The 2021 rivalry week is upon us, with tons of in-state games and border battles on tap. The records don’t matter, this is all about one thing – hate.
But, sometimes some rivalry games have more of an impact of a regional and national scale than others. Sure, Florida-Florida State could be extremely intense, with all the elements that make it the rivalry that it is, but the outcome won’t matter too much regardless of who wins (though it will affect FSU’s bowl eligibility, so it that sense it does matter, but I digress).
These are the showdowns set for this iteration of college football’s rivalry week that are the biggest, most important games of the final regular season week of the season. These would be massive games even without the added fuel of a heated rivalry, but with that bonus pressure in the cooker, they’re that much better.
The Biggest 2021 Rivalry Week Games
All times Eastern.
5: Wisconsin at Minnesota (Saturday at 4 p.m., FOX)
Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa are the three teams alive to win the Big Ten West heading this slate of rivalry week games. If the Badgers take care of border rival Minnesota, they’ll win the division. If the Gophers triumph, then they have a shot at Indianapolis, though they would need some more help to get there.
For Minnesota to win the West, it would still need Nebraska to beat Iowa on Friday and for Purdue to dispatch of Indiana in the quest for the Old Oaken Bucket. The Gophers will know the result of the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers clash before this one kicks off, so they’ll know if they have a shot at the Big Ten Championship Game or not. But even if they don’t, the opportunity to take it away from their most-hated rival would be a pretty sweet consolation.
4: Oregon State at Oregon (Saturday at 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Civil War 2021 (I don’t care if the schools said this isn’t the name, it still is to me) doesn’t have playoff stakes involved after Oregon’s defeat to Utah last week, but it does still have some serious implications for the Pac-12 title race. The Utes have locked up the South, but the North is still up for grabs, with Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State all still alive for the Pac-12 Championship Game’s second spot.
If the Ducks win this rivalry game, it’s all pretty simple – they go to Las Vegas. But if the Beavers win, then one of two things would happen: if Washington State beats Washington in the Apple Cup, the Cougars would win the three-way tie atop the division with tiebreakers. But if the Huskies beat the Cougars, then Oregon State would be one step closer to a Pac-12 championship.
Oregon has spent most of the year ranked in the top 10, but that won’t matter if it doesn’t beat in-state rival Oregon State this Saturday. Without a victory in Eugene, the Rose Bowl won’t happen.
3: Alabama at Auburn (Saturday at 3:30 p.m., CBS)
Quite frankly, Auburn doesn’t have a whole lot to play for. It’s 6-5, so a bowl game is secured, but going 7-5 instead of 6-6 isn’t all that compelling. Regardless, it’s been a disappointing season for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Alabama has the SEC West already locked up, so it enters the rivalry with no jeopardy of losing its spot in Atlanta.
But you know what would make it all worth it? Ruining Alabama’s national title hopes (or at least, greatly lessening them).
With how the committee has been doing its rankings, it looks like Alabama will be in the playoff if it doesn’t lose again (and also like it could theoretically get in with two losses, though that’s a lot less probable, and especially so with a loss to 6-5 Auburn). So, this is one of the remaining chances the college football world has to see Alabama be knocked out of a top-four spot nationally before the CFP is upon us.
Auburn has spoiled things a handful of times for Alabama over the past decade, and maybe it can do it again in 2021? The Iron Bowl bringing drama wouldn’t be the most outlandish thing in the world.
2: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST, ABC)
This is a weird one because of how the Big 12 does its championship game. it could be a rematch of what’s to come a week later, or it could open the door for Baylor to get in. It could also have CFP implications.
Oklahoma State is already locked into one of the two Big 12 Championship Game spots. Oklahoma needs to win this game to get there, too, and if the Sooners fail to do so, then the Bears would leap them if they beat Texas Tech.
In a national sense, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are both still alive for a spot in the playoff as they’re both currently one-loss teams alive for their power-conference championship. One of them will eliminate the other from that contention this week through this rivalry, though, and then the winner will need to get another W in the Big 12 Championship Game to remain reasonably eligible for the CFP.
It all comes to a head this weekend with 2021 Bedlam. Oh, and did I mention that Oklahoma is leaving for the SEC at some point, and Oklahoma State really doesn’t like that? Yeah, this could be a good one.
1: Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday at 12 p.m., ABC)
You don’t need added stakes to make an Ohio State-Michigan game meaningful, but 2021 is offering us plenty of stakes for its version of The Game, the first contest in the rivalry since 2019 because of a COVID-19 cancellation in 2020.
The Big Ten East and CFP hopes all come down to this. The winner goes to the Big Ten Championship Game, keeping alive their aims for a Big Ten title and spot in the CFP. The loser has their regular season ended and hopes for a spot in a New Year’s Six game.
In an even deeper sense, Michigan hasn’t beat Ohio State since 2011. It hasn’t defeated the Buckeyes in a game this meaningful since 2003. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State as the Wolverines’ boss. This is such a big moment for him, for the Michigan program, and for the entire Big Ten.
Or at least, it could be. It could also be another loss on a long list of losses at the hands of Ohio State. Only time will tell.