By RALPH D. RUSSO
Cups, trophies, bowls and championships. Big games and The Game. Rivalry week always comes with high stakes and huge prizes, from bragging rights to College Football Playoff spots.
We have a brief guide to a three-day football feast, starting Thanksgiving night, and how it will impact each conference race:
American — No. 8 UCF is locked into the conference championship game as host on Dec. 1. The Knights play Black Friday against rival USF and their title game opponent will be determined earlier in the day when Houston plays at Memphis. The winner takes the West.
ACC — No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 24 Pitt in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the league championship is set. The Tigers have a rivalry game with South Carolina and College Football Playoff hopes to protect Saturday.
Big 12 — No. 11 Texas goes to the conference championship game with a victory at Kansas. What could possibly go wrong? In the Black Friday Big 12 nightcap and main event, the winner of No. 6 Oklahoma at No. 12 West Virginia also clinches a spot in the title game. If Texas loses, it keeps an OU-WVU rematch at Jerry World in Texas in play. An OU loss also pretty much kills the Big 12′s playoff hopes.
Big Ten — No. 4 Michigan faces No. 10 Ohio State for a spot in the Big Ten championship game. No. 20 Northwestern awaits the winner.
Conference USA — UAB has already locked up the West and will have a say in who wins the East. Florida International and Middle Tennessee are tied going into Saturday. FIU needs only a victory at home against Marshall. If FIU loses and Middle Tennessee beats UAB, MTSU wins the division. If both East leaders lose it creates a three-way tie with Marshall, and Middle Tennessee wins the tiebreaker.
Mid-American Conference — Northern Illinois is the West champ and will face either Buffalo or Ohio. The Bulls can clinch by winning at Bowling Green. Ohio (which hosts Akron on Friday) wins a three-way tie with Buffalo and Miami.
Mountain West — The Mountain Division champ will be determined by No. 14 Utah State at No. 21 Boise State. The winner faces Fresno State. The Mountain West still has hopes for a New Year’s Six bowl if UCF stumbles.
Pac-12 — The Apple Cup winner between No. 15 Washington and No. 7 Washington State faces No. 18 Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. A Cougars loss also pretty much eliminates the Pac-12 from the playoff.
SEC — No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Georgia are set for the conference title game, but playoff positioning is in play against Auburn and Georgia Tech, respectively, this weekend.
Sun Belt — Troy and Appalachian State play for the East Division title. Louisiana-Lafayette is in control of the West if it beats Louisiana-Monroe, but if ULL loses, either ULM or Arkansas State (at Texas State) will play in the first Sun Belt title game.
No. 22 Mississippi State (minus 10½) at Mississippi
New coach at State but Egg Bowl animosity is always high … MISSISSIPPI STATE 31-24.
No. 6 Oklahoma (minus 1½) at No. 12 West Virginia
Heisman spotlight game for OU’s Kyler Murray and WVU’s Will Grier … OKLAHOMA 49-42.
No, 16 Washington (plus 3) at No. 7 Washington State
Huskies have won five straight meetings … WASHINGTON 27-24, UPSET SPECIAL.
No. 8 UCF (minus 14) at USF
War on I-4 was a classic last season … UCF 42-24.
No. 11 Texas (minus 15) at Kansas
Would be quite a send-off for outgoing Jayhawks coach David Beaty … TEXAS 35-17.
Auburn (plus 24½) at No. 1 Alabama
Tide hasn’t really rolled in a few weeks. Iron Bowl should bring out its best … ALABAMA 38-10.
South Carolina (plus 26½) at No. 2 Clemson
Tigers have won four straight in series, average score 41-16 … CLEMSON 41-16.
No. 3 Notre Dame (minus 10½) at Southern California
USC has not looked primed to play spoiler … NOTRE DAME 27-14.
No. 4 Michigan (minus 4) at No. 10 Ohio State
Buckeyes have won 13 of 14 in this series, including all three against Jim Harbaugh. If not now, Wolverines, when? … MICHIGAN 28-20.
Georgia Tech (plus 17) at No. 5 Georgia
An upset would throw a wrinkle into the playoff race … GEORGIA 42-17.
No. 8 LSU (plus 2½) at Texas A&M
Would be a huge ending to Jimbo Fisher’s first season as Aggies coach … TEXAS A&M 27-24.
No. 13 Florida (minus 5½) at Florida State
Seminoles need a victory to extend their record bowl streak to 37 years … FLORIDA 30-21.
No. 14 Utah State (plus 2½) at No. 21 Boise State
One of the last games to kick off on Saturday. Rest up. It’s a good one. … UTAH STATE 31-28.
Maryland (plus 13½) at No. 15 Penn State
Nittany Lions could still slip into New Year’s Six bowl if they get to 9-3 … PENN STATE 28-13.
No. 17 Kentucky (minus 17) at Louisville
No reason to think the Cardinals will suddenly be inspired at the end of a woeful season … KENTUCKY 28-7.
BYU (plus 13) at No. 18 Utah
Utes have won seven straight in the Holy War … UTAH 24-14.
No. 19 Syracuse (plus 7) at Boston College
Orange QB Eric Dungey is uncertain to play, which has been an unfortunate but frequent occurrence throughout the senior’s career … BOSTON COLLEGE 28-24.
Illinois (plus 17½) at No. 20 Northwestern
Wildcats have won three straight and five of six against the Illini … NORTHWESTERN 27-13.
No. 24 Pittsburgh (plus 5½) at Miami
What better way to close this oddball ACC Coastal season than with the division champ losing … MIAMI 28-24.
Kansas State (plus 13½) at No. 25 Iowa State
Cyclones can’t get into Big 12 title game, but could still impact a tiebreaker if they win and Texas loses … IOWA STATE 24-7.
Houston (plus 7) at Memphis, Friday — @jefe172
Cougars DT Ed Oliver is going to try to give it go, but Houston is still badly depleted by injuries … MEMPHIS 35-21.
Nebraska (plus 10) at Iowa, Friday — @adam_furley
Cornhuskers trying to close strong, having won four of five … NEBRASKA 27-24.
Oregon (minus 17) at Oregon State — @mcclearyjason2
Could this be Ducks QB Justin Herbert’s last Civil War? … OREGON 49-28.
Tennessee (plus 3½) at Vanderbilt — @JogMartin
For bowl eligibility … TENNESSEE 24-23.
Virginia (minus 4) at Virginia Tech — @C_J_J—
Hokies have won 14 straight meetings but appear to be coming apart down the stretch … VIRGINIA 24-17.
Last week: 18-5 straight; 8-15 against the spread.
Season: 197-72 straight; 130-135-3 against the spread.
Upset specials: 6-6 (straight up).
Best bets: 4-6 (against the spread).