For those of us who live and breathe college football, Thanksgiving Week means Rivalry Week. Well, OK, it means a lot of food as well, but the figurative feast of gridiron action is usually just as tasty.
This year’s slate of rivalry games features several whose importance has never been greater, while some that are normally at the top of the must-watch list feel like afterthoughts (Iron Bowl, anyone?).
Naturally, your rooting allegiances will dictate your viewing priorities on this holiday weekend. But if you’re a neutral observer seeking the contests with the most potential impact on the quests for team and individual trophies, we’re here to help you choose.
Here are our selections for the best five matchups for you to enjoy as you nosh leftovers this weekend.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Michigan
Saturday, noon ET, Fox
Why watch: It’s finally here, the top-five showdown we’ve been building toward all season. The winner punches its ticket to next week’s Big Ten championship game and in all likelihood a spot in the College Football Playoff. The loser might still get in as well, but neither wants to rely on other outcomes. In games not contested in gale-force wind conditions, the Ohio State passing game has been quite consistent with QB C.J. Stroud making extensive use of WRs Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. But if conditions are a bit soggy in Columbus, the Buckeyes might be more dependent on their run game, and the depth of the RB room has been tested of late. The Wolverines’ ground defense, anchored by LBs Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, is quite stingy surrendering just 2.8 yards per attempt. The biggest concern for Wolverines’ fans during the week has been the status of standout RB Blake Corum, who was unable to play through an apparent knee injury after halftime of last week’s narrow escape from Illinois. His availability might not be known until game time, and if the Michigan ground game is compromised, QB J.J. McCarthy might need someone besides primary WR Ronnie Bell to make things happen down the field. The Ohio State secondary doesn’t give up many chunk passing plays, and DB Tanner McCalister has three of the team’s 10 picks.
Why it could disappoint: It’s hard to imagine how it could, though there might not be a bevy of explosive plays. Forget the struggles both teams had a week ago. The level of execution on both sides should be much crisper in a contest of this magnitude.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL FIX: Playoff race and Week 13 showdowns all in focus
EXPERT PICKS: Forecasts for Ohio State-Michigan and every Top 25 game
UPS AND DOWNS: Winners and losers of College Football Playoff rankings
BOWL PROJECTIONS: USC closing in playoff, but Clemson still in front
No. 5 Southern California vs. No. 15 Notre Dame
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: The Trojans will be playing for the Pac-12 title next week no matter what happens here in the Coliseum. The stakes in that contest would be reduced considerably, however, should USC stumble against its long-time rival. The Fighting Irish, despite a couple of inexplicable losses, have a chance to close out a solid first season under Marcus Freeman’s direction and perhaps crack the New Year’s Six lineup. Trojans QB Caleb Williams was happy to have WR Jordan Addison back from injury for the key showdown with UCLA last week. That combo will have to be careful about challenging Notre Dame DB Benjamin Morrison, who has swiped five passes with one returned for a touchdown this year. Nobody does takeaways better than USC, however, with 18 picks and six fumble recoveries contributing to a plus-20 turnover margin, according to school. Fighting Irish QB Drew Pyne has brought a measure of stability since taking over the offense, and he’ll make extensive use of standout TE Michael Mayer if he can stay clear of USC DE Tuli Tuipulotu.
Why it could disappoint: A spate of turnovers could put Notre Dame in an early hole, or USC’s special-teams troubles could turn into momentum changing plays in the Irish’s favor. But it’s unlikely a game this meaningful to both parties will turn one-sided.
No. 9 Oregon at No. 22 Oregon State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: It’s quite simple for the Ducks. Win here in Corvallis and earn a date with Southern California for the Pac-12 title. Lose and, well, then things aren’t so simple. Oregon might still finish second anyway, but clearly the Ducks would rather not have to deal with esoteric tiebreaker formulas. None of this concerns the Beavers, of course, who’d like nothing better than messing things up for their archrivals in this clash. After getting through the Utah game on a bum ankle, Ducks QB Bo Nix will hope to regain some mobility for this week’s clash with the sound Beavers’ defense, centered by LB Omar Speights. With starting QB Chance Nolan sidelined by a neck injury for much of the campaign, Oregon State has turned to freshman Ben Gulbranson. He’s performed well, with eight scoring throws to just three picks, and RB Damien Martinez has also helped the cause, but another big game from Ducks DE Brandon Dorlus could make their night difficult.
Why it could disappoint: Oregon’s impressive physicality against the Utah offense a week ago might mean the Beavers will struggle to move the ball. Should that be the case, a multi-score cushion for the Ducks could prove insurmountable. But if it’s close at all by intermission, it could go down to the wire.
No. 20 Tulane at No. 21 Cincinnati
Friday, noon ET, ABC
Why watch: The Friday slate is headlined by this huge clash in the American Athletic Conference. The winner will be guaranteed a spot in next week’s league championship game. The loser won’t necessarily be eliminated depending upon how several tiebreaker scenarios play out. The Green Wave recovered from a disappointing loss to Central Florida with a convincing romp past SMU last Thursday night to set up this first-place showdown with the Bearcats, who are seeking a third consecutive league crown. The Cincinnati offense isn’t quite as explosive as last year’s squad that swept the regular season, but QB Ben Bryant and WRs Tyler Scott and Tre Tucker can still strike at any time. On the other side, Tulane QB Michael Pratt and RB Tyjae Spears have developed into one of the conference’s most efficient back-field duos.
Why it could disappoint: After going 2-10 a year ago, the Green Wave’s 2022 season has been a smashing success regardless of the outcome here. But this is new territory for Tulane. The Bearcats, despite having to replace a slew of key contributors, will still have the edge in big-game experience. That might not be a factor early, but the third quarter in particular could be a key stretch.
South Carolina (7-4, 4-4) at No. 8 Clemson (10-1, 8-0)
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
Why watch: From Clemson’s perspective, there are a couple of ways to view South Carolina’s unexpected demolition of Tennessee last week. On one hand, the value of a Tigers’ win increased, but conversely the Gamecocks now come to Death Valley with confidence looking to derail another team’s playoff push. Regardless, Clemson must win it to stay in the mix, and the Tigers can’t afford to overlook their in-state rivals with the ACC championship date with North Carolina still to come. South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler will again face a secondary that has struggled at times this season, but DE Myles Murphy and the Clemson defensive front compensates with a fierce pass rush. Tigers QB D.J. Uiagalelei has righted the ship since his disastrous outing at Notre Dame early this month, and his backfield mate RB Will Shipley has accounted for nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage. They could both see a lot of Gamecocks LB Sherrod Greene.
Why it could disappoint: Do the Gamecocks have another surprising blowout in them, or will the Tigers’ stronger defense make sure it’s a romp the other way? It’s a rivalry Clemson has owned in recent years, so it will be up to South Carolina to demonstrate it can take the first few punches and make a game of it.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football games to watch: Ohio State-Michigan, USC-Notre Dame