Big stakes, angles in CFB Rivalry Week

November 23, 2021 06:52 PM
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We’ve reached another Thanksgiving weekend on the college football schedule, and you know what that means: Rivalry Week. This year’s slate offers a ton of huge rivalry games, some with massive stakes for conference titles or the College Football Playoff. The rich history of these series evokes a lot of tradition and pride among fans. But more importantly for bettors, these games offer some very significant angles from a head-to-head series standpoint to the defined strengths of the teams. Let’s take a look at 23 such games.

THURSDAY

Ole Miss at Mississippi State

Line/total: Mississippi State by 1/61

The Egg Bowl used to be so big that it single-handedly occupied football fans’ viewing options on Thanksgiving night. The holiday football feast has expanded with the NFL in recent years, and the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry has suffered on a national scale. However, this year’s game should be good, with both teams heading to bowl games and the Rebels featuring QB Matt Corral, in the running as the top pick in next spring’s NFL draft. Coaches Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin are also headline material, and those two have put some flair back into the series, which in its heyday featured fights breaking out in the stands before, during and after games. In 1926, the fighting got so ugly after the first Ole Miss victory in 13 years that officials came up with the concept of the Golden Egg Trophy, awarded to the winner in a formal ceremony each year. It was supposed to reduce the ugliness, but instead the fans just fought outside the stadium instead of in it.

Key matchup trend: Ole Miss is 12-4 ATS over the last three years vs. rushing defenses yielding fewer than 3.6 yards per carry.

Series trend: The last five games of the Egg Bowl rivalry at Mississippi State went Under the total.

FRIDAY

Boise State at San Diego State

Line/total: Boise State by 2.5/44.5

I’m not sure this would be considered a big rivalry game outside Mountain West circles, but with the recent success these programs have enjoyed, any games they play against each other are crucial. This one should be no different, with both teams hoping to secure spots in the league title game. In fact, they could actually meet head to head again next week. The Broncos have come on of late, winning four straight games and allowing just 11.5 points per game, and that has earned them the role of favorites. However, that might not be to their advantage, as the following series trend shows.

Key matchup trend: Boise State is 22-11-1 ATS in 34 road games vs. passing teams averaging fewer than 6.50 yards per attempt.

Series trend: Underdogs have won the last six ATS in the series.

Iowa at Nebraska

Line/total: Iowa by 1.5/41

The Nebraska-Iowa rivalry is played annually on the Friday after Thanksgiving and is called the Heroes Game as a way to recognize community members in Lincoln and Iowa City for their acts of heroism. The Hawkeyes have won six straight games over Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers have covered the last three, which were decided by six or fewer points. That is actually a microcosm of Nebraska’s season — competing but coming up short. The Hawkeyes need a win and a Wisconsin loss to represent the Big Ten West in the conference title game. Those aspirations were aided significantly with the announcement that Cornhuskers QB Adrian Martinez would miss the game with a shoulder injury.

Key matchup trend: Iowa in 12-2-1 ATS in its last 15 road games vs. an opponent coming off a conference SU loss.

Series trend: Nebraska has won the last three ATS vs. Iowa.

North Carolina at NC State

Line/total: NC State by 5.5/63

The North Carolina-NC State rivalry is an ACC showdown that is renewed every Thanksgiving weekend. UNC leads the all-time series 68-36-6, though the rivalry has been very competitive in the ACC era. The Tar Heels have walloped the Wolfpack each of the last two seasons, by 27 and 31 points, after NC State had won the three previous meetings. The stakes are high for coach Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack, as a win combined with a Wake Forest loss sends them to the ACC title game. This contest also offers a great QB matchup between UNC’s Sam Howell, who missed last week’s win, and NC State’s Devin Leary.

Key matchup trend: NC State is just 3-12 ATS in its last 15 games vs. passing teams averaging more than 7.90 yards per attempt.

Series trend: North Carolina is on a 4-0 ATS run at NC State.

South Florida at UCF

Line/total: UCF by 18.5/62.5

This series is called the War on I-4 because of the interstate that connects the campuses. It is a budding rivalry between American Athletic Conference foes Central Florida and South Florida. In the last four games of the rivalry, the Knights have taken care of business resoundingly, averaging 44.8 points per game. Those games came on the heels of a near-upset by USF in 2017 that nearly cost UCF its unbeaten season. Neither team has any significant stakes on the line this year, as UCF has already clinched a bowl bid and USF has long been eliminated from consideration. This year’s game is in Orlando, and UCF is a double-digit favorite for the fifth straight season.

Key matchup trend: South Florida is 9-1 ATS in its last 10 road games vs. passing defenses yielding fewer than 6.20 yards per attempt.

Series trend: Favorites are 8-4 ATS in the series since 2005.

Washington State at Washington

Line/total: Washington State by 1.5/43.5

The Apple Cup series will be renewed Friday night in Seattle when Washington hosts Washington State. This year’s game doesn’t boast the stakes of recent installments of this rivalry, but bragging rights and perhaps a richer bowl destination for the Cougars are on the line. Plus simply beating each other is usually enough motivation. The Huskies are home dogs whose season has unraveled. The recent firing of coach Jimmy Lake has cast a huge cloud over the program’s immediate future, and the Huskies go into this contest 4-7 and on a three-game losing streak after being considered among the Pac-12’s preseason favorites. The Cougars will be eager to end a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry.

Key matchup trend: Washington State is 12-3 ATS in its last 15 games vs. teams with losing records.

Series trend: Washington has won its last six ATS in the Apple Cup series.

SATURDAY

Ohio State at Michigan

Line/total: Ohio State by 8/64

The annual Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is known as “The Game.” At the turn of this century, this was voted North America’s greatest sports rivalry in an ESPN study. No mention of this battle would be complete without the Ten-Year War with legendary coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. This year’s confrontation finally has the national appeal of, say, 2015, when Jim Harbaugh met Urban Meyer and both teams had just one loss, or the 2006 clash, when the teams were ranked Nos. 1 and 2. It’s simple this time around. The winner goes to the Big Ten title contest and keeps alive its hopes for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The loser lessens its goals and has to swallow its pride for another year. With Michigan coming off a 59-point outburst and the Buckeyes having topped the 50-point mark six times, the following series trend should be of interest.

Key matchup trend: Ohio State is 20-4-1 ATS in its last 25 road games vs. teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

Series trend: The last seven games of this rivalry have gone Over the total.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee

Line/total: Tennessee by 31/63

Scoring 38.3 points per game and boasting a 6-5 record, Tennessee has been a pleasant surprise in 2021 under first-year coach Josh Heupel. All that’s left for the Volunteers in finishing a strong regular season is clobbering downtrodden Vanderbilt. However, the Commodores have been very competitive in recent trips to Knoxville and would love to secure their first conference win of the season over their in-state rivals. Losing to Vandy is typically considered the ultimate insult for Tennessee football, and that happened three straight times from 2016-18.

Key matchup trend: Vanderbilt is 33-16-1 ATS in its last 50 games as a double-digit road underdog.

Series trend: Vanderbilt is 6-2 ATS in its last eight at Tennessee.

Pittsburgh at Syracuse

Line/total: Pittsburgh by 13/58

One of my favorite ESPN “30 for 30” documentaries showcased the history of Big East basketball rivalries. Among the more heated were the Pittsburgh-Syracuse showdowns. The football rivalry hasn’t come anywhere near that level, but Pitt has never been in the position it is now — heading to the ACC title game. The Orange, who have lost three straight games to the Panthers, would love nothing more than to spoil Pitt’s great season and secure a bowl bid of their own. A loss sends Syracuse home for the winter.

Key matchup trend: Syracuse is 22-10-1 ATS in the last five years avenging a loss.

Series trend: The last five games of the series at Syracuse have gone Under the total.

Kentucky at Louisville

Line/total: Louisville by 2.5/57

In an SEC-vs.-ACC battle, the Governor’s Cup pits Kentucky and Louisville. This year’s game is in Louisville, and both teams are headed to bowl games, so this contest has no unusual stakes. The Cardinals have put themselves in bowl position by winning their last two games. The Wildcats are 8-3 and have won their last two contests, but they lost three straight before that, all as underdogs.

Key matchup trend: Kentucky is 12-3 Under the total in its last 15 games as a road underdog of 7 or fewer points.

Series trend: Road teams are 10-2 ATS in the last 12 games of the rivalry.

Georgia at Georgia Tech

Line/total: Georgia by 35/54.5

Several big rivalries match teams from the ACC and the SEC, and Georgia vs. Georgia Tech can best be explained by a book by Bill Cromartie titled “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” Georgia has a huge edge in the series, with the visitors on an amazing 18-4-1 ATS run since 1998. The Bulldogs are 35-point road favorites and need a win to avoid a winner-take-all game with Alabama next week in the SEC title game. Tech has lost five straight games, including a 55-0 decision last week at Notre Dame. Tech seems to appreciate this rivalry more than Georgia, and you can’t really blame the nation’s No. 1 team if it’s looking past the Yellow Jackets.

Key matchup trend: Georgia is 3-12 ATS in its last 15 games vs. passing defenses yielding more than 8.10 yards per attempt.

Series trend: Georgia is 10-0 ATS at Georgia Tech since 2001.

Indiana at Purdue

Line/total: Purdue by 15.5/50.5

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Indiana and Purdue play for the Old Oaken Bucket. The Boilermakers not only want that nice little trophy, but a win would keep alive their chances at earning a spot in the Big Ten title game. They have earned the nickname “Spoilermakers” with their three upset wins this season, but this week’s line will present their biggest point-spread challenge since Week 2 vs. Connecticut. Indiana has been unable to recapture its 2020 magic, in large part due to the injury to QB Michael Penix Jr., and will be looking to snap a seven-game losing streak.

Key matchup trend: Purdue is 1-14 ATS in its last 15 games at home vs. teams averaging fewer than 3.6 yards per carry.

Series trend: The last six games of the series at Indiana have gone Over the total.

Virginia Tech at Virginia

Line/total: Virginia by 7.5/63

The Commonwealth Cup is played by Virginia Tech and Virginia, and this year’s contest will be in Charlottesville. The Hokies need a win to secure a probable bowl bid, but they’ll have to get it under the leadership of interim coach J.C. Price, who took over this week after the school and Justin Fuente parted ways. Virginia is already bowl-eligible at 6-5 and would love to build some momentum with a win over its rival at home. The Cavaliers have won only once in the series’ last 17 installments.

Key matchup trend: Virginia is 24-11-1 ATS at home since 2000 vs. opponents coming off a conference SU loss.

Series trend: Home teams are on 7-1 ATS run in this rivalry.

Northwestern at Illinois

Line/total: Illinois by 7/43.5

The Illinois-Northwestern football rivalry doesn’t generate much buzz outside the state, but the Land of Lincoln Trophy is involved and the teams do take bragging rights seriously. Unfortunately for both, the game means nothing other than ending the season on a good note. The Illini are 6-4-1 ATS and have exceeded oddsmakers’ competitive expectations in coach Bret Bielema’s first year. The Wildcats were expected to be rebuilding in 2021 after last year’s terrific season and have floundered to a 3-8 ATS mark.

Key matchup trend: Northwestern is 12-3 ATS in its last 15 as a road dog of 7 points or fewer, while Illinois is 1-9 ATS in its last 10 as a home favorite of 7 points or fewer.

Series trend: Northwestern is 7-2 ATS in its last nine at Illinois.

Wisconsin at Minnesota

Line/total: Wisconsin by 7/39

The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe again comes with some very high stakes, as Wisconsin and Minnesota maintain hopes to represent the Big Ten West in the conference title game. The Badgers control their destiny, just needing to win the game. They are actually aided by being on the road, as home-field advantage in the rivalry has essentially disappeared. Coach Paul Chryst’s team has won seven straight since a 1-3 start and boasts the country’s second-best defense. The Gophers’ defense has also been pretty staunch, allowing just 18.7 ppg. Hence, the paltry 39 total. Points figure to be at a premium.

Key matchup trend: Minnesota is 11-4 ATS in its last 15 games vs. teams outscoring opponents by more than 7.0 points per game.

Series trend: Road teams have won the last seven ATS in this rivalry.

Arizona at Arizona State

Line/total: Arizona State by 20/64

The Pac-12 has some other intrastate duels of note. Arizona and Arizona State will battle for the Territorial Cup in Tempe. The Sun Devils are 7-4 but have generally underperformed, going 4-7 ATS and losing three times outright as favorites. That pales in comparison with Arizona’s struggles, however, as the Wildcats are just 1-10 in coach Jedd Fisch’s first season. They have won just once in their last 23 games. Fisch wasn’t around for it last year, but surely some of the Wildcats will appreciate the opportunity to atone for their 70-7 loss to the Sun Devils at home.

Key matchup trend: Arizona State is 11-4 ATS in its last 15 November home games.

Series trend: Under the total is 8-2 in the last 10 games of this rivalry at Arizona State.

California at UCLA

Line/total: UCLA by 7.5/58

On Saturday night in Los Angeles, Cal and UCLA will play the “Bear Bowl.” Although this is officially a trophy game and considered a rivalry, it is secondary by nature, with Cal considering Stanford its biggest rival and UCLA still reveling in last week’s win over its fiercest rival, USC. Cal needs to win its final two games to be bowl-eligible. The Bruins can reach eight wins for the first time since 2015 with a victory.

Key matchup trend: California is on a run of 13-3 as an underdog of more than a touchdown.

Series trend: The last eight games of the Cal-UCLA series have gone Under the total.

Oregon State at Oregon

Line/total: Oregon by 7/61.5

Oregon and Oregon State retired this rivalry’s moniker as the “Civil War” last year, but it hasn’t changed the passion level of the athletes involved. This year’s game is a bit more special than recent years, too, as for the first time since 2013, both teams will be heading to bowl games. Oh, and there is also the little detail of the winner grabbing a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The Ducks need only to win, while the Beavers need to win and get help from Washington. Will Oregon still be stinging from the ugly loss at Utah? The winner of this contest receives the Platypus Trophy.

Key matchup trend: Oregon is 18-5-1 Over the total in its last 24 home games when coming off an SU loss.

Series trend: Over the total is 14-5 in this series since 2005 but just 3-4 in the last seven.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Line/total: Oklahoma State by 4/49.5

The most prominent universities in Oklahoma play an athletic series called the Bedlam Series — and some of the recent football games have been crazy. This year’s game figures to be like no other in recent series memory, as the total of 49.5 set for the game is the first sub-50 posted since 2009. Since that year, Over the total has gone 7-4. The stakes couldn’t be much higher, as each team comes in 10-1. Oklahoma needs to win to secure a spot in the conference title game, which would present a rematch with Oklahoma State. A Sooners loss and a Baylor win over Texas Tech would keep Oklahoma out of the Big 12 title game. Road teams have fared well in Bedlam and are on a 7-2 ATS surge.

Key matchup trend: Oklahoma is on an 18-6-1 ATS run in road games vs. teams with an 80 percent or better winning percentage.

Series trend: Oklahoma is on a 7-1 ATS run at Oklahoma State.

Alabama at Auburn

Line/total: Alabama by 20/55

The Iron Bowl is undoubtedly a Top 5 rivalry in college football, perhaps in all of college sports. It might just not feel like it Saturday, as Alabama will be playing as at least a 20-point favorite over Auburn, which will be without starting QB Bo Nix. The Tide need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Perhaps their biggest challenge will be avoiding looking ahead to next week’s showdown against Georgia in the SEC title game. Auburn has locked up bowl eligibility at 6-5, but spoiling Alabama’s title hopes might be a better reward. Coach Nick Saban’s team is rightly a huge favorite and has covered four of five games as a favorite of 20 points or more over the Tigers since 2011.

Key matchup trend: Alabama is 22-9 ATS in its last 31 games as a road favorite of more than 14 points.

Series trend: Auburn is 6-2 ATS in its last eight hosting Alabama.

Clemson at South Carolina

Line/total: Clemson by 11.5/43

The battle of the Palmetto State is a heated rivalry with origins in the 1880s. Clemson and South Carolina are separated by just over 125 miles and before last year held the longest uninterrupted series in the South, being played every year since 1909. COVID-19 threw a wrench into the schedules of both teams last season. The rivalry has a strange ritual dating to the early 1900s that is carried on today. Each school creates a made-up symbol about the other university and burns it Friday night before the game. The 2004 game is the one etched in the minds of the schools and fans, when the teams started brawling at the conclusion of Clemson’s 29-7 victory. Each team had won a total of six games that year and was bowl-eligible. However, both schools elected to forfeit their postseason opportunities because of the fight. Recent action in the series finds Clemson having won six straight games while going 4-2 ATS. However, South Carolina is on a 6-2 ATS run vs. the Tigers in Columbia.

Key matchup trend: Clemson is 0-6 ATS as a double-digit favorite this season.

Series trend: Favorites are on a 7-3 ATS run in this rivalry.

Florida State at Florida

Line/total: Florida by 2.5/59

The Sunshine Showdown between Florida State and Florida in Gainesville will be somewhat of an afterthought after the seasons these programs have endured. However, bowl bids are at stake for both programs as each comes in at 5-6. The Gators will be led by interim coach Greg Knox, as Dan Mullen was fired after last week’s loss to Missouri. They have failed to cover the spread in each of their last five games. FSU has pulled back-to-back upsets to salvage the campaign and would love to earn a bowl bid by taking down its floundering rival. After an 0-4 start, playing in a bowl game would be a minor miracle. In some rivalries, home-field advantage means very little. This is one. Road teams are on a 7-2 ATS run in the series. But in the last 10 games played in Gainesville, favorites are 11-0 ATS.

Key matchup trend: Florida is on a 9-1 ATS run in home games vs. opponents coming off an SU win.

Series trend: Favorites are 16-4 ATS in this series since 2000.

Louisiana-Monroe at Louisiana

Line/total: Louisiana by 28.5/54.5

The Battle on the Bayou is not a series that most college football fans will recognize, but bettors need to take notice. The football rivalry between Louisiana and ULM shows an amazing series trend that just continues to win year after year.

Series trend: Road teams are on an amazing 17-1 ATS run in this series.

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