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Forde-Yard Dash: Previewing Rivalry Week's Most Significant Showdowns

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where Duke, Indiana, Vanderbilt and Florida International are down to their last chance to win a league game:

MORE DASH: SEC Dysfunction | CFP Race | Sunshine State Woes


One of the staple Thanksgiving weekend side dishes is a heaping helping of hate, served in rivalry form. There are annual grudge-match showdowns across this great land of ours, some of which matter a lot. The Dash breaks down the nine traditional matchups wherein both teams have winning records, at least three of which could impact the playoff race:

Ohio State-Michigan (21). Noon ET Saturday in Ann Arbor. Ohio State is favored by 8 1/2.

Relevance: Almost as high as it can get. Winner takes the Big Ten East, advances to the Big Ten championship game and moves into very strong CFP position. The only way it gets better is if one or both were undefeated.

Hate meter: Also very near the max. Please recall that Ohio State coach Ryan Day came away from one 2020 Big Ten conference call kerfuffle with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh suitably steamed to tell his team he wanted to “hang 100” on the Wolverines. That game wound up being canceled by COVID-19 protocols, so we’ll see whether Day brings that pent-up energy with him to Ann Arbor.

Series: Michigan leads 58–52–6, but Ohio State has won eight in a row. Harbaugh, as everyone but a few remote Tibetan yak herders are well aware, has never beaten the Buckeyes as Michigan’s head coach.

Key matchup: Ohio State’s stout offensive line against the Michigan sack tandem of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Those two are tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks with 10 apiece, and they’ll need to be at their best to make C.J. Stroud uncomfortable in the pocket and affect his ability to deliver to the best receiving corps in the country. If Hutchinson and Ojabo can’t get home, this could be another in a long line of Buckeyes romps through the Michigan secondary.

Dash pick: Ohio State 34, Michigan 24.

Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, left, has not beaten Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley in any of their four meetings.

Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, left, has not beaten Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley in any of their four meetings.

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (22). 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Stillwater. Oklahoma State is favored by 3 1/2.

Relevance: Damn near Peak Bedlam. Both are ranked in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1984, when the Sooners were No. 2 and the Cowboys were No. 3. Both retain national championship aspirations. The only drawback is that this game doesn’t definitively decide anything, and it may only be the first of two consecutive meetings between them.

Hate meter: Turn it up to 11. Oklahoma is jilting the Big 12 for the SEC at some point in the future, leaving its in-state rival to subsist in a conference with diminished marketability. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said Monday this could be the last Bedlam series meeting in Stillwater, so the Sooners should be prepared for maximum home-field hostility.

Series: Oklahoma leads 90–18–7, an incredibly lopsided record that has actually titled farther in favor of the Sooners in the last 18 meetings. They have won 16 of them.

Key matchup: Oklahoma’s least-productive offense of the Lincoln Riley Era against Oklahoma State’s best defense of the Gundy Era. While the Sooners are not operating at a vintage level offensively, they do still lead the Big 12 in yards per play (6.94). The Cowboys leads the Big 12 in fewest yards allowed per play (4.34). Both are in the top five nationally in those statistics. The Cowboys have surged to the top in sacks nationally at 42, piling up a whopping 20 in the last three games. If Oklahoma freshman quarterback Caleb Williams continues to hold the ball a long time in the pocket, he’s going to take a lot of hits.

Dash pick: Oklahoma State 24, Oklahoma 16.

MORE: Oregon’s Loss Opens Up Playoff Chaos Scenarios

Alabama-Auburn (23). 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Auburn. Alabama is favored by 19 1/2.

Relevance: With the Tigers 6–5, this isn’t one of the bigger Iron Bowls. But Alabama still has everything to play for and Auburn has played spoiler to the Crimson Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium before.

Hate meter: Just the usual deep, abiding, 365-day-a-year spite. Perhaps it’s a pinch less bitter than usual with Bryan Harsin in his first year at Auburn and with no history in the rivalry, but the fans will more than make up for that.

Series: Alabama leads 47–37–1. The Crimson Tide has won five of the last seven, but lost the last two and three of the last four at Auburn.

Key matchup: Alabama’s increasingly potent passing offense against Auburn’s suspect pass defense, which collapsed in ghastly fashion in the second half against Mississippi State Nov. 13. The Crimson Tide are second nationally in pass efficiency; the Tigers are 94th national in pass efficiency defense. If one of the standard theories for how upsets happen revolves around generating turnovers, Auburn’s six interceptions and nine total takeaways on the season doesn’t indicate an ability to force many major Alabama mistakes.

Dash pick: Alabama 38, Auburn 21.

Oregon State-Oregon (24). 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Eugene. Oregon is favored by seven.

Relevance: Pretty high. Both teams enter with winning records for the first time since 2013, and both still could win the Pac-12 North. The Ducks take the title with a victory over the Beavers, while Oregon State needs to win and have Washington defeat Washington State. Oregon State has never played in the Pac-12 championship game and hasn’t won even a share of the league title since 2000.

Hate meter: They don’t like each other, but this will never reach Iron Bowl levels of animosity. The Beavers’ upset of the Ducks last season did return some zest to the rivalry.

Series: Oregon leads 66–48–10. The Ducks have won 11 of the last 13.

Key matchup: Oregon State running back B.J. Baylor vs. Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell. That’s an admitted oversimplification of the Beavers’ running game against the Ducks’ run defense, but there should be several meetings of the two key cogs of those units. Oregon State is 4–1 when Baylor has 20 or more carries as the leading man in a heavy ground attack, 3–3 when he has fewer than 20 attempts. Sewell leads the Oregon defense with 8.1 tackles per game. Let the collisions commence.

Dash pick: Oregon State 28, Oregon 27.

Wisconsin-Minnesota (25). 4 p.m. ET Saturday in Minneapolis. Wisconsin is favored by 6 1/2.

Relevance: Paul Bunyan is swinging a pretty big ax this year. The Badgers are poised to take the Big Ten West with a victory, while the Gophers remain in the hunt as well.

Hate meter: The whole Minnesota Nice thing doesn’t extend to the fans’ thoughts toward the Badgers. And the feeling is mutual on the Wisconsin side of the border. But nobody is poisoning trees over the outcome of the football game.

Series: Wisconsin leads 62–60–8. The Badgers have won 16 of the last 17 meetings, with only 2018 serving as a brief blip of Gopher glory in the rivalry since earlier this century.

Key matchup: Badgers jumbo back Braelon Allen against the Minnesota run defense. The 6’2”, 238-pound freshman has reeled off seven straight 100-yard rushing games, topping out at 228 Saturday against Nebraska. (Paul Chryst maybe should have considered giving Allen more than 12 total carries in the first four games as his team was staggering to a 1–3 start.) The Gophers are third in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed, giving up just 3.2 yards per carry since being gashed in the opener by Ohio State.

Dash pick: Wisconsin 21, Minnesota 13.

North Carolina-North Carolina State (26). 7 p.m. ET Friday in Raleigh. N.C State is favored by 6 1/2.

Relevance: The Wolfpack is still in the mix to win the ACC Atlantic and play in its first conference championship game. The Tar Heels are trying to salvage a highly disappointing season by at least sweeping Tobacco Road after upsetting Wake Forest and demolishing Duke.

Hate meter: It definitely registers on the meter, even if most of it is tied to basketball and dates back a long time. The two teams staged a spectacular brawl at the end of the 2018 game to remind everyone that they don’t like each other.

Series: North Carolina leads 68–36–6. The Heels have won the last two since Mack Brown returned as coach, but the Wolfpack have won nine of the last 14.

Key matchup: Carolina’s road zeroes vs. NC State’s home heroes. The Heels are 0–4 when they leave Chapel Hill, averaging less than half as many points as when playing at home. The Wolfpack is 6–0 playing in their own stadium and allowing just 14.2 points there. Does Carolina show up or roll over?

Dash pick: NC State 37, North Carolina 28.

Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach

Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach, who used to coach against each other in the Pac-12 with USC and Washington State, respectively,, will face off for the second time in the Egg Bowl on Saturday.

Mississippi-Mississippi State (27). 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday in Starkville. Mississippi State is favored by one.

Relevance: They’re a combined 16–6 and both teams were ranked last week by the CFP selection committee, which isn’t something that happens every year in the Egg Bowl. Winner claims second in the SEC West, which also doesn’t happen every year. And if you’re looking for the weirdest of the weird, there is always great potential here.

Hate meter: It never dips down below toxic, even though Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin have played nice for the most part since taking over their respective programs last year.

Series: Mississippi leads 63–48–6. The last 10 meetings are split five apiece.

Key matchup: Kiffin and Matt Corral vs. Leach and Will Rogers in a gunslinger deluxe duel. The quarterbacks are 1-2 in the SEC in total offense, with Rogers averaging 367.4 yards per game and Corral averaging 332. Rogers will throw it at least 50 times Thursday night, while Corral is liable to throw it 30 times and run it 15.

Dash pick: Mississippi 41, Mississippi State 38.

Clemson-South Carolina (28). 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbia. Clemson is favored by 11 1/2.

Relevance: There are no titles on the line, but the Gamecocks bring a winning record into this game for the first time since 2018. The matchup looks much more even than in most recent meetings. The spread is the smallest since 2014, before Clemson’s Great Awakening.

Hate meter: After years of being dominated, South Carolina fans are dying to add to Clemson’s first disappointing season in a long time. Dabo Swinney is their white whale, and they’d love to shove a harpoon in his side.

Series: Clemson leads 71–42–4. The Tigers have won six straight, only one of them by fewer than 18 points.

Key matchup: Shane Beamer’s YOLO approach vs. Dabo Swinney’s conservatism. Beamer and South Carolina have gone for it 23 times on fourth down, tied for the third-most in the SEC, including at least once in every league game. Swinney and Clemson have gone for it 13 times on fourth down, but six of those were against outmanned Connecticut—outside of that, the Tigers have never gone for it more than once in a game this season. Beamer will probably have to gamble to win, but in what form or fashion will that come?

Dash pick: Clemson 31, South Carolina 24.

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Kentucky-Louisville (29). 7:30 p.m. Saturday ET in Louisville. Louisville is favored by 2 1/2.

Relevance: Both teams enter on two-game winning streaks and are looking to improve bowl positioning. The winner will feel good about themselves, and the loser will have to hear about it for a year.

Hate meter: Always on high, but rarely reaching the basketball levels. This may shock you, but both sides believe the other side is lacking in class for various reasons.

Series: Kentucky leads 17–15 and has won the last two and three of the last four. In games not coached by Bobby Petrino, Louisville is 8–15 against the Wildcats.

Key matchup: Kentucky vs. itself. The Wildcats are a minus-14 turnover margin, which is 129th in the country out of 130. They are one of only two teams in the bottom 17 in that category with a winning record (Liberty is the other). Louisville enters the game a plus-four in its last three games and hasn’t committed a turnover since October.

Dash pick: Louisville 30, Kentucky 27.

The lame duck/interim coach rivalry salvage missions (30)

Florida State-Florida: the Gators gassed Dan Mullen Sunday and will trudge into this game under interim Greg Knox. Both teams are 5–6, which means the winner can go to a bottom-feeder bowl (and probably have a bunch of players opt out). Dash pick: Florida State 26, Florida 21.

Virginia Tech-Virginia: J.C. Price steps in for Justin Fuente to lead the Hokies, who are 5–6 and scraping for their own bowl eligibility. Dash pick: Virginia 34, Virginia Tech 27.

Texas A&M-LSU: Ed Orgeron’s Tiger Stadium farewell comes against an Aggies team that might be struggling for motivation after blowing its season against the state of Mississippi. Coach O has a great record as an underdog, and may well rip his shirt off at some point in time before, during or after this game. Dash pick: LSU 27, Texas A&M 26.

MORE DASH: SEC Dysfunction | CFP Race | Sunshine State Woes

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