For those of us who live and breathe college football, Thanksgiving Week means Rivalry Week. Well, OK, it also means lots of food, but the figurative feast of grate action is usually just as delicious.
This year’s Rivalry Games list includes several whose importance has never been greater, while some that usually top the must-watch list feel like afterthoughts (Iron Bowl, anyone?).
Of course, your rootedness will determine your viewing priorities this holiday weekend. But if you’re a neutral observer looking for the competitions with the greatest impact on team and individual trophy quests, we’re here to help you choose.
Here’s our pick of the top five matchups to enjoy while snacking on the leftovers this weekend.
#2 Ohio State vs. #3 Michigan
Follow every game: Live NCAA college football scores
Saturday noon ET, Fox
Why watch: It’s finally here, the top five showdown we’ve been working toward all season. The winner will secure their ticket to next week’s Big Ten championship game and, in all likelihood, a spot in the College Football Playoffs. The loser could still get in, but nobody wants to rely on other outcomes. In games not played in blustery wind conditions, Ohio State’s passing game has been fairly consistent with QB CJ Stroud making extensive use of WRs Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. But if Columbus conditions are a little muddy, the Buckeyes may be more dependent on their running game and the depth of RB space has been tested of late. The Wolverines’ ground defense, anchored by LBs Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, is pretty stingy, giving up just 2.8 yards per attempt. The biggest concern for Wolverines fans during the week was the status of standout RB Blake Corum, who was unable to play after halftime of last week’s narrow escape from Illinois with an apparent knee injury. His availability may not be known until game time, and if Michigan ground play is affected, QB JJ McCarthy may need someone alongside primary WR Ronnie Bell to get things moving on the field. Ohio State’s high school doesn’t give up many passing plays, and DB Tanner McCalister has three of the team’s 10 picks.
Why it might disappoint: It’s hard to imagine how it could, although there may not be many explosive games. Forget the struggles both teams had a week ago. The level of execution on both sides should be much sharper in a competition of this magnitude.
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#5 Southern California vs. #15 Notre Dame
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: The Trojans will be playing for the Pac-12 title next week no matter what happens here in the coliseum. However, the stakes in that competition would be significantly reduced should USC stumble against its longtime rival. The Fighting Irish, despite some inexplicable losses, have a chance to wrap up a solid first season under Marcus Freeman and maybe crack the New Year’s Six lineup. Trojans QB Caleb Williams was happy to have WR Jordan Addison back for the crucial showdown with UCLA last week after injury. This combination will have to be careful when it comes to challenging Notre Dame DB Benjamin Morrison, who has stolen five passes this year, one of which has returned for a touchdown. No one does takeaways better than USC, however, with 18 picks and six fumble recoveries contributing to a plus-20 revenue margin, according to the school. The fight against Ireland QB Drew Pyne has brought a degree of stability since taking charge of offense and he will make extensive use of standout TE Michael Mayer if he can stay away from USC DE Tuli Tuipulotu.
Why it might disappoint: A flurry of turnovers could plunge Notre Dame into an early hole, or USC special teams’ troubles could become a dynamic that shifts plays in Ireland’s favour. But a game so meaningful to both sides is unlikely to become one-sided.
No. 9 Oregon at No. 22 Oregon State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: It’s easy with the Ducks. Win here in Corvallis and secure a date with Southern California for the Pac-12 title. Lose and then things aren’t that easy. Oregon could still finish second, but the Ducks obviously would rather not delve into esoteric tiebreaker formulas. None of this affects the beavers, of course, who would love nothing more than to mess things up with their arch-rival in this fight. After surviving the Utah game with a bad ankle, Ducks QB Bo Nix is hoping to regain some mobility for this week’s clash with the solid Beavers defense centered by LB Omar Speights. With starting QB Chance Nolan sidelined for much of the campaign with a neck injury, Oregon State has turned to freshman Ben Gulbranson. He performed well, with eight throws to just three picks, and RB Damien Martinez helped matters too, but another big game from Ducks DE Brandon Dorlus could make their night difficult.
Why it might disappoint: Oregon’s impressive physicality against Utah’s offense a week ago could mean the Beavers will struggle to move the ball. If that’s the case, a multi-point cushion could prove insurmountable for the Ducks. But if it’s even close by the break, it could go all the way to the wire.
#20 Tulane at #21 Cincinnati
Friday, noon ET, ABC
Why watch: Friday’s list will be overwritten by this big American Athletic Conference clash. The winner is guaranteed a spot in next week’s league championship game. The loser is not necessarily eliminated depending on how several tiebreaker scenarios unfold. The Green Wave rebounded from a disappointing loss to Central Florida with a convincing romp at SMU last Thursday night to set up this showdown for first place with the Bearcats seeking a third straight championship crown. The Cincinnati offense isn’t quite as explosive as last year’s roster, which swept the regular season, but QB Ben Bryant and WRs Tyler Scott and Tre Tucker can strike at any time. On the other hand, Tulane QB Michael Pratt and RB Tyjae Spears have developed into one of the most efficient backfield duos in the conference.
Why it might disappoint: After going 2-10 a year ago, the Green Wave’s 2022 season has been an overwhelming success regardless of the outcome here. But this is new territory for Tulane. The Bearcats, despite having to replace a host of key contributors, will still come out on top when it comes to big-game experience. That may not be a factor early on, but the third quarter in particular could be an important stretch.
South Carolina (7-4, 4-4) at No. 8 Clemson (10-1, 8-0)
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
Why watch: From Clemson’s perspective, there are multiple ways to view South Carolina’s unexpected demolition of Tennessee last week. On the one hand, a Tigers win rose in value, but conversely, the Gamecocks now come to Death Valley with confidence to derail another team’s playoff push. Regardless, Clemson needs to win to stay in contention, and the Tigers can’t afford to overlook their in-state rivals with the ACC championship date with North Carolina still to come. South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler again meets a secondary who has struggled at times this season, but DE Myles Murphy and the Clemson defense compensate with a fierce pass rush. Tigers QB DJ Uiagalelei has straightened the ship since his disastrous performance at Notre Dame earlier this month, and fellow backfielder RB Will Shipley has walked nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage. They could both see many Gamecocks LB Sherrod Greene.
Why it might disappoint: Do the Gamecocks have another surprise blowout in store, or will the Tigers’ stronger defense see it rage the other way? It’s a rivalry Clemson has possessed in recent years, so it will be up to South Carolina to show they can take the first hits and make a game out of it.