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NCAA Fact or Fanatic: Rivalry Week Edition

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fact-or-fanatic350pixels_use-this-oneWelcome to NCAA Fact or Fanatic, where the rivalries are hot and the stuffing is cornbread and sage. With our picks record still steaming along at a healthy rate, it’s time to take a look at what’s ahead in college football. Let’s talk turkey!

Rivalry Week

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: rivalry week. This is like the holiday before the holidays, the week that kicks in bowl selection, bowl season, and the College Football playoffs. Who needs Christmas? The only real holiday is New Year’s, which should be renamed to International College Football Bingefest – or maybe just the Feast of Alvis, if you’re a geek. If you’re not familiar with Sealab then we’ll just segue into rivalry week right off tennessee-volunteers-player-by-wileythe bat. Our picks record is at 39-16. We’re putting our admittedly awesome record on the line this week with a column that is picks, picks, and nothing but picks. We’re picking 20 of the nation’s best rivalry games – hopefully cleaner than a wishbone before you pull it. This week could make or break our guru-dom in perpetuity.

We hope you enjoy the vintage pictures of long-ago teams in this week’s slate of games as well. Some of these fellows have been forgotten. On Thanksgiving weekend, why not spare a moment to think of the young men of the last century who built this sport we love so much? Players who worked hard both at the game and their studies, and who upon graduation worked equally hard to be good citizens and role models for those who came after them.

That, and it looks cool!

But first, some unfinished business:

College Football and Accountability

We’ll be exploring this issue in depth in an extra feature next week, but for right now all we can do is shake our heads. For decades Notre Dame fans have helped to promote their program and keep it in the national picture by extolling the character, integrity, and academic pride of Notre Dame football. The allegations this week that multiple players were cheating academically should be the final nail in the coffin of Brian Kelly’s head coaching tenure in South Bend.

brian_kelly_65155629After the alarmingly high numbers of issues and scandals that have taken place since his hire (sexual assault, drugs, DUI, assault of police officers, etc. and that’s just in the past year), and his complete refusal to assume any responsibility for those events himself, one would think that the administration would have gotten rid of him already. But no, they handed him a huge contract extension mid-season –this season in fact – and seem to be more concerned that the Irish are 4-7 than about the fact that some of their players haven’t been using their horrifically expensive educational opportunity to actually learn something because they’re too lazy or feel too entitled to do the coursework. This is what happens when you recruit kids using the NFL as the lure instead of a BA/BS.

The Irish aren’t alone in selling their entire claim to integrity for wins. The University of North Carolina was awarding its student-athletes class credits for courses that don’t exist, and Ole Miss got busted helping recruits cheat on their standardized admission tests.

But the fact that this case involves Notre Dame makes it seem so much more egregious, just like Baylor’s sexual assault scandal. Both universities are religious ones that emphasize their Christian values, both have been caught covering up the most non-Christian of behaviors, and neither is willing to assume responsibility for their actions or the fact that to these administrations wins on the football field supersede every other factor of their existence. They will live and die by the football cash cow, and are uncaring that their seemingly nice, placid cow is actually participating in an unscheduled running of the bulls, trampling people on the left and right.

It’s time for the NCAA to address this issue, and next week we’ll lay out why.

But until then, we have a suggestion. The NCAA should add a new bowl game: the CliffsNotes’ Integrity Bowl. Only schools that are being sanctioned can participate. Tickets should be free. Neither school should make money. The loser has to do 20 hours of community service per player and coach – not “going to visit sick kids” community service but building houses for the underprivileged and cleaning up sidewalks. The trophy should be called the “Cheaters Never Prosper” trophy, and should be invisible save for a used tin can. Unless, of course, the participants are both schools affiliated with a specific church. Then it should be called the Holier Than Thou trophy and feature Pinocchio. But for that to be the punishment it should be, it should be the only post-season opportunity for either school for several long, sports-less years.

And you thought we’d let this pass.

In the end, the atmosphere of collegiate athletics as a whole is to blame. Cheating doesn’t just happen at a school like Notre Dame. Cheating happens because the situation and climate permit it to occur. And while the universities should have the majority of the culpability and the responsibility to clean things up, the NCAA has got to get off its pedestal and force member universities to clean up their act. And that, friends, is a fact.

On to the picks!

Golden Boot Trophy: LSU-Texas A&M

A lot of the shine was rubbed off this game when the Aggies inexplicably lost to Mississippi State, and LSU got bushwhacked by Florida in Death Valley. Sadly, the boot is a little tarnished, but both teams still have a lot to play for – particularly bowl bids. Talent-wise, these teams are fairly well-matched but LSU has something A&M currently doesn’t: a seasoned quarterback. Danny Etling may not be setting records, but without the injured Trevor Knight, the Aggies’ annual November collapse will be complete.

LSU 41 Texas A&M 14

Paul Bunyan’s Axe: Minnesota-Wisconsin

original_1948_paul_bunyans_axe_croppedYou wouldn’t think this game would be in question, since the Badgers are ranked 6th in the nation and Minnesota is unranked. But there are elements to this game you may not be aware of. For one thing, Minnesota has quietly built up an 8-3 record on the season, a stat we looked up three different times because we were certain that wasn’t the case. And yet the ESPN FPI gives Wisconsin an 85% chance of winning the game. Why is that? Probably because the Gophers had the easiest P5 schedule, managing to NOT play Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan.

Wisconsin 35 Minnesota 14

Egg Bowl: Ole Miss vs Mississippi State

This game doesn’t feel right. Both Ole Miss and MSST have been ultra-competitive in the SEC the past few years. But the facts are unmistakable: neither team is bowl eligible. MSST’s rebuilding year post-Dak Prescott has had the expected growing pains plus a few unexpected ones, like losing to Southern Alabama. But they seem to be righting the ship, knocking off then-#4 seed Texas A&M right out of the national spotlight.

Regardless of the outcome of this game, the Bulldogs will not go to a bowl game. Ole Miss, on the other hand, needs this win to get bowl eligible and hopefully salvage something from an NCAA-scrutinized and disastrous year. Normally that would make us lean toward the Rebs, but not this time.

MSST 38 Ole Miss 21

Clean Old-Fashioned Hate: Georgia Tech vs Georgia

georgia_tech_auburn_football_game_thanksgiving_1921

1921 Georgia Tech-Auburn game on Thanksgiving

In one of the oldest football rivalries, Georgia and Georgia Tech really don’t like each other – as if you couldn’t tell that from the name of the game. The universities are separated by only 70 miles, but by astronomically distant ideologies. This rivalry used to be one of the most hard-fought of the football season. But since the end of the 20th century, the series has been owned by the Bulldogs who’ve gone 13-3. The Yellow Jackets’ last win was a 2014 stunner that set off seismic waves of discontent in Athens regarding head coach Mark Richt.

With both teams at 7-4, it depends on who shows up. We know for certain that one of these teams will show up, but the other is up in the air. If both do, this will be a great game. But if only one does…

Our buddy says Georgia wins. We disagree. Let’s see who’s right.

Georgia Tech 28 Georgia 24

Governor’s Cup 1: Kansas vs Kansas State

Two trophies with this name, and both states involved begin with “K.” How’s that for karma? This rivalry is the older of the two, therefore it gets the “1” designation.

KSST is 6-4 heading into this game. While they’ve been able to win, they haven’t been getting many style points doing it. The future looks bright, yes, but the present is still a toss-up.

Kansas has been so abysmal the last few years, they’ve been underneath the basement dwellers, which for hygiene alone is a horrible idea. But last week Kansas beat the Texas Longhorns for the first time since 1938, thereby sealing HC Charlie Strong’s fated return to assistant coaching. Is that big win enough to help the Jayhawks show up on Saturday? Highly unlikely.

KSST 38 Kansas 6

Governor’s Cup 2: Kentucky-Louisville 

action_at_miami-kentucky_football_game_1911_3191404869Last week we would have said Louisville takes the Wildcats by four touchdowns. With Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson racking up accolades and yards at an equal rate, the hapless UK football team shouldn’t have a chance against the Cardinals.

But that was then; this is now. Kentucky is looking at a shot to be bowl-eligible and in order for that to happen it must beat Louisville, which got caught looking like a skin care model who suddenly broke out in boils during the middle of a self-congratulatory publicity event in its loss to Houston last week.

The Cardinals look vulnerable, and with a potent rushing game Kentucky could challenge Louisville if HC Mike Stoops can find a way to contain Jackson’s fast-scoring offense…

Yeah, we can’t type that with a straight face. Reality check, Wildcats.

Louisville 48 Kentucky 10

Commonwealth Cup: Virginia vs Virginia Tech

You’re kidding, right? Virginia Tech has improved in every single game this season. QB Jerrod Evans is turning into a legit dual threat and racking up impressive stats. The Hokies have lost this game three times since 1995. The Cavaliers this year have been an unmitigated disaster. We’re being merciful with the score prediction. This game may get very ugly in a very big way.

Virginia Tech 25 Virginia 6

Palmetto Bowl: Clemson vs South Carolina

clemson_football_game_taps_1908

1908 Clemson Football game

Before you laugh, stop and think for a moment. Clemson has looked extremely vulnerable this year, particularly after that inexplicable loss to unranked Pitt, while the Gamecocks have knocked off opponents they shouldn’t have been able to hang with. Dabo Sweeney has mega-QB Deshaun Watson, while Will Muschamp’s SC squad has a true freshman, an early-admission-skipped-his-senior-year-of-high-school true freshman under center, after burning Jake Bentley’s redshirt out of sheer necessity.

Bentley has everything it takes to beat this Clemson team – except a supporting cast. But we would not be surprised if South Carolina found a way to pull off a massive upset here.

Clemson 31 South Carolina 28

Civil War: Oregon vs Oregon State

1922_university_of_oregon_football

1922 Oregon Football team

In recent years, this was perhaps the most important rivalry game in the PAC-12. The dominance of Oregon has meant the Civil War had significant conference and national implications. Not so much this year. This year’s Civil War isn’t a clash of the titans, but a “meh” match-up of mediocrity.

But if you look at the results of the previous 120 meetings of this team, you’ll see a pattern that can easily be identified. This is one wild game, played by two teams who loathe each other right down to their cleats – one of the few rivalries where the old saw “throw out the record books” is accurate. Should be a crazy fun game.

Oregon State 45 Oregon 42

Tennessee vs Vanderbilt

tennessee-volunteers-football-squad-1913

Tennessee Volunteers 1913 team

For a long time, this was a one-sided rivalry. Vanderbilt considered Tennessee its main rivals, whereas Tennessee considered Vanderbilt a home game at the practice stadium out west. Even we, who are usually logical about such things, fell into that habit – enough so that we stupidly gave someone Vanderbilt and 60 points on a friendly wager. Naturally, as soon as we sobered up, we were banging our heads into any available wall.

Then the Vols won 65-0 over Vanderbilt, and everyone refused to bet us ever again. Since that bizarre yet profitable game, we have never put money on a football team. But this week? The Vols are mad, and bad things happen to opponents when the Vols are angry. Also, star DE Derek Barnett is one sack away from tying the all-time sacks record at the University of Tennessee, a stat most people thought could never be touched. Barnett needs only two sacks to overtake the Minister of Defense Reggie White’s career total of 32.

White amassed that number in four years of play. Barnett is in the third year of his collegiate career. And while Ralph Webb is an outstanding and consistently underrated running back for Vanderbilt who will be playing on Sundays, in the end Barnett is going to be snacking in the Vanderbilt backfield like a binge eater at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Tennessee 45 Vanderbilt 28

Utah vs Colorado

A lot’s riding on this game for Colorado in its battle with the Utes. For one thing, both are ranked PAC-12 teams. For another, if the Buffaloes win, they claim the divisional title and go on to play in the PAC-12 game. Make no mistake: Colorado is one of the hottest teams in the country, playing great football. But the 8-3 Utes aren’t slouches either, and would love to make an example of their more flamboyant northern neighbor. Look for this to be a return to the wild West, but Colorado doesn’t miss in the shootout.

Colorado 35 Utah 31

Battle Line Rivalry: Arkansas vs Missouri

Last week the Mizzou Tigers racked up over 600 yards of offense – and got blown out in humiliating fashion by the Tennessee Volunteers. Last week, the Arkansas Razorbacks survived a shootout with Mississippi State by racking up over 600 yards of offense. Yep, you got it. Neither team has much of a defense at all. They win by outscoring their opponents. Thing of it is for Mizzou, they’ve been angry the last few games and it’s not helping them to win. In fact, it makes them do the direct opposite. This weekend should be no different.

Arkansas 35 Mizzou 31

Heroes Trophy: Iowa vs Nebraska 

1904_nebraska_cornhuskers_football_teamThis is an old rivalry that has been rekindled with Nebraska’s move to the B1G, and while it’s not yet as fierce as some of these others, all it will take is one of those games: where the team with the better record is an underdog to the scrappy giant-killer waiting in its home den and loses barely at the last minute. That’s the CFB script.

If these two teams followed it, the rivalry would stay tepid. But, if either team curb-stomps the other remorselessly? Dislike will grow into hatred, and that can only be good for the conference and the fans. Still, I’d forget about the script (FPI gives Iowa a 62% chance to win) if I were you, because I am positive that Nebraska will.

Nebraska 42 Iowa 21

Jeweled Shillelagh: USC vs Notre Dame

Football Team Photo 1887, J.L. Hepburn, G. Houck, E.A. Sawkins, F. Fehr, P. Nelson, G. Melady, F. Springer, H.M. Jewett, J.F Cusack, H.B. Luhn, E. Prudhoome, BW

Football Team Photo 1887, J.L. Hepburn, G. Houck, E.A. Sawkins, F. Fehr, P. Nelson, G. Melady, F. Springer, H.M. Jewett, J.F Cusack, H.B. Luhn, E. Prudhoome, BW

Trojans versus the Irish. This is one of the greatest traditional rivalries in college football, shillelagh or not. And that trophy looks like a spine, by the way.

It’s the USC glamour boys from the golden world of sunny California against the hard-working, hard-fighting, Midwestern Irish Catholics who represent everything USC doesn’t. The bloom, however, is definitely off this game. Head coach Brian Kelly has steered the Irish through an absolutely ridiculous season, during which he’s blamed everyone but himself for ND’s 4-7 record, whereas USC head coach Clay Helton was targeted to be fired after the Trojans’ 1-3 start, but now is the savior of the program after upsetting Washington. Regardless of what’s happening back home, USC is going to make the Irish look like they have to actually write those papers this weekend. Won’t be pretty.

USC 45 Notre Dame 10

Land Grant Trophy: Penn St vs Michigan State

Careful now. This is one of those games you don’t want to take for granted. Penn State defeated Ohio State, of course, and is now a top 10 team as a result. Michigan State lost to Ohio State last weekend because of a failed two-point conversion, but lost to Michigan by one point. The outlier here is PSU’s 49-10 loss to the Wolverines. The Spartans are not the 3-8 team you think they are – and they know it too. MSU may just be the most dangerous team in the country right now. The Nittany Lions better not rely on that 83% FPI rating ESPN has given them. Look for this game to be close and very vicious.

Penn State 28 Michigan State 24

Florida vs Florida State

This is one of the premier matchups of rivalry week. The high-flying, trash-talking Gators are headed to the SEC championships and some folks in Gainesville are even looking ahead to when they “beat” Alabama in the SEC championship game and talking about a Final Four berth. But those folks have forgotten that FSU stands between them and the promised land.

Allow us to be blunt: there is no way that Florida can beat Florida State without an offense. No way at all. Since 2010, Florida has beaten Florida State once, and only one of those losses saw them score more than one touchdown. You can’t win a shootout if there’s no one holding the gun, and we don’t anticipate this year’s contest to be any different.

Florida State 24 Florida 7

Apple Cup: Washington vs Washington State

washington_state_football_team_1904We circled this game weeks ago as one Washington would lose. Don’t get us wrong: we like the Huskies. It’s great to see that head coach Chris Peterson is bringing the Huskies back to national prominence. What makes that even better is that Mike Leach is doing the same thing at Washington State.

These teams look amazingly similar statistically and stylistically. But while Washington’s been getting the hype, the Cougars have quietly put together a 8-3 squad with a wicked passing game that matches up perfectly with the Huskies’ talented but young secondary. Should be a barnburner, but we’re going with the upset.

Washington State 48 Washington 45

Iron Bowl: Alabama vs Auburn

1892_alabama_football_teamThe Iron Bowl is legendary in the South, an annual battle between two teams in the same state that absolutely despise each other. But during the Nick Saban era, the Iron Bowl has gotten a bit rusty. To be frank, it’s been boring. Aside from the kick six and Cam Newton, the Crimson Tide has taken all the fun out of the game in much the same way their fans take all the fun out of college fandom. There’s no rational response to “Y’all are all irrelevant; Roll Damn Tide.” And then they wonder why everyone dislikes them. They think it’s because the world is jealous. That’s not quite it.

Fact of the matter is, outside the state of Alabama there’s very little interest in Bama football. Why? Because Alabama fans are no fun to be around and Bama football is no fun to watch. The Iron Bowl just a few years ago had huge national implications. Now, despite it being a showdown between #1 and #11 ranked teams, no one but their fans is even planning to watch. Which is a shame because this year there are reasons to watch.

1908_auburn_tigers_football_teamAuburn has the best defense Bama has faced all season. But while Auburn’s run game is thriving when its backs are healthy, there still isn’t a great quarterback. The stage is set for someone on the Tigers to step up and become that man who can beat Alabama.

We think that Auburn can contain the Bama offense, because that offense is relying solely on freshman QB Jalen Hurts. We also think that without a passing threat, the Tigers are not going to be able to score on that formidable Tide defense. If Gus Malzahn can somehow spark a QB to take this team and put it on his back, the Iron Bowl will just get more rusted and more irrelevant.

It takes two teams to make a rivalry. Only takes one insufferable fanbase to make sure no one else in the world really cares about that rivalry anymore. This is no longer the Iron Bowl. This is the Rusted Through Bowl, the game we have to watch between the bully who beats everyone up and brags about it, and the little guy who dared to stand up to him. The only thing worth watching is the little guy, to see if he suddenly pulls a Harry Potter wand on his adversary.

One day soon, Alabama will get Harry Pottered, and the nation will rejoice. It’s inevitable and may be sooner than you think.

Anyway, that’s why fans of the sport will be watching The Game. We can watch Alabama being obnoxious any day of the week.

Alabama 17 Auburn 14

The Game: Michigan vs Ohio State

1918_michigan_ohio_state_football_programOhio State-Michigan is everything a rivalry should be. These teams have met 112 times. Their feud is infamous, and stacked with characters like Woody Hayes. Hayes, the venerated Buckeyes’ head coach, had a plethora of comments about “the state up north”:

  • “We do not pull in and fill up. And I’ll tell you why we don’t. It’s because I don’t buy one [goshdarn] drop of gas in the state of Michigan. We’ll coast and push this car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money.” –to assistant coach Ed Ferkany as they were low on gas in Michigan (they were two miles from the state line when they finally ran out of gas, and they got out and pushed.)
  • “How did our great rivalry get started? Well, the real fight started back in 1836 when Andrew Jackson, that wily old cuss, took Toledo away from that state up north and gave it to us.”
  • “You’re going to Michigan? Why, you dumb no-good [ ]. You go right ahead! You go there, and when you play against Ohio State we’ll just see whether you gain a yard against us all day. We’ll break you in two.” –to a recruit who told him he was going to Michigan

You have to love the history of it, and the passion. Both are tied up so vividly in this game, and this year The Game actually means more than it used to.

We live in Ohio. We can see the lights of the Shoe from our driveway. We can assure you, that hatred is real, and particularly this year, because Michigan finally has a team that may be able to break the streak. The Buckeyes have owned the Wolverines since 2000, and are sitting at 13-3 this century. Michigan’s last win came in 2011, the interim season between coach Jim Tressel and current coach Urban Meyer.

But now there’s a new man in town. Second-year coach Jim Harbaugh has his 10-1 team with its sights firmly set on the B1G championship and the Final Four, and the only thing standing in his way is – well – Ohio State. That and the devastating loss at Iowa, spurred by the injury to QB Wilton Speight, are combining to make the Wolverines’ prospects a little less bright. With the incredible chameleon play of Jabril Peppers and a load of experience on the line, Michigan is still in the position to take Ohio State to the limit.

But here’s where it gets tricky. If Michigan wins, they go to Indianapolis. If Ohio State wins, they still need Michigan State to upset the Nittany Lions if they want to play for the B1G Championship. Because if both OSU and Penn State win on Saturday, Penn State will represent the East in the championship game – and Ohio State will be in the Final Four over whoever the B1G champion is.

Which should make the college football playoff committee take a hard look at its analytics.

At any rate, football politics aside, this should be a great game. And if Spreight manages to return as is at 80%, this game could be epic. If any game this weekend is for all the marbles, “The Game” is it. ESPN FPI gives the Buckeyes a 58% chance to win. That seems a little high to us. To us this feels like a game won by a blocked extra point, or a failed two-point conversion, or a bizarre penalty. Either way, you should watch. It’ll be a doozy.

Ohio State 42 Michigan 41

How will your team fare? How will our picks fare? How much chaos can Rivalry Week cause for the College Football Playoffs? All these things and more will be answered this weekend, and next week we’ll focus on Championship week.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

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About Celina Summers

Celina Summers is a speculative fiction author who mashes all kinds of genres into one giant fantasy amalgamation. Her first fantasy series, The Asphodel Cycle, was honored with multiple awards--including top ten finishes for all four books in the P&E Readers' Poll, multiple review site awards, as well as a prestigious Golden Rose nomination. Celina also writes contemporary literary fantasy under the pseudonym CA Chevault. Celina has worked as an editor for over a decade, including managing editor at two publishing houses. Celina blogs about publishing, sports, and politics regularly. A well-known caller on the Paul Finebaum Show and passionate football fan, when Celina takes times off it's usually on Saturdays in the fall. You can read her personal blog at www.kaantira.blogspot.com and her website is at www.cachevault.org