With the arrival of rivalry week, the college football season officially enters its endgame.
Intrastate showdowns to settle old scores, clashes between conference leaders, and tough tests for the Associated Press (AP) Top-25 teams await.
The rivalry week festivities this Saturday start with top-ranked Alabama (11-0) visiting sixth-ranked Auburn (9-2) in the 82nd edition of the Iron Bowl.
The latest release of the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings puts the Crimson Tide on top, while the Tigers are lurking just outside the final four in the sixth spot. Since losing to LSU (8-3) five weeks ago, Auburn has scored 40 points or more in four straight blowout wins – including a 42-27 shocker over then second-ranked Georgia (10-1).
As for Alabama, the juggernaut rolls on for head coach Nick Saban, whose team has only been tested a single time all year. The Tide needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to score a comeback win over 16th-ranked Mississippi State (8-3) two weeks ago, but aside from that near stumble, Alabama has ridden high scores and stingy defense to a spotless record.
It’s the last regular season game for both teams, and for the victor, a date with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game awaits.
Per the latest odds posted by online sportsbook Bovada, Alabama enters the Iron Bowl as 5-point road favorites.
Elsewhere, third-ranked Oklahoma (10-1) will be in action Saturday hosting West Virginia (7-4), as the Sooners cling to the fourth and final CFP postseason bid.
The Sooners’ only loss on the season came against Iowa State, but during Oklahoma’s current six-game win streak, they’ve beaten a pair of ranked teams in then 11th-ranked Oklahoma State and then sixth-ranked TCU (9-2).
The Mountaineers are an enigma, with a 28-14 loss to Texas last week representing their only defeat against an unranked opponent all year. West Virginia has gone 2-3 against the AP Top-25 this year, getting blasted 50-39 by then 11th-ranked Oklahoma State (8-3) one week, before showing signs of brilliance in a 20-16 win over then 15th-ranked Iowa State (7-4) the next.
One team has everything to play for, while the other is simply playing out the string. Accordingly, the heavy lean goes to Oklahoma as 23-point home favorites.
Fourth-ranked Clemson (10-1) has surprised most pigskin pundits, defending last year’s national championship despite losing star quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers are third in the most recent CFP rankings, but with a showdown with CFP No. 2 Miami looming next weekend, Clemson can’t afford to look past this Saturday’s road clash with South Carolina.
Fortunately for them, the Gamecocks represent the bitterest of rivals in the 115th meeting of the Palmetto State’s two top teams.
It could be a trap game for most teams, but with a national title to defend, Clemson is tabbed as 14-point favorites even on the road.
Fifth-ranked Wisconsin (11-0) hasn’t lost a game all year, but the Badgers are still boxed out of the CFP rankings at the moment. Last week’s win over then 24th-ranked Michigan (8-3) would’ve been enough to lift Wisconsin into a playoff spot in most years, but a down season for the Wolverines has reduced their résumé’s influence on the rankings.
The Badgers hit the road to take on a middling Minnesota (5-6) team, but ninth-ranked Ohio State (9-2) lies in wait to close out the regular season in the Big Ten title game. A win in that high-profile matchup to cap a perfect season may be enough to get Wisconsin over the CFP hump, but they’ve got to get through Minnesota first to make that possible.
In another potential trap game, Wisconsin holds a 17-point edge as road favorites.