The final weekend of the FBS regular season is here and everything is on the line. Some teams are fighting to achieve the greatest season in school history, others to avoid the worst in school history. Some teams need a win to extend their season into December, others want to shut their rival's season down. Some coaches need a win this weekend to keep their job, others will bid adieu when the final horn sounds.
This weekend gives us perhaps the biggest game of the entire season (No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan) and the smallest game of the entire season (1-10 UMass at 1-10 New Mexico State).
From Tuesday night, to Thursday afternoon, to midnight on Saturday, we found meat on the bone for 54 games this coming weekend.
-- 19 teams trying to win their way into conference championship games (including five de facto division championship games)
-- 22 teams playing win-or-stay home games (including three games pitting 5-6 teams against each other)
As we say this time of year, let's dig in.
-- Buffalo at Ball State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Isn't the idea behind Tuesday night football to get on real TV? Either way, Ball State is 5-6 and need a win to reach a bowl game. The Cardinals have played in bowl games in back-to-back seasons twice previously.
-- Fresno State at San Jose State (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1): Speaking of questionable TV decisions, here we have a game kicking off a 1:30 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving Day. Someone at the WAC and/or FS1 wanted to counter-program the Cowboys game? Either way, Fresno State owns head-to-head over No. 21 San Diego State, so the Bulldogs need to win and then root against the Aztecs to win the MW West Division for the fifth time and first since 2018.
This year marks the 100th birthday of this rivalry. Fresno owns the all-time advantage 42-38-3, but San Jose won the most recent game (17-16 in 2019) and has won five of the last eight.
-- No. 9 Ole Miss at Mississippi State (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): The only Thanksgiving Day college football game I'll acknowledge is the Egg Bowl.
This the 30th season since the SEC split into divisions. How many times has Ole Miss finished among the West's top two? Four. How many times have they won 10 regular season games? Two. Lane Kiffin's team accomplishes both with a win, and State denies their rivals both feats with an upset. (Mississippi State would finish second with a win, winning a 3-way tie with Ole Miss and Texas A&M.) And if Alabama beats Georgia in Atlanta, Ole Miss is in prime position to reach the Sugar Bowl for just the second time since 1969.
We all remember the last time the Egg Bowl was played in Starkville, don't we?
-- Boise State at No. 21 San Diego State (noon ET, CBS): If Fresno State wins Thursday, this is a determinative game for both teams. SDSU would need a win to take the MW West for the first time since 2016. Boise State needs a win and an Air Force loss to reach its fifth consecutive Mountain West Championship and sixth overall.
-- Kansas State at Texas (noon ET, Fox): Tickets can be had online for as low as $4. When accounting for inflation, that's got to be the cheapest ticket in the 129-season history of Longhorn football. So they've got that going for them. A loss here concludes UT's first 8-or-more loss season since 1956.
-- Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan (noon ET, ESPNU): CMU has won two straight in this rivalry that dates back to 1902.
-- Utah State at New Mexico (1 p.m. ET, FS1): Thanks to last week loss to Wyoming, Utah State needs a win and a Boise State loss to win its second MW Mountain title.
-- No. 16 Iowa at Nebraska (1:30 p.m. ET, BTN): Iowa needs a victory and Minnesota to beat Wisconsin to appear in the Big Ten Championship for the second time. The Hawkeyes have won this game six straight times. Nebraska is looking to avoid its first 3-win season since 1961 and its first 9-loss season since 1957.
-- UTEP at UAB (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+): UTEP hasn't won nine games in a season since 1988. That can change with a win here and a win in their bowl game.
-- No. 4 Cincinnati at East Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Cincinnati has already locked up a berth in the American Championship, but they're playing for much more than a conference championship. A win here puts next week's game against No. 24 Houston in Cincinnati and keeps the Bearcats in the Playoff race.
-- Missouri at No. 25 Arkansas (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Both of these teams are going bowling for the first time since 2018 (Mizzou) and 2016 (Arkansas), but Arkansas is looking to finish .500 or better in SEC play for the first time since 2015 -- which also happens to be the last time they beat Missouri.
-- South Florida at UCF (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): It feels like UCF has held the upper hand in the aptly-named War on I-4 for years, doesn't it? What if I told you UCF has never been above .500 against USF? The Bulls won the first four and six of the first eight, and a Knights win puts the series at 7-6, UCF. That's important because who knows how often these teams play once UCF joins the Big 12.
-- Coastal Carolina at South Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+): A win sends South Alabama bowling (for the third time ever) in Kane Wommack's first season.
-- UNLV at Air Force (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): In the 3-way tie for the MW Mountain, Air Force is in first. If Air Force, Boise State and Utah State all win, the Falcons are in the Mountain West Championship for just the second time (2015 was the other). However, if Boise State loses, Air Force needs Utah State to also lose because the Aggies own head-to-head with the Falcons.
-- Colorado at No. 19 Utah (4 p.m. ET, Fox): Utah has already clinched the Pac-12 South and can't reach the Playoff, and Colorado can't reach a bowl, so this game is irrelevant for postseason positioning. But that doesn't mean it lacks consequence. Thanks to Utah's eight wins in the past nine games, the all-time ledger in this shotgun rivalry sits at Buffaloes 32, Utes 32.
-- TCU at Iowa State (4:30 p.m. ET, FS1): There's a non-zero chance this is the final game of Matt Campbell's time in Ames. Also, TCU needs a victory to reach the postseason. This note gets a covid-shaped asterisk, but: TCU hasn't missed a bowl game in three straight seasons since 1995-97.
-- North Carolina at No. 20 NC State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): An NC State win and a Wake Forest loss send the Wolfpack to their first ACC Championship. After starting 0-5, Mack Brown has won seven in a row against NC State, including both games since returning to Chapel Hill.
-- Washington State at Washington (8 p.m. ET, FS1): Can I interest you in two interim head coaches? Jake Dickert might just mess around and win himself the full-time job at Wazzu, especially if he snaps the Cougars' 7-game Apple Cup losing streak on Friday night and Oregon State beats Oregon on Saturday, thereby sending Washington State to the Pac-12 Championship for the first time ever.
-- No. 1 Georgia at Georgia Tech (noon ET, ABC): A win here clinches Georgia's return to the College Football Playoff, no matter what happens across town at Mercedes-Benz Stadium the following Saturday. A loss here dooms Georgia Tech to three straight 3-win seasons in Geoff Collins' three years on the job.
-- No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan (noon ET, Fox): The winner advances to the Big Ten Championship, places themselves on the doorstep of the College Football Playoff, and dooms their sworn enemy to nine months of despair. For Michigan, that despair would be 16 losses to Ohio State in 17 tries -- including an 0-7 mark under Jim Harbaugh. For Ohio State, it would be that your decade-and-a-half of heaven may be over, that the greatest passing offense this side of 2019 LSU would be squandered into a second-place finish inside your own division, and that Ryan Day's first Big Ten loss would come at the worst possible time.
This is the 24th time Michigan and Ohio State meet inside the AP Top 10; no other series has more than 18 such meetings.
-- No. 18 Wake Forest at Boston College (noon ET, ESPN2): A win sends Wake Forest to the ACC Championship for just the second time, on the precipice of just their third ACC title. A loss sees their 8-0 start and their first AP Top 10 ranking crumble into a 1-3 finish, with no AP ranking and no trophy to show for it.
-- Texas Tech at No. 8 Baylor (noon ET, FS1): After losing 15 straight from 1996-2010, Baylor has won seven of the last 10 in this series. Eight of 11 puts the Bears on the doorstep of their second Big 12 title game in three years. Dave Aranda's crew needs to win and then put their black and orange on.
-- Florida State at Florida (noon ET, ESPN): From 1999-2000, these two teams played 13 consecutive games where both were in the AP Top 10 -- culminating in 1996, when No. 2 FSU beat No. 1 UF to close the regular season, but No. 3 UF won revenge over No. 1 FSU in the Sugar Bowl to claim its first national championship. Twenty-five years later, the winner goes to a third-tier bowl game and the loser ends its season.
-- Maryland at Rutgers (noon ET, BTN): The exact same stakes in Florida-Florida State are at play for Maryland-Rutgers -- the winner goes to a third-tier bowl, the loser stays home for winter.
-- Miami (Ohio) at Kent State (noon ET, ESPN3): This is the MAC East championship. Both teams are 5-2 in league play, and so the winner meets Northern Illinois for the MAC title in Detroit and the loser watches on TV. Miami has won the East five times, most recently in 2019, and Kent State only once.
-- Miami at Duke (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Depending on how this game goes, this could be the final game for Manny Diaz, David Cutcliffe, or both.
-- No. 22 UTSA at North Texas (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+): UTSA has already won the C-USA West for the first time, and a win here completes their first undefeated regular season. After starting 1-6, an upset ends UNT's regular season with a 5-game winning streak and sends them to a bowl game for the fifth time in Seth Littrell's six seasons.
-- Charlotte at Old Dominion (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Our third win-or-stay home game of the weekend. Both teams enter at 5-6, and ODU is 5-6 after starting 1-6. The Monarchs have quietly become one of the bright spots of this season -- after sitting out all of 2020, Ricky Rahne's tenure took a while to get rolling but now he's got a team that's a boulder moving downhill.
-- Troy at Georgia State (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Chip Lindsey won't return, but the Trojans can return to their first bowl since 2018 with a victory.
-- FIU at Southern Miss (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Southern Miss needs a win to avoid the third 10-loss season in program history; FIU is already there. Barring the unforeseen, this is the 222nd and final game of Butch Davis' head coaching career.
-- UMass at New Mexico State (3 p.m. ET): A 1-10 independent visiting a 1-10 independent. This is the Sickos Version of the Ohio State-Michigan game.
-- No. 3 Alabama at Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Alabama has clinched the SEC West, Auburn has no Bo Nix. Nevertheless, Auburn has won two straight and three out of the last four Iron Bowls at Jordan-Hare, and Bama needs a win to keep its chance of becoming the first team to repeat as national champions since... 2011-12 Alabama.
-- Oregon State at No. 11 Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): An Oregon win sends the Ducks to the Pac-12 Championship for the third straight year and the conference-leading fifth time overall. An Oregon State win (plus a Washington State loss) sends the Beavers to Vegas for their first Pac-12 Championship. OSU pulled the upset last year; the last time the Beavers beat the Ducks twice in a row? 2006-07.
-- Penn State at No. 12 Michigan State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Sparty's Big Ten and national championship hopes nosedived into a flaming ball of dung at the Horsehoe last week. Nevertheless, a win here gives Michigan State 10 regular season wins for the sixth time in the last 12 years.
-- Western Kentucky at Marshall (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): Another standalone division championship game. The winner goes to San Antonio to play for the C-USA championship, the loser watches on TV. It would be Marshall's fourth appearance (second consecutive) and WKU's third.
-- Northwestern at Illinois (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN): Both teams' seasons will end here, but this game still carries plenty of meaning in this rivalry. A Northwestern win: A) ties the series record for longest winning streak, matching Illinois' string of seven straight victories over Northwestern from 1913-28, and B) levels the all-time series ledger at 55-55-5.
-- Indiana at Purdue (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1): Know how people will sometimes say a rivalry game is so important Team X would rather lose every game so long as they beat Rival Y than win every game but lose to Rival Y? That's the reality Indiana lives in: the Hoosiers enter this game at 0-8 in Big Ten play, looking to avoid their second winless conference campaign since 1995. IU won the last Old Oaken Bucket game in 2019 and has taken five of the last seven.
-- Vanderbilt at Tennessee (3:45 p.m. ET, SEC Network): A Tennessee win gives the Vols three straight and levels these rivals at 5-5 since 2012. (UT was 28-1 from 1982-2011.)
-- Virginia Tech at Virginia (3:45 p.m. ET, ACC Network): If you want to grant them a covid-shaped asterisk, a win here extends Virginia Tech's streak to 28 straight full seasons with a bowl trip. A loss ends the Justin Fuente era with the program's second straight losing season and its second Commonwealth Cup loss in three seasons after winning 15 consecutive from 2004-18.
-- No. 14 Wisconsin at Minnesota (4 p.m. ET, Fox): A victory sends Wisconsin to the Big Ten Championship for the seventh time and allows them to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the 17th time in 18 seasons. A Minnesota win ends the Badgers' 8-game home losing streak to its biggest rival, and also sends them to their first Big Ten Championship so long as Nebraska beats Iowa and Purdue beats Indiana.
-- Tulsa at SMU (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2): This is likely Sonny Dykes' final game at SMU before he takes I-30 West to Fort Worth. Tulsa needs a win to go bowling for the second straight season.
-- ULM at Louisiana (4 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Louisiana has already clinched the Sun Belt West and Sun Belt Championship hosting duties, but a win gives the Cajuns 11 regular season wins for the first time ever as well as four straight over their rival.
-- Arizona at Arizona State (4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Arizona State can extend its Territorial Cup winning streak to five games, its longest since ripping off a program record nine straight from 1965-73.
-- No. 15 Texas A&M at LSU (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): A&M still has an outside shot at a New Year's Six bowl berth, depending on how the Egg Bowl turns out. Either way, this a program that would really like LSU to hate them and beating the Tigers with the coach they'd like to have would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. Then again, if you're a superstitious LSU fan, maybe you're rooting against your Tigers. A loss means LSU finishes alone in last place in the SEC West for the first time since 1999. That season ultimately brought Nick Saban to Baton Rouge.
-- West Virginia at Kansas (7 p.m. ET, FS1): West Virginia needs a win to advance to a bowl game for the second straight season. Kansas needs a win and a Texas loss to avoid finishing 10th in the Big 12 for the first time since 2014.
-- Middle Tennessee at Florida Atlantic (7 p.m. ET): Middle Tennessee needs a win to reach a bowl game.
-- No. 17 Pitt at Syracuse (7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network): Pitt, already the ACC Coastal champion, hasn't won 10 games in the regular season in 40 years. That changes with a win here. Syracuse needs a win to extend its season into December.
-- Kentucky at Louisville (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Kentucky is looking to win three straight over Louisville for the first time since claiming four straight from 2007-10.
-- No. 23 Clemson at South Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Clemson will know by kickoff if its string of six straight ACC Championship appearances is over or not. Either way, a win here ties a Clemson record for seven consecutive wins over South Carolina. Shane Beamer can move his debut season from Very Good to Out of This World Good by defeating the Tigers for the first time since 2013.
-- Tulane at Memphis (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Memphis needs a win or its streak of bowl seasons halts at seven.
-- No. 6 Notre Dame at Stanford (8 p.m. ET, Fox): The Irish are still lurking around the Playoff table like your father circling the dessert table for a third piece of pumpkin pie. Regardless of how the standings shake out above them, a win here means Notre Dame is 43-3 in the regular season since 2018 and will play in a New Year's Six game for the fifth time since 2012.
-- No. 13 BYU at USC (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): USC needs a win here and to beat Cal next week to reach a bowl game. A BYU wins puts Kalani Sitake's team at 21-3 over the past two seasons and a perfect 5-0 against the Pac-12 this fall.
-- Cal at UCLA (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1): Cal also needs a win here and a win at USC next week to reach a bowl game.
We did not forget No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 7 Oklahoma State (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), we moved it down here to give this game the standalone section it deserves. Simply put, I don't think any fan base -- Michigan included -- has as much at stake emotionally as Oklahoma State. Let us count the ways.
1. So long as Baylor doesn't vomit stuffing and cranberry sauce all over its cleats against Texas Tech, an Oklahoma State win ends OU's streak of six straight Big 12 championships. That run could die Saturday night on the Boone Pickens Stadium turf.
2. Oklahoma State is very much alive for the College Football Playoff, and thus the national championship. Should all the favorites win out from here, Stewart Mandel projects the Cowboys to make the 4-team field as the No. 3 seed. Even if Alabama beats Georgia in Atlanta, the Pokes are still likely in the field. They do not need anyone's help except their own. This, at a program that claims one national championship, in 1945.
Saturday night's game is the biggest in school history.
3. If Oklahoma State and Baylor wins, OU's regular season ends at 10-2. This is officially the worst season since Lincoln Riley came to Norman in 2015, and considering the circumstances -- a preseason No. 2 AP ranking, no major injuries -- you're talking about one of the most disappointing seasons in school history. Oklahoma State can do that to OU on Saturday night.
Now, if Oklahoma wins...
1. Oklahoma State's national championship hopes are kaput.
2. Oklahoma State would have to turn around and beat Oklahoma the following week to win the Big 12. The Baylor outcome is irrelevant if the Sooners win. OU's Bedlam winning streak extends to seven games, and its Bedlam streak in Stillwater moves to four.
This has not been the season Oklahoma envisioned in August. At one point this season, Riley uttered the phrase, "The sky is not falling" while his team's record stood at 8-0 -- and he did so without irony. At this point, any season without a national championship is a disappointment, and Mandel's projection did not envision a scenario in which the Sooners reach the CFP.
Having said that, let's consider what Oklahoma can still accomplish this season.
1. At halftime of the Red River game, it looked very much like Steve Sarkisian was in the process of building an All Gas No Brakes juggernaut that could dust the entire Big 12, OU included. That game was 28-7 with a minute to play in the first quarter. Oklahoma rallied from a 21-point deficit (18 in the late in the late third quarter) to win that game, and now it looks like Texas won't win another game all season. Oklahoma threw on the emergency brake and drained the gas. The worst Texas season in 65 years, the umpteenth existential crisis in the last 12 years, and Oklahoma started the downfall.
2. OU could then potentially turn around and defeat Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks to win its seventh straight Big 12 title, its 15th overall Big 12 title, and its 51st overall. Oklahoma would end Oklahoma State's run at its second Big 12 title and its first modern-day national championship -- months after OU announced its plan to abandon OSU for the SEC sooner than later.
Can you imagine the celebration on the field at AT&T Stadium if OU effectively ended its two rivals' seasons in equally excruciating ways? What miracles did Sooner fans do in past lives to deserve this type of karma over the past
10, 20, 50, 75 years?
Now let's consider this:
Oklahoma State is supposed to win this game. Vegas has OSU a 3.5-point favorite. The advanced stats give the Cowboys a three-in-four chance of winning.
Mike Gundy is without question the most important figure in the history of Cowboy football. Before he was the best Cowboy coach ever, he was the best Cowboy quarterback ever. He also happens to be 4-24-1 lifetime in Bedlam, including 2-14 as a head coach. Lincoln Riley is 4-0 as a head coach and 6-0 in Sooner colors.
How highly would the odds have to be stacked that you'd feel comfortable the 4-24-1 guy beats the 6-0 guy? 90%? 95%? 99%? Oklahoma has beaten OSU 18 times in the Stoops/Riley era; OSU has beaten Oklahoma 18 times... ever.
And that, my friends, is why no one has more on the line this weekend than Oklahoma State.