The Top Ten (Okay, 12) Coaching Matchups of Rivalry Weekend
- by Zach Barnett 7 months ago
1. Nick Saban vs. Gus Malzahn (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS) - Forget the weekend, this may be the best coaching matchup of the entire season. The ultimate defensive mind in the game against a Mount Rushmore member of the spread offense.
Most will point back to the 2010 game, but I see this is as a doppelganger of the 2009 Iron Bowl, when Gus Malzahn and a not-yet-fully-formed Auburn offense gained 332 yards, jumped out to a 14-0 lead and held it until the final 84 seconds of the game. There's a win to be had for Auburn on Saturday, but it will probably take at least one touchdown of 65 yards or more, a few gadgets and a nice cheat sheet on the Alabama pass defense for Nick Marshall.
2. Kevin Sumlin vs. Gary Pinkel (7:45 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN) - Missouri came within one game of playing for a national championship in 2007, so to call this the biggest game in modern school history would be wrong. But think about what a win would mean for the entire University of Missouri. It'd mean they'd beaten out Southern powers Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee for the SEC East title. It'd mean they beat fellow newcomer Texas A&M in their shared race to Atlanta, after two seasons of the Aggies grabbing every headline and the Tigers grabbing none. It'd mean they'd beat longtime SEC members Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt to their first SEC title game in year two of membership. It'd mean they'd no longer be Team 14 in a 14-team league.
And, oh yeah, it'd mean they'd head to the SEC Championship with a (however remote) chance at a national championship berth.
3. Rich Rodriguez vs. Todd Graham (9:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Pac-12 Networks) - Arizona State plays for the right to host Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship next week, but there's more on the line here for the Wildcats than the Sun Devils. One week after beating Oregon by 26 points, the game that says everything about where Rich Rodriguez wants to take this program, Arizona's performance against Arizona State will tell us whether to classify that 42-16 thrashing of the Ducks under "fluke" or "statement". A win moves the Wildcats to 8-4, on the fringe of the top 25, evens the score with a fellow second-year staff in Tempe, and marks 2013 as a definite step forward from 2012. A loss drops Arizona to 0-2 against Arizona State in the Rodriguez-Graham era, matches last season's 7-5 regular season record, including a 1-3 mark over their final four.
4. Urban Meyer vs. Brady Hoke (12 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC) - It may take the combined powers of Bo Schembechler, Fielding Yost and Bennie Oosterbaan for Michigan to pull off a win, but this rivalry is littered with examples of one team spoiling the other's shot at a national title. And this would be an utterly tragicomic spot for Urban Meyer to suffer his first loss at Ohio State. But everything about the way these teams have played over the past two months says this should be an easy Buckeyes win. Right?
5. Dabo Swinney vs. Steve Spurrier (7 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2) - How great is this weekend? 10-1, sixth-ranked Clemson visits 9-2, 10th-ranked South Carolina, and it's relegated to ESPN2! Clemson has taken a whole host of forward steps under Dabo Swinney, but everything he's accomplished is accompanied by an asterisk until he solves his Steve Spurrier problem. South Carolina has won the last four in this series - all by 10 points or more, and by an average score of 31-14.
6. Jim Mora vs. Ed Orgeron (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC) - Right now, Coach O is like a guy who got his name called on The Price is Right, bet $1 on his first bid and won his way to the Showcase Showdown. An argument for the head coaching job loses a bunch of steam with a season-ending loss to UCLA, which would be the Trojans' second straight to Mora after beating this same club 50-0 to close the 2011 season.
7. Kliff Kingsbury vs. Mack Brown (7:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Fox Sports 1) - We can't ignore context here. There's a greater than zero chance this is Mack Brown's last game in Austin. Brown's had his troubles in Lubbock, but he's never lost to Texas Tech in Austin, winning by scores of 58-7, 42-7, 43-40, 52-17, 59-43, 34-24 and 52-20.
For all the points normally scored in this game, it's the running game that tells the story. In each of the last 22 Texas-Texas Tech games, the team that rushes for more yards has won the game. Facing a team that's allowed a shade under 298 rushing yards per game in its current four-game losing streak and that sitting on a seven-game losing skid in its last seven true road games (by an average score of 48-22), a loss would be an absolutely awful farewell to the stadium he's called home for the last 16 years.
8. Mike Leach vs. Steve Sarkisian (3:30 p.m. ET Friday, FOX) - Steve Sarkisian has gone 7-6 each of the last three seasons. Washington is 7-4, so a loss to Washington State and a loss in the bowl game would be required to repeat history for a fourth time. This fall is already a success for the 6-5 Cougars, who will return to the postseason for the first time since the 2003 Holiday Bowl, but a shot at eight wins after last year's 3-9 finish? A second straight win over Washington? Washington State fans may just carry Mike Leach on their shoulders all the way back to Pullman.
9. Jimbo Fisher vs. Will Muschamp (12 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN) - Let's be honest here, no one is giving Florida a chance here. Not nationally, not in Tallahassee, not in Gainesville and likely inside the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium home locker room. Muschamp, Brent Pease and company can look at it to ways: as a death trap, or as an opportunity. The longer the game stays close, the bigger the monkey on Jimbo Fisher's back gets. And if there was ever a time to pull out that reverse pass to the left tackle Florida's saved all season, by God, this is it.
10. Mark Richt vs. Paul Johnson (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC) - Johnson's job likely doesn't hinge on beating Georgia on Saturday, not with a sixth bowl in as many seasons already clinched and especially not if things break right elsewhere and Georgia Tech backs its way into the ACC Championship. But let's take a look at Johnson's history against Georgia: a 45-42 win in his first year, then losses by six, eight, 14 and 32 points. With junior quarterback Hutson Mason making his first career start, if Johnson doesn't beat Georgia now, when will he?
11. Brian Kelly vs. David Shaw (7 p.m. ET Saturday, FOX) - Notre Dame is likely headed to the Pinstripe Bowl win or lose on Saturday, and Stanford's Rose Bowl hopes hinge on next week's Pac-12 title game, not this week. We'll just have to settle for a chess match dependent on whether or not the Notre Dame defensive front can withstand Stanford's slegdehammer offense. They did it last year. Barely.
12. Hugh Freeze vs. Dan Mullen (7:30 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN) - As our friend Andy Staples pointed out elsewhere this week, this year's Egg Bowl feels a lot like last year's game, only the exact opposite. In 2012, it was Ole Miss that needed to a win to A) take back scoreboard on its intrastate rival and B) extend its season. The Rebels won convincingly, 41-24. Now, its Ole Miss whose postseason future is already secure, and Mississippi State who needs a victory to keep playing.