It’s Rivalry Week for college football. Time for bitter enemies to settle their difference on the field in a civilized manner. The spirit of fair play and sportsmanship really comes through with so many rivalry game nicknames including references to hatred, wars, battles and brawls.
Weekend Predictions is coming off its third losing week of the season. That means I’m also facing my main rival, smothering self-doubt. The Patriots could have spared me the angst by kicking a freakin’ field goal to cover. Or I could have saved myself the trouble by not trusting the freakin’ Falcons to win as a favorite.
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The predictions are a day early this week. That’s mostly because the Falcons are playing the Saints on Thursday. Also, I wanted to get them out of the way before family members show up, start complaining about everything I do as host and further fuel my self-doubts.
Saints (-7) at Falcons
For the second year in a row the NFL is offering Saints-Falcons on Thanksgiving night. NBC must have been thrilled when the Falcons temporarily put out their dumpster fire with the victory at New Orleans. That added some intrigue to the rematch. But then the Falcons got thrashed at home by the Buccaneers last week and now Julio Jones (shoulder) may not play. I’ll take New Orleans and give the points.
No. 4 Georgia (-28½) at Georgia Tech
Tech coach Geoff Collins said his team tends to “relax” after tasting a bit of success: “We are constantly trying to fight that urge and showing examples of how we can’t do that in this program.” You’d think losing to The Citadel would have been enough to cure the Yellow Jackets of that urge. The Bulldogs will get Tech’s best shot, but I see the visitors pulling away in the fourth quarter to cover.
Georgia State (+7½) at Georgia Southern
Georgia State has won three of five games in the series, including both meetings in Statesboro. The Panthers handled South Alabama last week despite QB Dan Ellington playing on a bum knee. They’ll encounter more resistance against the Eagles. I’ll take Georgia Southern to cover.
Other rivalry games of interest
No. 1 Ohio State (-9) at No. 13 Michigan
Michigan somehow has won only once in the past 15 meetings against Ohio State. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh’s career as a player and coach has been defined by defying expectations, but he’s 0-4 against the Buckeyes. “I’m very aware of the rivalry, having played in it, having coached in it, having grown up here, and my dad (Jack) was a coach,” Harbaugh told reporters in Ann Arbor this week. Harbaugh is under so much pressure to win it almost makes me feel sorry for him. I’ll take Michigan and the points.
Texas A&M (+17) at No. 2 LSU
Last weekend at Sanford Stadium, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher tried to pull a Will Muschamp by playing it safe and counting on Kirby Smart to be even safer. Fisher’s team was better once he let QB Kellen Mond and his big wide receivers go to work. I’m thinking TAMU does that from the start against the Tigers, who are vulnerable against the pass. I like the Aggies to cover.
No. 3 Clemson (-27) at South Carolina
That was a time when losing to South Carolina was the blemish on coach Dabo Swinney’s resume. Three of Clemson’s eight losses from 2011 to 2013 were against the Gamecocks. (That was back when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier still cared.) Clemson since has won five in a row against South Carolina by an average margin of 23 points. The ’Cocks have faded since ending its losing streak against Georgia, and Clemson is rolling. I’ll take the Tigers and give the points.
No. 5 Alabama (-3½) at No. 15 Auburn
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is 2-4 against Alabama. Most schools would take that record against the best program for the past decade, but it’s a little different when that program happens to be the hated rival. Malzahn is feeling added pressure for this Iron Bowl because Bama star QB Tua Tagovailoa (hip) is out. I like the Tigers with the points and hope they win because it’s fun seeing Malzahn stay one step ahead of the posse calling for his job.
No. 7 Oklahoma (-13) at No. 21 Oklahoma State
The Bedlam series is boring. Oklahoma State has won only 18 times in 113 tries against Oklahoma. Coach Mike Gundy is 2-12 against Oklahoma, which is the historical standard. But immediate predecessor Les Miles was 2-2 against the Sooners, and that’s back when Bob Stoops had them competing for national championships. I’ll back the home underdog this year.
No. 12 Wisconsin (-3) at No. 8 Minnesota
While looking into the history of my favorite rivalry trophy, Paul Bunyan’s Axe, I discovered that it replaced the Slab of Bacon trophy. That sounds awesome, except it wasn’t a slab of bacon but “a piece of black walnut wood carved with a football” with the word “bacon” etched at both ends. That trophy went missing after Minnesota’s victory in 1943 until it was found by a Wisconsin intern in 1994, which is a likely story. The Gophers followed their close loss at Iowa with a convincing victory at Northwestern yet are home ’dogs against the lower-ranked team. I like them to cover.
Florida State (+17½) at No. 11 Florida
This game features one of my favorite rivalry scenarios: the interim head coach who can win and possibly ride a wave of emotion to the permanent gig. Longtime Florida State assistant Odell Haggins is 4-0 when filling in for coaches who depart Tallahassee. He won two games in 2017 after Fisher left for Texas A&M and is 2-0 since Willie Taggart was fired this season. I’m taking Florida and giving the points.
Oregon State (+19 ½) at No. 14 Oregon
This used to be an even rivalry. Then coach Rich Brooks arrived at Oregon and went 14-3-1 vs. Oregon State. He left after the 1994 season, but the Ducks are 17-7 against the Beavers since then, including wins in 10 of the past 11. I like Oregon to cover in the latest Civil War.
No. 16 Notre Dame (-16½) at Stanford
For all the talk about this “rivalry” it’s been a regular thing only since the 1990s. The bar is always low for Notre Dame hype. The Fighting Irish beat Stanford on Jan. 1, 1925 to secure their first national title, then the teams played just three times over the next 39 years. Stanford had its three-game winning streak snapped in last year’s meeting and is finishing its first losing season since 2008. I’ll take Notre Dame and give the points.
No. 24 Virginia Tech (-2 ½) at Virginia
USA Today reports that Arkansas is targeting Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente for its vacancy. I’m not sure why Fuente would leave a program that can win the ACC Coastal and pays him $4 million in salary for a program competing for fourth place in the SEC West. The Hokies have won 15 consecutive meetings against Virginia. This year’s winner goes to the ACC Championship game. I’m taking Virginia and the points.
Last week: 6-7 (94-68-5 season)
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