By deed and by word, Nuclear Winter is your favorite piece of mine each year. We know that from your clicks and your feedback. And it's easy to see why, an annual rite of good clean (and absurd) fun.
But this... this, my friends, is my favorite piece to write each year. I write On the Line each week, but the Rivalry Week edition is the mother lode. I count close to 15 games with conference championship implications, close to 15 win-or-stay home games, and a handful of others where the combatants just plain don't like each other.
Is there anything better in life than plopping down on the couch with a heaping helping of leftover chocolate pecan pie (topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream) knowing you've got two straight days of nothing to do but watch meaningful, passionate college football?
Friends, there is not.
(Programming note: For purposes of this article, we are operating as if a 6-6 record will be required to reach a bowl game, even though prognosticators anticipate one or two 5-7 teams will join the 82-team bowl field
-- Mississippi State at No. 20 Ole Miss (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Let's start here: it's quite possibly Lane Kiffin's last game at Ole Miss. Sonny Dykes's final home game at SMU got really weird; I don't know what the atmosphere inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will be like, but a Dykes-SMU situation is on the table. And the Egg Bowl is already plenty weird on its own. Harry Lyles, Jr., will be ESPN's sideline reporter on the scene in Oxford. Here's hoping he asks Mike Leach about Lane's job speculation.
-- No. 19 Tulane at No. 24 Cincinnati (noon ET, ABC): The winner of this game is not only in next week's AAC Championship, they're hosting it. There's also a chance the loser could be in, too, setting up an awkward, immediate rematch. (Cincinnati did that with Memphis in 2019), but they'd need lots of help.
Cincinnati has played for the last three conference titles and won the last two; Tulane has hung one banner since winning the SEC in 1949.
-- Baylor at No. 23 Texas (noon ET, ESPN): Texas plays for the Big 12 Championship with a plus a Kansas State loss. Perhaps more than that, though, sustained momentum is at stake here for the home team. Steve Sarkisian's team has already hopped in and out of the rankings three times this season, a fourth may very well be a record. Win here and Texas beat every team it lost to in 2021 save for Oklahoma State, and at worst shows a 3-game year-over-year improvement. Lose and "Seven Win Sark" jokes will come back down from the attic.
For Baylor, a win avoids following last season's Big 12 title with a 6-6 regular season and a sub-.500 conference record. A win also makes Baylor 3-1 in the last four against Texas and 7-6 since 2010. The Bears have won in Austin twice in the last 30 years.
-- Utah State at Boise State (noon ET, CBS): Boise State has already clinched its conference-best sixth MW Championship berth, but a Utah State win could be the difference between returning to the blue turf in three weeks for the Idaho Potato Bowl and a trip to Albuquerque.
-- Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan (noon ET, CBS Sports Network): Eastern has already beaten Western, so a win here gives Eastern wins over both its directional siblings for the first time since 2011, and to win the Michigan MAC Trophy for the first time since 2012.
-- Arizona State at Arizona (3 p.m. ET, FS1): Both teams' seasons end by nightfall on Black Friday, so this should be a spirited game. The Sun Devils have won the last five Territorial Cups, though Arizona leads 49-45-1 all-time.
-- NC State at No. 17 North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): UNC's dark horse CFP bid ended with last week's loss to Georgia Tech, but the Tar Heels can still secure their fist 10-win regular season since 2015. This season did not turn out the way NC State hoped, so there's a large gulf in ending at 8-4 with a win over UNC and 7-5 with a loss to your rival.
The Wolfpack won last year's game and have taken three of the last five.
-- Arkansas at Missouri (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): It's a win-or-stay home game for Mizzou, who either reaches a bowl game for a third time in three years under Eli Drinkwitz or watches its season end on its home field and, at best, finishes tied with Vanderbilt for last in the SEC East.
-- Nebraska at Iowa (4 p.m. ET, BTN): Iowa wins its second straight Big Ten West crown with an eighth (!!!) straight triumph over Nebraska, while the Huskers close the book on the Scott Frost era by looking to avoid their third straight 3-win season.
-- No. 18 UCLA at Cal (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox): How fitting that UCLA's final game before the UC Board of Regents meets to perhaps nix the Bruins' move to the Big Ten because it would be unfair to Cal, comes against Cal in UCLA's final (?) scheduled trip to Berkeley. UCLA lost out on the Pac-12 title with their defeat to USC last week, but a win here plus the bowl game gives Chip Kelly's team 10 wins for the first time since 2014.
-- Florida at No. 16 Florida State (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC): The loser of this game will... not be in a good place. Either Billy Napier closes with 6-6 mark and a loss to FSU, rendering his debut season a "meh at best" review. Or Mike Norvell, on the cusp of perhaps an AP Top 15 finish and a clear step forward season, sees the good vibes wiped away by losing to a just-okay Florida team on his home field. 9-3 with wins over Florida and Miami feels quite a bit different than 8-4 with an 0-2 record against meh-at-best Florida teams, does it not?
-- Wyoming at Fresno State (10 p.m. ET, FS1): Fresno has already clinched the MW West. Next week's will be the fourth Fresno-Boise MW Championship in the 10-year history of the event.
-- No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State (noon ET, Fox): It's the first 12-0 Michigan vs. 12-0 Ohio State game since 2006, but it's more than that. The Game has a way of echoing beyond the season in which it's played.
If Michigan loses, last year's victory is re-litigated into a once-a-decade aberration. Jim Harbaugh will have 2021, and only 2021. He'll be 1-6 in The Game, with seven years of evidence showing it takes a perfect storm to create a "right place, right time" confluence of events for him to get over the scarlet-and-gray hump.
But if Michigan wins, look out. Harbaugh will have two straight wins, two straight Big Ten title berths and (likely) two straight Playoff appearances. Michigan will have taken two straight from the Buckeyes for the first time since 1999-00, the pre-Jim Tressel era. 2021 would not be an aberration, but the beginning of something we haven't seen in two decades -- Michigan having the upper hand on Ohio State, turning Ryan Day into the most embattled 45-5 coach in college football history.
-- Georgia Tech at No. 1 Georgia (noon ET, ESPN): It's a win-or-stay home game for Georgia Tech, and what a game it is. Brent Key's eighth and perhaps last game as his alma mater's head coach either sees its season end or secures the program's first win over the AP No. 1 since 1990. Georgia has taken four in a row, but a Jackets win moves them to 3-1 in their last four trips between the hedges.
-- South Carolina at No. 8 Clemson (noon ET, ABC): Shane Beamer stunned Tennessee, so what's he got for an encore? Clemson's ongoing 7-game win streak is tied for the longest in the Palmetto Bowl's 118-year history. A win marks 2022 as a clear improvement from a successful 2021, keeps Clemson out of the Playoff for the second straight year, and, far as I can tell, gives Carolina wins over AP Top 10 foes in consecutive games for the first time ever.
-- Army at UMass (noon ET, ESPN+): A win-or-stay home game for Army, who needs to defeat the Minutemen and the Midshipmen to reach a bowl for the sixth time in seven seasons.
-- New Mexico State at Liberty (noon ET, ESPN+): New Mexico State is 4-6, with but one game remaining. The Aggies' Oct. 22 game with San Jose State was postponed due to the death of Spartan running back Camdan McWright and, at this point, looks unlikely to be made up. Even still, Jerry Kill's debut has produced the most wins in five years.
-- Old Dominion at South Alabama (noon ET, ESPN+): South Alabama needs a win plus a Troy lost to meet Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Championship. The Jaguars have never played in the game.
-- Coastal Carolina at James Madison (noon ET, ESPNU): JMU is ineligible for the postseason and so Coastal clinched the Sun Belt East weeks ago, but what a statement it'd be for the Dukes to end their first FBS season by winning a division co-championship.
-- Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic (noon ET, CBS Sports Network): Western Kentucky needs a win and a North Texas loss to forge a Conference USA Championship re-match with UTSA in the Alamodome, while Florida Atlantic needs a win to extend its season to December.
-- Kent State at Buffalo (noon ET, ESPN+): At 5-5, Buffalo must defeat Kent State or Akron to reach a bowl game for the first time in Maurice Linguist's two seasons.
-- Rice at North Texas (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+): A win or a WKU loss sends the Mean Green to the C-USA Championship for the second time in the program's 10th and final season in the league. Rice needs a win to reach its first bowl since 2014.
-- No. 25 Louisville at Kentucky (3 p.m. ET, SEC Network): My how the tables have turned. Last year, UK went to Louisville and blew out the home team -- its third straight Commonwealth Cup win -- en route to a 10-3 season, a Citrus Bowl win and an AP Top 20 finish whilst UL finished 6-7.
Now it's Louisville that's ranked while Kentucky is 6-5, staring at the possibility of a 6-6 season capped by a 3-game losing streak (one of them being to Vandy), on the heels of a large (and unnecessary?) extension for Mark Stoops. Or, perhaps Big Blue runs its streak to four straight over the red-and-black and both teams finish the regular season 7-5. At least Louisville's basketball team isn't absolutely terrible.
A lot of emotions riding on this one in the Bluegrass State.
-- Auburn at No. 7 Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): A certain someone opened the season predicting the Auburn coach would be carried off the Bryant-Denny Stadium grass. Scott predicted that to be Bryan Harsin, but if Auburn wins the Tigers might just carry Cadillac Williams all the way back to the Plains, especially considering AU needs a win to avoid the first empty postseason since the 3-9 disaster of 2012.
Williams, who rushed for 295 yards and four touchdowns in three Iron Bowl appearances (two victories), will be the fifth Auburn coach to stand opposite Nick Saban. He's 10-5 against the other four.
-- No. 9 Oregon at No. 21 Oregon State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): A win sends Oregon to the Pac-12 Championship for the fourth consecutive season. The Ducks and Beavers both carry rankings into the Civil War for the first time since 2012 and while Oregon is 12-2 since 2008, Oregon State is 10-1 in Corvallis over the past two seasons.
-- Illinois at Northwestern (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN): Illinois still has a faint hope of reaching the Big Ten Championship but, more immediately, seeks its first back-to-back wins over Northwestern since 2010-11. Northwestern looks to avoid its worst season since the winless 1989 campaign.
-- Minnesota at Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Neither team can win a tie of 5-4 B1G West teams, so bragging rights are all that's on the line in FBS's most-played rivalry. Minny won last year 23-13 in Minneapolis, and so a Gophers victory evens the ledger at 62-62-8.
-- Purdue at Indiana (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN): Either Iowa clinches the B1G West on Friday, or Purdue can win it here. The Boilermakers are one of six teams to never reach the title game.
-- Troy at Arkansas State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Assuming South Alabama wins, 6-1 Troy must beat 1-6 Arkansas State to take the Sun Belt West. Either the Trojans or the Jags will be the first team other than Louisiana to win the division.
-- UAB at Louisiana Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): The Blazers must win to avoid missing the postseason since their 2017 revival, and even the pre-death penalty 2014 team went 6-6.
-- UTEP at UTSA (3:30 p.m. ET, Stadium): UTSA has already secured C-USA Championship hosting duties for the second straight season, but UTEP must win to extend its season.
-- Iowa State at No. 4 TCU (4 p.m. ET, Fox): On the one hand, if TCU was going to lose, you'd think it would've been last week considering how close the Horned Frogs came to the crushing steel-toed stomp of defeat last week. On the other, Iowa State is a 4-7 team with six 1-score losses. Look past them at your own risk.
Frogs fan will recall the parallels to 2014, when TCU blasted Iowa State 58-3 at Amon Carter Stadium on Championship Saturday before ultimately dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 the following morning. With LSU, USC, Clemson and the Michigan/Ohio State loser nipping at their heels, TCU needs another 58-3 win.
-- Michigan State at No. 11 Penn State (4 p.m. ET, FS1): Is this a rivalry game or is it not? Either way, it's a win-or-stay home game for the Spartans, while the Nittany Lions seek the fourth 10-win season of the James Franklin era.
-- No. 14 Utah at Colorado (4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Utah is still alive to defend its Pac-12 Championship although not only must the Utes defeat the Buffs, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA must all win, too.
-- Southern Miss at ULM (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Southern Miss must win to reach the first bowl game of the 2-season Will Hall era.
-- Louisiana at Texas State (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Louisiana must win to avoid missing its first bowl in five seasons in Michael Desormeaux's debut season.
-- Nevada at UNLV (6 p.m. ET, MWN): Neither of these teams are going bowling, so the Fremont Cannon will be the only hardware either will win. And, honestly, who needs more than the Fremont Cannon? Nevada has won two straight and leads 29-18.
-- Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Georgia Southern must win to reach a bowl in Clay Helton's debut.
-- No. 5 LSU at Texas A&M (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): LSU has secured a date with Georgia in Atlanta, but a win here is required to stay in the CFP race. Texas A&M has secured a winter in College Station, so do the Aggies have enough pride to put up a fight?
-- No. 22 UCF at South Florida (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2): The 14th (and final?) War on I-4 appears to be a serious mismatch on paper, but the Bulls can kick the Knights out of the AAC with a big ol' bruise on their backside with an upset here. For starters, a USF win evens the ledger at 7-7, halting a 5-game UCF streak. Beyond that, a USF win knocks the Knights out of the AAC title game.
-- No. 15 Notre Dame at No. 6 USC (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC): It's the 90th Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh, and the first since 2017 with both teams in the top 15. For USC, it's a prime opportunity to play its way into the Playoff and for Caleb Williams to win the Heisman. For Notre Dame, it's a chance to end Marcus Freeman's up-and-down debut with the arrow pointed 90 degrees upward.
-- No. 10 Tennessee at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Let's give the floor to Steve Spurrier, who said this to the Charleston Post and Courier:
"Yeah, I almost feel sorry for Tennessee.
“They’re not going to win the division, they’re not going to win the SEC, they’re not going to get in that final four. They’re just going to have a little bit better than average year now. Someone told me, ‘Tennessee is probably headed for the Citrus Bowl now.’ I guess that’s kind of a mean thing to say.”
Any Vol fan would've taken 10-2 if offered in August, and any 'Dores fan would've taken 6-6 with wins over Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee to close the year.
-- Oklahoma at Texas Tech (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1): There was a time when Tech won four of seven in this series, but since that time Oklahoma has taken 10 straight.
-- Syracuse at Boston College (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Syracuse started the year 6-0, ranked No. 14, and held a double-digit second half lead at Clemson. Lose here and they'll finish 6-6 and in last place in the ACC Atlantic.
-- Tulsa at Houston (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Houston is technically alive to play for the AAC championship. Technically.
-- Kansas at No. 12 Kansas State (8 p.m. ET, Fox): If Texas beats Baylor, K-State will have to win this game to reach the Big 12 Championship. And if TCU beats Iowa State earlier in the day, a Big 12 Championship berth means the Wildcats are Sugar Bowling win or lose next week in Arlington. The Wildcats' 13-game winning streak is the longest in Sunflower Showdown history.
-- Pittsburgh at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network): Is this the last game of Mario Cristobal's "teardown era" at The U? Miami must win this game to extend its season to December.
-- No. 13 Washington at Washington State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): An Oregon win, a Utah loss, and a Washington win sends the Huskies to Vegas for the Pac-12 Championship. Washington wouldn't need a Colorado upset of Utah... if Cal can somehow upset UCLA. Regardless, any scenario requires a U-Dub victory.
Wazzu's 40-13 win in Seattle last season snapped the Huskies' 7-game winning streak.
Enjoy the games, everyone.