The Forde-Yard Dash: Revved up for Thanksgiving rivalries
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (seven-second delay sold separately for potty-mouthed Lee Corso (1), who went Howard Stern from Houston on Saturday on an unsuspecting ”Gameday” audience):
What a boring week. The state of Oklahoma collapsed in Waco and Ames – not the normal locales for season-altering November drama – leaving the SEC even more in charge than it always is. The Heisman Trophy race ballooned from about 2 ½ contenders to seven. Miami checked itself out of the postseason, avoiding an expensive trip to an off-brand bowl that none of its fans wanted to travel to anyway.
And now we’re very likely looking at the first-ever intradivisional BCS Championship Game. Let the caterwauling commence.
But before we get down to the nitty-gritty of deciding BCS bowl bids, we have to finish November with The Dash’s favorite football weekend of the year – the Thanksgiving rivalry extravaganza. For your help in plotting couch time and/or escaping from annoying relatives or dreadful shopping excursions, The Dash has ranked the rivalries 1-20, using a five-point scale for three criteria:
Impact. How important is the game this year?
Heat. How much emotional investment by fans, players and coaches is there in this game?
History. How big has the rivalry been over time?
The hierarchy of hate
Impact: 5. If the Crimson Tide wins, it could sew up a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
Heat: 5. Does the name Harvey Updyke ring a bell? And how about the revenge factor for Alabama after blowing a 24-point lead at home last year to an Auburn team that went on to win the national title?
History: 5. There has been a multitude of dramatic games involving great teams and larger-than-life personalities.
Total: 15. There is nothing in sports more intense than the Iron Bowl. Factor in national championship and Heisman implications and this game is mammoth for the third year in a row.
Dash pick: Alabama 35, Auburn 10. The impressively vengeful Nick Saban is 5-1 at ‘Bama in payback games against teams that beat the Tide the previous season. The Tigers have virtually no chance to win this game.
Arkansas at LSU (3). When: Friday, 2:30. Favorite: LSU by 12 ½.
Impact: 5. They’re ranked No. 1 and No. 3, with national title hopes on both sides. It gets no bigger than that.
Heat: 4. Neither side likes the other, and perhaps less these days than ever. But this isn’t a hatefest along the lines of some old-school rivalries.
History: 3 1/2. They used to meet annually in Shreveport, La., but that was from 1913-36 – not a lot of people still breathing who are talking about those games. From 1937-91 they only met four times in the regular season. The rivalry rekindled in 1992 when Arkansas joined the SEC, and they do have an appropriately goofy trophy for the winner (the Golden Boot), and most of the recent meetings have been thrillers. But this isn’t one of the game’s classic rivalries. Yet.
Total: 12 ½. The biggest game of the weekend, even if it’s not the biggest rivalry game. If that makes sense.
Dash pick: LSU 24, Arkansas 17. Tigers haven’t given up more than 11 points in a game since September – but they haven’t faced an offense this potent since their opener against Oregon. It won’t be easy.
Impact: 3. Both teams have disappointed. The Aggies hugely, the Longhorns slightly. Both already are bowl eligible. A&M coach Mike Sherman may or may not be coaching for his job, but this is a game that is far more important for psychological and esteem purposes than any on-the-field stakes.
Heat: 5. With this the last scheduled meeting in a 117-game rivalry, passions will be off the charts for fans. Both sides already hate each other, then factor in the finger-pointing in recent months about who did more to damage the Big 12 and jeopardize the rivalry. Hopefully a sense of Thanksgiving goodwill keeps things from getting too ugly.
History: 4. The first game was played in 1894, and they’ve played nearly every year since then (sometimes twice a year). There have been long streaks of domination (from 1964-81 A&M won just once; from 1991-2001 Texas won just once) and plenty of classic games.
Total: 12. If either team were playing for something major this would be a candidate for first on the list.
Dash pick: Texas A&M 30, Texas 24. Aggies won’t blow a lead this time.
Ohio State at Michigan (5). When: Saturday, noon. Favorite: Wolverines by 7 ½.
Impact: 3. There are no division or Big Ten titles on the line. Both teams are bowl-eligible. For the first time in a long time, the Wolverines come in on a higher plane than the Buckeyes.
Heat: 4. Brady Hoke stoked the ardor of Wolverines fans by putting a bullseye on the Buckeyes from the day he arrived in Ann Arbor. But it’s hard to summon much emotion for Luke Fickell, the lame-duck replacement for Jim Tressel who may or may not be keeping the seat warm for Urban Meyer.
History: 5. No rivalry had a more storied stretch that Bo vs. Woody in the 1970s. But that’s not all. It was a great rivalry before those two coaching icons, and it’s been a great one after.
Total: 12. There have been years when this game could have scored a 15, but this is not one of them. Blame it on the tattoo parlor.
Dash pick: Michigan 21, Ohio State 10.
Impact: 3 ½. The Bruins are playing for a shot at the Pac-12 South Division title, which would be the best thing that has happened to that program in years. For the postseason-banned Trojans, this is their bowl game. They probably said the same thing last week before upsetting Oregon, but it’s all the more true now.
Heat: 3 ½. Both coaches are easy for opposing fan bases to dislike – as if either side needed more reasons to criticize the other. Rick Neuheisel’s constantly fluctuating approval ratings from his own fans adds to the background noise surrounding this game.
History: 4 ½. There have been huge games that helped decide national championships: the O.J. Simpson run to win the game in 1967; the Bruins’ shocking defensive shutdown of the Trojans in 2006. But lately this has been a mismatch. USC has won 11 of the past 12, and only two of those were single-digit victories.
Total: 11 ½. Visual appeal of the game, from the uniforms to the grass to the song girls to the normally warm weather, warrants a slight edge over the Backyard Brawl.
(The game could move further up the list if Dashette and California native Alyssa Miller (7) shows up in The Coliseum.)
Dash pick: USC 24, UCLA 19. Trojans cannot afford a major letdown from the Oregon game or they could be ambushed.
Impact: 3 ½. Both teams are tied in the loss column for the Big East Conference lead. (Then again, so are about 23 other teams.) Two first-year head coaches both in need of a big victory to galvanize underwhelmed fan bases.
Heat: 4 ½. Depending which exit strategy wins out, this could be their final meeting as conference brethren, with the Panthers bound for the ACC and the Mountaineers ticketed to the Big 12. It’s not likely to be the final Backyard Brawl because both schools are interested in the series continuing, but there might be a few years off and the game might be switched away from its traditional spot on Thanksgiving weekend.
History: 3 ½. They’ve played 103 times, occasionally with national title implications. The most recent of those was Pitt’s stunning upset of West Virginia in 2007 (more on that game and the fallout from it below).
Total: 11 ½. Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen need some time to foster a coaching rivalry. They game-planned against each other in Conference-USA – Graham is a defensive guy and Holgorsen is all offense – but that doesn’t count.
Dash pick: West Virginia 31, Pitt 28. Both teams had last week off to prepare.
Missouri vs. Kansas in Kansas City (9). When: Saturday, 3:30. Favorite: Missouri by 23 ½.
Impact: 2 ½. The Tigers procured bowl eligibility last week with a comeback victory over Texas Tech, so there isn’t much tangible to play for here. Kansas spit the bit on this disastrous season a long time ago.
Heat: 5. Like Texas vs. Texas A&M, this could be the last meeting in an ancient rivalry. Mizzou is outbound for the SEC, leaving Kansas fans howling about betrayal of the Big 12. Of course, the Jayhawks would have done the same thing, no questions asked, if invited. But they weren’t, so the Tigers are the bad guys. Given the Kansas City location, there will be plenty of fans of both teams on hand. Look out.
History: 4. Forget football. Missouri raiding party once burned Lawrence, Kan., to the ground back in the 1800s. How’s that for history?
Total: 11 ½. Mizzou fans used to make fun of Mark Mangino’s eating habits. Now they have to listen to Kansas fans make fun of Gary Pinkel’s drinking habits.
Dash pick: Missouri 44, Kansas 10.
Impact: 4 ½. Winner takes the Coastal Division title and will play in the ACC championship game for a BCS bowl berth. Cavaliers haven’t won an outright ACC title ever, and haven’t even shared one since 1995, so you’d better believe this is a big, hairy deal to them.
Heat: 3. There are abundant differences between the two schools and their alums, which creates natural conflict. But this is no Auburn-Alabama – mostly because both programs were fairly meek for long periods of time.
History: 3. Been playing each other a long time, but not many epic games in recent years. Hokies have won 11 of the past 12, and only two of the last 15 have been decided by single digits.
Total: 10 ½. Mike London’s work this season has elevated this game several spots in the hierarchy.
Dash pick: Virginia 19, Virginia Tech 17. Upset special.
Clemson at South Carolina (11). When: Saturday, 7:45. Favorite: South Carolina by 4.
Impact: 4. Both teams are 9-2, and that’s never happened before in the 115-year history of the rivalry. Both are ranked in the top 20. But the Tigers are coming off a humiliating blowout loss to North Carolina State, and a victory here would not put either in a BCS bowl.
Heat: 3 ½. All opponents of South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier find him irritating, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has given opposing fans some ammo with his occasional, brink-of-insanity outbursts.
History: 3. The massive brawl that ended the 2004 game was a black mark for both schools, but is a memorable testament to the programs’ mutual dislike. Other than a 1-8-2 stretch from 1945-54, Clemson has pretty well dominated this rivalry over the course of its history. But the Gamecocks have won the last two meetings.
Total: 10 ½. After several squeakers, the last three meetings have not been close.
Dash pick: South Carolina 24, Clemson 23.
Impact: 3 ½. It’s a non-league game so nothing tangible is at stake. But both are ranked and the 9-2 Bulldogs are riding a nine-game winning streak that the 8-3 Yellow Jackets would love to end.
Heat: 3 ½. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tech players had rocks thrown at them when they won the first meeting 28-6 in Athens in 1893. It hasn’t gotten a whole lot more civil since.
History: 3 ½. Both programs have defeated the other on the way to a national title. Six of the last seven meetings have been one-score games. Legendary coaches and great players on both sides.
Total: 10 ½. This game is annually huge in the battleground city of Atlanta, the real football capital of the South.
Dash pick: Georgia 35, Georgia Tech 28.
Oregon State at Oregon (13). When: Saturday, 3:30. Favorite: Oregon by 28.
Impact: 3. Big stakes on one side at least. Ducks need to win Civil War game to clinch Pac-12 North title. Beavers (3-8) are simply around to play spoiler.
Heat: 3 ½. Battle of striver programs has tilted toward Eugene the past three years, thanks to Swoosh-related upgrades in facilities and uniforms. Oregon State watching their program skid have had to fall back on Will Lyles-related trash talk.
History: 2 ½. For most of their history, this rivalry hasn’t meant much on the national landscape. The past decade has been the Civil War Golden Era, including a few classic battles.
Total: 9. A cut below the top 10 rivalry games of the week.
Dash pick: Oregon 44, Oregon State 28.
Impact: 2 ½. Two teams that have been sizeable disappointments , but still have plenty of motivation. The Bulldogs are playing for a bowl bid, while the Rebels are trying to send off outgoing coach Houston Nutt with a win.
Heat: 3 ½. State coach Dan Mullen has adopted the “School Which Shall Not Be Named” approach to the Rebels, which echoes Jackie Sherrill’s insistence on calling Ole Miss “Mississippi.” Mullen’s cocksure approach plays better when his team has a winning record, but he’s still succeeded in antagonizing Rebels fans.
History: 3. These two are lightweights in the murderous SEC West, but that doesn’t mean this series hasn’t had a lot of memorable moments. One thing is sure: losing this game is bad for a coach’s job security. Sylvester Croom was fired at State in ’08 after a 45-point rout in the Egg Bowl, and Ed Orgeron was canned at Ole Miss in ’07 after a poor coaching decision helped lead to a 17-14 loss. Not coincidentally, Nutt has lost two straight to the Bulldogs.
Total: 9. Two schools with unrealistic expectations in America’s toughest conference.
Dash pick: Mississippi State 29, Mississippi 14.
Florida State at Florida (15). When: Saturday, 7. Favorite: Florida by 2 ½.
Impact: 2. Two teams with disappointing records and unproven coaches headed to mid-level bowl destinations. We’re a long way from the Bobby Bowden-Steve Spurrier showdowns of the 1990s.
Heat: 2 ½. Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp coached together under Nick Saban, which undercuts the natural fan enmity of this rivalry. Maybe after a few more years of clashing on the recruiting trail the spice will return.
History: 4. For a while, this was as good as any rivalry in America. The apex might have been 1996, when the Seminoles won the regular-season matchup and the Gators got revenge five weeks later in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship. (Alabama would be pleased to see that history repeat itself this season.)
Total: 8 ½. Ho-hum.
Dash pick: Florida 20, Florida State 17.
Impact: 2 ½. The Volunteers are scrambling for a bowl bid. The Wildcats are trying to end the nation’s longest current futility streak in an annual series, having lost 26 straight to Tennessee. And they just might be playing their last game under coach Joker Phillips – probably not, but let’s wait and see.
Heat: 3. It’s the SEC. Everyone hates everyone else. Even the lopsided rivalries have at least a little bitterness.
History: 2. As massively lopsided as this series has been, Kentucky has had its chances through the years. From Jerry Claiborne to Bill Curry to Guy Morriss to Rich Brooks, most former Wildcats coaches have at least one near-miss against Kentucky that still perturbs them.
Total: 7 ½. Eternal Kentucky rejoinder to Tennessee jibes: “Wait ‘til basketball season.”
Dash pick: Tennessee 21, Kentucky 9.
Impact: 3. Boilermakers need to win to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. Indiana’s train-wreck 1-10 season would end on a high note if they kept Purdue out of the postseason.
Heat: 2. This would be a 5 in basketball season.
History: 2. There have been some memorable outcomes in recent years: Indiana’s only bowl bid of the last 18 years came courtesy of a last-second field goal to beat Purdue in 07; Joe Tiller signed off as coach of the Boilermakers the next year with a 62-10 crushing of the Hoosiers; and last year Bill Lynch’s final game at Indiana was a 34-31 overtime upset victory.
Total: 7. There will be empty seats in Bloomington on Saturday. Plenty of them.
Dash pick: Purdue 31, Indiana 21.
Washington State at Washington (18). When: Saturday, 7:30. Favorite: Washington by 6 ½.
Impact: 1 ½. Just bragging rights on the line here – unless Wazzu trap-doors coach Paul Wulff. Huskies are bowl eligible but coming off a disappointing loss to Oregon State; Cougars lost in overtime to Utah and are doomed to an eighth straight bowl-less season.
Heat: 3. A good rivalry needs some stark differences between schools and fan bases, right? Washington is in cosmopolitan, modern Seattle. Washington State is in the remote moonscape of Pullman. That’ll work.
History: 2 ½. Neither program has been worth much in a long time, but there have been some thrillers and surprise finishes over the years.
Total: 7. Quarterback health will be an issue. Huskies expecting their starter back, while Cougars’ starter is out with a lacerated liver.
Dash pick: Washington 28, Washington State 17.
Impact: 2 ½. The Falcons have six wins but two are against FCS opponents, so they need to win this game to make a fourth straight bowl appearance. The Rams could be playing their final game under fourth-year coach Steve Fairchild.
Heat: 2. Air Force’s biggest rivals are Navy and Army. CSU’s biggest rivals are Wyoming and Colorado. But the Falcons and Rams are meeting for the 50th time, tied for the most games against one opponent in Air Force history.
History: 2. Fisher DeBerry vs. Sonny Lubick was an excellent second-tier coaching matchup from 1993-2006. The Rams won eight of those 14 matchups, many of them nailbiters.
Total: 6 ½. Falcons coach Troy Calhoun trying to go 5-0 against the Rams.
Dash pick: Air Force 29, Colorado State 21.
Impact: 2. Tar Heels are bowl eligible as Everitt Withers continues to campaign for the full-time coaching job. The Blue Devils are not bowl eligible, per usual.
Heat: 2. See Purdue-Indiana.
History: 2. Duke has only won once since 1989, but the games lately have been competitive. Just not many people have noticed – including The Dash.
Total: 6. Maybe this is the year David Cutcliffe beats the Heels. Then again, maybe not.
Dash pick: North Carolina 26, Duke 23.
Impact: 2. Both teams are bowl eligible but out of the Big Ten title race. So it’s a matchup of decent teams that will decide nothing.
Heat: 3. Hey, they at least named the game and came up with a trophy. That’s a start in enhancing this prefab rivalry.
History: ½. They’ve played six times since 1946.
Total: 5 ½. Someday, farmers across both states will anxiously await this Thanksgiving weekend game. This is not that day.
Dash pick: Nebraska 23, Iowa 12.
Colorado at Utah (22). When: Friday, 3:30. Favorite: Utah by 20 ½.
Impact: 2 ½. The Utes have won four in a row and are still in the mix to win the Pac-12 South, which gives this game a lot more juice than anyone anticipated a month ago.
Heat: 1 ½. If you really want to get these fan bases fired up, have them debate which state has the best ski resorts. Otherwise, not much heat here.
History: ½. First meeting since 1962.
Total: 4 ½.
Dash pick: Utah 28, Colorado 3.
What if …
Four years ago, The Dash witnessed one of the biggest upsets in recent college football history: Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia 9. The Panthers had a losing record. The Mountaineers needed only to win to play in the BCS Championship Game. They were favored by a whopping 29 points. But from the start, things went wrong for West Virginia. Star kicker Pat McAfee stunningly missed a couple of short field goals. Star quarterback Pat White was injured. And when the Panthers refused to buckle, an unfathomable result helped alter the course of college football. Four years later, with the rivals poised to play Friday, The Dash wonders: what if West Virginia had won?
A few theories:
Ohio State (23), freed from having to face the SEC speed of LSU, would have won the national title over the Mountaineers.
Jim Tressel (24), with two national titles in five years, would have been much harder to move out last spring amid the NCAA violations on his watch. He may well have survived the storm.
Rich Rodriguez (25) would still be the coach of the Mountaineers. The school would have done whatever it took to keep a guy who brought them to the brink of a title. The Big East would have more cache – and maybe more members. Arizona would still be searching for a new coach.
Nobody would ever have heard of sunny Bill Stewart. And Dana Holgorsen (26) would be the rookie head coach at Pitt.
It would have been a heck of a recruiting battle between Rodriguez and Tressel for Terrelle Pryor (27). If Rodriguez had won the battle, the tattoo disaster may never have hit Ohio State.
Les Miles (28) would be the coach at Michigan. Without a national title to play for in ‘07, he would have left his damn strong LSU team for the Wolverines when they called. Michigan never crash lands, never goes on probation, and in tandem with Ohio State keeps the Big Ten from slipping off the sport’s top tier.
His replacement at LSU, Bobby Petrino (29), would be winning big while Arkansas struggles in the post-Houston Nutt Era under Jimbo Fisher (30), who left his successor gig at Florida State to take a big-money offer from the Razorbacks.
Without a successor in place, Bobby Bowden would have been given one more year in 2010 before giving way to Gus Malzahn (31).
And the SEC (32) would not have five straight titles.
Let Penn State play
Penn State (33) deserves almost all of the scrutiny and scorn it has gotten since Nov. 5. Almost. But in some cases the scarlet lettering of the football program has gone a little too far. Specifically: The Nittany Lions should be allowed to finish their season and accept a bowl bid. Fortunately, the team was not yanked off the field before either of its last two games, and will be allowed to compete for a divisional title Saturday at Wisconsin (34). It would be a useless disservice to 100-plus blameless players to not let them finish the season.
And that includes a bowl game. Unless the Nittany Lions win their division and/or the Big Ten title, they’ll probably slide down the bowl pecking order based solely on the whiff of scandal that would accompany them. If that happens, so be it – bowls are allowed to make their decisions based on whatever factors influence ticket sales and TV ratings. But to exclude Penn State completely from the postseason would be wrong.
(Maybe Big Ten commissioner and influential meddler Jim Delany (35) will intervene with bowl officials on behalf of the “unique opportunity” to play in the postseason for the players. It worked for Ohio State last year, right?)
Meanwhile, the NCAA (36) should be invited to butt out of the Penn State mess. There are penalties for those allegedly involved in the Sandusky scandal. One is jail. The other is being unceremoniously fired. An attempt by the NCAA to conjure up additional penalties from outside its bylaws would be little more than moral grandstanding.
When more information has been gathered and the hyperventilating has stopped, it will be up to Penn State’s leadership to decide the role of football in the school’s future. But for now, let the current team play.
Coach who earned his comp car this week
Sonny Dykes (37) of Lousiana Tech. Dykes’ team is now 7-4, 5-1 in the Western Athletic Conference after rallying from a 20-3 deficit to beat Nevada on the road Saturday. The Bulldogs, picked fourth in the WAC before the season, now need only to beat New Mexico State this week to clinch the league title.
The Dash wants to give an honorable mention to Les Miles for taking a knee against defenseless Ole Miss on Saturday with five minutes left in a 52-3 rout. Miles clearly was not interested in rubbing it in on lame duck Houston Nutt, so he made a classy gesture of respect by having his quarterback kneel down in the red zone.
Hopefully Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema watched and learned. Last November his team mercilessly hung 83 points on Indiana coach Bill Lynch, who was on his way to getting fired.
Coach who should take the bus to work
That would be Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson (38). A veteran team that should have won the Pac-12 South continued its downward spiral by losing to lousy Arizona. That was the Sun Devils’ third straight loss, and it might have cemented Erickson’s fate.
Putting out an APB for …
… Former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner (39), who had a horribly famous fumble in 1998 but recovered from it to have some glory in ’99. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the Razorbacks’ No. 2 all-time passer, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week’s APB subject, former SMU running back Reggie Dupard, is alive and well and working in Lancaster, Texas. Dupard is involved with youth in a number of capacities, among them serving as a behavior intervention specialist and a motivational speaker. Thanks to all Dash spies who provided info on Dupard.
When hungry in Houston, The Dash recommends lunch at Barnaby’s (40). Try the pink chicken, smothered in barbecue sauce, and thank The Dash later.