Rivalry Week Viewing Guide: The Biggest Bedlam Series in a Decade, an Afternoon Full of Feuds, and an In-State Battle for Bowl Eligibility

By George Eisner on November 27, 2021 at 8:35 am
Bryan Terry | The Oklahoman
Bryan Terry | The Oklahoman
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With Ohio State kicking off at noon today, let's take a look at a host of other college football matchups from around the country we’ll have our eyes on this Saturday.

NoonersBrad McClenny | Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Photo: Brad McClenny | Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida vs. Florida State, 12 p.m. on ESPN

H A Z A R D   W A R N I N G

Pour one out for Dan Mullen at Florida.

The Gators kicked off the season as a top-15 team brimming with promise, especially after nearly taking down Alabama in mid-September when the Tide were still ranked number one overall. Since then, Florida has lost every remaining road game on their schedule and surrendered 42 points in the first half of their meeting with Samford two weeks ago. Even then, it was already fairly evident that Mullen had lost the respect of the Gators.

Amid a November meltdown that began with comments about how recruiting was something to worry about "after the season," Florida found no choice but to part ways with Mullen after the team's loss to Missouri in overtime last weekend. Now, the Swamp will host its most bitter in-state rival under the guidance of interim coach Greg Knox as the Gators prepare to take on Florida State in a battle for bowl eligibility.

The similarly 5-6 Seminoles have had a tumultuous season of their own. After an 18-point fourth quarter comeback against Notre Dame that ended in an overtime loss to open the season, Florida State lost to Jacksonville State at home on the Seminoles' way to losing the first four games on its schedule — the first time that has happened in Tallahassee in 45 years.

Mike Norvell's crew has rallied a bit to win five of their last seven, but only two of those wins had a margin of victory greater than a field goal. Florida has the talent advantage and a substantially better running game, but Florida State clearly has more positive momentum behind them.

This edition of the Sunshine Showdown will send one team bowling and the other home for the season, so there is a bit more intrigue in this game than merely watching two have-been programs limp to the finish line. Even so, no one should go out of their way to watch this game at the expense of The Game, especially with so many other great matchups available later for viewing.

On a final humorous note, Mullen's comments about in-season recruiting aged even more horribly after Florida received a commitment from a four-star defensive end prospect just two days after the Gators relieved their head coach.

AfternoonersGary Cosby Jr. | USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Gary Cosby Jr. | USA TODAY Sports

Three Top-Shelf Rivalries

After The Game ends, the games are really just beginning for the rest of college football. Rivalry week features no shortage of quality viewing options, but Buckeye fans should keep an eye on these three matchups featuring teams that could affect Ohio State's trajectory relative to the College Football Playoff.

  • No. 2 Alabama vs. Auburn, 2:30 p.m. on CBS
    What was poised only a month ago to become a top-10 matchup is now just another lowly Iron Bowl starring an elite edition of the Crimson Tide and a Tiger team merely seeking to avoid a regular season finish with a .500 record. Alabama has already clinched an appearance in the SEC Championship game, but a loss today would likely knock Bryce Young and the other Sabanites out of contention for the Playoff.

    Auburn entered November riding a wave of momentum fueled by two wins over ranked opponents (Arkansas, Ole Miss) but have lost three straight games since to Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. The Tigers allow their opponents to complete over two-thirds of their passing attempts and enter this game as 20+ point underdogs, but the Tide have also won their previous two divisional contests by only a score apiece.
  • Oregon State vs. No. 11 Oregon, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
    The Ducks losing handily to Utah's Utes last weekend not only effectively removed them from Playoff consideration, but also opened the door for Oregon to lose the Pac-12 North. That nightmare scenario for Mario Cristobal's team could materialize this afternoon in their Civil War with Oregon State — one of the most bitter in-state rivalries in all of college football.

    A win for the Beavers would equalize the conference records of each team, and Oregon State owning the tiebreaker would send the school to its first conference championship game since the Pac-12 created a showdown for its title a decade ago. The Beavers in some ways offer up an even more formidable rushing attack than the one that ran over the Ducks last weekend, and Oregon State actually managed to take down Utah back in October via an impressive second-half comeback.
  • No. 14 Wisconsin vs. Minnesota, 4 p.m. on FOX
    Paul Bunyan's Axe is no longer the most valuable prize at stake for the Badgers as of yesterday. Iowa cementing Nebraska's status as the greatest 3-9 team of all-time has created a scenario in which Wisconsin losing to Minnesota will result in the Hawkeyes winning the Big Ten West. That means this game will directly determine the identity of Ohio State's next opponent — although Iowa seems convinced it will be them.

    Wisconsin began the season by dropping three of their first four contests — all to ranked teams — with the Badgers failing to tally more than three scores in each loss. They have won every game since and enter the final weekend of the regular season having scored 30 or more in four of their last five contests. Buckeyes notwithstanding, Minnesota has not lost a game by more than eight points this season and most recently took down Indiana by three scores.

PrimetimeMichael C. Johnson | USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Michael C. Johnson | USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No 7. Oklahoma State, 7:30 p.m. on ABC

Amid swirling speculation that Lincoln Riley will become the next head coach at LSU, Oklahoma finds itself at the end of the regular season with hopes of merely a conference title riding on the result of their in-state rivalry game. The Sooners will travel to Stillwater for this evening's installment of the Bedlam Series, which will feature two top-10 teams for the first time since 2011.

Coming off a loss to Baylor that likely ended any College Football Playoff hopes, Oklahoma went home last weekend and held off Iowa State from completing a fourth quarter comeback. But the Sooners uncharacteristically threw for less than 100 passing yards and could not even finish the game with 10 team pass completions. Had Caleb Williams not recorded a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, he would have finished with only 80 total yards of offense on the afternoon.

That inability to execute this late in the season gets even worse when considering the Cowboys present an even greater defensive challenge than the Cyclones. While Iowa State ranks among the top-30 FBS teams in surrendered rushing and passing yards per game, Oklahoma State ranks among the top five in both categories and also boasts a top-25 opponent completion percentage. The Cowboys absolutely maul the line-of-scrimmage with a front that holds top six rankings in the FBS for eight of the nine total defensive linemen efficiency statistics from Football Outsiders.

Despite entering this showdown as a ranked team in 13 of the last 18 meetings, Oklahoma State has only defeated their in-state rival twice since 2003. This series has hardly had any mutually low-scoring battles of late, given Oklahoma has not finished a Bedlam Series with less than 33 points in almost a decade.

However, if Mike Gundy can keep Oklahoma's run game in check, the Cowboys are in excellent shape to head off to the Big 12 Championship for a rematch with Baylor — assuming the latter holds off Texas Tech today. Alternatively, the Bears losing would trigger an instant Bedlam Series rematch for the conference title.

Kentucky vs. Louisville, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2

W I L D C A R D   of the   W E E K

The fifth and final in-state rivalry recommendation in the Viewing Guide concerns the battle for the Governor's Cup in Kentucky. Largely behind the efforts of former Big Ten Players Will Levis (QB, Penn State) and Wan'Dale Robinson (WR, Nebraska), the Wildcats won their first six games this season before a loss to Georgia sent UK into a three-game tailspin.

Kentucky did regroup a bit over the last few weeks with wins over lowly Vanderbilt and New Mexico State, but today the Wildcats will face off with arguably the best quarterback they have seen all season. Louisville's Malik Cunningham continues to post astronomical numbers, most recently finishing with 527 total yards and seven touchdowns in a 40 point win over Duke last week. That performance from Cunningham included a 72-yard touchdown run that will go down as a play of the year candidate in college football.

Cunningham will presumably face much more resistance from Kentucky than he did in his previous game, as the Wildcats currently retain a top-20 run defense with respect to rushing yards per game. Though this edition of the Governor's Cup may lack the intensity or stakes of its basketball equivalent, fans would be wise to take advantage of one of only two remaining opportunities to see a top college talent in Cunningham square off against a competitive opponent.

Saturday Night FeverJeffrey Swinger | USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Jeffrey Swinger | USA TODAY Sports

No. 13 BYU vs. USC, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN

This is the last chance for some Saturday Night Fever in the regular season, so the Viewing Guide is recommending Brigham Young University for a sixth time.

The Cougars' meeting this evening with USC is not technically a rivalry — and these teams have only met three times in the histories of their programs — but to outsiders, it certainly looks like one. After all, this is a football game that quite literally features the spoiled children of Los Angeles competing and rooting against the future missionaries of the Mountain time zone.

Had BYU not suffered back-to-back losses against Boise State and Baylor, the Cougars would be a sneaky College Football Playoff candidate at the moment. As Jaren Hall has continued to blossom at quarterback, so too has BYU's offense to the tune of 159 total points scored across the team's last three games.

USC surrendered 63 points last week to their cross-town rival UCLA, most of which were fueled by over 400 total yards of offense and six total touchdowns from Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Trojans still have a rescheduled game with Cal to play after this week that the schools postponed due to COVID-19, so bowl eligibility is still alive for USC and interim head coach Donte Williams.

At the moment, Southern Cal finds itself a seven-point home underdog opposite Brigham Young. But Hall has been on fire in November and the Trojans offer limited protection lately with respect to their end zone. If Utah native Jaxson Dart can find some greater consistency in front of the LA Memorial Coliseum home crowd, this could turn into a fun shootout to close out the regular season of college football.

On the Radar for Next Week

  • SEC Championship: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama, 2:30 pm on CBS
  • AAC Championship: No. 24 Houston vs. No. 4 Cincinnati, 4 p.m. on ABC
  • Big Ten Championship: TBD vs. TBD (Go Bucks), 7 p.m. on Fox
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