College rivalry weekend a feast for fans

Despite the craziness of this year’s college football schedule, one thing will remain the same in 2020: Thanksgiving weekend will offer a ton of great rivalry games. The big rivalries are an integral part of what makes college football such a huge draw. The traditions and fierce nature of these games make them all the more exciting to watch and bet on. Let’s look at the eight top rivalry renewals on tap for Friday and Saturday from a historical and betting perspective. 

Central Florida at South Florida

Line/Total: UCF by 25 / 66

This series is called the War on I-4 because of the interstate that connects the campuses. It is a budding rivalry in the American Athletic Conference. In the last two meetings, the Knights have taken care of business, winning by 27 and 28 points. Those games came on the heels of a near upset by USF in 2017 that nearly cost UCF its unbeaten season. Neither team has much on the line other than pride this year, as both are mired in the bottom half of the AAC standings. With the Bulls still looking for their first conference win, the visiting Knights are heavy favorites, and the line of -25 would be the largest in the series since UCF (-27.5) survived a scare in 2013, winning 23-20. Since then, favorites have covered five of the six meetings.

Key Series Trends: Road teams, favorites and Under are all 5-2 in the last seven games.

Stanford at California

Line/Total: Cal by 1.5 / 51.5

The Ohio State-Michigan football meeting each year is called The Game. The Stanford-Cal matchup gets an even stronger moniker, The Big Game. Does that give the Pac-12 a leg up in terms of rivalries? Absolutely not. In fact, there is nothing big about Friday’s series renewal. It’s a matchup of desperate teams, each off to a horrendous 0-2 start, that would love to beat the snot out of each other and get that elusive first win. Both Bay Area teams boasted lofty aspirations for 2020, so getting off the mat with a rivalry victory would help either program kick-start its abbreviated season. The Big Game is expected to be tight, with Cal just a 1.5-point home favorite. However, being the host hasn’t helped a whole lot in this series as road teams are on a 4-0 ATS run and are 9-2 ATS since 2009.

Key Series Trend: Stanford has won and covered five straight games in Berkeley, all games decided by double-digit margins.

Oregon at Oregon State

Line/Total: Oregon by 14 / 64

Political pressure resulted in Oregon and Oregon State dropping the Civil War nickname for its rivalry game. Whether that was wise can be debated, but if the decision-makers feel like removing their cool series moniker will help their rivalry regain relevance on the national stage, more power to them. As usual, Oregon is arguably good and Oregon State is arguably not. The Ducks are 3-0 but had to survive a near-upset by UCLA, which was down to its second-string quarterback. The Beavers are 1-2 and looking for just their second win over their hated rival since 2007. That victory came in 2016, the only one of the last 10 meetings that did not feature a double-digit point spread. The winner of this game each season receives the “Platypus Trophy.” At least part of that award name is symbolic. 

Key Series Trend: Oregon is on a 5-2 SU and 6-1 ATS run in Corvallis, having scored 43.4 points per game.

Nebraska at Iowa

Line/Total: Iowa by 13.5 / 51.5

The Nebraska-Iowa football 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 series was renamed that in 2011 when Nebraska joined the Big Ten and the teams renewed their rivalry after an 11-year hiatus. The Hawkeyes have won five straight games over Nebraska, the two most recent in thrilling three-point decisions. Coach Kirk Ferentz’s team is a 13.5-point favorite, easily its biggest chalk line in the recent nine-year run of the series. In fact, it will be the first time since 2012 that the game features a double-digit point spread. Iowa is 3-2, while the Cornhuskers are 1-3. However, Nebraska has faced the eighth-toughest schedule in the country thus far.

Key Series Trend: Six of the last seven Heroes Games have gone Over the total, with Iowa averaging 36.3 points per game. 

Georgia at South Carolina

Line/Total: Georgia by 21 / 48.5

The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry is the Gamecocks’ biggest, but with the SEC running a conference-only schedule in 2020, that game had to be shelved. No worries. Georgia is a close second in terms of teams that South Carolina fans loathe. In fact, this series has been described as Downright Dirty, New Fashioned Hate. Unfortunately for the host Gamecocks, they will have to muster up every potential source of motivation just to compete with the heavily favored Bulldogs. Putting it mildly, South Carolina is struggling, having lost four straight games outright and against the number, allowing 48-plus points in three of those. Georgia has unexpectedly lost twice this season and will need a minor miracle to still have a shot at the SEC title game. Pummeling the Gamecocks and avenging a 20-17 loss as 20.5-point favorites a year ago will be foremost on the Bulldogs’ minds.

Key Series Trend: Including the massive upset by South Carolina last year, road teams have won four straight ATS in this series.

Auburn at Alabama

Line/Total: Alabama by 24 / 60.5

The Iron Bowl is undoubtedly a top-five 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 24-point favorite over Auburn. The Crimson Tide has been dominant in 2020, scoring nearly 50 points per game and winning by just over 30 per game. Auburn has been worse than expected but has managed to piece together a three-game winning streak to move to 5-2. However, the line for the game shows the national perception of the teams. Does the mega-point spread and the significance of the rivalry indicate that the Tigers have a shot in this one? Recent history says no as Alabama has been favored in this game by double digits seven times since 2011, going 6-1 SU and 5-2 ATS. That includes a 52-21 win two years ago in Tuscaloosa in a game that on the surface looks very similar to this one, as Nick Saban’s team was favored by 26 that day.

Key Series Trend: Home teams are on runs of 3-0 ATS and 6-2 ATS.

Mississippi State at Ole Miss

Line/Total: Ole Miss by 9.5 / 67

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 a lot in recent years and the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry has plummeted in significance on the national scale, so the game is now played Saturday afternoon. Furthermore, with neither team boasting a winning record, the only place you’ll be able to find it to watch is on the SEC Network. It’s unfortunate, too, as both teams began the season with great promise, welcoming in new coaches Mike Leach (MSU) and Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss). Perhaps these fiery personalities can put some flair back in the series, which in its heyday was best described as a “family feud.” It has been said that “back in the old days,” fans would get into fistfights before, during and after the 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 cut down on the ugliness. It didn’t. Fans just fought outside the stadium instead. 

Key Series Trend: With MSU averaging a paltry 17.4 points per game and a lofty total of 67 in place, it should be noted that Under is 13-4-1 in the Egg Bowl since 2002.

Louisiana at Louisiana-Monroe

Line/Total: Louisiana by 28.5 / 54.5

I have never written about the Battle on the Bayou, but it's high time that bettors get to know the football rivalry between Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe if for no other reason than there is an amazing series trend that just continues to win year after year. You can see it just below.

Key Series Trend: Road teams in the Battle on the Bayou are on an incredible 16-1 ATS run. The last home point-spread victory came in Lafayette’s 21-17 upset win in 2009.

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