Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (rosary beads sold separately in El Paso, where UTEP is down to its last chance Saturday to avoid a winless season):
DASH THIRD QUARTER: YOUR RIVALRY PRIMER
So many enticing rivalry games, so little time to discuss them all. So let’s get right to this quick sprint through the 10 best rivalry games being played this week, ranking them on relevance, heat and tradition:
Alabama-Auburn (21). Relevance: 5. Heat: 5. Tradition: 5. Where: Auburn. When: 3:30 ET Saturday. Line: Alabama by 4 ½. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: College Football Playoff hopes, plus the SEC West championship. Key matchup: Alabama’s patchwork linebacking corps against Auburn’s potent rushing attack and penchant for misdirection. Dash pick: Auburn 26, Alabama 24. It won’t come down to a 109-yard kick six, but it could be another Iron Bowl classic.
Ohio State-Michigan (22). Relevance: 4½. Heat: 5. Tradition: 5. Where: Ann Arbor. When: Noon Saturday. Line: Ohio State by 11 1/2. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: Ohio State’s CFP hopes, Michigan’s revenge from last year’s Bitterly Disappointed Bowl. Key matchup: Buckeyes’ pass rush against the potentially overwhelmed and overmatched Wolverines backup quarterback, John O’Korn. Dash pick: Ohio State 21, Michigan 9. Urban Meyer goes to 3-0 against Jim Harbaugh, and the 2017 Wolverines go the entire regular season without a quality win.
Clemson-South Carolina (23). Relevance: 4½. Heat: 4. Tradition: 3. Where: Columbia. When: 7:30 Saturday. Line: Clemson by 14. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: Tigers’ CFP aspirations. Key matchup: Clemson’s pass rush against South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley. The Tigers are second nationally in sacks with 39, and sophomore QB Bentley has struggled lately — in his last five games against FBS competition, he has two touchdowns and five interceptions and is averaging fewer than 200 passing yards. Dash pick: Clemson 29, South Carolina 21. This one will be too close for Dabo to call grandstanding timeouts in the final minutes.
Georgia-Georgia Tech (24). Relevance: 4½. Heat: 4. Tradition: 3. Where: Atlanta. When: Noon Saturday. Line: Georgia by 11. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: Bulldogs’ CFP hopes and dreams. Key matchup: Georgia’s ferocious defense against Tech’s unique option attack. Will star linebacker Roquan Smith and his teammates pass their crash course in assignment football against the triple option? Dash pick: Georgia 21, Georgia Tech 14. Kirby Smart reverses the third and final rivalry loss from his debut season, having previously avenged defeats against Florida and Tennessee.
Mississippi-Mississippi State (25). Relevance: 3. Heat: 5-plus. Tradition: 3. Where: Starkville. When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Line: Mississippi State by 16. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: Pure hate, with Ole Miss awaiting an NCAA Committee on Infractions ruling that includes allegations based on Mississippi State players’ testimony. The nation’s nastiest rivalry features a State linebacker (Leo Lewis) who is facing Ole Miss for the second time this year, having already seen coach Matt Luke in the COI hearing room in September. Key matchup: Bulldogs’ running tandem of Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams against a Rebels defense that is last in the SEC in yards allowed per carry at 5.43. Dash pick: Mississippi State 49, Mississippi 28. The Rebels could take their next L the following week, if/when the COI ruling comes down.
Washington State-Washington (26). Relevance: 4. Heat: 3. Tradition: 3. Where: Seattle. When: 8:00 Saturday. Line: Washington by nine. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: The Pac-12 North title — Cougars take it with a victory, Stanford gets it if the Huskies win. Key matchup: The top two defenses in the Pac-12 against two veteran quarterbacks who have combined to throw more than 3,000 collegiate passes. Dash pick: Washington 26, Washington State 16. Chris Petersen’s Apple Cup winning streak extends to four, and Mike Leach’s losing streak extends to five.
Wisconsin-Minnesota (27). Relevance: 4½. Heat: 2. Tradition: 3. Where: Minneapolis. When: 3:30 Saturday. Line: Wisconsin by 17. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: The Badgers’ undefeated season and playoff goals. Key matchup: Alex Hornibrook against himself. The Wisconsin quarterback made a couple of dazzling throws when it mattered most against Michigan on Saturday, but also ran his interception streak to eight straight games. Only thing that can keep the Gophers in the game are self-inflicted Wisconsin wounds — and Hornibrook has been known to do that. Dash pick: Wisconsin 23, Minnesota 7. Another in a series of Badger defensive strangulations.
Louisville-Kentucky (28). Relevance: 3. Heat: 3. Tradition: 2. Where: Lexington. When: Noon Saturday. Line: Louisville by 10. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: If Baker Mayfield’s crotch grab reopened the Heisman Trophy race even a sliver, this is 2016 winner Lamar Jackson’s chance to take advantage. Key matchup: Jackson against Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson. Last year the two combined for 839 yards of total offense and seven total touchdowns. More of the same this time, please. Dash pick: Louisville 52, Kentucky 38. Jackson’s final game on Kentucky soil will be memorable.
North Carolina-North Carolina State (29). Relevance: 2. Heat: 4. Tradition: 2. Where: Raleigh. When: 3:30 Saturday. Line: N.C. State by 16½. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: This is the Wolfpack’s first major opportunity to vent its fury over the Tar Heels’ clean basketball getaway from NCAA sanctions last month. Key matchup: A UNC offensive line that is among the worst in the ACC in allowing negative-yardage plays (73 so far) against human wrecking ball Bradley Chubb (23 tackles for loss, second in the nation). Dash pick: North Carolina 28, N.C. State 26. Tar Heels end dismal season on a three-game winning streak.
South Florida-Central Florida (30). Relevance: 4½. Heat: 2. Tradition: 1. Where: Orlando. When: 3:30 p.m. Friday. Line: UCF by 11. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: Plenty. The championship of the AAC East for starters, plus a potential New Years Six bowl bid for the winner. Key matchup: Quarterback McKenzie Milton of UCF against USF QB Quinton Flowers. The two have combined for 57 total touchdowns this season and more than 6,000 total yards. Dash pick: UCF 38, USF 24. Provided Scott Frost’s mind is on the game and not his next job, he has the better team.
Indiana-Purdue (31). Relevance: 3. Heat: 2. Tradition: 2. Where: West Lafayette. When: Noon Saturday. Line: Purdue by 2½. What’s on the line beyond bragging rights: Both teams are 5-6, so bowl eligibility is the goal in their first seasons under new coaches. Matchup to watch: Renewed Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow against Purdue’s surprising defense. Underachieving raw talent Lagow was benched for most of October, then given a chance to redeem himself and has done so impressively in the last four games. Dash pick: Purdue 19, Indiana 14. It’s not quite like beating Bob Knight, but beating the Hoosiers to qualify for the school’s first bowl game in five years is a big deal.
Complete rivalry bust: Florida-Florida State (32). A once-great rivalry now matches teams with losing records, both 4-6. Last time that happened was the first time they met, in 1959. Sad state of affairs at two of the five schools that have won multiple national titles since 1999.