CFB Rivalry Week features wild finishes

College football teams delivered for the most exciting week of the season


Dylan Tynes, Staff Writer

In the world of college football, the Saturday after Thanksgiving is one of the most important days of the year.

It is the culmination of Rivalry Week, during which many of the most storied and hotly-contested games take place, home teams take the field for the last time of the season and visitors try to spoil the Senior Days of their most hated rivals.

While this year’s installment of Rivalry Week was a bit lacking in jaw-dropping upsets, it featured tension between fans and casual viewers alike.

The tone was set Friday evening as No. 21 NC State fell behind North Carolina by nine points with just over two minutes remaining. The Wolfpack took shots downfield in hopes of coming back.  A 64-yard touchdown brought them within two, and the onside kick recovery was successful on the ensuing kickoff. Two 15-yard defensive penalties committed by UNC helped NC State move downfield as the clock ran down, and a late 24-yard pass from quarterback Devin Leary to Emeka Emezie capped the extremely unlikely comeback for the Wolfpack, who improved to 9-3 on the season with the 34-30 victory.

Saturday began with an upset in its most-anticipated matchup. Second-ranked Ohio State was riding an eight-game winning streak against hated rival Michigan when they walked into the Big House amid snow flurries in Ann Arbor. The No. 5 Wolverines had revenge on their minds, however, and after six running touchdowns and a smothering defensive performance, Michigan emerged victorious, 42-27.

The Buckeyes played admirably, and past offensive performances kept viewers believing they could storm back to the lead within a matter of minutes. In the end, though, Michigan’s old-school schemes drained the clock while limiting Ohio State’s attack for long enough to ensure a massive win for the Wolverines, who now head to the Big Ten Championship to face Iowa with a potential playoff spot on the line.

Iowa’s berth in the Big Ten title game was improbable entering the week, and they took the first steps toward clinching by struggling past Nebraska 28-21. More importantly, the favorites of the Big Ten West, the Wisconsin Badgers, lost Paul Bunyan’s Axe to Minnesota in a similarly-unwatchable 23-13 game, as quarterback Graham Mertz was forced to throw the ball 38 times for only 171 yards and an interception.

Wisconsin led for much of the first half, and trailed by a score or less for most of the second, making for a nerve-wracking game for fans of either side.

Michigan State and Penn State get a pass for the slowness of their second half on Saturday. The Spartans emerged victorious amid an ever-worsening snowstorm that defined a second half featuring an interception return, two fumbles and lots of slips. Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III led the 12th-ranked Spartans to their 10th win with 138 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

In one of the most startling contests of the season, six-win Auburn led No. 3 Alabama 10-0 well into the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl behind a ferocious pass-rush that racked up seven sacks on the night.

After a Crimson Tide field goal and a later clutch stop for the Tigers, Auburn got the ball back with under two minutes remaining in the game, a position normally resulting in a win. But Alabama managed to prevent a first down, receive the ball with 1:32 remaining and march 97 yards to tie the game. Four overtimes ensued, and the Crimson Tide came out victorious, 24-22, to avoid a monumental upset and keep their playoff hopes alive going into the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. The top-ranked Bulldogs, for their part, annihilated rival Georgia Tech 45-0 on Saturday.

The major upset of the evening slate came in dramatic fashion as the five-win LSU Tigers, who led for most of their game against No. 15 Texas A&M, rallied to win in the final seconds. Quarterback Max Johnson hit a narrow over-the-shoulder window to WR Jaray Jenkins for an unlikely 28-yard score to complete the upset in fan-favorite coach Ed Orgeron’s final game and send the Tigers. With the win, LSU is now bowl-eligible. Elsewhere, No. 7 Oklahoma State outlasted No. 10 Oklahoma in a Bedlam game for the ages. A kick-return touchdown, two muffed punts, two interceptions, a missed field goal and a safety added to the tension as Oklahoma jumped to a 33-24 second-half lead, only for the Cowboys to storm back to a 37-33 lead.

The Sooners were unable to break Oklahoma State’s strong defense in the final nine minutes, and the Cowboys came away with the victory and playoff hopes.

Quarterback Spencer Sanders led the Cowboys in both passing and rushing in a personal-best performance, while Oklahoma’s true-freshman quarterback Caleb Williams was efficient with 252 yards and three scores in the loss.

Further under the radar, the UTSA Roadrunners suffered their first loss of their season against North Texas in a surprise 45-23 blowout. While the magical winning streak ends here for UTSA, they still play in the Conference USA Championship next weekend against Western Kentucky, which boasts a strong 11-1 record.

Even with conference championships and bowl games ahead, the most important games of many teams’ seasons have now been played. The traditions, competitiveness and atmosphere of college football’s best rivalries cannot be replicated, and the electricity in the air of these contests fuels some of the most improbable comebacks and emotional wins in all of sports. It is the perfect end to the regular season in college football.