Friday, November 25, 2016

Spread Offense 11.25.16: Top 5 College Rivalry Weekend Games

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

So a couple of months ago, I attended a concert in which Slayer was one of the bands performing. In between songs about midway through their set, lead singer Tom Araya talked to the crowd and said "every single one of our songs is a love song." Now, if you know Slayer then you understand the confusion most of us had. If you don't know them then let's just say that they are a loud, head banging type thrash metal band that centers around some pretty dark lyrics. He then continued by saying that "they are considered love songs to him because they love making music and playing it for us, and we are here tonight because we love hearing music."

That's what rivalry week is, even though it's referred to as "hate week." This week is about hating your rival, but also about embracing the spirit of what this week is all about and having fun with it. You hate your rival but there's nothing to hate about this week, instead of "hate week" it's really "love to hate week."

This year is no different, and many rivalry games have a lot on the line in this penultimate weekend of college football. Though we are 2 Saturdays away from knowing who is in or out of the playoffs, most playoff potential teams have a "lose and you're out" situation for them, essentially making this a playoff game.

These 5 rivalry games are especially meaningful to not only their respective schools, but also have the most meaning going forward as far as the playoffs are concerned.

5. #13 Auburn at #1 Alabama - Nov 26th, 3:30pm
The Iron Bowl is traditionally one of the best rivalries in college football, though this year there really isn't much on the line.

Alabama has clinched the SEC West and is almost assured a playoff spot barring a loss here and a loss in the SEC title game. They won't take this game lightly though with bragging rights on the line here against their bitter rival.

Auburn is looking for the upset here as there is still a shot that they could get into a New Year's 6 bowl game. A win would also put some doubt into people's minds on Alabama being a playoff team, and would at least set up Alabama in a must win game in the SEC title game. Winning this rivalry game and pinning their rival's backs up against the wall is more than enough incentive for the Tigers here.

4. South Carolina at #4 Clemson - Nov 26th, 7:30pm
This Palmetto state rivalry game will be about a big underdog on the road attempting to play spoiler.

South Carolina's season has been underwhelming under 1st year Head Coach Will Muschamp. They are 6-5 on the season, but have a bit of momentum going for them as they have won 4 of their last 5 games. They look to capitalize on that momentum and end their regular season on a huge positive note with a win over their non-conference rival, which would knock Clemson out of playoff contention.

Clemson knows what's at stake here and they know they are facing a rival with nothing to lose. The Tigers are already in the ACC title game but they are just 1 loss away from falling out of the playoffs, losing to their rival and watching their playoff hopes slip away would just add insult to injury.

Will Clemson take a step closer to the playoffs or will South Carolina step up and knock them out?

3. #15 Florida at #14 Florida State - Nov 26th 8pm
2 weeks ago, the college football playoff rankings were turned upside down when the #2, #3 and #4 ranked teams all lost. That opened up a glimmer of hope for the Florida Gators, who may somehow control their own destiny now. Florida does have 2 losses, but a backloaded schedule of LSU, Florida State and Alabama means that by winning out then they could backdoor their way into the college football playoffs.

They were #23 at the time, and after a win  over #16 LSU, they have now jumped to #15. Heading to their in-state rival will be step 2 in order to keep hope alive, and a big win here could vault them up into the top 10 heading in championship week.

Florida State will not be headed to the playoffs this season, but this is always a huge rivalry game for them and they could still find themselves in a New Years 6 bowl with a win here. A loss here though and they won't be playing in a prestigious bowl so they will need this game in a big way.

Florida needs this to have any chance at getting into playoff discussion while Florida State looks to cap off a regular season with a win as they head to a big bowl game.

2. #5 Washington at #23 Washington State - Nov 25th, 3:30pm
A few short years ago, both teams came into this game with winless records. Now, they come into this game with the winner advancing to the Pac-12 title game.

Washington State started the season off 0-2, including a loss to an FCS school. They then rattled off 8 straight victories before having that streak snapped last weekend by Colorado. While they won't be in the playoffs this season, a win and Pac-12 title berth would be huge for this growing program.

Washington has only one blemish on their schedule, a loss to USC, and have playoff aspirations still as a win here and in the Pac-12 title game could secure them a spot in the top 4. A loss though in either and they are eliminated from contention.

The Apple Cup decides the winner of the Pac-12 North division, both teams entering the game with a 7-1 conference record. Washington State can get a big program boost while knocking their rival out of the playoffs, Washington can continue their road to the playoffs with a big win and Pac-12 title berth.

1. #3 Michigan Wolverines at #2 Ohio State Buckeyes - Nov 26th, 12pm
The biggest rivalry has the biggest playoff implications, starting with the loser being eliminated from contention.

Michigan has a fairly simple playoff road, win this game and they are in the B1G title game. Win the title game and they are a lock for the playoffs, simply put, Michigan is one of the few teams that controls their own destiny.

Ohio State has a bit more murky of a path, as a win does not guarantee them a spot in the B1G title game. They need a win plus a Penn State loss, but if they win and PSU also wins then that will open up a major discussion on if a team that didn't win their conference should still go to the playoffs. They will be at the mercy of the playoff committee, and while it seems the majority of people feel that they will be in regardless, it all depends on how other teams' season finish and they may end up sliding from #2 to #5 and miss the playoffs.

Ask either team though and they'll tell you that it's all about this game, the playoff scenarios and next opponents do not matter to them right now. This game is just as big, if not bigger, than a playoff game. 

10 years ago we were given a #1 vs. #2 matchup that ended up being the game of the century, this year has shades of that game in the making. Winner keeps an inside track to the playoffs, loser has to pine over this loss for a year while being eliminated from the playoff discussion.

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