The Game, Iron Bowl and more: Six best storylines heading into Rivalry Week

Sporting News

Rivalry Week is here: a week that determines bragging rights for FBS fan bases across the country, no matter what the records are leading into the game.

It's what makes college football more distinct than most sports, and though the meaning has changed in the College Football Playoff era, it still spawns the most passionate games of the regular season.

MORE: Sporting News Week 14 college football rankings

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That will be no exception this week; Rivalry Week is guaranteed to generate some huge storylines. Here's a closer look at the six best conversation pieces at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Commonwealth Cup for the Coastal

Black Friday starts with a beauty in the noon spot. The Commonwealth Cup comes with more drama than usual, with the winner advancing to the ACC championship game and take their best swing at Clemson.

Virginia Tech is heating up at the right time. The Hokies have won three straight games, and they are coming off back-to-back shutouts against Georgia Tech and Pitt. Virginia, the preseason pick to win the Coastal Division, has more on the line here.

The Cavaliers have lost 15 in a row in the series, including a bitter 34-31 overtime loss last season. When winning streaks in a rivalry reach that total, the psychological element is in play. Can Virginia Tech disappoint what is sure to be a pumped-up crowd in Charlottesville? The winner will go to Charlotte and have an excellent chance of landing in the Orange Bowl. Speaking of the New Year's Day 6. ...

UC-Memphis cook-off

The Black Friday schedule continues with a huge AAC matchup between Memphis and Cincinnati in the 3:30 p.m. spot. This battle of 10-1 teams fits the description as the Group of 5 game of the year.

The Bearcats already clinched their spot in the AAC championship game under Luke Fickell, and their only loss this season came against Ohio State.

Memphis would need Navy to lose if they can't beat the Bearcats, but this game is at home. The Tigers are 11-1 at home the last two seasons, with the only loss coming to UCF. The winner here will be favored to win the conference championship game and to snag the Group of 5 bid in the New Year's Day 6.

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Michigan's big chance

Can Shea Patterson lead an upset of Ohio State?

The traditional noon kickoff starts with that question. Michigan has lost seven straight games to the Buckeyes, who will be double-digit favorites. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-4 in The Game, and this is his first head-to-head matchup against Ohio State coach Ryan Day. The Buckeyes embarrassed the Wolverines 62-39 last season, and this year's team has played with even less remorse.

It comes down to whether you believe Patterson can make enough plays in the passing game to engineer a Michigan upset in The Big House. In Michigan's last two victories against Michigan State and Indiana, Patterson is 44 of 65 (67.7 percent) for an average of 375 yards per game, and that comes with nine touchdowns and one interception. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis' offense has come to life, but the Buckeyes will speed that clock up with a furious pass rush led by defensive end Chase Young — who will be looking to make a Heisman Trophy statement.

This is Patterson's game to prove it.

Paul Bunyan's Axe

The other noon Big Ten matchup has a lot riding on it, as well. Paul Bunyan's Axe is an amazing rivalry trophy, and this is the first time since 2004 that the Gophers will arrive to the game holding it.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are playing for a spot in the Big Ten championship game, and the personality mismatch between P.J. Fleck and Paul Chryst could not be more pronounced.

Minnesota will look to string together drives around Tanner Morgan; Wisconsin will lean heavily on running back Jonathan Taylor, who still has an outside chance at the Heisman Trophy. This feels like a close game that could come down to a last-minute field goal.

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Iron Bowl beauty contest

How badly does Alabama need to beat Auburn by to keep the College Football Playoff committee's attention?

That's the big question with backup quarterback Mac Jones, who passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a 66-3 blowout against Western Carolina on Saturday. That said, it's dangerous to assume the Crimson Tide will just blow through an Auburn team who has been tested by four top-10 teams this season. The Tigers — who have what is perhaps the best defensive line in college football — lost three of those games by an average of seven points per game.

Alabama might not be able to run it enough to impress the committee. On the flip side, a loss of any kind will knock the Tide out of contention, and kick up more Gus Malzahn-to-Arkansas rumors.

Bedlam barrage

Oklahoma has won four straight matchups against Oklahoma State, but the last victory was by a single point.

The Sooners need this one to keep their Playoff hopes alive, and this is a chance to add a second quality victory for the CFP committee. Oklahoma and Jalen Hurts, who is on track to be a Heisman Trophy finalist, need to pour it on against their rivals.

Will Mike Gundy let that happen? Oklahoma State squeaked out a victory against West Virginia with backup quarterback Dru Brown, and Chuba Hubbard is still trying to win the FBS rushing title.

It has been an up-and-down season for the Cowboys, but a victory against the Sooners would override the three losses.

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