan, the Broncos claim the title and advance to the conference championship. NIU has won five straight vs. WMU, last dropping a game in 2008 in Kalamazoo.
12:00PM ET, ABC: NEBRASKA (8-3) at IOWA (7-4): Iowa won 38-17 in Lincoln last year, but hasn’t posted back-to-back wins over the Cornhuskers since 1943-44. The Huskers haven’t lost in Iowa City since falling 10-7 in 1981. After holding its first nine opponents to an average of 124 rushing yards, Nebraska has coughed up 581 and 281 ground yards in its last two outings, both losses. The good news is, this week it will square off with an Iowa rushing attack that ranks No. 71 in yards per game, averaging 157.6. The Hawkeye’s leading rusher is Mark Weisman (#45), No. 88 in yards per game (65.45), but No. 18 in rushing touchdowns (14). On the other side of the ball, Iowa’s No. 58-ranked rushing defense—the same unit that gave up 291 yards to Minnesota and 266 to Wisconsin—will have to deal with Nebraska’s ground attack, ranked No. 15 in the nation.
12:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: WESTERN KENTUCKY (6-5) at No. 24 MARSHALL (11-0): Here’s your chance not only to get a better look at undefeated Marshall, but to see it play against one of the best passing attacks in the country. Did you know that Western Kentucky has the No. 3-ranked aerial attack in college football and, did you know that the Thundering Herd rank No. 9 vs. the pass? Check out Hilltopper quarterback Brandon Doughty (#12), not only is he ranked No. 3 in the FBS in yards per game (350.3), he’s No. 7 in passer rating (160.10) and No. 1 in touchdown passes (36). For Marshall, keep an eye on cornerback Darryl Roberts (#7), who is tied for the most broken-up passes in the nation (13). It’s unfortunate that WKU’s defense has struggled epically (No. 116 in scoring, No. 115 vs. the run, No. 105 vs. the pass), otherwise this game would be a barnburner. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools, both members of the C-USA East division.
2:30PM ET, CBS: ARKANSAS (6-5) at No. 17 MISSOURI (9-2): The sixth-ever meeting, these two haven’t clashed since the 2008 Cotton Bowl when No. 7 Mizzou downed No. 25 Arkansas 38-7. The compelling matchup in this cross-division SEC clash is Arkansas’ No. 26-ranked ground attack squaring off with a Missouri defense that ranks No. 23 vs. the run. On the other side of the ball, the Razorbacks defense has pitched two consecutive SEC shutouts, rising to a No. 16 rank in scoring. This presents a huge challenge for a young Tiger offense that ranks No. 65 in scoring and No. 106 in passing yards per game. Check out Missouri defensive end Shane Ray (#56), No. 4 in the FBS in tackles for a loss (19.5) and No. 3 in sacks (12).
3:30PM ET, ABC: STANFORD (6-5) at No. 8 UCLA (9-2): Stanford has won six straight over UCLA, the Bruins last won in 2008. If UCLA wins this game it wins the Pac-12 South and advances to face Oregon in the conference championship game. This is a tremendous matchup between one of the best defenses in college football (Stanford is No. 6 in scoring) and one of the most explosive offenses (UCLA ranks No. 1 in 80-plus yard plays). What’s killed the Cardinal this season is offense, it ranks No. 89 in scoring, averaging 25.2 points per game, tied with Central Michigan and just slightly better than Iowa State. The key to beating UCLA is shoving the ball down its throats: Utah hung up 242 rushing yards on the Bruins in its 30-28 win and Oregon racked up 258 ground yards in its victory, both season worsts. The Cardinal rank No. 85 in rushing offense averaging 150 yards per game. Interestingly, the team’s No. 3 back is Barry Sanders (#26), son of Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders, winner of the 1988 Heisman trophy.
3:30PM ET, FOX: No. 13 ARIZONA STATE (9-2) at No. 11 ARIZONA (9-2): The Duel in the Desert for the Territorial Cup, the winner of this game will advance to the Pac-12 title game, but only if UCLA falls to Stanford. Both these teams have excellent passing attacks (Arizona State is No. 29 in passing yards while Arizona is No. 15) and questionable pass defenses (the Sun Devils are No. 110 vs. the pass while the Wildcats are No. 116). Look for the best secondary to win the day and the game. A potential unsung hero is Arizona cornerback Johnathan McKnight (#6), tied for No. 6 in the nation with 11 broken-up passes. Arizona State has won two straight and three of the last five, Arizona hasn’t captured the Cup at home since 2008.
8:00PM ET, ESPN: VIRGINIA (5-6) at VIRGINIA TECH (5-6): This year’s battle for the Commonwealth Cup is more than just an instate hate-match: A win is Virginia’s ticket to its first bowl game since the 2011 Chick-fil-A, while a loss for Virginia Tech equals the Hokies’ first bowl-less campaign since 1992. If that weren’t enough, the Cavaliers haven’t laid claim to the Cup in 10 long years, last winning in 2003. Virginia’s quest for what might be the biggest redemption win in Rivalry Weekend is limiting mistakes. The Cavaliers have finished on the wrong side of the turnover margin in five of their six losses this season and are 4-0 in games where they’ve finished on the plus-side. This sets up well against the Hokies, who with 22 giveaways rank No. 99 in the nation. Look out for Cavalier true freshman safety Quin Blanding (#3), No. 16 in the nation in tackles with 109. Virginia hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech in Blacksburg since 1998.
8:30PM ET, ESPNU: EAST CAROLINA (7-3) at TULSA (2-9): This game doesn’t provide the intrigue of others, but does provide a remote swap for the Virginia-Virginia Tech game. Tune in to see East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy (#2), who just last week broke the NCAA FBS record for career receptions. He and the Pirates’ No. 15-ranked passing attack should explode vs. a Tulsa defense that ranks No. 115 vs. the pass. Don’t forget Tulsa’s star receiver, Keevan Lucas (#2), who as a sophomore is No. 11 in receiving yards per game (103.1) and No. 5 in touchdowns (11). ECU is on a 4-0 streak vs. the Golden Hurricane, last dropping a game in 2006 and last losing in Tulsa in 2005.
Saturday, Nov. 29
12:00PM ET, ABC: MICHIGAN (5-6) at No. 6 OHIO STATE (10-1): Though Michigan upended Ohio State in “The Game” as recently as 2011, remember that it was the Wolverines’ only victory in the last 10 tries. Of all the things that have gone wrong for Michigan this season, it still has one of the best defenses in the biz: No. 21 in scoring, No. 9 vs. the run and No. 24 vs. the pass. This sets up deliciously with a Buckeye offense that is No. 5 in scoring. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State’s No. 30-ranked scoring D ought to shut Michigan’s No. 114 ranked scoring offense down. But, don’t forget that the Wolverines racked up 292 yards rushing in last week’s loss to Maryland, an interesting stat vs. an Ohio State defense that coughed up 218 and 281 yards rushing respectively to Minnesota and Indiana its last two outings. Though the Buckeyes are clearly the better team here expect this to be an absolute battle, the last three meetings have been decided by a total of 12 points.
12:00PM ET, SEC NETWORK: No. 16 GEORGIA TECH (9-2) at No. 9 GEORGIA (9-2): Georgia Tech has only beaten Georgia once in the last 13 tries, last winning in 2008 in Athens. This is the story of two elite rushing attacks (the Bulldogs rank No. 13 in rushing yards while the Yellow Jacket’s option attack ranks No. 4) taking on two decent rushing defenses. Though Georgia ranks No. 18 in scoring defense, its No. 54 vs. the run, giving up 418 in the loss to Florida and 214 in the blowout win over Kentucky. Georgia Tech is No. 58 vs. the run, allowing 200-plus ground yards three times this year: 271 to FCS Wofford, 283 to Georgia Southern and 242 to Duke. Potential game changers are Bulldog senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera (#52), who leads the team in tackles (93) and tackles for a loss (10) and Yellow Jacket true-freshman defensive end KeShun Freeman (#42), tied for a team-high eight tackles for loss and No. 2 in sacks with 3.5.
12:00PM ET, ESPN: SOUTH CAROLINA (6-5) at No. 21 CLEMSON (8-3): South Carolina has captured five straight Palmetto Bowl victories by an average 17 points, last losing 31-14 in 2008 at Clemson. The power matchup in this game is Clemson’s No. 8-ranked scoring defense taking on a South Carolina offense that ranks No. 32 in scoring. On the other side of the ball, tune in to see the Tigers’ young offense (ranked No. 60 in scoring) potentially look like Baylor vs. a Gamecock scoring defense that ranks No. 95. The outcome may hinge on whether Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (#4) is healthy enough to return to action in place of Cole Stoudt (#18), who threw three picks (two for touchdowns) in the 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech. Watson has completed 67% of his passes, thrown 12 touchdowns vs. only two picks and has a passer rating of 182.33. If he continues to progress into next season he’ll be a Heisman candidate.
12:00PM ET, ESPN2: KENTUCKY (5-6) at No. 22 LOUISVILLE (8-3): A win in this year’s Governor’s Cup is Kentucky’s ticket to its first bowl game since the 2010 Compass Bowl. The Wildcats have dropped three straight to the Cardinals, last winning in 2010 at Louisville. In order to have a shot, Kentucky must find a way to engineer points against a Cardinal D that ranks No. 13 in scoring and No. 3 vs. the pass—no small job for a Wildcat unit that ranks No. 72 in scoring. The good news is Louisville’s only relative defensive weakness (it ranks No. 35 vs. the pass) matches up well with Kentucky’s only offensive strength (it ranks No. 31 in passing yards). Wildcat quarterback Patrick Towles (#14) has thrown a pick in each of his last three outings (all losses) and will need to tread carefully vs. a Louisville D that ranks No. 1 in the FBS in interceptions (23). Check out Cardinal safety Gerod Holliman (#8), leading the nation with 13 interceptions including scoring two vs. Florida State and three vs. Boston College.
3:30PM ET, ESPN: FLORIDA (6-4) at No. 3 FLORIDA STATE (11-0): The visiting team has won the last three Governor’s Cups, the home side last winning in 2010 when the Seminoles iced the Gators 31-7 in Tallahassee. This will be an epic battle between Florida State’s No. 26-ranked scoring defense and Florida’s No. 23-ranked scoring offense. If the Gators can shut down the Noles through the air, things could get interesting if FSU’s No. 107-ranked rushing attack is forced to win the game against Florida’s No.12-ranked rushing defense. On the flip side, the Seminoles have given up 175-plus rushing yards in each of its last two outings, while the Gators have averaged 283 ground yards in their last three SEC games. Keep an eye on Florida defensive lineman Dante Fowler (#6), along with 11 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles he has a whopping 15 quarterback hurries this season, making him a dangerous adversary for a FSU offense that lives and dies by the play of Jameis Winston.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 4 MISSISSIPPI STATE (10-1) at No. 19 OLE MISS (8-3): The visitor has only won the Golden Egg trophy twice in the last 13 tries, most recently in 2012 when MSU travelled to Oxford and zapped the Rebels 41-24. Both these teams have stifling defenses (Mississippi State is No. 11 in scoring while Ole Miss is No. 1) but the Bulldogs have struggled against the pass (ranking No. 120 out of the 128 FBS teams). This leaving an opening for quarterback Bo Wallace (#14) to engineer an upset through the air. Keep in mind that after playing mistake-free ball vs. Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee, Wallace has thrown four picks in his last four outings, including tossing up two in the loss to Arkansas. This sets up interestingly for a Mississippi State defense that has five players with multiple interceptions, including defensive back Will Redmond (#2) and linebacker Richie Brown (#39) with three apiece.
3:30PM ET, ABC/ESPN2: No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (9-2) at PENN STATE (6-5): Don’t forget about this game hiding out over on ABC/ESPN2. These two haven’t squared off since 2010 when the Spartans won 28-22 in Happy Valley, Penn State has won five of the last seven. Though Michigan State is known for its defense, it’s Penn State that has the better D this season, ranked No. 4 in scoring, No. 1 vs. the run and No. 17 vs. the pass. This elite unit will be well tested against a Spartan attack that ranks No. 6 in scoring. Could this be the week that Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford (#33) has his eight-game streak of 100-plus yard performances snapped? It’s a shame that Penn State can’t score, averaging 20.6 points per game (No. 110), otherwise this would be a game of the century type matchup. Michigan State is ranked No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin, with 31 takeaways and only 12 giveaways it’s at an enviable plus-19.
3:30PM ET, ABC/ESPN2: No. 7 BAYLOR (9-1) vs. TEXAS TECH (4-7) (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas): Sixth consecutive meeting in Arlington, the Red Raiders won 15 straight from 1996-2010, but have dropped the last three to the Bears. This game sets up as a nightmare for Red Raider fans, who should ensure that their turkey is completely digested before tuning in. It’s Baylor’s No. 1-ranked scoring offense squaring off with Tech’s No. 126-ranked scoring defense in what should be a rout of epic proportions. Only Georgia State and SMU have allowed more points than has the generous Texas Tech D. The only chance for the Red Raiders is engineering an aerial attack of their own against the Bears’ No. 53 ranked pass defense, the same unit that coughed up 346 yards to TCU, 322 to West Virginia, 288 to Kansas and 281 to Oklahoma State. Football is a simple concept: The team that scores the most points wins—in this case you’ve got to figure that Tech would need 70 points to have a shot.
3:30PM ET, BIG TEN NETWORK: No. 18 MINNESOTA (8-3) at No. 14 WISCONSIN (9-2): The battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe (which will be hidden out of sight during the game to avoid any unsavory altercations), the winner of this game captures the Big Ten West division title and advances to face Ohio State in the conference championship game. Though these teams share similar DNA—rushing teams who solid defenses—Wisconsin is clearly the better team, at least on paper. Where the Gophers rank No. 25 in rushing yards, the Badgers rank No. 3. And, perhaps more importantly, where Minnesota ranks No. 30 in scoring defense, Wisconsin is No. 3. The wildcard in this matchup is turnovers: The Gophers are No. 6 in the nation while the Badgers are No. 77. What stands out here is fumbles: Minnesota ranks No. 8 in the nation in forced fumbles (15), making this no time for Wisconsin (ranked No. 70 in fumbles with 17 and No. 51 in fumbles lost with 8) to have a sloppy game.
3:30PM ET, FOX: NOTRE DAME (7-4) at USC (7-4): These two have been squaring off since 1926 and have played for the Jeweled Shillelagh (a bedazzled Irish club) since 1952. Tune in to see which of these two top 20 passing attacks can torch the opposing pass defense. The Trojans’ No. 20 ranked aerial attack will face Notre Dame’s No. 65 ranked pass defense, while the No. 16-ranked Irish passing offense will likely have a big day vs. USC’s No. 111 ranked secondary. Both these teams ought to be angry after losing last week and Notre Dame needs to win this game to avoid dropping four straight for the first time since 2009 when it lost consecutive games to Navy, Pitt, UConn and Stanford to close out the season. Check out Trojan sophomore safety Su’a Cravens (#21), he’s tied for the tenth-most tackles for a loss in the nation (15) and also has five sacks and eight broken-up passes.
4:00PM ET, SEC NETWORK: TENNESSEE (5-6) at VANDERBILT (3-8): Vandy has won the last two meetings but hasn’t won three in a row vs. Tennessee since 1923, 1925 and 1926. This game is huge for the Volunteers, who need a win to earn their first bowl bid since the 2010 Music City Bowl. The good news is, Vandy has struggled in every aspect of the game this season, ranking No. 106 in scoring defense and No. 121 in scoring offense. Tennessee’s passing attack ought to torch the Commodore’s secondary, ranked No. 108 vs. the pass. Keep an eye out for Tennessee true-freshman defensive end Derek Barnett (#9), tied for the fifth-most tackles for a loss in college football (18.5) and also has nine sacks (No. 12 in the FBS).
7:00PM ET, ESPN2: PITTSBURGH (5-6) at MIAMI FLA. (6-5): This game isn’t as sexy as the alternatives but it offers one of the best set of matchups of Week 14. One side, its Pitt’s No. 17-ranked rushing attack—led by James Conner (#24), No. 4 in the FBS in yards per game (145.45)—squaring off with a Miami D that is No. 30 vs. the run. Up next, it’s the Hurricanes’ rising passing attack—led by true-freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya (#15) tied for No. 18 in the nation in touchdown passes (23)—vs. a Panther defense that is No. 16 against the pass. These two met consecutively from 1993-2003 as Big East members, Pitt has only beaten Miami once in the last 17 times (in 1997) and hasn’t won in Coral Gables since 1963 when the Panthers went 9-1 and finished ranked No. 4 in the AP.
7:45PM ET, ESPN: No. 15 AUBURN (8-3) at No. 1 ALABAMA (10-1): The 74th Iron Bowl, Auburn won last season but Alabama has captured four of the last six. One thing we’ve learned about Auburn is that it doesn’t have an elite defense, meaning that it will have to play lights out to limit Alabama’s young offense to fewer than its average of 35 points per game. The real battle in this one is Auburn’s No. 9-ranked rushing offense squaring off with Alabama’s No. 2-ranked rushing defense. Keep in mind that what’s really cost the Tigers is fumbles, five combined lost in its back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Georgia. This is an interesting weakness against an Alabama defense that ranks a low No. 95 in forced fumbles (7), a far cry from its last title team in 2012, when it came in at No. 19 (15).
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 2 OREGON (10-1) at OREGON STATE (5-6): The 98th Civil War, Oregon has won six straight over Oregon State but only won by a single point last season in a paper-thin, 36-35 decision. Tune in to this one to see the Duck’s No. 3 ranked scoring attack rip the Beavers’ No. 91-ranked scoring defense. What gives Oregon State a chance, other than the obvious rivalry angle, is its No. 25-ranked passing attack, which could possibly have a heyday against Oregon’s No. 117-ranked pass defense, the same unit that coughed up 296 air yards to Stanford and 320 to Utah, not necessarily all-world passing programs. A potential hero is Beaver sophomore wide receiver Victor Bolden (#6), who has posted three 100-plus yard games in his last four outings including a 145-yard day vs. Washington last week. Bolden’s mom Zelda still holds the school record for the 100 and 200 hurdles at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. The winner of this rivalry blockbuster gets the Platypus Trophy, an animal with both Duck and Beaver characteristics.
10:15PM ET, ESPN2: UTAH STATE (9-3) at BOISE STATE (9-2): This game is more than the remote-swap option with Washington-Washington State, it helps decide who wins the Mountain West Mountain division. If Boise State beats Utah State, it advances to the conference championship, if the Aggies win and Colorado State loses to Air Force, it moves on to face the West division champ. This is a great strength vs. strength matchup featuring Utah State’s No. 10-ranked scoring defense squaring off with Boise State’s No. 10-ranked scoring offense. The potential mismatch is the Aggies’ No. 80-ranked secondary trying to contain the Bronco’s No. 17-ranked aerial attack. The game changer in this one might be Utah State senior safety Frankie Sutera (#46), he’s No. 3 in the FBS in interceptions with seven. He’ll be trying to add to his total against BSU quarterback Grant Hedrick (#9), a guy with 13 interceptions, most recently throwing two in the win over San Diego State two weeks ago. The Broncos have won 11-straight over the Aggies, last losing in 1997.
10:30PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: WASHINGTON (7-5) at WASHINGTON STATE (3-8): Don’t forget to stay up late for the 95th Apple Cup. Washington has won four of the last five but got edged 31-28 the last time it ventured into Pullman to face the Cougars. This game should be highly entertaining, pitting the Huskies’ pass defense, ranked No. 118, taking on Washington State’s No. 1-ranked passing offense, averaging 489 yards per game despite losing quarterback Connor Halliday (#12) to injury. The new kid in town is redshirt freshman Luke Falk (#4), who has amassed 1,504 yards and 11 scores in three starts but threw four picks in last week’s loss to Arizona State. Also of note is Washington senior linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (#8) who at 17.5 sacks (No.1 in the FBS) is 6.5 sacks shy of Terrell Suggs’ single season sack record of 24 (Arizona State, 2004). The Cougars rank No. 110 in sacks allowed, giving up an average of 3 per game.