Here it is: the final Saturday of the 2009 regular season is upon us. With this final weekend come nail-biting rivalry matchups that pose the potential to alter the college football landscape.
On Saturday there is only one game featuring ranked teams, Utah at BYU.
Nevermind that factoid, ladies and gents; instead, be wary of the underdog adversaries chomping at the bit to ruin someone’s season.
Five teams will step on the field Saturday with little to gain on the national stage, but so much more to lose.
1. LSU (vs. Arkansas, 7:00)
In a single two-minute span, the Tigers’ program toppled the first domino in a stack that has yet to cease falling yet. Les Miles has gone from the “Ice Man” of coaching to the “worst coach to ever win a national championship” in some circles.
If LSU beats Arkansas Saturday night, it’s business as usual for Tiger fans, but you can bet they’ll still be fuming over the circus that was the LSU sideline in the final seconds of the Tigers’ loss to Ole Miss last week.
If the Hogs knock off LSU, it will put the stamp on an official late-season choke job by Miles and his team. The man who two years ago was begged by the fan base to stay in Baton Rouge would be boiling in water hotter than a Cajun grill outside Tiger Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.
Although its highly unlikely that Miles’ job is on the line this weekend, you never know what a tough loss to the rival Hogs could stir up in the Bayou.
2. Miami (vs. South Florida, 3:30)
Every time the Hurricanes seem to get back on track after a tough loss, they falter once more. After a tough loss at North Carolina, Miami rebounded with a strong finish to a 34-16 win over Duke.
Now Miami faces a tricky test in its final regular season contest. If all signs aren’t pointing straight towards a Hurricane flop, they’re leaning that way.
The game has little to no implications on Miami’s postseason fate.
This is South Florida’s first shot at Miami since 2005, and only the second meeting of the two ever. This is the first time the teams have gotten together since the Bulls’ emergence as a legitimate threat on the national stage.
The Bulls already knocked around Florida State in a 17-7 win in October, and are salivating at the chance to go 2-0 against the big boys in the state. Can you spell r-e-c-r-u-i-t-i-n-g t-o-o-l?
Basically, the Bulls have the world to gain from a win, while Miami has nothing. If Randy Shannon is worth the $2 million on his annual paychecks, he’ll find a way to motivate his team to reach its first nine-win season since 2005.
3. Georgia Tech (vs. Georgia, 8:00)
Like Miami, the Yellow Jackets’ holiday destination won’t be decided by their game this weekend. For Tech, it’s about taking a tighter grip on the state of Georgia with another victory of the Bulldogs. Last year, it was Tech shocking the Bulldogs 45-42.
It may not be as much about what Tech would lose in this game, but more about what they would fail to gain.
Along with greater recruiting power in the area, the Jackets could force some turmoil in their rival’s program. Mark Richt is already on thin ice with Georgia boosters, and an embarrassing loss to the in-state rival Jackets is not exactly the remedy.
A big win by the Yellow Jackets on Saturday evening would make it even harder to remember how just two short years ago, the Bulldogs ruled everything in the Peach State, while Tech was a mere afterthought. All because a little old coach from the Naval Academy brought his antique offense to play with the big boys.
4. Clemson (vs. South Carolina, 12:00)
This is a momentum game for the Tigers. South Carolina is a decided underdog at home, but a worthy opponent nonetheless. The Gamecocks are the type of team that will require a strong effort from Dabo Swinney’s squad to come out on top.
If Clemson manages to impress in a big rivalry win, they could very well go into Tampa next week and knock off Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers have been a team to ride momentum as far as possible for many years now, and 2009 is no different. They have caught fire at the right time; now it is simply of matter of how long they can keep burning.
A loss to the hated Gamecocks would be hard to recover from in a week’s time. Clemson needs one final confidence-booster before the conference title showdown next week. The only problem is a loss would be a confidence-demoralizer. It’s a must-win of the most unique kind this Saturday.
5. Washington (vs. Washington State, 6:30)
Was it really two months ago when Washington was one play away from being 3-2 after playing Notre Dame? Instead, the Irish escaped with the overtime win over the Huskies. Washington rebounded the next week to beat Arizona 36-33, and have not tasted victory since.
Steve Sarkisian, once the taste of the town in Seattle, is now back to square one with his program. The Huskies sit at 3-7, 2-5 in the Pac-10 with two games to play. Three of their losses have come by a touchdown or less.
Right now, the Huskies are a clear example of a team that just does not know quite how to win yet, which is understandable, after last year’s 0-12 debacle.
As Sarkisian gets players more tuned to his style, and flat-out more talented, those close losses will turn into wins, and 3-7 will turn into 6-4, which will then turn into 8-2.
All of that being said, much of the optimism surrounding the Washington program remaining after this four-game skid would vanish with a loss to the pathetic Cougars.
Washington State has one of the worst defenses in America, and its hard to imagine them beating any team from a BCS conference. This is still an intrastate rivalry game, though, which means anything can happen.
If State stunned the Northwest with a win, it would bring Sarkisian and the Huskies crashing down to rock bottom. The nice thing is they are quite familiar there, but nobody can honestly say they saw it coming after the red-hot September they enjoyed.
Words of wisdom for Washington: save yourself the misery and take care of business Saturday afternoon.