Nothing emphasizes (in the best possible way) college football's general weirdness more than rivalries and their strange bounty. Last week, Wisconsin beat Minnesota and took possession of an ax last week. Thursday night, Mississippi State fans rushed the field to celebrate their team's win of an egg-shaped trophy. (Okay, it's basically a rounded football. But they call it the Egg Bowl, so...) And there are trophies abound this week, from the Old Oaken Bucket to the gun over which Utah State and Wyoming will now fight.
Rivalries are great, but there are all sorts of bowl, conference title, and national title implications facing us on this great rivalry weekend. Let's walk through how the weekend will play out, from Iowa-Nebraska to Army-Hawaii. When will we know what?
Friday, Shift 1
Iowa at Nebraska (12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Matthew Holst, Getty
Stakes: There are no division titles on the line, but the two teams are in theory jockeying for bowl positioning. And a win would further solidify Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini's job prospects for next season.
Projected Score: Iowa 26, Nebraska 24 (Iowa: 59% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can Nebraska win first down? Iowa's defense is great on first-and-10; Nebraska's defense is not. If the Hawkeyes are controlling the line of scrimmage and creating a lot more second-and-4s than the Huskers, that could pretty quickly take the home crowd out of the game. This is a young rivalry, but this is Iowa's best chance to score both its first win over Nebraska as a conference rival and its first win over Nebraska, period, since 1981.
SMU at Houston (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Stakes: At 5-5, SMU's still aiming for bowl eligibility, and Houston's aiming to end a late-season funk and get to 8-4. That's about it, but it's something.
Projected Score: Houston 40, SMU 24 (Houston: 85% win probability)
Biggest Question: Should you watch before the fourth quarter? No, no you shouldn't. But you damn sure better be ready to flip over late because the odds of craziness are high. Houston's last three games have all been decided by a touchdown or less, and SMU has patented the "trailing team makes a mad fourth quarter charge, no matter whether SMU's the leading or trailing team" routine.
East Carolina at Marshall (12:00 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
Stakes: The Conference USA East title. Winner take all.
Projected Score: East Carolina 41, Marshall 35 (ECU: 69% win probability)
Biggest Question: Is this the week voters notice East Carolina? The Pirates are 9-2 and 33rd in the F/+ rankings (ahead of Iowa, Duke, Michigan, Fresno State, and Texas, among others), but they received just one vote in the AP poll and 11 in the Coaches last week. Beating Marshall in Huntington -- easier said than done -- would give them a bit of a national spotlight (relatively speaking) next week.
Bowling Green at Buffalo (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Stakes: The MAC East title. Winner take all.
Projected Score: Buffalo 31, BGSU 31 (Buffalo: 55% win probability)
Biggest Question: Did the schedule makers know something we didn't? The MAC East race was supposed to take shape as a BGSU vs. Ohio battle, with perhaps Kent State or Buffalo playing a darkhorse role. Instead, Ohio has faded dramatically, and Buffalo, after absorbing some tough early blows from Ohio State and Baylor, has cruised through most of the last two months of the season. BGSU's defense isn't nearly what it was a year ago, but the Falcons still have a coinflip's chance, basically, of taking the division title.
By mid-afternoon ... we'll have learned a couple of division champions, and we'll have a better idea of how hot Bo Pelini's seat could be.
Friday, Shift 2
Arkansas at No. 17 LSU (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Stakes: Well, it's Les Miles vs. Bret Bielema. That's kind of fun. The stakes here are minimal. Can LSU get back into the Top 15? Can Arkansas avoid going 0-8 in conference play? That kind of thing.
Projected Score: LSU 50, Arkansas 21 (LSU: 99% win probability)
Biggest Question: What does Arkansas have left? The Razorbacks have lost eight games in a row and have plummeted to 90th in the F/+ rankings, below teams like South Alabama and winless Hawaii. LSU's offense is still great, and its defense seems to be improving. Can Arkansas cope with that even a little bit?
Florida International at Florida Atlantic (3:00 p.m. ET, FS1)
Stakes: After going 4-20 in the last two years and losing head coach Carl Pelini to a strange resignation last month, FAU could lock up an unlikely bowl bid with its fourth straight blowout win since Pelini left. And the Owls will probably do just that, because Ron Turner's 1-10 Golden Panthers are horrible. Interim FAU head coach Brian Wright has made a hell of a case to take the job full-time.
Projected Score: FAU 36, FIU 4 (FAU: 99% win probability)
Biggest Question: What does FIU have left? After an 0-4 start that included a 38-0 loss to UCF and a 72-0 loss to Louisvile, the Panthers actually improved a bit. They beat Southern Miss, fell to UAB by just three, and fell to Louisiana Tech by just 16, and while those teams are awful, that still represents improvement. They were reasonably competitive against ECU ... and then lost by a combined 129-20 to Middle Tennessee, UTEP, and Marshall. FAU is smoking hot; this probably isn't going to be a game.
Washington State at Washington (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
Via video by Karen Ducey
Stakes: It's the Apple Cup! Both teams are bowl-eligible since 2002, and neither is in the running for a division crown, but it's the Apple Cup!
Projected Score: Washington 38, Washington State 20 (Washington: 90% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can Wazzu force the Huskies to pass? In last week's jarring 69-27 win over Oregon State, quarterback Cyler Miles did go 15-for-24 for 162 yards in relief of the injured Keith Price. But his job was mainly to turn and hand the ball off. Bishop Sankey, Deontae Cooper, and Dwayne Washington combined for 45 carries, 486 yards (!), and seven touchdowns against the Beavers. That makes a backup's job pretty easy. Wazzu closes drives down well on passing downs, but the Cougars aren't always good at forcing them. Price is evidently a game-time decision, but he's not going to be 100 percent regardless. If Wazzu can limit the run game, the Cougars could stay in this game for a while. And if I had a million dollars, I'd be a millionaire.
No. 16 Fresno State at San Jose State (3:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
Stakes: Fresno State has to win to keep BCS bowl hopes alive. The Bulldogs and Northern Illinois both remain undefeated and in the top 16 of the BCS standings (if a mid-major finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS-conference champion -- i.e. No. 19 UCF, most likely -- it gets a BCS spot), and while NIU pulled ahead thanks to the BCS computers last week, the Bulldogs could still sneak back ahead with a dominant couple of late-season performances. (NIU beat Western Michigan earlier this week, but not by an enormous margin.)
Projected Score: Fresno State 42, SJSU 31 (Fresno: 77% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can SJSU keep up? The Spartans have a top-50 offense and should be able to score some points against a Fresno defense that is aggressive but prone to allowing a big play or two. But they have lost three games in a row because of an awful defense that ranks 110th in Def. F/+. They have allowed 43.3 points per game during a three-game losing streak; meanwhile, Fresno State has scored at least 41 points in eight of 10 games this year.
By the evening ... we'll know whether Fresno State's still in the BCS pool, and we'll know just how much compassion Les Miles has for Bret Bielema.
Friday, Shift 3
Oregon State at No. 13 Oregon (7:00 p.m. ET, FS1)
Stakes: It's the Civil War, which is usually enough. But this could be a "Who shows up?" game. Oregon has lost two of three and was stunned (and whipped) by Arizona last week to fall out of the top 10 for the first time since a brief glitch early in 2011. Oregon State, meanwhile, has lost four in a row to fall to 6-5 overall. Motivation could play a role; at least, the Beavers hope it does. Catching a Ducks team flat-footed is their best hope.
Projected Score: Oregon 49, Oregon State 23 (Oregon: 99% win probability)
Biggest Question: Who shows up? I guess we already covered this one.
USF at No. 19 UCF (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Stakes: A win would clinch an AAC title and BCS bowl berth for George O'Leary's UCF Knights.
Projected Score: UCF 40, USF 11 (UCF: 99% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can USF summon some defensive magic? Let's put it this way: USF has scored more than 23 points once this year, and UCF has scored fewer than 24 points once this year. That tells you everything you need to know.
By the end of Friday ... we'll know whether UCF has sewn up a BCS spot and whether the increasing "Mark Helfrich's not up for the job" rumblings (incredibly silly at this point) are going to grow legs.
Saturday, Shift 1
No. 2 Florida State at Florida (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Kim Klement, USA Today
Stakes: Florida State is two wins from a spot in the national title game. Florida is ... allegedly bringing head coach Will Muschamp back next season.
Projected Score: Florida State 30, Florida 7 (FSU: 96% win probability)
Biggest Question: How bad does this get? In theory, you could put together an upset scenario here. Florida's defense, stripped of all pride following last week's gashing at the hands of Georgia Southern, comes back angry and intense, and the Gators force a few turnovers against Jameis Winston and the Seminoles. The Gators' offense says "Screw it," pulls off a couple of trick plays, and takes an improbable early lead. The "You can throw out the records when ___ and ___ meet!" rivalry factor takes over. Crazier things have happened...
...but it would still be crazy. Florida appears to have spent all it had left in trying to take down South Carolina and had nothing to offer offensively against Georgia Southern. Florida State's defense is just a hair better than Georgia Southern's. This is going to be a debacle.
No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan (12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Stakes: Ohio State is two wins from, at the very least, holding onto its top-ranked alternate title in the BCS title race. Plus, it's still "The Game," no matter how awful Michigan's offense has looked of late.
Projected Score: Ohio State 34, Michigan 21 (tOSU: 82% win probability)
Biggest Question: What does Devin Gardner have left? Michigan's run game is inexplicably awful, and Ohio State's got a top-15 run defense (14th in Rushing S&P+). The run opportunities will be minimal, so if Michigan has any chance of pulling one of this series' bigger upsets, it's all on Gardner. The junior quarterback has shown all sorts of upside and perhaps even more downside in his time as the Wolverines' starter, but he will need an A+ game, to say the least. And if Jeremy Gallon has another one of those 14-catch, 369-yard performances (like the one he ripped off against Indiana) in him, now would be the time to uncork it. You can pass on Ohio State, though you probably can't pass that much.
No. 24 Duke at North Carolina (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Stakes: If Duke wins, the Blue Devils win the ACC Coastal division and will play (gulp) Florida State in next week's ACC title game.
Projected Score: North Carolina 36, Duke 33 (UNC: 60% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can UNC keep this up? We all stopped paying attention to UNC a while ago, right around the time that the Tar Heels fell to 1-5 on the season. But they've peeled off five consecutive wins since then to get to bowl eligibility, and the offense has very much rounded into form. As strange as this is to say, Duke is easily the steadier, more proven commodity here, but the UNC of recent weeks could (will?) score 40 points in this game. Can Duke do that? The stakes for Duke are enormous -- division title, 10th win, etc. -- but UNC's been a better team than Duke of late.
Minnesota at No. 11 Michigan State (12:00 p.m. ET, BTN)
Stakes: Michigan State has the Legends Division title wrapped up, but a win could get the Spartans into the BCS top 10. Meanwhile, after a loss to Wisconsin last week, Minnesota is making its second attempt at its first nine-win season since 1902. (Yes, 1902. Minnesota has won four AP national titles but never had to win more than eight games to do it.)
Projected Score: Michigan State 28, Minnesota 9 (State: 91% win probability)
Biggest Question: How does Minnesota score? Michigan State has one of the best defenses in the country, and Minnesota likes to win games with defense and special teams as much as anything. It's going to be breezy and in the mid-30s in East Lansing when this game kicks off, with a slight chance of snow flurries. If the result is some 7-6 game, then the Gophers have a chance. But State has averaged 36 points per game in its last four contests; Minnesota isn't going to keep up if the score gets into the 20s or 30s.
Kansas State at Kansas (12:00 p.m. ET, FS1)
Stakes: Hmm. Well, KSU is going for its seventh win, and ... yeah, this game has no stakes other than it's a rivalry.
Projected Score: Kansas State 38, Kansas 13 (KSU: 97% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can Kansas conjure some home-field magic (in front of a rather purple home crowd)? Yeah, that's all I've got. Kansas' defense is decent and could slow down KSU for a while (unless receiver Tyler Lockett does what he did to Oklahoma last week), but while KSU's defense is banged up and semi-shaky, Kansas' offense is just awful. Like, "one spot ahead of USF's offense in the Off. F/+ rankings" awful. Just-got-shut-out-by-Iowa State awful. Kansas will have to score at least 24 points to win, and I don't know how that happens.
By mid-afternoon ... we'll know if Duke is indeed a division champion (or if Virginia Tech is again the front-runner). And we'll know just how much rivalry malice Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, and Bill Snyder have pent up inside of them.
Saturday, Shift 2
Wyoming at Utah State (2:00 p.m. ET, local or online)
Stakes: A Utah State win would give the Aggies the MWC Mountain division title and a date with Fresno State next weekend. A loss would put the ball back in Boise State's court.
Projected Score: USU 37, Wyoming 13 (USU: 97% win probability)
Biggest Question: Is a movable force better than a resistible object? Last week, Wyoming allowed 624 yards and 56 points in a 59-56 win over Hawaii, while Utah State scored 13 points and gained 191 yards in a 13-0 win over Colorado State. Granted, USU had averaged 489 yards and 40 points per game before last week and has continued to show promise without the services of injured quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Still, whatever offensive issues USU found last week should be alleviated nicely by the sieve known as Wyoming's defense.
Tulane at Rice (3:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Atlantic)
Stakes: If Rice wins, the Owls win the Conference USA West title. If Tulane wins, then the Green Wave have to wait and see if UTSA can beat Louisiana Tech at 3:30 p.m. ET. If UTSA and Tulane win, UTSA's the division champion. If Tech and Tulane win, it's Tulane.
Projected Score: Rice 25, Tulane 20 (Rice: 66% win probability)
Biggest Question: Have you see Rice yet this year? The Owls are far from amazing -- 8-3, 66th in the F/+ rankings -- but they're now 14-4 since beginning the 2012 season 1-5, and they still have that funky, fun offense. They are on the doorstep of their first division title because of sporadic points and strong special teams, but they now must deal with a Tulane defense that is downright good. I don't promise high quality, but this should be a more-interesting-than-you-think chess match.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Stakes: You mean other than the Iron Bowl, a spot in the SEC Championship, and a potential spot in the BCS title game? Other than that?
Projected Score: Alabama 28, Auburn 17 (Alabama: 78% win probability)
Biggest Question: I've already asked quite a few questions about this one.
No. 3 Baylor at TCU (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Stakes: If Baylor wins out, it forces Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma to win the Big 12 title.
Projected Score: Baylor 36, TCU 14 (Baylor: 95% win probability)
Biggest Question: How does Baylor bounce back? The Bears should still have too many weapons for a TCU team that is still strong defensively but hasn't been able to sustain any sort of offensive momentum. But following last week's whipping at the hands of Oklahoma State, a hangover could always be in play. If Baylor brings its A-game (even an injury-depleted version of its A-game), the Bears win. If not, though?
Georgia at Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Stakes: Well, it is a rivalry ... but that's about it.
Projected Score: Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 38 (Georgia: 59% win probability)
Biggest Question: How does the Hutson Mason era begin? Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's career ended last week thanks to an ACL tear -- Final Destination, man -- so Hutson Mason's time as Georgia's start begins sooner than we expected. Georgia has dominated this series of late, but with a backup quarterback and a defense more susceptible to missed tackles and missed assignments (deadly against Tech) could make this one interesting.
Purdue at Indiana (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
Projected Score: Indiana 48, Purdue 25 (Indiana: 96% win probability)
Biggest Question: I unfortunately already used me "resistible force, movable object" joke, but Purdue's offense and Indiana's defense are absolutely awful. One is going to have success on Saturday; which one?
Boston College at Syracuse (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Stakes: Andre Williams' Heisman hopes and Syracuse's chances at bowl eligibility.
Projected Score: BC 31, Syracuse 25 (BC: 68% win probability)
Biggest Question: Which Syracuse? In its last five games, the Syracuse defense has allowed 56, 0, 3, 59, and 17 points and 482, 213, 292, 523, and 239 yards. The Orange have allowed more than 6.7 yards per play four times this year and under 4.0 yards per play five times. All or nothing. And now their bowl hopes ride mainly on their ability to stop BC's Andre Williams, who has rushed for a downright hilarious 994 yards in the last three weeks.
Virginia Tech at Virginia (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Stakes: If Duke has lost to North Carolina earlier on Saturday, a Virginia Tech win would clinch a spot for the Hokies in the ACC title game. If Tech also loses to Virginia, the title would go to either Miami (if the Hurricanes defeated Pittsburgh on Friday) or Georgia Tech (if Pitt won).
Projected Score: Virginia Tech 22, Virginia 2 (VT: 92% win probability)
Biggest Question: Do you like defense? Because if you are an offense-first kind of person, just skip this one. Tech's going to win, and you're not going to enjoy it.
Penn State at No. 15 Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Stakes: A Wisconsin win would keep the Badgers' BCS hopes alive, while a Penn State win would clinch a second straight winning season for Bill O'Brien and the sanctions-addled Nittany Lions.
Projected Score: Wisconsin 38, Penn State 6 (Wiscy: 99% win probability)
Biggest Question: Have you picked up on how good Wisconsin is yet? Because if you haven't, I just don't know what to tell you. You'll probably get further proof at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Northwestern at Illinois (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
Stakes: Hmm ... well ...
Projected Score: Northwestern 34, Illinois 31 (NU: 61% win probability)
Biggest Question: Do you like Wrigley Field as a football venue? Just the sheer aesthetics are unique and interesting, and that would make this game watchable...
...if the game were at Wrigley Field. It's not. That's all I could come up with.
By early evening ... we will know who Florida State faces in the ACC title game. And we should know a lot more about Hutson Mason.
Saturday, Shift 3
No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Streeter Lecka, Getty
Stakes: A Clemson win would give the Tigers a very, very good chance of locking down a BCS at-large bid at 11-1 and, perhaps, No. 4 or No. 5 in the BCS standings.
Projected Score: South Carolina 33, Clemson 30 (SC: 60% win probability)
Biggest Question: Who wins Clowney-Boyd III? This game is incredibly even on paper. South Carolina is 10th in Off. F/+ and Clemson is 14th in Def. F/+. Clemson is 19th in Off. F/+ and South Carolina is 19th in Def. F/+. Granted, neither team is particularly adept on special teams, but that should cancel out. So the individual battles will count double in differentiating these teams on Saturday. Last year, Jadeveon Clowney kick-started his (failed) 2013 Heisman campaign with 4.5 sacks of Tajh Boyd in a 27-17 South Carolina win over Clemson; this time around, he has just two all year. If Boyd isn't pressured, he should be able to move the ball. What do you have in your final home game, Jadeveon?
No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 8 Stanford (7:00 p.m. ET, Fox)
Stakes: Pride? Stanford's BCS bowl hopes are tied to next week's Pac-12 title game regardless of what happens here, and Notre Dame's 8-3 record has doomed the Irish to a lesser bowl.
Projected Score: Stanford 34, Notre Dame 18 (Stanford: 87% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can Tommy Rees avoid crippling mistakes? Somehow, Utah's Travis Wilson played mostly mistake-free ball in an upset of Stanford earlier this year; if Rees, with his 35 career interceptions, can do the same, Notre Dame certainly has a chance here. Stanford isn't built to pull away from teams very often, and Notre Dame could stick around. But it's hard to see the Irish winning with more than two turnovers. Or even more than one.
Tennessee at Kentucky (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Stakes: I got nothing.
Projected Score: Tennessee 30, Kentucky 28 (Tennessee: 61% win probability)
Biggest Question: I still got nothing. There are lots of young players in this one who will probably be seasoned veterans on solid squads in a couple of years. But that's about it.
ULM at UL Lafayette (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Stakes: A win would give the Ragin' Cajuns the Sun Belt title and their third straight nine-win season. (With a loss, they would still have one more chance to lock these things up at South Alabama next week.) Meanwhile, at 5-6, ULM is just hoping to be bowl eligible again in a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Projected Score: Cajuns 38, Warhawks 21 (UL Lafayette: 89% win probability)
Biggest Question: Does Todd Berry have any tricks left? After pressing so many of the right buttons in 2012, the ULM head coach has struggled to figure things out in what was supposed to be a really solid season for the Warhawks. Quarterback Kolton Browning got hurt again, and the offense has dried up. Berry will need to empty the bag to keep up with quarterback Terrence Broadway and a solid UL Lafayette attack.
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 5 Missouri (7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Stakes: If Missouri wins, the Tigers are the SEC East champions. If A&M wins, the honor goes to South Carolina.
Projected Score: Missouri 42, Texas A&M 33 (Missouri: 74% win probability)
Biggest Question: Can the Tigers finish? In a season that was supposed to end with Gary Pinkel facing early retirement, Missouri is 10-1 and a win from the SEC title game. It is a hell of a story, and it will have been one even if the Tigers finish 10-3. But with Johnny Manziel playing the heel role, can Mizzou outscore a still-deadly Aggie attack? Can A&M at least pretend to have a run defense for 60 minutes?
No. 22 UCLA at No. 23 USC (8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Stakes: Arizona State has locked up the Pac-12 South title, so this one is more about the future ... as in, who will be USC's head coach moving forward?
Projected Score: USC 26, UCLA 17 (USC: 75% win probability)
Biggest Question: How interim is Ed? One would assume that if Ed Orgeron has any chance of removing the "interim" from "Interim USC head coach," he will have to beat rival UCLA. And honestly, the Trojans have been the steadier team of late and have a very good chance of doing just that.
Arizona at No. 12 Arizona State (9:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
Stakes: Technically, nothing more is at stake here besides in-state bragging rights, plus maybe bowl positioning. But both teams are coming off of big wins.
Projected Score: ASU 42, Arizona 25 (ASU: 88% win probability)
Biggest Question: Hangover? ASU locked up the Pac-12 South title last week, while Arizona registered the biggest win of the two-year Rich Rodriguez era in a pasting of Oregon. That could mean that both teams are smoking hot and fired up. Or it could mean that one team falls into a funk. Arizona State is perhaps the second most underrated team in the country behind Wisconsin, and the Sun Devils have been better overall. But if one team is lacking an edge, it will go a long way.
New Mexico at Boise State (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Stakes: If Utah State loses to Wyoming, Boise State could steal a division title with a win. If USU has won, this game means next to nothing.
Projected Score: Boise State 54, New Mexico 28 (Boise: 99% win probability)
Biggest Question: How's the future look for Boise State? If you haven't seen the Broncos much this year, here's your chance to figure that out. This team is young, banged up, and frustrated, and chances are that Utah State will win, and this game will mean nothing about the present tense.
Army at Hawaii (11:00 p.m. ET, local or online)
Stakes: This is Hawaii's last chance to avoid a winless season.
Projected Score: Hawaii 36, Army 27 (Hawaii: 74% win probability)
Biggest Question: Will fate be kind to Hawaii? Honestly, the Warriors have earned at least one win. Their defense is solid, and it would be a shame that a downright decent team (85th in F/+) would suffer so much bad turnovers and close-game luck without getting to celebrate at least one victory.