The advertisers and the songwriters are right: this really is the most wonderful time of the year. As the rest of the world prepares for the holiday season, we in the college football world are heralding the arrival of a different holiday: rivalry week.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the college football schedule makers have offered up a smorgasbord of intriguing, meaningful football. From Tuesday night through the wee hours of Sunday morning, fates will be sealed and postseason tickets will be punched all across the country.
Real, tangible stakes will be on the line in 54 separate games, stretching on the map from the Palouse of Pullman, Wash., down to the tropical campus of Florida International and on the hierarchical totem pole from Michigan at Ohio State to Louisiana-Lafayette at Louisiana-Monroe. In all, 20 different teams will play to keep their conference championship dreams alive, while 25 different teams will play to extend their seasons into December.
There are four games in which both teams are fighting to make a bowl game, and seven in which both are vying to reach their respective conference championship games.
As if that's not enough, both of the longest bowl streaks in college football history could be over by dinnertime on Saturday, and one of the most legendary coaching careers in the sport's history could meet its end as well.
Without further ado, here is your annual rundown of everything that's on the line in college football's rivalry weekend.
at (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Chuck Martin's Miami of Ohio club is 5-2 in MAC play, 5-6 overall... and still has a shot to win the MAC championship. The RedHawks can only win the division in the event of a 3-way tie between themselves, Buffalo (6-1) and Ohio (5-2), so Miami needs to win this game, then spend its weekend rooting for Buffalo to lose and Ohio to win.
at (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Ole Miss is 5-6, but a self-imposed bowl ban means the Rebels aren't playing to extend their season. Instead, the Egg Bowl is their season. Sitting out bowl season is hard to swallow, but finishing a 6-6 with a second straight win over Mississippi State would make the winter pass much easier in Oxford.
at (noon ET, FS1): Kansas is looking to send David Beaty out a winner, while a win puts Texas back in the Big 12 Championship. Oh, and Texas is looking to snap a 1-game losing streak in Lawrence.
at (noon ET, FOX): Technically, nothing is on the line in Iowa City since Nebraska cannot make a bowl game and Iowa cannot win the Big Ten West. But Iowa is looking to beat Nebraska four times in a row for the first time ever, while Nebraska is looking to secure "Team to Watch in 2019" status by winning five of its final six games.
at (noon ET, CBS Sports Network): Akron needs a win to reach a bowl game, while Ohio -- preseason favorites to win the MAC, something the program hasn't done in 50 years -- will know if their dream still lives by the time this kicks off. If Miami loses on Tuesday night, Ohio will take the MAC East with a win in this game and a Buffalo loss to Bowling Green. If Miami or Buffalo win, the Bobcats' MAC title hopes are done.
at (noon ET, ESPNU): While Miami and Ohio need help, Buffalo does not. Win and the Bulls are in the MAC Championship for the second time ever, with their only other trip to Detroit coming in 2008. Should Lance Leipold's club drop this game, Buffalo would also need an Ohio loss to win the division.
at (noon ET, ESPN3): In a year where there projects to be more bowl eligible teams than available bowl slots, a 7-5 Eastern Michigan is much more likely to find a postseason home than a 6-6 EMU team. Eastern Michigan has just three all-time bowl trips to its credit.
at (noon ET, ESPN3): The same situation described to Eastern Michigan above applies to Toledo, though the context is flipped. Toledo is looking to make a bowl trip for the eight time in nine seasons.
at (noon ET, ABC): This one is simple -- winner wins the AAC West, loser does not.
at (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+): A win lifts Coastal Carolina to bowl eligibility. The Chanticleers made six trips to the FCS playoffs but have never played in a bowl game.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): The AAC Championship dream died last week in Orlando, but Cincinnati can book the program's first 10-win regular season since 2009 -- a significant step forward in Year 2 under Luke Fickell.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): How serious is Virginia Tech about keeping its 25-year bowl streak alive? The school scheduled a hurricane make-up game against Marshall for next week that will be played only if the 4-6 Hokies beat Virginia -- but Virginia Tech will pay Marshall regardless of whether or not the game gets played. Meanwhile, Virginia, its bowl trip secure at 7-4, is looking to win the Commonwealth Cup for the first time since 2003 and to win in Blacksburg for the first time since 1998.
at (4 p.m. ET, FS1): Oregon State is looking to win back-to-back Civil Wars in Corvallis for the first time since 2004-06... it's been a rough decade for Oregon State so give them that, okay?
at (4:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): UCF clinched the AAC East by beating Cincinnati last week, but the Knights put their FBS-best 23-game winning streak on the line each time they step on the field.
at (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): If Texas beats Kansas earlier in the day, only the winner advances to the Big 12 Championship. (If Texas loses, you could be looking at an immediate rematch depending on what happens in the Iowa State-Kansas State game.) Also, Oklahoma is looking to keep hope alive of backdoor-ing into its third College Football Playoff trip in four years.
at (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX): Another clear-cut game -- winner is the Pac-12 North champion, loser is not. Chris Petersen has never lost an Apple Cup game (5-0), while Mike Leach has not won since his first appearance (1-5).
at (noon ET, SEC Network): Georgia needs a win to keep pace in the Playoff run. Georgia Tech has won two straight in Athens; the Ramblin' Wreck hasn't won three straight on Uga's turf since the 1950s.
at (noon ET, ESPN):Boston College has not won eight regular season games since 2009. Syracuse has not won nine regular season games since 2001. The winner will be in the running with Penn State and Army to win the Lambert Trophy, the trophy given to college football's beat team from the Northeast.
at (noon ET, ABC): By 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, two record Seminole streaks will either extend for another year or meet their deaths: the FBS-record 36-year bowl streak, and the program-record 5-game winning streak over their archrivals. It's also the first UF-FSU game for both Dan Mullen and Willie Taggart.
at (noon ET, FOX): To say the Big Ten East title is on the line is huge and also sounds like an insulting understatement. A Michigan win sends the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Championship -- seriously, the game is seven years old and Michigan has never been -- and puts them on the doorstep of their first Playoff trip. An Ohio State win sends Ohio State to Indianapolis for the fourth time in six years and keeps hope alive of launching another 11th hour charge to the Playoff, a la 2014. But this game is bigger than just season. Urban Meyer (6-0) has never lost this game as a head coach; Jim Harbaugh (0-3) has never won it. At the same time, Ohio State has never appeared weaker under Meyer, while Michigan has never been stronger under Harbaugh. Ohio State is 15-2 since Jim Tressel's 2001 arrival and has won eight in a row in Columbus. Simply put, this is an "If not now, when?" game for Michigan and Harbaugh. The Big Ten title, the Playoff, the collective maize and blue psyche -- all of them ride on this game. Other than that, though, there's not much at stake here.
at (noon ET, Stadium): A win sends FIU to its first Conference USA Championship. Established in 2002, FIU has one co-Sun Belt championship trophy in its trophy case, so Butch Davis and company are two wins away from the best season in school history by a million miles.
at (noon ET, CBS Sports Network): WKU likely needs a win to secure a third season for head coach Mike Sanford and his staff.
vs. (noon ET, FS1): Our first loser-stays-home game of the weekend -- both teams enter a 5-6, so the winner heads to a bowl game while the loser shuts it down until spring ball.
at (noon ET, ESPN2): Our second loser-stays-home game of the weekend, Purdue is looking to win the Old Oaken Bucket in back-to-back years for the first time since 2011-12 while Indiana looks to take the Bucket five times in six years for the first time since the 1940s.
at (noon ET, ESPNU): A year ago, Tulane saw its bowl dreams die at the 1-yard line in a 41-38 loss to SMU in Game 12. Now Tulane again enters Game 12 needing a win to reach the postseason.
at (12:20 p.m. ET, ACC Network): NC State looks to win its third straight game in Chapel Hill for the first time since 1988-92 and possibly finish off the Larry Fedora era at North Carolina.
at (12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network): A win-or-stay home game for Wake Forest.
at (2 p.m. ET, ESPN3): In a rare in-season home-and-home, Liberty needs a revenge win over New Mexico State and a win over Norfolk State next week to achieve bowl eligibility in its first year of play in FBS.
at (2:30 p.m. ET, AT&T SportsNet): A win-or-stay-home game for Wyoming.
at (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Winner takes the inaugural Sun Belt East championship, loser does not.
at (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+): A win-or-stay-home game for Southern Miss.
at (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Louisiana-Lafayette wins the inaugural Sun Belt West title and advances to face the Troy-App State winner, while ULM needs a win and an Arkansas State loss. ULL has won three of four, but ULM won the most recent meeting.
at (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3): This game's importance hinges on the Marshall-FIU outcome. If FIU loses, Middle Tennessee takes the C-USA East with a victory. If FIU wins, MTSU is eliminated and UAB, already crowned the C-USA West champion, is playing for the right to host FIU in the C-USA Championship.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): There's a school of thought out there that Alabama could get in the Playoff even with a loss to Auburn as long as the Tide beats Georgia next week; Nick Saban would rather not test it. All the principals have said Gus Malzahn will return in 2019, but nothing would put the whispers to bed quite like another Iron Bowl stunner.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): After last week's heartbreaker against Ohio State, Matt Canada's crew must pick itself up off the mat and beat Penn State -- which it has done just once since joining the Big Ten -- to reach a bowl game.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN): This game means nothing because Northwestern clinched its first Big Ten West title two weeks ago. Just wanted to remind you.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1): The first Territorial Cup game between Herm Edwards and Kevin Sumlin is also a lose-or-stay-home game for Arizona.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): A year ago, Miami came into this game 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country. Pitt won the game and has since taken The U's mojo. The Panthers have already clinched their first ACC Coastal, while Miami looks to avoid a sub-.500 ACC record.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2): A win accomplishes two separate, massive things for Minnesota -- it snaps a 14-game losing streak to Wisconsin and sends the Gophers to a bowl game for the first time under PJ Fleck.
at (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): A win-or-stay-home game for SMU.
at (4 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Arkansas State needs a win and a Louisiana-Monroe victory over Louisiana-Lafayette to win the inaugural Sun Belt West championship.
at (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Our fourth loser-stays-home game of the weekend. A win would mark Jeremy Pruitt's debut a success, while a loss deems it a failure. Derek Mason would love to welcome his new AD with a bowl trip. Vanderbilt has taken two straight over Tennessee, its second such streak in the past six seasons; the 'Dores have not won three straight since the 1920s.
at (6 p.m. ET, Stadium): A year after pummeling their way to a Conference USA championship, Lane Kiffin's team must win to reach a bowl game.
at (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Clemson needs a win to stay in the Playoff hunt and to beat South Carolina for a fifth straight time since taking a program-record seven straight from 1934-40.
at (7 p.m. ET, FS1): At 5-6, a Kansas State loss not only ends the Wildcats' season, there's a very real chance it proves to be Bill Snyder's 333rd and final game as K-State's head coach. Also, in the event of a Texas loss to Kansas and a West Virginia loss to Oklahoma, this result decides who meets OU for the Big 12 title -- an Iowa State win puts Texas in, and a K-State victory puts WVU in.
at (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Kentucky must win out to achieve its first 10-win season since 1977, while Louisville fans, with Bobby Petrino already out, would love nothing more than to cap off an awful season by making their archrivals feel exactly how they've spent the past three months feeling.
at (7 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Mike MacIntyre is already out, so Colorado is playing a win-or-stay-home game that would also avoid the Buffs the indignity of starting 5-0 and finishing 5-7.
at (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+): It's been a bittersweet season in Denton. Viral sensations and 5-0 to begin the year, UNT dropped three games by 13 combined points -- and held double-digit leads in all three. Still, the Mean Green could match a school record of 10 wins and book a 5-0 record against Texas teams for the first time in more than 70 years.
at (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Conference and national titles off the table, LSU can still record an 11-win season and clinch a trip to a TBD New Year's Six bowl with a win. Texas A&M would love nothing more to build a genuine rivalry with its neighbors to the East, but the Aggies are 0-6 against LSU since joining the SEC. Jimbo was hired to fix that.
at (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Notre Dame needs a win to clinch its first Playoff trip, while USC needs a win to avoid going from Rose Bowl champions, to Pac-12 champions, to missing a bowl game in successive seasons.
at (8 p.m. ET, FOX): Oklahoma State clinched a 13th straight bowl trip with last week's West Virginia upset, while TCU needs a win to avoid missing a bowl for just the third time in the last 20 seasons.
at (9:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): Fresno State will play for the Mountain West championship regardless, but Nevada can call itself the MW West co-champion with a win over UNLV and a Fresno State loss to San Jose State.
at (10 p.m. ET, FS1): Utah has clinched the Pac-12 South. BYU has clinched a bowl. So there's nothing really at stake here except this -- BYU and Utah first met in 1896 and have played annually since 1922. The longest winning streak is actually two separate winning streaks, one 9-game run by both teams. Utah can extend its current streak to eight win a win here.
at (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): Winner claims the MW Mountain Division, loser does not. Furthermore, the winner here is the top choice to appear in a New Year's Six bowl (likely the Fiesta) if UCF loses in the AAC Championship.