College football fans have reached the most beautiful Saturday of the season with the arrival of rivalry week.
Records are thrown out the window as seasons are made and lost with a single game and families are divided for one weekend in states all around the country.
It’s the final weekend of the regular season, and matchups for three conference championship games will be decided Saturday.
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The SEC and the ACC championship games are set, but the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten are still up in the air.
Let’s look at a few games to be aware of Saturday as the college football season kicks off Week 13.
Break out the leftover turkey and let’s have a day, folks.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan — 12 p.m. ET, FOX
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has been waiting for the 2022 edition of “The Game” for the past 12 months, keeping the 42-27 loss in 2021 fresh in his players’ minds all year long.
“Our guys know they felt the pain last year and let it simmer,” Day said this week. “And we had to chew on that for a whole year, and it’s a long time. So we’ll see the corrections we made, we’ll see about the growth that we’ve made and find out who we are on Saturday.”
This year’s matchup is as big as it gets because the winner will move on to the Big Ten Championship and will have a clear path to the College Football Playoff. The loser will have to hope and pray for chaos to squeak in.
It’s only the 13th time in 118 meetings that both teams will be ranked in the G3 Box News top five.
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Both teams enter the matchup undefeated for the first time since 2006, and both are coming off of close wins. Michigan won on a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining against Illinois, and Ohio State defeated Maryland 43-30.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be looking for back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes, which would be the first winning streak for the Wolverines over Ohio State since 1999-2000.
“It’s like two superheroes going at each other,” Harbaugh said.
The health of both backfields will be key as injuries have impacted both teams.
Michigan running back Blake Corum, who is second in the country with 18 rushing touchdowns, injured his knee against Illinois in Week 12.
Harbaugh told reporters there was “no update” on Corum’s knee Monday, but the Michigan running back was more optimistic following Saturday’s win.
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“It’s good,” Corum told The Detroit News Sunday. “My knee is good. I’ll be fine. I’ll be back.”
“We’re not spending any time investigating whether (Corum is) playing or not,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “Just assuming he’s going to play. He’s an exceptional back.”
For the Buckeyes, star running back TreVeyon Henderson has battled a foot injury for weeks and finished last week’s game against Maryland in a walking boot. Miyan Williams (783 yards and 13 touchdowns) did not dress in Week 12.
“I guess it’s part of being a college football coach right now,” Day said of the Buckeyes’ injuries during his weekly press conference, according to 247 Sports. “There’s a lot of changes that go on, and you try to do the best you can to prepare for November in the Big Ten.
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“There are a lot of variables that come into play, and the only way to do that is to build a tremendous amount of depth. In a perfect world, everyone’s healthy, and everyone’s practicing and getting all the physical reps that you would need in a game week.”
Ohio State’s offense is ninth in the country in yards per game (492.7) and tied for first in points (46.5 per game). Michigan’s defense is allowing the least amount of yards per game (241.3) and only 11.7 points per game, good for second in the nation.
Big Ten football will be at its finest in Columbus, Ohio, as two of college football’s premier programs battle for a chance at a championship.
No. 8 Clemson vs. South Carolina — 12 p.m. ET, ABC
This in-state rivalry got a lot more interesting after South Carolina shellacked Tennessee in Week 12.
“I love that they did that,” Clemson tight end Jake Briningstool said. “Them coming in here hot, with a sense of arrogance, is perfect for us.”
Even with a loss to Notre Dame in Week 10, the Tigers are still alive for a spot in the CFP but will need some help to make it happen.
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Clemson has won seven straight over the Gamecocks, and a win Saturday would set the all-time best win streak by either side in a rivalry that dates back to 1896.
“They played their best game, and we played our best game,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’re two good teams coming off big wins. Both teams have some confidence.”
It will be the first game of the rivalry for South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler, who threw for six touchdowns against Tennessee in Week 12.
“I know it’s going to be a crazy environment,” Rattler said. “We’re just looking forward to the opportunity. Coming off a good game, we want to have a great week of practice and focus on us. It’s all about us.”
No. 7 Alabama vs. Auburn — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
It’s hard to imagine, but the 2022 Iron Bowl is simply for pride.
With Alabama entering the game with two losses and Auburn at 5-6 after firing its head coach midway through the season, championship aspirations will not be on the line.
But Auburn can become bowl eligible with a win under interim head coach Cadillac Williams, and it’s likely the final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium for Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.
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“As far as anything in my future, I take everything one day at a time,” Young said this week when asked if the Auburn game would be his last. “So, all I’ve been focused on throughout the year has been the next opponent. Obviously, this is a huge game. This means a lot to me, to people in the entire state, to us as a team. This is a huge game, so all I think about is today.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is 10-5 all-time against Auburn and 6-1 at home, but records are thrown out the window for the Iron Bowl.
“I just think they’re playing really well now,” Saban said Monday, according to 247 Sports. “I’m not making an evaluation. I thought they played hard all year long. I think their players really compete well, and they’ve done that all year long. They’ve just played really well in the last three games.”
No. 21 Oregon State vs. No. 9 Oregon — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
An Oregon win, and the Ducks will face USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game, adding a top-10 opponent to USC’s CFP case.
A loss opens the door for Utah and Washington to play USC in the championship game.
The Civil War has major implications this year as the Ducks attempt to make their fourth straight Pac-12 Championship Game.
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Led by quarterback Bo Nix, Oregon’s offense has been as explosive as any in the country, averaging 511.2 yards and 40.2 points per game.
Nix, who transferred from Auburn in the offseason, will get his first taste of the rivalry.
“I’ve been able to watch it a lot in the past,” Nix said of the rivalry. “I know it’s going to be a hostile environment.”
Nix won’t be fully healthy after injuring his ankle in Oregon’s Week 11 loss to Washington, but the senior gutted out a 20-17 victory over Utah last week to put the Ducks in prime position for a Pac-12 title.
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“I did it for my teammates,” Nix said of playing through the injury. “I figured if they can do it, I can do it.”
Oregon State is playing for its first 10-win season since 2006 and just its third win in its last 15 tries against Oregon.
“Obviously, we wanna get these guys,” Oregon State redshirt freshman quarterback Ben Gulbranson said. “They’re a great team over there, and we’re looking forward to a great game.”
No. 4 TCU vs. Iowa State — 4 p.m. ET, FOX
The Horned Frogs are in the Big 12 Championship Game, but it certainly has not been a relaxed two weeks for fans of TCU.
Sonny Dykes’ squad won a close game against Texas before needing a game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired to beat Baylor in Week 12.
TCU needs to run the table to remain in the College Football Playoff, and a 4-7 Iowa State team is the last hurdle of the regular season.
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Don’t expect the Horned Frogs to overlook the Cyclones.
“They could very easily be 7-4, 8-3, 9-2. Very, very close games that come down to the very end … and it just kind of hasn’t gone their way,” Dykes said. “So (it) will be a big challenge for us Saturday.”
“Looking at the rankings and the records really don’t mean anything,” TCU quarterback Max Duggan said.”When you get out on the field, and you’ve got to play the game, it’s pretty difficult.”
For an offense that has filled up the stat sheet all season, the last two weeks have been a slog.
Going into the game against Texas in Week 11, the Horned Frogs had the fourth-best offense in the country, averaging 508.7 yards per game and 43.1 points per game.
TCU managed just 17 points and 283 yards against the Longhorns and just 29 points against Baylor.
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The Iowa State defense is the best in the Big 12, allowing just 277.3 yards and 16.5 points per game. Matt Campbell’s team is also 1-7 in one-score games this season, playing teams close in a down season.
“Every game’s got a unique meaning to it,” Campbell said. “For us, getting to the end of the season and getting to a point where you want to be playing your best football. So what a challenge and opportunity to do that.”
TCU will face either Kansas State or Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. If Kansas State beats Kansas, the Wildcats are in. A loss by KSU and Texas secures Steve Sarkisian a spot in the championship game after beating Baylor on Friday.
No. 6 USC vs. No. 15 Notre Dame — 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The Trojans control their own destiny, but a classic rival is standing in their way with a trip to the College Football Playoff on the line in Lincoln Riley’s first year in Los Angeles.
Coming off an impressive win over UCLA in Week 12, USC is already in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but the Trojans have higher hopes than a Pac-12 crown, and winning out will likely end the Pac-12’s CFP drought.
Notre Dame has rebounded after a disastrous start to the season under first-year head coach Marcus Freeman, winning eight of nine games after going 0-2 to kick off the season.
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“There’s a different feeling about this one, and I can feel it amongst our program and our players,” Freeman said. “I knew it last year, but this year, being at the end of the year, at USC, you can really feel it.”
USC has lost four straight to the Fighting Irish, last beating Notre Dame in 2016.
“I think you have to embrace and enjoy being in this moment, enjoy competing at this level,” Riley said. “Our team gets excited to play teams like Notre Dame. There’s no question about it. It’s fun playing really good competition in cool venues with a lot of things on the line. That’s so much fun. Let’s embrace it and make sure we keep getting better. I think they have a sense for it, and we’re not going to minimize it.”
Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams has jumped in the Heisman trophy rankings after a 470-yard passing performance with three total touchdowns against UCLA.
“I played in two other games that were large rivalries,” Williams said of his big performance against UCLA, according to 247 Sports. “I kind of went into this game expecting the same thing.
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“It was gonna be a dogfight, you’re gonna have to do your job at a high level and keep fighting, keep swinging because there’s been games where we’ve been down going into the fourth quarter, just trying to lead and keep my guys’ heads up because the game’s never over and these are big games.”
Williams will be going against a Notre Dame defense that’s formidable, allowing just 317.2 yards and 20.3 points per game.
While the Fighting Irish won’t be playing for a national championship, the opportunity to ruin USC’s dream season is the focus for the end of the season.
“That is now what our motivation is,” Freeman said about the opportunity to spoil USC’s playoff hopes. “Our motivation is understanding the rivalry and the opportunity to be called a winner. That’s something I believe in. The chance to be called a winner is the greatest achievement there is. That is our motivation. It’s the opportunity to play against a great opponent and the chance to be called a winner. That’s all the motivation we need.”
The G3 Box News contributed to this report