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What to Watch: The best games to watch during Rivalry Week

Like we’ve done in years past, every week throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.

Welcome to Rivalry Week, friends.

Week 12 didn’t bring a whole lot to the table, but Week 13 comes back in a big way. Though several conference championship game matchups are already set, we’ve got all sorts of implications — College Football Playoff, conference, bowl and coaching carousel — on the horizon with games spread across Friday and Saturday (and don’t forget the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night).

(Yahoo Sports)

Starting with the five best games, we broke down this week’s slate for you:

Games played on Saturday unless otherwise noted

5. No. 9 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1) at Michigan (8-3, 5-3) — Noon, FOX: The stakes aren’t quite as high this year for The Game. Last year in Columbus, No. 2 Ohio State edged No. 3 Michigan in double-OT in a game that cost Michigan a spot in the Big Ten title game and probably the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines haven’t forgotten about it (or the fourth-down spot that preceded OSU’s winning touchdown).

This year, UM is unranked while OSU has an outside chance at the Playoff. The Buckeyes, if a few things shake their way and the loss to Iowa doesn’t hold them back too much, could sneak in again if it handles Michigan and undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Michigan will be without quarterback Brandon Peters if he cannot clear concussion protocol. That’s going to make it hard for the Wolverines to play spoiler and snap their five-game losing streak to OSU.

4. No. 3 Clemson (10-1) at No. 24 South Carolina (8-3) — 7:30 p.m., ESPN: Clemson already has a spot in the ACC title game, but it cannot overlook South Carolina in its quest to return to the Playoff. The Tigers have beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row, and the 2016 game was a 56-7 blowout. But Will Muschamp has South Carolina, winners of five of its last six, on an upward trajectory.

Clemson and Miami flipped places in the CFP rankings this week, with the Tigers dropping from No. 3 to No. 2. Those two teams will meet in the ACC title game in what probably amounts to a CFP elimination game, provided Clemson takes care of South Carolina and Miami handles Pitt. The Gamecocks would love to play College Football Playoff spoiler for their rival.

3. USF (9-1, 6-1) at No. 15 UCF (10-0, 7-0) — 3:30 p.m. (Friday), ABC: More than just the AAC East division crown is on the line in the War on I-4. Undefeated UCF is the leader in the clubhouse to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl. To do that, the Knights need to beat rival USF before facing No. 20 Memphis (which hosts 3-win ECU on Saturday) in the AAC title game. USF can play spoiler and put itself back in the New Year’s Six conversation, though the Bulls, currently unranked, are behind No. 23 Boise State among Group of Five teams in the CFP rankings.

2. No. 13 Washington State (9-2, 6-2) at No. 17 Washington (9-2, 6-2) — 8 p.m., FOX: A shot at the Pac-12 title is on the line for Washington State in the Apple Cup. With a win, Mike Leach’s Cougars clinch the Pac-12 North division for the first time and a date with USC in the conference championship game. If Washington spoils WSU’s fun, No. 21 Stanford wins the division.

Washington has won of seven of the last eight games in the series and are 9.5-point home favorites. The Huskies, led by a gutsy performance from QB Jake Browning, scored 10 points in the final 1:55 to shock Utah last week. WSU had a bye, providing extra time to prepare for the biggest game of its season.

1. No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) at No. 6 Auburn (9-2, 6-1) — 3:30 p.m., CBS: The Iron Bowl winner wins the SEC West and will face Georgia for the SEC title next week in Atlanta. The last time that was the case, the Kick Six happened. That ending may never be topped, but here’s to hoping.

Auburn has the chance to really shake up the College Football Playoff picture by upsetting the Tide. There are a lot of hypotheticals. Would a one-loss, non-SEC champion Alabama — with or without a division title — crack the top four? Would two-loss SEC champion Auburn? Could two SEC teams make the CFP?

An Alabama win would make things a lot easier on the committee, no doubt, but it won’t be easy for Bama. Auburn comes in two weeks removed from its triumphant 40-17 win over then-No. 1 Georgia while the Tide needed a late touchdown to edge Mississippi State. Alabama’s defense has been decimated by injury but some key players should return on Saturday.

Keep an eye on…

No. 2 Miami (10-0, 7-0) at Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-5) — Noon (Friday), ABC: In terms of the CFP, Miami can probably afford a loss to an unranked team (a la Clemson), but why risk it? The Canes need to come out focused and avoid looking ahead to the ACC title game.

No. 7 Georgia (10-1) at Georgia Tech (5-5) — Noon, ABC: Georgia already locked up a spot in the SEC title game, but can’t afford to slip-up against Georgia Tech if it wants to reach the Playoff. Tech beat the Bulldogs two of the last three years while 10 of the last 13 games in this series have been decided by a possession or less.

No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) at Minnesota (5-6, 2-6) — 3:30 p.m., ABC: Wisconsin is undefeated, but (even after beating Michigan) its strength of schedule is still hanging over its head. Even if UW goes ahead and beats Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, it can’t afford to drop one to rival Minnesota, a team seeking bowl eligibility in year one under P.J. Fleck.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor runs during an NCAA college football game against Michigan Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

West Virginia (7-4, 5-3) at No. 4 Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1) — 3:45 p.m., ESPN: Oklahoma is kind of in the same position as Wisconsin. OU already has a spot in the Big 12 title game, but would hurt its CFP chances losing to a WVU team playing with its backup QB. Oh, and if you missed the whole fiasco with Baker Mayfield, the Heisman favorite won’t start.

Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3) at No. 18 LSU (8-3, 5-2) — 7:30, SECN: Texas A&M will reportedly let Kevin Sumlin go regardless of the outcome. That’s a tough spot for his players; perhaps they’ll rally around their coach and send him out with an upset win.

No. 8 Notre Dame (9-2) at No. 21 Stanford (8-3) — 8 p.m., ABC: Stanford clinches the Pac-12 North if Washington beats Washington State in the Apple Cup. Stanford obviously wants to beat a rival, but this game is more important for Notre Dame. The Irish are out of the CFP picture but would almost certainly clinch a spot in a New Year’s Bowl game with a win.

Channel surf through…

Western Michigan (6-5, 4-3) at Toledo (9-2, 6-1) — 11:30 a.m. (Friday): With a win, Toledo would win the MAC West and make its first appearance in the MAC title game since 2004.

Missouri (6-5, 3-4) at Arkansas (4-7, 1-6) — 2:30 p.m. (Friday), CBS: This will likely be your last opportunity to see Bret Bielema wear that big, red windbreaker. Savor it.

Friday’s game against Missouri will likely be Bret Bielema’s last at Arkansas. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning, File)

Iowa (6-5, 3-5) at Nebraska (4-7, 3-5) — 4 p.m. (Friday), FS1: While Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa assistants have financial incentives for win No. 7, this appears to be Mike Riley’s last game at Nebraska.

Texas Tech (5-6, 2-6) at Texas (6-5, 5-3) — 8 p.m. (Friday), FOX: Would a win over Texas to reach a bowl game be good enough for Kliff Kingsbury to get another year at Texas Tech?

 

Florida State (4-6) at Florida (4-6) — Noon, ESPN: Don’t watch this game. Watch this instead:


No. 23 Boise State (9-2, 7-0) at Fresno State (8-3, 6-1) — 3:30 p.m., CBSSN: In a really unusual circumstance, these two will play again next week in the Mountain West title game. Boise needs to win both for its New Year’s Six chances. Also: read Pat Forde on Fresno coach Jeff Tedford. 

Arizona (7-4, 5-3) at Arizona State (6-5, 5-3) — 4:30 p.m., Pac-12: It feels like 6-6 might not be good enough for Todd Graham to keep his job another year. Rich Rodriguez, on the other hand, seems safe.

Upset watch (Last week: 1-3; 22-21-4 overall):

Ole Miss (+15) at No. 14 Mississippi State — 7:30 p.m. (Thursday), ESPN: The Egg Bowl is one of the most-heated rivalries in college football and the insanity that came with Ole Miss’ NCAA case will certainly add to the contentiousness on the field. With the Rebels (5-6, 2-5) ineligible to play in a bowl, the chance to beat MSU (8-3, 4-3) is their postseason. It’ll be a close one.

No. 25 Virginia Tech at Virginia (+7) — 8 p.m. (Friday), ESPN: It took a goal line stand against Pitt for Virginia Tech (8-3, 4-3) to avoid a three-game losing streak. Virginia (6-5, 3-4) gave undefeated Miami a big challenge last week. The Cavaliers haven’t knocked off the Hokies since 2003. They’ll have a good chance on Friday night.

Cal (+7) at UCLA — 10:30 p.m. (Friday), FS1: A bowl berth is on the line for both teams (both 5-6), but UCLA, after firing Jim Mora, seems more interested in the Chip Kelly sweepstakes than playing in a low-rate bowl game. The extra game means more to Cal in year one under Justin Wilcox.

Iowa State (+3) at Kansas State — 3:30 p.m., ESPN2: Yeah, Kansas State (6-5, 4-4) upset Oklahoma State last week, but ISU (7-4, 5-3) has a chance to win eight games in a season for the first time since 2000 and second time since 1978. Oh, and the Cyclones are 9-2 against the spread this year.

Bowl trips can be booked:

Friday: Ohio at Buffalo, Texas Tech at Texas, Cal at UCLA (both)
Saturday: Indiana at Purdue (both), Georgia at Georgia TechTulane at SMU, Duke at Wake Forest, UNLV at Nevada, Old Dominion at Middle Tennessee (both), Wisconsin at Minnesota, Temple at Tulsa, Georgia Southern at Louisiana, UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Colorado at Utah (both)

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!