Rivalry Week is here!

And while most of what makes this week great is the history, passion and petty in-fighting built over the past century, this year’s games also have plenty at stake on the field, too.

Whether it’s fighting for a New Year’s Six bowl, a spot in a conference championship game or a march toward the College Football Playoff (or derailing your rival’s dreams of those things), here are the biggest games of the weekend and what to expect in them.

No. 9 Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Thursday, 7:30 pm. ET, ESPN/ESPN App)

We’re probably not getting a player pretending to be a dog urinating in the end zone following a touchdown in the Egg Bowl this year like we did in 2019, but you should still watch the game on Thanksgiving (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App).

Ole Miss and Mississippi State come into this one as ranked opponents, which could make for one of the more exciting games between these two teams in recent memory.

The Rebels are coming off of a 31-17 win against Vanderbilt that probably left Ole Miss fans wanting more going into a rivalry game and concerned about giving up 454 total yards to an offense that averages 312.

On Monday, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin was complimentary of Mississippi State coach Mike Leach’s offense that could challenge his defense (100th in FBS in yards per game) in a big way.

“I think there was a thought out there amongst a lot of people, including coaches, that the SEC had kind of figured it out last year and they had slowed them down there throughout parts of the year,” Kiffin said. “And then obviously that wasn’t the case, and now they’re right back to where they started a season ago like that LSU game and leading the country in passing offense. It really is amazing because you would not think you’d be able to be so simple in what you do and [have] it continue to work.”

The Mississippi State offense has worked well. It helped spark a 25-point comeback against Auburn on Nov. 13 and had Tennessee State wishing for a running clock by halftime last week. Quarterback Will Rogers comes into the Egg Bowl having thrown for 4,113 yards, second most in FBS behind only Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe (4,640). Rogers also has 34 passing touchdowns, good for sixth in FBS.

But for as good as Rogers has been, there’s no doubt that Ole Miss QB Matt Corral has been one of the most exciting players in college football — it’s why he was a Heisman favorite for much of the season. So on Thanksgiving night, be sure to enjoy second, third and fourth plates by watching these two go back and forth.

And if we’re lucky, we’ll get some solid postgame banter between Leach and Kiffin. — Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan (Saturday, noon ET, Fox)

As a San Francisco 49ers assistant in 2016, Ryan Day watched the Ohio State-Michigan game, which paired two top-three teams and went into overtime before the Buckeyes prevailed.

He didn’t know if The Spot was good or not, but he “instantly” knew he wanted to be a part of The Game.

“I understand what it means to so many people, and just tried to embrace it over the years,” Day said.

Day joined Ohio State’s staff in 2017 and now serves as Buckeyes head coach, where he aims to continue the dominance of Michigan. Since Day’s arrival, Ohio State has outscored Michigan 149-86 in three wins. Last year’s game wasn’t played because of COVID-19 issues within Michigan’s program, although some contend the 2-4 Wolverines wanted no part of the Buckeyes.

“It’s B.S. to be honest with you,” Michigan linebacker Josh Ross said. “That’s the game we always have circled on our calendar, always want to play.”

Michigan gets its chance to play for a Big Ten East Division title and a spot closer to its first CFP appearance. A one-loss Big Ten champion is virtually guaranteed for the top four.

To upset the Buckeyes, Michigan must maximize all the elements that have fueled its impressive turnaround this season. The Wolverines must control time of possession and pace with their run game, fueled by Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, who hopes to return from an ankle injury.

Michigan ranks 12th nationally in average time of possession (32:41), employing a run-heavy attack that boasts good balance in production — 218.4 rush yards per game, 229.5 pass yards per game — and rarely allows negative plays. The Wolverines lead the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed (2.18 per game) and rank fifth in fewest sacks allowed (0.82 per game).

The goal against Ohio State is to keep the ball, stay on schedule, finish drives and limit the Buckeyes’ possessions.

“Great complementary football being played by our team this year,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Time of possession has been something we’ve been really good at, sustaining drives, picking up first downs offensively, not turning the ball over.”

“Great complementary football being played by our team this year. Time of possession has been something we’ve been really good at, sustaining drives, picking up first downs offensively, not turning the ball over.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh

Michigan’s biggest changes this season came on defense, where coordinator Mike Macdonald arrived along with two new position coaches (George Helow and Steve Clinkscale). The defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, pass efficiency, third-down conversions and several other categories.

Although no defense has stopped Ohio State this season, Penn State and Nebraska provided some clues, especially when the Buckeyes reached the red zone. Day has seen Ohio State’s offense look much better the past two weeks in dominant wins over Purdue and Michigan State, limiting penalties and executing better in the red zone, scoring nine touchdowns on 12 chances.

“We’ve got to keep that up if we’re going to win this game,” Day said. “I feel like the run fits have been better. We’ve been doing a better job of staying on schedule in the run game and being more efficient.”

If Ohio State replicates its form of the past two weeks, a ninth straight victory over Michigan is practically guaranteed. To end the losing streak, Michigan must reinforce all the reasons why it has improved this fall.

Harbaugh on Monday was asked about his preseason proclamation to beat Ohio State “or die trying.”

“It comes all the way to life,” Harbaugh said. “It’s here. It’s happening.” — Adam Rittenberg

No. 1 Georgia at Georgia Tech (Saturday, noon ET, ABC/ESPN App)

Rival Georgia Tech is the only thing standing in No. 1 Georgia’s way in finishing undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 1982.

With the Bulldogs having won 16 of 19 games in the intrastate series, including the past three by a combined 100 points, the Yellow Jackets don’t figure to put up much of a fight in the 2021 edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. Georgia Tech is 3-8 and has dropped five games in a row, including a 55-0 loss at Notre Dame last week.

For Georgia, the emphasis this week will be on staying healthy and continuing to evolve on offense. The Bulldogs have been good enough to win 11 straight games, but questions remain about whether they’re explosive enough to take down defending national champion Alabama in the Dec. 4 SEC championship game and potentially Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.

“I just want to see improvement,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said this week. “When you start extending the plays, good things can happen and bad things can happen, so you’ve got to be wise about the way you go about it. You got to practice it that way. We got to have 11 guys on the same page. … Continue being explosive and being dangerous; we want to be on the attack.”

Georgia ranks No. 2 in the SEC in scoring with 40.3 points per game, thanks in part to its opportunistic defense and special teams, but it’s just ninth in passing (238.9 yards) and seventh in total offense (440.6 yards).

“I’ve really been proud of what those guys have done in terms of the injuries we’ve had,” Smart said. “We just had a countless number of guys in and out, in and out, and revolving to our receivers. You know, tight ends are the most consistent position but even Darnell [Washington] was a lot faster before the injury. He had to really work himself back into shape. So overall, I’m pleased with those guys. We’ve been explosive, we’ve avoided some third downs because of our efficiency and our explosiveness. I think that’s a big part of it.” — Mark Schlabach

No. 3 Alabama at Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Just because Auburn quarterback Bo Nix is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury doesn’t mean he can’t stir the pot before the Iron Bowl.

During his weekly appearance on “The Next Round” podcast on Monday, Nix said he watched Alabama beat Arkansas over the weekend. And what he saw, whether it was a questionable touchdown catch by Alabama receiver Jameson Williams or a questionable spot short of the end zone on a catch by Arkansas receiver Warren Thompson, raised questions in his mind about the officiating.

That is, he said, “Unless you’re an Alabama fan.”

Nix went on to say that he sees it all the time and it’s not going to change, “No matter what happens.”

He was later asked what he meant and doubled down on the idea that SEC officials favor Alabama.

“Legitimately, I think you can watch the game and anybody unbiased will think that something is different,” Nix said. “It is what it is. It’s kind of how it’s always been.”

Nix went on to say that Alabama has good players and “you can’t take that away from…



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