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Everything that's on the line in college football's Rivalry Weekend

The best advertisements, like the best lies, are bites of sweet-tasting candy packaged elegantly in a wrapper made of the truth. It's a simple idea: the surest way to plant an idea in your mark's head is to intertwine it in a truth they already believe in their hearts.

So when Lexus tries to pry $80,000 out of your bank account by telling you it's the most wonderful time of the year, they're not lying. This is the best time of the year, and this weekend's college football schedule is proof.

From Tuesday evening through the wee hours of Sunday morning, meaningful, high-stakes college football will appear on your television in a near endless succession. Fifty-eight games have something up for grabs, be they championships, bowl trips, legacies or simply bragging rights, they're all wonderful in their own way. Let us count the ways:

8 teams are still in the hunt for the national championship
12 teams need victories to reach their respective conference title games
13 teams playing win-or-stay home games
14 teams are in the mix for a New Year's Six game

This includes two traditional rivalry games with bragging rights, division titles, conference titles and New Year's Six implications on the line, and three games where the traditional underdog is looking to end long losing spells to their blood enemies -- and can do so on their home turf. It's the stuff college football legends are made of, and the ingredients that make this weekend's meal the most delicious we'll eat all year.

Let's dig in.

TUESDAY

at (6 p.m., ESPN+): Ohio needs a win to push its streak of consecutive bowl seasons to six. Akron needs a win, period. The Zips are looking to avoid becoming the first winless team since UTEP in 2017 and just the seventh of the decade.

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at (7 p.m., ESPNU): Western Michigan wins its fourth MAC West championship, and first under Tim Lester, with a victory.

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northern-illinois.60

WEDNESDAY

No games. Heads should roll over this.

THURSDAY

at (7:30 p.m., ESPN): Mississippi State needs an Egg Bowl win to reach a bowl game. Aside from the obvious, both coaching staffs could really, really, really use a win -- or, perhaps more accurately, they could sure help themselves by not losing to the other guys.

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FRIDAY

at (noon, FOX): Hoooo boy. Texas Tech is out of bowl contention (thanks, Big 12 refs), while Texas' season is beyond salvaging. A loss would mean the Longhorns finish the regular season 6-6 or worse for the fifth time in six seasons, and they'd drop three straight to Tech in Austin for the first time in school history.

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at (noon, ABC): It's the 101st Commonwealth Cup game and maybe the biggest, at least for UVa. The winner takes the ACC Coastal Division; it'd be the seventh division crown for Virginia Tech and the first for Virginia. Thanks to Clemson's undefeated season, the winner probably heads to the Orange Bowl win or lose in the ACC Championship, which would be the first major bowl appearance for Virginia since the 1990 season. Virginia has lost 15 straight... to a back-woods country school its wine-and-cheese crowd looks down its nose upon. Oh, and it's in Charlottesville. No pressure, Bronco Mendenhall.

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at (noon, ESPN+): A win gives Buffalo back-to-back seasons of seven or more wins for the first time since 1958-59. That's sixty years for those of you who went to state schools.

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Buffalo logo

at (noon, ESPN+): A win sends Kent State to a bowl game, a year after going 2-10 under first-year head coach Sean Lewis. It would be the fourth bowl trip in Golden Flashes history and first since 2012.

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at (noon, CBS Sports Network): Chuck Martin's Miami RedHawks already their tickets booked to Detroit for their first MAC title game since 2010, and winning out gives them their first 10-win season since that 2010 campaign and their second since Ben Roethlisberger was on campus.

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at (noon, ESPNU): Central Michigan will know its fate well before kickoff. A WMU win on Tuesday reduces the stakes to nothing more than bowl positioning, but a WMU loss means Jim McElwain can send the Chippewas to Detroit for the MAC Championship for the first time since 2009.

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at (2:30 p.m., BTN): Nebraska hasn't missed a bowl in three straight seasons since 1959-61, but that's the Huskers' fate with a loss here. Also, after taking three of four upon joining the Big Ten, Big Red has now dropped four straight to a program they(used to) look down their nose upon. Also, an Iowa win triggers a $15 million bonus for Kirk Ferentz and guarantees his contract through 2070 [citation needed].

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at (2:30 p.m., CBS): Mizzou is 5-6, so the Tigers may or may not be playing for a bowl game, depending on the status of their (still pending as of this writing) NCAA sanctions appeal. For Arkansas, it's the final game until the [Insert Coach Here] era and the last chance to avoid back-to-back 0-8 seasons in SEC play. Only three other SEC schools have done that in the past 20 years.

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at (3:30 p.m., ABC): Pound for pound, this is the most intriguing game of the weekend. Cincinnati has already won the American East and a Memphis win hands the Tigers the West, which means a Tiger victor triggers an immediate rematch at the Liberty Bowl next Saturday. A Cincinnati win and a Navy loss means we'd get Bearcats-Tigers II in Cincinnati next Saturday. Also, whoever emerges from the American is jockeying with Boise State and App State for a Cotton Bowl bid.

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at (3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network): Bryan Harsin's team has already won the right to host Hawaii in the Mountain West Championship on the blue turf next weekend, but a loss ends their Cotton Bowl hopes.

Boise State
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at (4 p.m., FOX): Mike Leach has done plenty of good things on the Palouse, but he's never won the Apple Cup. For Washington, a lost season sinks even further with a setback that would end their 6-game Apple Cup streak and drop them to 6-6. Woof.

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at (4:15 p.m., ESPN): TCU needs a win to avoid missing a bowl for just the third time in 19 years under Gary Patterson. In a season in which the Frogs played Big 12 title game participants OU and Baylor right to the wire, that would be like swallowing a pill made of shrapnel.

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TCU

at (6 p.m., ESPN+): Troy needs a win to go bowling in Chip Lindsey's first season. App State -- who's already won the Sun Belt East and the right to host the conference championship -- needs a win, a Boise State loss and AAC chaos to reach the Cotton Bowl.

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Troy logo

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at (8 p.m., ESPN): Two Black Fridays ago, this game was for the American East title, as UCF took a 49-42 classic en route to an undefeated season, a Peach Bowl win and a self-appointed national championship. Now, UCF is out of the division race and South Florida is playing for nothing more than pride.

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SATURDAY

at (noon, FOX): There's no Big Ten championship implications in this one, and Ryan Day's team can absolutely afford to lose this game as long as they win in Indianapolis, but let's see if we can spark some interest anyway. The Buckeyes would still very much like to avoid a CFP semifinal against Clemson or LSU in Atlanta, which means they need a win here. Oh, and Michigan needs a win to: A) clinch a New Year's Six game for the third time in four seasons, B) legitimize a second-half rally that has seen a near-comeback against Penn State and commanding wins over Notre Dame and Michigan State, and C) bring temporary respite to the longest-running nightmare in college football -- 14 losses in 15 tries to their bitter rival, including all four meetings of the Jim Harbaugh era. That's all.

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michigan.60

at (noon, ESPN): Thanks to the weak Playoff "bubble" this year, Clemson can probably lose this game and still reach their fifth straight CFP trip. Still, the chance to play a semifinal at the Peach Bowl would be quite valuable to the defending champions and that requires a win here. Aside from that, Dabo started his run at Clemson going 1-5 against South Carolina. You think he wouldn't enjoy smoking a big, fat stogie as his team extends its Palmetto Bowl winning streak to six -- one short of the record in this 123-year-old rivalry -- and its overall win streak to a national-best 27 while dooming the Gamecocks to a 4-8 season?

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at (noon, ABC): Could Georgia get in the Playoff wins over No. 16 Auburn, No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 8 Florida and No. 1 LSU but losses to 4-8 South Carolina and 3-9 Georgia Tech? It's an interesting thought experiment Kirby Smart desperately wants to avoid fulfilling. After losing to Tech in his first year, Smart is 2-0 with wins by 31 and 24 points.

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at (noon, CBS Sports Network): The first of many, many games with Conference USA championship implications. Marshall wins its third C-USA East title win a victory here and a Florida Atlantic loss to Southern Miss. (By the way, a week after beating Miami, FIU is a touchdown underdog here.)

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at (noon, SEC Network): It's already been a successful debut for Scott Satterfield and company but, a year removed from going 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the ACC, finishing second in the ACC Atlantic and handing U of L its seventh win in nine tries over Kentucky might have them throwing a parade in Louisville.

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at (noon, FS1): Lovie Smith has already clinched his first bowl trip at Illinois, and now he's looking to end a streak that has seen the Illini drop four straight, six of seven, and 12 of 16. Northwestern, meanwhile, won the Big Ten West at 8-1 in 2018 and had Ohio State in a 1-score game for much of the second half in the B1G title game. Now they're looking to avoid an 0-9 record in conference play.

Northwestern
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at (noon, ESPN2): Indiana hasn't won eight games since 1993, they haven't finished a season in the AP Top 25 since 1988, and they haven't won nine games since 1967. Erasing all three marks requires snapping a 2-game losing streak in the Old Oaken Bucket game.

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Purdue logo

at (12:30 p.m., ACC Network Extra): A win here and a 60-0 Clemson beatdown of Virginia or Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship probably sends the Deacons to the Orange Bowl. They've only been once before.

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syracuse.60

at (2 p.m., ESPN+): Though they cannot win the tiebreaker, Tyson Helton can lead Western Kentucky to a share of the C-USA East title in his first season, a year after the Hilltoppers went 3-9.

Middle Tennessee logo
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at (2 p.m., ESPN+): Charlotte has already clinched its first bowl trip, but a win here guarantees the first winning campaign in the 49ers' storied 7-year football history.

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at (2 p.m.): The Mountain West title plane has left the base, but, a year after going 5-7, Air Force can clinch its best season since a 12-1 campaign in 1998 with a win here and in the bowl game.

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at (2 p.m., ESPN+): Liberty is 6-5 but two of those six wins came against FCS opponents, so Hugh Freeze's team needs a win here to clinch its first bowl trip.

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Liberty logo

at (3 p.m., ESPN3): After starting 0-9, Rice can close the year on a 3-game win streak with a victory, while UTEP looks to avoid its second 0-8 C-USA record in three seasons.

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at (3 p.m.): A win over UNLV and in their bowl game gives Nevada its first 9-win season since going 13-1 in 2010. UNLV is looking to take two straight from its in-state rival for the first time since winning five in a row from 2000-04.

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Nevada logo

at (3:30 p.m., CBS): Alabama needs to not only win, but to win impressively in order to go 6-for-6 in earning Playoff bids and to make the field as an 11-1, non-division champion for the second time in three years. Auburn looks to win two straight Iron Bowls at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time since winning three straight from 2003-07 and to move to 10-5 all-time against Alabama at its home stadium. A win also gives Auburn an argument to reach a New Year's Six game for the second time in three seasons and gets the monkeys off Gus Malzahn's back for at least 12 hours.

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at (3:30 p.m., BTN): The Big Ten and national championship drives crashed last week in Columbus, but Penn State can still reach its third New Year's Six game in four years and, depending on the outcome of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, just its fifth Rose Bowl trip ever with a win over Rutgers.

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at (3:30 p.m., ABC): The longest-running rivalry in FBS, this will be the 129th battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe and the biggest in nearly 60 years. There's so much at stake here that I'm going to ask you to fasten your seatbelts and stow your tray tables, because we're now entering bullet point mode.

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Minnesota

A Wisconsin win would:

  • Send the Badgers to the Big Ten Championship for the sixth time, one more than Ohio State.
  • Put them in position to win their 15th Big Ten championship and their fourth of the decade, one more than Ohio State.
  • Clinch their 10th Rose Bowl trip and fourth of the decade, extending their lead among Big Ten and Pac-12 schools.
  • Hand them the Axe for the 15th time in 16 years and extend their winning streak over Minnesota on the Gophers' home field to eight.
  • End Minnesota's best regular season in decades with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin.
  • Give Wisconsin the all-time series lead, 61-60-8.

Seriously, they've played 128 times and the ledger is dead even.

A Minnesota win would:

  • Send the Golden Gophers to the Big Ten Championship for the first time. (!)
  • Put them in position to win their first Big Ten title since 1967. (!!)
  • At worst, clinch their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1961, and third ever. (!!!)
  • At best, put them in position to reach their first College Football Playoff. (!!!!)
  • Hand them back-to-back Axe wins for the first time since 1993-94, and their first Axe win in Minneapolis since 2003.
  • Send Wisconsin tumbling out of the New Year's Six.
  • Give Minnesota the all-time series lead, 61-60-8.

All that is why this is happening.

at (3:30 p.m., ESPN): The Playoff dream was probably never real and even if it was, it died during the Oklahoma comeback. (The farthest anyone's ever climbed with two weeks until Selection Sunday to reach the 4-team field was 2015 Michigan State, who rose from No. 9 at 9-1 to No. 3 at 12-1. Baylor was five spots behind them at the same point last Tuesday.) The Bears have also already booked their Big 12 title game tickets, and this game's outcome is likely irrelevant as to whether this team makes Baylor's first Sugar Bowl appearance since 1956. But this team still has the opportunity to complete an 1-11 to 11-1 turnaround, and to become not only the first 12-win team in Baylor history, but the first 13-win team in Baylor history.

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at (3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network): In UConn's last American game before beginning life as an FBS Independent, the Huskies look to avoid exiting stage left with a 19-game conference losing streak. Double woof.

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at (3:30 p.m., NFL Network): This game has title implications in both divisions. An FAU win hands Lane Kiffin's team its second C-USA East title in three years and puts the title game in Boca. A Southern Miss win and a Louisiana Tech loss sends the Eagles to the C-USA Championship for the first time since 2011.

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at (3:30 p.m., ESPN+): A Louisiana Tech win and a UAB loss hands the Bulldogs the C-USA West title for the third time in six seasons.

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at (3:30 p.m., ACC Network): Boston College needs a win to reach a bowl game for the sixth time in seven seasons under Steve Addazio.

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at (3:30 p.m., ESPN2): No bowl implications here, but I wouldn't recommend Manny Diaz following a loss to FIU with a loss to Duke.

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at (3:30 p.m., FS1): It's a win-or-stay home game for Michigan State, fortunately against a Maryland team fresh off a 54-7 loss to Nebraska.

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at (4 p.m., Pac-12 Network): A win-or-stay home game for Oregon State, unfortunately against a pissed off Oregon team fresh off a national title-ending loss to Arizona State. Oregon is looking to make it three straight and 10 out of 11 here.

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Oregon logo

at (4 p.m., FOX): Brian Kelly can join Lou Holtz as the only coaches to lead Notre Dame to two straight 11-or-more win seasons and three straight 10-win seasons by winning out. A win here also possibly sends the Irish to the New Year's Six for the second straight year.

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Stanford logo

at (4 p.m., ESPNU): SMU's dream of triumphantly returning to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1982 died with last week's loss to Navy, but the Mustangs can still win 10 games for the first time since 1984 and, with a bowl victory, win 11 games for the first time since that '82 Cotton Bowl campaign.

Tulane logo
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at (4 p.m., SEC Network): Tennessee has already clinched its first bowl trip and its highest SEC East finish since 2016. Next on the list? Snapping a 3-game losing streak to Vanderbilt, the Vols' longest since the 1920s.

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at (4 p.m.): A UAB win and a Southern Miss loss sends Bill Clark's team to the C-USA title game for the second straight season. If you've been paying attention, you've noted all three teams vying for the C-USA West crown -- Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and UAB -- all need a win and a loss by one of the other two to take the division. If all three win? That would go all the way to C-USA tiebreaker No. 8, which awards the title to the highest-ranked team among six selected computer rankings. The BCS is alive and well in the depth of Conference USA's rule book.

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North Texas logo

at (6 p.m., ESPN+): The Right to Call Ourselves The Real GSU Bowl stands at 3-2, with Georgia State taking three straight from 2015-17 but Georgia Southern winning in 2014 and '18.

Georgia State
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at (7 p.m., ESPN): Texas A&M desperately wanted to create a rivalry with LSU upon SECeding from the Big 12 in 2012, and last year's seven overtime win went a long way toward that. A win here would go even further, as it would turn next week's date with Georgia in the SEC Championship from nice-to-win to must-win. The Tigers can lose this game and still become the school's fourth national champion, but they need to win to join the 1958 team as the only unblemished national champs. Ed Orgeron's team would also like to avoid playing Clemson in a Peach Bowl semifinal, which gets much more difficult with a loss. For A&M, there's no better way to polish off a brutally hard season (they're the first team in history to play three different AP No. 1 teams, plus No. 4 Georgia) than by ending their wannabe rivals' perfect season.

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at (7 p.m., FS1): Iowa State hasn't won Farmaggedon two years in a row since 2004-05. The Cyclones are also in search of three straight 8-win seasons for the first time since 1976-78 and, with two more wins, their first 9-win season since 2000.

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kansas-state.60

at (7 p.m., ESPN2): Navy will know its fate well before kickoff. Either Cincinnati beat Memphis and the Midshipmen can win the American West with a win here, or Memphis beat Cincinnati and this game is moot.

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at (7 p.m., ACC Network): North Carolina is fighting to reach a bowl game, while NC State, thanks to last week's loss to Georgia Tech, is fighting only to keep the Tar Heels home with them for the winter. NC State carries a 3-game winning streak into this game, but Mack Brown carries a personal 5-game winning streak over the Wolfpack dating back to his first tenure in Chapel Hill.

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NC State

at (7:30 p.m., ABC): Oregon got the Fowler & Herbstreit treatment last week and watched its Playoff hopes go up in Sun Devil flames. What can Utah do with the nation's eyes upon them? On the visitors' sideline, Mel Tucker has already beaten former rival Nebraska and in-state rival Colorado State in his debut season. A win here makes him 3-for-3 in rivalry games and sends the Buffs bowling for just the second time since 2008.

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utah.60

at (7:30 p.m., SEC Network): A win likely sends Florida to the New Year's Six for the second time in two seasons under Dan Mullen and gives the Gators consecutive wins over FSU for the first time since taking six straight since 2004-09. The Seminoles are looking to add some silver lining to a black cloud of a season and send Odell Haggins out (with a win here and in the upcoming bowl game) with a 6-0 record in two stints as the interim head coach.

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at (7:30 p.m., ESPNU): Louisiana-Lafayette has already clinched their second straight Sun Belt West title, but Billy Napier's team is looking to win its 10th game for the first time in school history while also keeping 5-6 Louisiana-Monroe home for the winter. Since 2005, ULM has only won this game four times, but all four wins came at Cajun Field. Saturday's game is at Cajun Field.

ULM
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at (8 p.m., FOX): If OU had completed its collapses against Iowa State or TCU, or if they hadn't rallied from 25 down to beat Baylor, this would be a Big 12 semifinal. Instead, Oklahoma looks to polish its Playoff résumé; Mike Gundy looks to end OU's title hopes while improving his 2-12 Bedlam record as a head coach and his 5-22-1 lifetime record as a Cowboy; and Chuba Hubbard, in the midst of the best season by an OSU running back since Barry Sanders' Heisman season of 1988, looks to do what Sanders could not by finishing his Cowboy career with a Bedlam win in Stillwater.

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at (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network): These teams met annually as WAC/Mountain West bunk mates from 1976 through 2010 but haven't played at all since the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl. A win gives BYU its best regular season record since 2016, while San Diego State needs a victory here and in their bowl game to make it four 10-win seasons in five tries.

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at (10 p.m., ESPN): Arizona State clinched a bowl trip by upsetting Oregon, while Arizona clinched an empty December by losing to Utah. The Wildcats haven't won in Tempe since 2011, and now would be a good time for Kevin Sumlin to break that trend.

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at (11:59 p.m., CBS Sports Network): The final game of Rivalry Weekend is the final win-or-stay home game of the season. Army must beat Hawaii and Navy to extend its bowl streak to four.

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And there you have it. Fifty-eight games with real stakes, and nearly 3,700 words explaining them. Now please get me some turkey and a nap.

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