Thanksgiving week and college football go hand-in-hand, just like that leftover turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing you’re about to throw into the microwave for a late-night snack or a next-day lunch.
By the end of Saturday evening, we will have witnessed some of the top rivalries in college football play out once again, and we’ll have a better picture of which teams will be in line for the four berths in the College Football Playoff.
Of course, next weekend’s conference championship games will be the ultimate decider for the playoff field, and the stakes will be even greater. But there’s something special about the big regular-season rivalries, which still carry weight in this playoff era. Here are my top five, two of which already have been played this year, in reverse order:
5. Army vs. Navy
Sure, the matchup of the Black Knights vs. Midshipmen doesn’t impact the national title race anymore. When it comes to tradition, however, this game is tough to beat. From the gray-coated Corps of Cadets and blue-clad Midshipmen marching into the stadium, to each team singing the other’s alma mater at the opponent’s sideline, the visuals are stunning. The 118th meeting will be Dec. 9 in Philadelphia. Attending this game sometime should be on any college football fan’s bucket list.
4. Oklahoma vs. Texas
There’s something to be said about a huge college football game being played right in the middle of a state fair, and that’s what happens when the Sooners and Longhorns meet in the Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Though played in October, this rivalry often resonates into January, which was the case in the early-to-mid 2000s when the Sooners won a national title and played for three more, and Texas won the 2005 crown.
3. Florida State vs. Miami
Had the Seminoles not lost quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending injury in the opener, this year’s matchup — a 24-20 Hurricanes victory on Oct. 7 — likely would have had a big say in the playoff race. The history of this series shows the amazing amount of talent Florida State and Miami have produced. In the 2000 game, for example, the Hurricanes had 26 players on their roster who went on to be drafted by NFL teams, while the Seminoles had 18. And for drama, few rivalries can boast as much as the back-to-back “Wide Right” games Miami won in 1991 and ’92.
2. Auburn vs. Alabama
No rivalry of late has had as much bearing on the national championship race as the Iron Bowl. This year is no exception, with the No. 1 Crimson Tide visiting to the No. 6 Tigers on Saturday. The winner will meet Georgia in the SEC title game, with a berth in the playoff likely on the line. If you like drama, just look back to the 2013 “Kick Six” game, when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a TD and a 34-28 Tigers victory on the game’s final play.
1. Michigan vs. Ohio State
Gonna be provincial here and go with the Big Ten’s best rivalry. If we’re lucky Saturday, we’ll see something like the 2006 game, when No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan 42-39, or last year’s version, when the Buckeyes edged the Wolverines 30-27 in double overtime in a controversial finish.
Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @RJStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org