Why end with a bang when you can end with many, many bangs? As if to appease a restless nation of people getting maybe just a leeetle bored with having the national title race all but assured so early, we’re met in the final full week of the regular season1 not only with the usual glut of traditional rivalry games, but also with a heaping handful of conference and divisional races coming right down to the end of November. ‘Tis the season to give thanks for that, to gather with those we love, and to watch large, strong humans beat the daylights out of those we don’t.Also, to eat leftover sandwiches.
On Your Marquee
For our purposes, we’re counting Week 15’s motley assortment of league title games and regular-season games from conferences without title games as a sort of vestigial tail to the season.
All times Eastern.
• No. 1 Alabama at no. 4 Auburn. All Bama and no. 2 Florida State can do at this point to play themselves out of the final BCS title game is lose. Of those two squads, the Tide stand the greater chance of stumbling, either in the Iron Bowl or the SEC championship game. And even that’s not a terribly good chance.
There’s no such thing as a stakes-free Iron Bowl. We lived in Auburn country for a couple years, and shortly after our arrival, a family member explained that what really sets this rivalry apart is the even saturation of Tigers and Tide fans throughout the Yellowhammer State. An argument broke out over whether the breakup of Yugoslavia or the house-to-house fighting in the Battle of Berlin was a better historical comparison. Serious nods were exchanged. Nobody was joking. We don’t think.
But even for Alabama-Auburn, this year’s game runneth over with implications, and one weird first: This is apparently somehow the first Iron Bowl that’s a winner-takes-Atlanta play-in game for the SEC championship. A Tide victory will send Alabama to the Georgia Dome for the third time in six years. A Tigers upset would snap the Tide’s attempted national title game appearance three-peat. It’s Nick Saban’s old-man football versus Gus Malzahn’s high school sorcery, and it’s going to be very, very spiteful. Just like last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. (3:30 p.m., Saturday, CBS)
• No. 21 Texas A&M at no. 5 Missouri. While we’re on the subject of stakes: Nobody has said the words to make it real, but we all know we’re looking at the next-to-last game of Johnny Football’s college career. There’s also an SEC championship game berth in it for the Tigers if they win. (7:45 p.m., Saturday, ESPN)
• No. 6 Clemson at no. 10 South Carolina. These Tigers are out of their conference championship chase completely, and Carolina can take the SEC East only if Missouri falls to A&M, but this year’s Palmetto Bowl could be a real delight, with both teams in the top 10 at the same time and coached by two natural personality foils in Swinney and Spurrier. (7 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2)
• No. 9 Baylor at TCU. Saturday night, after the Bears’ humiliating loss in Stillwater, senior Ahmad Dixon made a vow: “We wanted something that’s never, ever been done before, and that was to go to a national championship. That dream came down. I promise this next one won’t crash down on us.” The Bears are still in the hunt for a conference title, with three conditions: Oklahoma State has to lose to Oklahoma next week, which is out of the Bears’ control; Baylor has to beat Texas next week, which it’s capable of doing; and before any of that, the Bears have to remount and regroup against TCU to avoid sustaining another conference loss. (3:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2)
• Minnesota at no. 11 Michigan State. The Spartans have a two-game lead over the next-closest team in the Legends Division, but it’ll be worthwhile to see them get in what should be another strenuous workout before having to play Ohio State in Indianapolis. (Noon, Saturday, BTN)
• Arizona at no. 12 Arizona State. The Sun Devils have already clinched the Pac-12 South, but a win here would grant hosting rights for the league title game to Tempe instead of Palo Alto. (9:30 p.m., Saturday, Pac-12 Network)
• No. 22 UCLA at no. 23 USC. This might be your last chance to see Ed Orgeron lumber into the Coliseum stands carrying a sword. (8 p.m., Saturday, ABC)
• No. 24 Duke at North Carolina. The Blue Devils control their destiny in the ACC Coastal. We live in remarkable times. (Noon, Saturday, ESPN2)
Weeknight Football and You
Following Tuesday night’s regular-season #MACtion finale, football is taking Wednesday off2 before a Thanksgiving doubleheader and a Friday mini-binge. There’s quality action to be found if you know where to look:3
Do not panic! See Arbitrary Power Rankings!
You should look on your television!
• Texas Tech at Texas. It’s not Longhorns-Aggies, but there’s a whimsical trophy involved, and conference implications: Texas could still claim the Big 12 title with a win here, another win over Baylor next weekend, and an Oklahoma State Bedlam loss. (7:30 p.m., Thursday, Fox Sports 1)
• Ole Miss at Mississippi State. Egg Bowl! Complete with a bunch of replica Golden Eggs bobbing around atop shoulder pads! (7:30 p.m., Thursday, ESPN)
• East Carolina at Marshall. Here’s another season-ending game with a division on the line. The Conference USA East title goes to the winner. (Noon, Friday, CBS Sports)
• Bowling Green at Buffalo. And another: Here are your only two MAC East teams with fewer than four conference losses, tied at 6-1 atop the division heading into their last regular-season game. The winner gets Northern Illinois in Detroit in what should be one hell of a MAC championship matchup. (1:30 p.m., Friday, ESPNU)
• Arkansas at no. 17 LSU. This doesn’t look like it’ll be much of a game, but one of two important things will transpire here: Either we’ll get to see Bret Bielema notch his first conference win as an SEC head coach, or we’ll get to hear a victorious Les Miles wax warmly some more about leftover sandwiches. (2:30 p.m., Friday, CBS)
• No. 16 Fresno State at San Jose State. The last regular-season game of Derek Carr’s collegiate career comes versus one of the country’s very worst defenses. Turn up. (3:30 p.m., Friday, CBS Sports)
• Miami at Pitt. The Canes could still win the ACC Coastal under one very specific scenario: a Miami win in Pittsburgh, a Virginia win over Virginia Tech, and a North Carolina win over Duke. (3:30 p.m., Friday, ABC)
• Washington State at Washington. This Apple Cup brings a couple interesting story lines: For UW, there’s the Keith Price–or–Cyler Miles QB dilemma; for Wazzu, there’s the question of whether the newly bowl-eligible Cougars can add to their six-win total to finish the regular season above .500. (3:30 p.m., Friday, Fox)
Q&A: Anthony Boone
An actual, workable two-quarterback system isn’t something you see every day. What do you think has made your team’s approach successful?
I would say that it’s because we’re not two totally different quarterbacks. We can go out and manage the offense in the exact same way. We don’t have certain plays for certain players because I can throw a better out route than [Brandon Connette] can. It’s the same offense. And it takes stress off each other, [so] that we don’t have to do too much throughout the whole course of the game. We feed off each other, and we give each other feedback. I’ll tell him something, and he’ll apply it to his down-and-distance. He’ll tell me something, and I’ll apply it to my next series. It goes back and forth.
Do you guys have anything special planned for the pregame locker room this week? Any superstitions you’ve been keeping up with?
Before the game, we have a walk-on, Chris Hoover, who performs a very, very, very, uh, enthusiastic kind of pump-up speech that gets the guys going. I can’t detail what is said in these pump-ups, but it’s very effective. They’re very effective and they’re very anticipated, every week.
How has the perception of the program changed on campus? Are you treated differently than you were when you first came here?
A lot more praise, a lot more recognition. People are really excited that our program’s turned around, and they’re happy to root for us. Every week people will come up to me, going, “Good luck this week, go beat ’em,” and my freshman year people didn’t really turn an eye. People treat us — it’s not the same as the basketball team, obviously, but wishing us good luck and congratulating us on good games, saying they’ll be watching.
So it wasn’t so much negative attention in your early years at Duke as it was just indifference?
Yeah, it wasn’t like anything negative. It was just, “Oh, well, football’s not really that good, so no point in going or wishing them good luck,” or whatever.
What about the culture within the locker room? How has that evolved?
Having self-esteem, and having fun doing it. That’s kind of our motto. Just enjoy the process, and at the end of the day, our team’s cool because, as Coach Cut says, we’re not cool. We’re a cool team because we aren’t.
Signing on with Duke football, you had to know that kind of challenge was going to be there. What was it that attracted you to the program in the first place?
Honestly, I would have to say it was that challenge. The fact that it wasn’t going to be easy. That I would have a chance to be a part of something that was new, that was different, that was changing, where I could be a part of a change in culture. Not going into a program where a winning culture was already expected or guaranteed. It takes a lot for a person to go to a place like that, and I knew I wanted to be around guys that felt the same way I did. It’s a great feeling, to be a part of something that’s changing.
Was that a weird transition, going from being a star athlete in high school to being on a team that was such a nonfactor even on your own campus?
Absolutely. It was very frustrating. But Coach Cut kept driving it home that this was going to be a process, and that it might not happen in one year and it might not happen in two years, but things were going to change, and I was going to be a part of it. And right now it’s happening in front of my eyes.
As the program has risen in prominence, have you had any superfans develop? Anybody getting just a little too into things already?
One time, ACC media weekend, me and Ross Cockrell kind of had a weird encounter with a fan who knew what room we were in, because he saw us checking in, and was hanging out in the hallway. So that kind of freaked us out a little bit. But we love our fans. We have a good group of loyal fans, and now fans that’re hopping on the bandwagon. We’ll take all the fans we can get.
Big bandwagon, huh?
Yeah. It’s getting bigger.
• Best Week 14 rivalry contests: Based on our complicated and proprietary algorithm that relies solely on the trophy awarded to the winning team,4 the results are as follows:
Utilizing the following rigorous hierarchy:
1. Sculptures of meat
3. Cute animals
4. Deadly weapons
1. Texas–Texas Tech (Chancellor’s Spurs).
2. Air Force–Colorado State (Ram-Falcon Trophy). There isn’t a cute animal involved by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a statue of a ram charging a falcon. Or bowing to one, depending on your loyalties. (2 p.m., Saturday, ESPN3)
3. Northwestern-Illinois (Land of Lincoln Trophy). This large metal hat could maybe also be used in self-defense should you find yourself in a highway joke-type situation with Illini staff. (3:30 p.m., Saturday, BTN)
Honorable Mention: Indiana-Purdue and the Old Oaken Bucket, which is just what it sounds like, and which was already old and oaken when it was first put into circulation. Everyone involved just owns that, and there’s something admirable and frontiersmanly about it all. (3:30 p.m., Saturday, BTN)
• Worst Week 14 rivalry contests: “Worst” is relative here, of course. Florida State and Ohio State fans have to be bearing Cheshire cat smiles into Week 14, with both teams still alive in the national title game race, and with the high likelihood that before the Noles and Buckeyes jet off to big-money bowls, they’ll get to make their hated rivals suffer. They will surely enjoy traveling to Gainesville (noon, Saturday, ESPN) and Ann Arbor (noon, Saturday, ABC), respectively. Gators fans, meanwhile, have just witnessed the worst loss in program history, a home upset courtesy of Georgia Southern, while the most ardent Michigan adherents are calling the Wolverines “a Michigan football team that people at Abu Ghraib wouldn’t show prisoners.” Woof.
• Best nightcap: Praise be; we get one more late-night Hawaii kickoff before the long, dark dumb of the offseason. Watch the Warriors try to fend off 0-12 as they face Army at 11 p.m. on Saturday. (MTN)
• What other division races are still in play? As long as we’re counting out the possibility of no. 19 Central Florida losing to South Florida, and we are, there are a couple: Conference USA West’s spot in the league championship game could still come down to a three-way tie if Tulane beats Rice (3 p.m. Saturday, Fox College Sports); meanwhile, Utah State’s quest for the Mountain West Mountain title could be derailed by Wyoming.5 (2 p.m., Saturday, ROOT Sports)
This game also features a new traveling trophy. It’s a gun, which ranks high in our traveling trophy hierarchy.
• Who’s quarterbacking Georgia now? Hutson Mason, subject of one of the greatest football publicity photos in recorded human history, will lead the Dawgs in Atlanta versus Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC). Because it is Georgia and 2013, should we find out who his backup is? God, probably. It’s this guy. How is Aaron Murray? He’s doing all right, post–ACL repair surgery, per Aaron Murray:
Surgery went well! I feel like I’m ready to go wreck tech this weekend!
— Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) November 26, 2013
• Which winless FBS team has the best shot at escaping an oh-fer season in Week 14? Point: Southern Miss is playing two-win UAB (1 p.m. Saturday, ULive). Counterpoint:
Southern Miss QB Nick Mullens was sacked 7 times and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by Middle Tennessee, in the first half.
— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) November 23, 2013
• Can we talk for just a minute about how close we came to having no. 25 Notre Dame play no. 8 Stanford in a game in which both participants lost to an Ed Orgeron interim-coached USC team? Four points. Four points close. Man. Man. (7 p.m., Saturday, Fox)
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Wednesday-Night Viewing Options
A weeks-long streak of days containing nationally televised football contests comes to an end this very night. Where to turn?
1. Spike: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. One viewing and you’ll be racing your cousins around the cul-de-sac to determine family drift king pecking order.
2. HBO2: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Longer than even your most pass-heavy WAC game, and with gluttony themes!
3. Disney XD: The Incredibles. A heartwarming portrait of your average American family’s fight against one petulant ginger. (DO NOT be caught next door on the Disney Channel, where Toy Story 3 is showing. Turducken Consumption Eve is no time to be contemplating one’s mortality.)
4. CMT: The Guardian. What says “Thanksgiving” more than “Kevin Costner teaching Ashton Kutcher to be a rescue swimmer”?
5. NBC: The Making of “The Sound of Music Live!” This is appointment viewing on the off chance we’ll get to see outtakes of Carrie Underwood teaching a bunch of moppets to sing “Two Black Cadillacs” for the Baroness.
“Happy Thanksgiving. Did it come quickly? I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how it happened. I mean, really, it just seemed like months flew by and suddenly — maybe it didn’t where you’re at, but where I’m at, it just [snapping fingers] happened so fast. We have a lot to be thankful for.” —Les Miles