Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where Hugh Freeze ownership papers have been signed over to a Mr. Jerry Kill of Las Cruces, N.M.:
Third Quarter: An Epic Rivalry Week
This is always the best week of the season, but the 2023 edition of Rivalry Week is bringing maximum payload. And we’re not just talking about Ohio State-Michigan, which gets its own separate quarter this week.
Six teams with playoff aspirations are playing hated in-state rivals this week. Several others are playing with conference championship aspirations and bowl eligibility on the line. Then there are dying rivalries in dying leagues to factor in. So much interesting football. Let’s get to a jumbo Dash breakdown of the most compelling rivalry games.
All game times are Eastern.
Florida State-Florida (21). Where: Gainesville. When: Saturday at 7 p.m. Series: Florida leads 37-27-2. Line: Florida State by 6.5. What’s at stake: The Seminoles (11–0), thrust into unexpected adversity with the season-ending injury to star quarterback Jordan Travis, are suddenly the most vulnerable of the five undefeated College Football Playoff contenders. The Gators (5–6) are trying to stop the bleeding after four straight losses, earn a bowl bid and ruin a rival’s season. In terms of building some goodwill with the fans, second-year coach Billy Napier could sure use this one. The skinny: Is backup FSU QB Tate Rodemaker good enough to exploit a Florida defense that has collapsed over the last month? Rodemaker led Florida State to a win at Louisville last year coming off the bench, so there is reason to think he can do it. Dash pick: Florida State 28, Florida 21.
Oregon State-Oregon (22). Where: Eugene. When: Friday at 8:30 p.m. Series: Oregon leads 67-49-10. Line: Oregon by 14. What’s at stake: The Ducks (10–1) are in the Pac-12 championship game with a win, setting up a rematch with Washington. They also need to win to keep CFP hopes alive. The Beavers (8–3) would love to deal a death blow to said hopes in their last meeting as conference brethren. The skinny: These have been the two best running teams in conference play, but Oregon has the edge in explosiveness in the passing game. Can D.J. Uiagalelei match throws with red-hot Bo Nix? That seems like a lot to ask. Dash pick: Oregon 40, Oregon State 24.
Washington State-Washington (23). Where: Seattle. When: Saturday at 4 p.m. Series: Washington leads 75-33-6. Line: Washington by 16.5. What’s at stake: The Huskies (11–0) are trying to complete their first undefeated regular season since 1991 and maintain playoff viability. The Cougars (5–6) are scrapping for a bowl bid and would love to give Washington a painful Pac-12 going-away present. The skinny: Expect the ball to be in the air a lot with Wazzu’s Cam Ward and Washington’s Michael Penix ranking third and 10th nationally in pass attempts. But the Huskies have an increasingly reliable running attack to fall back on in case of emergency. Hard to imagine Washington not being fully locked in for this game, given what’s on the line. Dash pick: Washington 44, Washington State 24.
Georgia-Georgia Tech (24). Where: Atlanta. When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Series: Georgia leads 70-41-5. Line: Georgia by 23. What’s at stake: The Bulldogs (11–0) have a 28-game winning streak and pole position in the CFP race on the line. The Yellow Jackets (6–5) are simply trying to play spoiler after clinching their first bowl bid in five years last week. The skinny: Georgia Tech tied for 10th nationally in turnovers forced, but also tied for 114th nationally in turnovers committed. This would seem like a great time to have just their third turnover-free game of the season. And even that is unlikely to be enough against a Georgia team playing at a very high level. Dash pick: Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 17.
Kentucky-Louisville (25). Where: Louisville. When: Saturday at noon. Series: Kentucky leads 19–15. Line: Louisville by 7. What’s at stake: The Cardinals (10–1) are trying to reach 11 wins for the first time in a decade, keep their slim CFP hopes alive and beat Kentucky for the first time since Lamar Jackson was in uniform. The Wildcats (6–5) are trying to salvage something out of a season that started 5–0 and then turned sour. The skinny: Louisville hits home runs; it has 15 touchdowns of 35 yards or longer, and leads the nation in scrimmage plays of 60 yards or longer with six. Kentucky doesn’t give up many huge plays; just seven longer than 40 yards and two longer than 50. Can the Cardinals take the top off that defense the way they have many others? Dash pick: Louisville 31, Kentucky 21.
Alabama-Auburn (26). Where: Auburn. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Series: Alabama leads 49-37-1. Line: Alabama by 14.5. What’s at stake: The Crimson Tide (10–1) is playing to stay in the CFP race while hoping for its first low-stress game on The Plains since 2015. The Tigers (6–5) are seeking to atone for the humiliation suffered last week at the hands of New Mexico State, and also to ruin Bama’s season. The skinny: After being flat-out handled by the Aggies, does Auburn have any fight left in it? History says yes when it’s the Iron Bowl. The Tigers looked similarly hopeless heading into this game in 2021 against an Alabama team aiming for the playoffs, and it took overtime for the Tide to escape Jordan-Hare with the win. This is also the 10th anniversary of the Kick Six, if you’re into mojo. But Nick Saban’s team arrives on a prodigious roll and seemingly could overwhelm Auburn. Dash pick: Alabama 28, Auburn 9.
Arizona-Arizona State (27). Where: Tempe. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Series: Arizona leads 50-45-1. Line: Arizona by 11.5. What’s at stake: The Wildcats (8–3) will know whether they still have a shot at the Pac-12 championship game, depending on the result of Oregon State-Oregon Friday. Either way, they are trying to complete one of the best turnaround seasons in the country. The Sun Devils (3–8) are trying to add a major building block to the new foundation first-year coach Kenny Dillingham is erecting. The skinny: Arizona hasn’t won in Tempe since 2011, so there are some demons (or Devils) to contend with. The Wildcats have far more weapons than ASU but may have to work for this one. Dash pick: Arizona 30, Arizona State 21.
Clemson-South Carolina (28). Where: Columbia. When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Series: Clemson leads 72-43-4. Line: Clemson by 7. What’s at stake: The Tigers (7–4) are trying to complete a four-game rally after Dabo Swinney’s showdown with Tyler From Spartanburg, while also avenging an upset loss last year to the Gamecocks. South Carolina (5–6) is shooting for its own four-game winning streak and bowl eligibility. The skinny: The Cocks’ three-game winning streak has been fueled in large part by a plus-seven turnover margin and improved defensive play. Clemson, meanwhile, is a plus-five turnover margin in its five-game winning streak while averaging 34.7 points. Who takes the ball away most this time? Dash pick: Clemson 28, South Carolina 17.
North Carolina-North Carolina State (29). Where: Raleigh. When: Saturday at 8 p.m. Series: North Carolina leads 68-38-6. Line: North Carolina by 2. What’s at stake: Both teams are 8–3. The Wolfpack would love to go 2–0 against Drake Maye as the Tar Heels’ quarterback and to finish with a better record despite swapping two different quarterbacks throughout the season. North Carolina would love to reach 10 wins for the first time in the Mack Brown 2.0 Era, which was just announced will continue in 2024. The skinny: Strength vs. strength. In ACC play, the Heels lead the conference in yards per game while the Pack are first in fewest yards allowed per game. Maye had his lowest-rated efficiency game as a college starter last week in a loss to Clemson; his second-lowest was last year against N.C. State. Dash pick: N.C. State 28, North Carolina 26.
California-UCLA (30). Where: Pasadena. When: Saturday at 10:30 p.m. Series: UCLA leads 58-34-1. Line: UCLA by 9.5. What’s at stake: Forever bragging rights, since this could be the last meeting between two programs that first played in 1933. In addition, Cal (5-6) is trying to win its third straight game to go bowling. The skinny: This is the most prolific offensive team Cal has had in years—and also its worst defense in years. UCLA has evolved in the opposite direction, struggling offensively with inexperience at quarterback while significantly improved defensively. Dash pick: UCLA 35, California 28.
The Big Ten West tar pit slogs (31). There are three intra-divisional rivalry games in which one of the two teams is fighting for bowl eligibility. They might all be unwatchable displays of offense, but they do matter:
Iowa-Nebraska. Where: Lincoln. When: Friday at noon. Series: Nebraska leads 30-20-3. Line: Nebraska by 1. What’s at stake: For the fourth straight game, the Cornhuskers (5–6) are trying to lock up a bowl bid. The Hawkeyes (9–2) are trying to become the first FBS team since 1976 to win 10 games while averaging fewer than 19 points per game. (They’re at 18.45 in Brian Ferentz’s swan song season as offensive coordinator.) Dash pick: Iowa 9, Nebraska 7.
Wisconsin-Minnesota. Where: Minneapolis. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Series: Tied 62-62-8. Line: Wisconsin by 2. What’s at stake: First and foremost, this breaks the all-time series tie in one direction of the other. The Gophers (5–6) are looking for a bowl bid and to retain Paul Bunyan’s Axe for a third straight season, something they last did from 1985-87. For the Badgers (6–5), Luke Fickell is looking for momentum after a struggle of a debut season. Dash pick: Wisconsin 16, Minnesota 13.
Northwestern-Illinois. Where: Champaign. When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Series: Illinois leads 57-54-5. Line: Illinois by 6. What’s at stake: The Illini (5–6) are seeking bowl eligibility for the second straight season, something last accomplished in 2010-11. The Wildcats (6–5) are trying to win three in a row for the first time in three years, under newly full-time coach/miracle worker David Braun. Dash pick: Illinois 19, Northwestern 16.