It’s rivalry week in college football, which means the bitter hatred between neighbors and division mates will highlight this week’s games. All games are worth watching, but here are the four most important ones as the regular season winds down.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish at USC Trojans
Odds: Fighting Irish -6
Predictions for this game have changed several times over the course of the season. In September, this was seen as a game that USC would dominate. As Notre Dame improved, the calculus moved toward the Irish, but USC was still the smart choice. USC then weakened to a considerable degree in the middle of October while Notre Dame continued to win. All in all, the conventional wisdom surrounding this game moved the needle close to a toss-up, yet USC was probably still a slight favorite in the eyes of many experts.
But Notre Dame is now the choice after USC quarterback Matt Barkley separated his right (throwing) shoulder in a 38-28 loss to UCLA. Notre Dame is just one win from making the BCS national championship game. The Irish just need to maintain focus, and they’ll reach the promised land.
Florida Gators at Florida State Seminoles
Odds: Seminoles -6.5
In the matchup of Sunshine State powers, Florida and Florida State will be playing for BCS bowl bids of the at-large variety. The winner of this game could maintain a slight chance of gaining a spot in the BCS title game if Notre Dame lost to USC and Alabama lost (most likely to Georgia in the SEC championship game). At any rate, that drama is something the Gators and Seminoles can’t control. They need to take care of business this weekend and let the chips fall where they may. Quarterback play will decide this game — not in terms of excellence, but in terms of avoiding mistakes. Florida State signal caller E.J. Manuel needs to play a smart, steady game. If he can, the Seminoles should be in good shape.
Michigan Wolverines at Ohio State Buckeyes
Odds: Buckeyes -4
This is a huge game in the Big Ten Conference for two reasons. First, Michigan — if Nebraska loses to Iowa on Nov. 23 – could steal the Big Ten Legends Division championship from the Huskers with a win against Ohio State. Second, the Buckeyes will be gunning for a 12-0 record and a perfect season, which would lessen the pain of being ineligible for Big Ten and national championships. Regardless of outside prizes, the importance of this game is large enough in its own right and on its own merits. These schools hate each other and want bragging rights for the next 365 days.
South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Tigers
Odds: Tigers -4
If Clemson wants any shot at a BCS bowl bid, it must win this game. The same thing applies to South Carolina, but Clemson is the team with a more realistic shot at a premium postseason ticket. The key matchup in this game will be South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw against Clemson’s secondary. Shaw has played terribly on the road this season. He has to show composure and poise away from home. If Shaw plays up to his capabilities, the rest of the Gamecocks can compete with the Tigers on even terms.