4-Down Territory: Border Wars & In-State Hate are Thanksgiving Football Traditions
Seems it was just yesterday when the heat of August afternoon’s finally gave way to the first Saturdays in September and a fall that went by all too quickly. The 2023 season marked another "end of college football as we know it." Before it was the beginning of college player’s ability to use their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) to make money. This year we close the book on regional conferences as OU and Texas head off to the SEC, The Big Ten goes coast to coast and the Big 12 absorbs four Pac 12 teams. And if that wasn’t enough, the Playoff goes from 4 teams to 12 teams. All of this in pursuit of the almighty dollar and to create more television content.
But will it impact the rivalry games of Thanksgiving weekend? That remains to be seen. But think of it in terms of the Ohio State/Michigan game this weekend. Next year they could be facing off to end the season knowing that they’ll be playing again one week later. And winning the regular season will not matter. What will matter far more will be winning the Big Ten title game to secure the first-round bye in the college football playoff. Is that good for the game, for the intensity of the rivalry? Time will tell.
But today let's focus on the here and now. As America sits down to gather with friends and family to give thanks for all the blessings we’ve had in this country, we interrupt those special moments to watch some football. This is a weekend reserved for many of the game’s biggest rivalries, in-state rivalries or border state rivalries mean hatred, resentment and the feelings of ill-will on a weekend meant for unity and gratitude.
First Down: We Interrupt Your Black Friday Shopping For the Following Football Games: TCU (5-6) at #13 Oklahoma (9-2) 12:00 FOX: The Sooners would love a Big 12 title rematch with Texas, but they need help. TCU has struggled losing 3 of their last four. But keep an eye on dangerous TCU WR #3 Savion Williams, he had 11 catches for 164 yards and nearly sparked a comeback upset against Texas…...#17 Iowa (9-2) at Nebraska (5-6) Friday 12:00 CBS: Iowa is locked into the Big Ten Title game versus the OSU/Michigan winner. This game features two of the nation’s very best defenses (Iowa #7, Nebraska #15) against two of the worst offenses (Nebraska #114, Iowa #130). Could we see more punts than points? Stay tuned……..UTSA (8-3) at #23 Tulane (10-1) Friday 3:30 ABC: These two teams (along with SMU) are undefeated in conference play. A Tulane win keeps them on the inside track for a NY6 bowl game….#9 Missouri (9-2) at Arkansas (4-7) Friday 4:00 CBS: Speaking of NY6 Bowl bids, a Mizzou win here virtually locks them in. They continue to impress with an offense that can hurt you on the ground and in the air….Texas Tech (6-5) at #7 Texas (10-1) Friday 7:30 ABC: Texas has allowed teams to hang around lately. With 1100+ yard Texas running back Jonathan Brooks out for the season, CJ Baxter stepped in with 117 yards versus Iowa State. For Texas Tech, stopping UT in the red zone will be critical. Texas has the nation’s 15th-best offense but scores just over 78% of the time in the red zone (97th nationally)……#11 Penn State (9-2) at Michigan State (4-7) in Detroit Friday 7:30 NBC: When NBC approached the Big Ten about getting this as a late November night game Penn State was insistent that it be played indoors, so the game is in the dome of Detroit’s Ford Field. That decision helps MSU because their one-dimensional offense is reliant on the pass. Freshman QB Katin Houser has started to find some consistency but he’ll face the best pass rush he’s seen all year. For Penn State’s offense, they should expect MSU to throw a lot of blitzes to test their new interim co-offensive coordinators’ ability to make adjustments. Turnovers have sparked almost 40% of Penn State's point production. The Spartans hopes rest on their ability to avoid handing PSU points.
Second Down: Saturday Action: #25 Liberty (11-0) at UTEP (3-8) Saturday 3:30 CBS Sports Network: Liberty is in the hunt for a NY6 bowl. Former Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr has proven to be a guy who likes to watch the action. Years ago, Jerry Falwell, Sr talked about a day when Liberty could compete with Notre Dame. Not sure they’ve reached that level yet but a NY6 Bowl game would be a massive step……..#17 Notre Dame (8-3) at Stanford (3-8) Saturday 7:00 PAC 12 Network: The Irish make their annual Thanksgiving trip to the West Coast. Stanford is limping towards the end of the Pac 12 era and into the ACC future…..Texas A&M (7-4) at #14 LSU (8-3) Saturday 12:00 ESPN: Texas A&M interim Head Coach is Penn State alum Elijah Robinson. He's one of the nation's best d-line coaches. That d-line will need to pressure LSU QB Jayden Daniels and disrupt the LSU offense to have a chance. Daniels has put up Heisman-worthy numbers but lacks the big game-winning Heisman moment that will be there for the taking by the other candidates……BYU (5-6) at #21 Oklahoma State (8-3) Saturday 3:30 ABC: For OSU it is simple. They're tied with Oklahoma and Kansas State for the second spot in the Big 12 title game. They beat both of them. Win and they are in……..Iowa State at #19 Kansas State (8-3) Saturday 8:00 FOX: As mentioned, K State is still in the Big 12 hunt, but they need help. Iowa State’s stout defense will be a tough test for the Wildcats.
Third Down: Thanksgiving Weekend—Harmony One Day Bitter Division the Next: In-state rivalry games often mean that families of divided allegiances spend one day this weekend thankful for one another before that love turns to game day disdain……..#16 Oregon State at #6 Oregon (10-1) THE CIVIL WAR Friday 8:30 FOX: Oregon State gave Washington all they could handle last week. The balanced, physical Beavers offense will be playing a much better defense this week though. Oregon’s running attack (which includes QB Bo Nix) makes them harder to defend than Washington. For Oregon State the ability to inflict lasting damage could not be bigger. The Ducks bolted the Pac 12 for the Big Ten and sparked an exodus that left the Pac 12 with just two teams. A fitting end for OSU fans would be to end the Ducks’ College Playoff hopes…….Washington State (5-6) at #4 Washington (11-0) Saturday 4:00 FOX: While we’re talking about Pac 12 traitors, WSU gets a chance to exact revenge on their in-state rival UW who was complicit with Oregon in the Pac 12’s demise. Massive playoff and Heisman trophy implications here for the Huskies and their QB Michael Penix. WSU has found their offense again the past two weeks and they will need to score a lot of points to pull the upset…..#15 Arizona (8-3) at Arizona State (3-8) Saturday 3:30 ESPN: As the Pac 12 ends it’s existence as we know it, at least these two teams will be going to the Big 12 together, ensuring this rivalry endures. If we were looking at a 12-team playoff this year, Arizona would be exhibit A of “the team no one wants to face in the playoffs.” They’ve gotten hot at the right time and should continue that in Tempe……
Third Down: More In-State Hate—Southern Style: #12 Ole Miss (9-2) at Mississippi State (5-6) The Egg Bowl Thursday 7:30 ESPN: Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart reportedly missed practice on Monday, before his father shot back on social media that he did in fact practice. The home-team Bulldogs are one of many teams with an interim Head Coach (see also: Texas A&M, Boise State, Syracuse, Michigan and Michigan State). That generally favors the team without the interim. This rivalry has seen some heated games, including a game-ending brawl a few years ago……Kentucky (6-5) at # 10 Louisville (10-1) Saturday 12:00 ABC: If the college football playoff race was the Kentucky Derby, Louisville would be the dark horse lurking and looking for a break to get on the inside rail. First they need to make their own breaks with an emphatic win over Kentucky. To do that they will have to win in the trenches and protect the football against the Wildcats. The Cardinals’ only loss was to a Pitt team that disrupted them with a similar approach. If they win then Louisville will be rooting for FSU to look really good and rout Florida……#8 Alabama (10-1) at Auburn (6-5) THE IRON BOWL Saturday 3:30 CBS: Auburn got blistered at home by New Mexico State last week, which makes this outlook pretty bleak. Alabama’s team growth as the season has progressed has been impressive. They are built as a team that really delivers second-half knockout punches. The knockout blows this week may come early in this one…. Vanderbilt (2-9) at #25 Tennessee (7-4) Saturday 3:30 SEC Network: Expect the Vols offense to strike early and often in this one…… #5 Florida State (11-0) at Florida (5-6) Saturday 7:00 ESPN: The eyes of the “eye test” college football playoff committee will be all over this one. With FSU losing dynamic QB Jordan Travis to injury, the committee demoted the Seminoles. A big win at Florida will help with the eye test. However, the Gators should have the confidence of having played a number of very good teams, including the near-upset at Mizzou last week. This is a dangerous spot for FSU…..#24 Clemson (7-4) at South Carolina (5-6) Saturday 7:30 SEC Network: With Clemson at 4-4 and facing Notre Dame there was a lot of chatter about the Tigers. Clemson responded with an 8-point upset after which Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney stated that people should be “buying stock” in Clemson. He was right as they went on to win their next two including an upset of UNC. Their defense looks capable of dominating the Gamecocks on Saturday night……UNC (8-3) at #22 NC State (8-3) Saturday 8:00 ACC Network: NC State has won four straight and the last two weeks it has been behind the arms and legs of QB Brennan Armstrong. UNC has a mobile QB of their own in Drake Maye who is the far more accomplished passer……#1 Georgia (11-0) at Georgia Tech (6-5) Saturday 7:30 ABC: Earlier this season Georgia Tech looked doomed to a losing season after falling to 3-4 with a fifteen-point loss to BC. They’ve responded to gain bowl eligibility and perhaps get a winning season. A nice closing ACC run is one thing, beating Georgia is a whole other thing. The Dawgs continue to win –28 straight. They’ve been one of the most dominant teams in the modern era. Barring a sloppy day of turnovers and mistakes they should hit 29 straight against Tech.
5th Down: The Game: #2 Ohio State (11-0) at #3 Michigan (11-0) Saturday 12:00 FOX: How big is this game? Last year 17.1 million people watched this game on Fox. That was just under the 17.2 million who watched the National Championship Game. They may top that number. So let’s run this one down. O-line? Advantage Michigan. Wide Receivers and Tight Ends? Advantage Ohio State. Running Backs? OSU’s Treyveon Henderson’s breakaway speed gives OSU a slight, very slight edge. But Michigan’s Donovan Edwards is a dangerous x-factor in the pass game. D-line? Basically even. Linebackers? Even. Secondary? Slight edge OSU. Quarterback? Michigan because of JJ McCarthy’s experience and running ability. Coaching? Slight edge to OSU because of the Harbaugh suspension. But this will be the 6th game without Jim so this team is used to it. So what does this all mean? For two years the OSU program has adjusted their defense and mentality to build a physically tough team for this game. Michigan’s attitude has been to patiently wear down their opponents and make them quit in the third and fourth quarter. That approach has worked all year. But this OSU team is different, and they appear ready to get into a fight. In games like this when the nation’s two best defenses face off, it often comes down to one or two critical mistakes. Mastering the emotions of the moment is vital to avoid the costly turnover or missed tackle or untimely penalty. When it comes down to a toughness fight, you can throw the analytics out the window. The hitting in this one will be so fierce that even the fans may need to go into concussion protocol after this one.