What We're Watching - Rivalry Week
Here's hoping all of our readers had a great Thanksgiving holiday spending time with family and reflecting on everything they are thankful for in their lives. Here's something I am thankful for - a full slate of great college football rivalry games because, holy cow, we've got some good ones tomorrow. Let's get right to it.
Michigan at Ohio State (12 p.m. ET, ABC): Brady Hoke snapped the Maize and Blue's six-game losing streak to Ohio State last season, and now he faces off with Urban Meyer for the first time. Both coaches have brought a renewed intensity to this storied rivalry. Could we be on the cusp on another Ten Year War? That's probably premature, but Chapter 1 starts tomorrow. Michigan has historically struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks and, if that's the case tomorrow, Braxton Miller could put Greg Mattison's defense in for a long day. On the other sideline, Devin Gardner makes his first start against Ohio State, hoping to build off last week's six touchdown performance versus Iowa.
Georgia Tech at Georgia (12 p.m. ET, ESPN): Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate enters its 107th installment with both teams already claiming their respective division championship. This is a series Georgia has dominated historically, Georgia Tech has just a dozen wins since 1964, and recently, as the Bulldogs have won 10 of the last 11 meetings. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray enters his final home game playing the best football of his career. The Tampa native has connected on 57-of-80 passes (71 percent) for 922 yards (11.5 ypa) for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three outings. Paul Johnson's offense rolls into Athens equally hot, rambling for 1,080 yards and 15 touchdowns on 195 carries (5.54 ypc) through its three-game winning streak.
Oregon at Oregon State (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Chip Kelly's needs to win and then root for UCLA to keep its Pac-12 and national championship hopes alive. The Ducks have won in their last two trips to Reser Stadium and look to keep that streak alive after seeing its school-record 13-game winning streak snapped on Saturday. Mike Riley's team can be described as Stanford-lite, even down to its upset loss at Washington. The Beavers trail just Stanford in Pac-12 rushing defense statistics, but Oregon State does not make the same volume of plays behind the line of scrimmage as Stanford.
Florida at Florida State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Florida State won last year's meeting at The Swamp 21-7 in a game that set offensive football back 100 years - the teams combined for 279 yards, 18 first downs and 4-of-30 on third down. Again: combined. This year's game won't be quite that sluggish, but neither defense will give its counterpart room to breathe. Each of these units rank in the country's top six in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing efficiency defense. And, if you didn't already now, both defensive coordinators are nominated for the FootballScoop Defensive Coordinator of the Year award. The biggest gap between the squads comes at quarterback. Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel, who ranks seventh nationally with 21 TDs and 6 INTs, squares off against Jeff Driskel, who leads the country's 63rd most efficient passing offense.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): From 2000-02, Oklahoma State lost to Oklahoma 12-7, won 16-13 and won 38-28. Following a 47-41 loss in 2010 and a 44-10 drubbing in 2011, a win Saturday matches that streak for the Cowboys, but Mike Gundy has his program in a much different place than a decade ago, when OSU was a heavy underdog in each game. This time around, the Cowboys are working on a 30-6 record and looking for a share of their third straight conference title. Oklahoma is 30-7 since 2010 and also in the hunt for its second Big 12 title in three years. That's why The Oklahoman writer Berry Tramel says Bedlam is better than it's ever been.
Stanford at UCLA (6:30 p.m. ET, FOX): The challenge for David Shaw and Jim L. Mora this week was pulling their respective players heads out of the clouds after their potentially program-changing wins last week. The Bruins have already clinched the Pac-12 South, while Stanford can win the Pac-12 North, and thus a rematch with UCLA, by winning on Saturday. UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, the nation's fifth-leading rusher, enters Saturday on a run of 160-plus yard performances in three of his last four games. He will need to keep that streak alive against a Stanford defense that allows just north of 70 rushing yards and 2.37 yards per carry. Shaw's insertion of Kevin Hogan into the starting quarterback spot has paid dividends, as the freshman has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes and accounted for eight touchdowns against three interceptions.
South Carolina at Clemson (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Mandrallius Robinson and Willie T. Smith of the Greenville News this week had a worthwhile piece about how Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have taken the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry to heights previously unseen by de-emphasizing the rivalry within their respective programs. The Gamecocks have owned the last three meetings, winning by a combined score of 97-37. Chad Morris' offense has put together a fantastic season under the radar, ranking in FBS's top 10 of four offensive categories and riding a streak of 10 straight games with at least 37 points, but he has to solve a Gamecocks defense that has stuffed Clemson for three straight years. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has gone just 21-of-47 for 156 yards (3.31 ypa) with one touchdown and one interception in his career against South Carolina, and the Tigers have run for just 179 yards 76 carries (2.36 ypc) during the three-game skid.
Notre Dame at USC (8 p.m. ET, ABC): He would never admit it, but no team will play with more pressure on its shoulders than Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad Saturday night in Los Angeles. Kelly's team is 60 minutes away from taking a nation of Fighting Irish fans back to the promised land after wandering in the desert for two solid decades. Notre Dame has by far played its best football away from South Bend, winning its five games by an average of 25 points while owning an 8-3 turnover advantage. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek makes his first career start for the Trojans, and he will no doubt target all-purpose maven Marqise Lee early and often. Notre Dame will play its first game as a BCS No. 1 one week after another program lost its BCS No. 1 debut by committing three turnovers in a road upset. In an unprecedented role reversal, an unranked team that was ranked No. 1 in preseason will host the No. 1-ranked team that was unranked in preseason.