By MARK KNUDSON @MarkKnudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
It’s “Rivalry Week” in College Football – and it will be tremendous as always. But it could be even bigger and better. It could blow away the NFL’s weekend and challenge New Year’s Day as the football watcher’s nirvana. Here’s how:
The Southeastern Conference is coming off a week where many of the teams scheduled “cupcake” games – like Alabama hosting Mercer – as they geared up for their final weekend. (It’s a weekend that features the “Iron Bowl” game, this season pitting the top-ranked ‘Tide vs. sixth-ranked Auburn.) The conference takes (justifiable) heat for scheduling these late November patsies, muddling up the work of the college football play-off committee. However, the SEC doesn’t get near enough credit for their emphasis on making Rivalry Weekend everything it can be.
While Alabama – Auburn, Mississippi State – Ole Miss and others get much deserved attention, the SEC and the ACC – unlike the other conferences – allows/encourage rivalries that cross conference boundaries: Florida vs. Florida State, Clemson vs. South Carolina and Georgia vs. Georgia Tech are all huge rivalry games that would have to be played in September if either of the teams involved played in the Pac 12, Big 12 or Big 10.
Think what we’d be missing.
Certainly monster conference games like Ohio State – Michigan are epic, year-end rivalries that help make rivalry weekend all it can be. But sorry Big 10 brass, there’s nothing special about Penn State – Michigan State or Iowa – Nebraska. There’s absolutely no crescendo there and there never will be. Big 12 games like Oklahoma – West Virginia and Texas – Texas Tech won’t move the needle much, either. And while the Pac 12 has some outstanding conference rivalries of their own to end the season with, like Oregon – Oregon State, Washington – Washington State, Cal – Stanford and Arizona –Arizona State, they’re missing the boat on a couple other outstanding possibilities.
What would make College Football’s Rivalry Week – including the three days starting on Thanksgiving Day – better than anything the NFL could roll out, would be for all the conferences to alter their schedules to allow for out-of-conference season ending match ups that fans would love to see.
There are already games on the early season schedule that should be moved to Rivalry Weekend, including “The Holy War” between BYU and Utah and Colorado vs. Colorado State. The Pac 12 has also tried to manufacture a rivalry that will never be between the Utes and the Buffaloes. It’s a ho-hum match up that neither side gets fired up for. If the Pac 12 TV Network wants some attention, they should secure the rights to televise a double dip, featuring the Buffs vs. the Rams and the Utes vs. the Cougars. These are heated rivalries that would really move the needle for a network that really needs it. And by tossing aside the preference for conference-only match ups at the end of the season, the Pac 12 could also move the nation’s best cross sectional rivalry, Notre Dame vs. USC, to Rivalry Weekend. The USC – UCLA and Notre Dame – Stanford tilts could be played the week before as a warm-up.
It’s not just the Pac 12. Want to REALLY want to make Rivalry Weekend as good (or better?) than New Year’s Day? The powers that be in College Football could twist some arms and make some permanent schedule changes that bring back epic match ups that have been lost to conference realignment.
The Big 12 would not want to mess with Oklahoma – Texas during the Texas State Fair, which is understandable. That actually leaves the door open for a cooperative effort with the Big 10 and the SEC to bring back annual battles like Missouri vs. Kansas, Texas vs. Texas A&M and yes…Oklahoma vs. Nebraska. There’s nothing that says Thanksgiving/Rivalry more than that one.
So if the NCAA and the Power Five schools got together and decided to schedule match ups to delight your palate, your Turkey Day/Rivalry Week could add these to an already sensational weekend slate:
Texas vs. Texas A&M
Pitt vs. Penn State
Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
BYU vs. Utah
Missouri vs. Kansas
Colorado vs. Colorado State
Notre Dame vs. USC
There’s an additional benefit to playing these kinds of non-conference games on the final weekend of the regular season. It’s also eliminates the chances of having a re-match the following week in any conference title games, which fans really don’t want to see. Would it make it tougher for some teams who will be playing those conference title games that following week? Perhaps. But competitors don’t shy away from competition, and the play-off committee needs as much info as they can gather to make certain the top four teams are selected for the play-off.
In some cases, like the NFL’s ridiculous insistence on playing every Thursday night during the regular season, too much of a good thing can turn out bad. But in a sport that thrives on rivalries, there’s no such thing as too many epic college football match ups on Rivalry Weekend.