It’s Rivalry Week, so we’re ranking the biggest annual rivalries before revealing our TRACR model’s college football predictions for Week 13.

When 11-0 Ohio State travels to 11-0 Michigan for this year’s edition of “The Game,” it’s not a stretch to say that everything will be on the line in a way that the sport won’t ever see again.

With the College Football Playoff in the final season of its four-team format, this very well could be an elimination game for both teams involved. Of course, it’s certainly possible that the loser of the game could still get in – like what happened to Ohio State last year – but it would take some help for that to occur. 

In contrast, if the same teams met with 11-0 records in 2024, both teams would be complete locks for the 12-team postseason, meaning there would be no “win or go home” aspect. The pride that comes from winning the rivalry game would still be significant, as would the potential playoff bye from earning a conference title.

But, needless to say, the difference between being the No. 2 seed and the No. 6 seed in the playoffs is exponentially less significant than the difference between being in and out of the playoffs altogether. 

However, instead of mourning the regular season excitement that we will lose going forward, we can look at the great moments that the past decade brought us. Ahead of college football’s “Rivalry Week,” we rank the top six rivalries based strictly on their annual impact on the national championship race during the CFP era (2014 onward).

As a disclaimer: to be featured on this list, it must be a rivalry game that’s played annually. For example, while Alabama and Georgia are certainly rivals, they’ve only played two regular season games in the CFP era (2015 and 2020, both Alabama wins). But there is no requirement that the rivals have to be in the same conference, nor do the games actually have to be played during “Rivalry Week.”

Without further ado, here are the rankings. And you already know who takes the top spot.

The Biggest Annual Rivalries of the CFP Era

1. Ohio State-Michigan

  • Head-to-head during CFP era: Ohio State leads 6-2 (no contest in 2020)
  • Amount of times the winner reached the CFP: 5 (OSU 3, Michigan 2)
  • Combined total CFP appearances: 7 (OSU 5, Michigan 2)

If it feels like this year is just the latest instance of OSU and Michigan meeting with extremely high stakes, that’s because it is. Remarkably, this is the fourth time in the CFP era that these teams will meet with both ranked in the CFP’s top five.

Let’s take a quick look back at the other three:

In 2016, “The Game” was as true of an elimination game as there could be. In the second-ever Michigan-OSU matchup in which both teams were ranked in the top three nationally (also 2006), both teams entered with 10-1 records, meaning that the loser had no chance at a playoff spot barring absolute chaos elsewhere in the country. And in an instant classic contest, marred by officiating controversial enough that the Big Ten had to issue a statement about it, No. 2 Ohio State edged No. 3 Michigan in a 30-27 double-overtime battle.

In 2021, the teams again each entered with one loss, making it another true elimination game, as no CFP participant has ever had two losses. Ohio State had won eight consecutive matchups of “The Game,” and Michigan was still seeking its first-ever CFP appearance. But the Wolverines managed to flip the script, using five Hassan Haskins rushing touchdowns and three Aidan Hutchinson sacks to stun the Buckeyes 42-27 in the snow.

Last year, the teams both entered undefeated, which was the fourth time since the series was moved to the final week of the regular season in 1935 that this was the case (also 1970, 1973, 2006). And in a contest that was much closer than the final score made it appear – and one that comes with plenty of its own controversy, given what we now know about the sign-stealing scandal – Michigan came away with a 45-23 win. At the time, it appeared that this loss would knock the Buckeyes out of the playoff picture, but when No. 4 USC was upset by Utah in the Pac-12 Championship, Ohio State got in as the final seed.

These three games are far from the only instances of “The Game” impacting the playoff picture. For example, in 2018, Michigan entered at No. 4 in the CFP rankings before Ohio State played spoiler with a 62-39 win behind six touchdowns from the late Dwayne Haskins. But the bottom line is, any given November, this contest has major national implications. And Saturday, the all-time record 13th AP top-five matchup between these teams, will be no different.

Michigan is ranked No. 2 in our TRACR rankings, while Ohio State is No. 4.

FBS Ratings Change

2. Alabama-LSU

  • Head-to-head during CFP era: Alabama leads 8-2
  • Amount of times the winner reached the CFP: 8 (Alabama 7, LSU 1)
  • Combined total CFP appearances: 8 (Alabama 7, LSU 1)

Here’s the simplest way to sum this one up. In every year of the CFP era, Alabama has either reached the playoff, or lost to LSU.

And both of those losses have been particularly memorable. The 2019 version was one of the greatest games in college football history: a 46-41 shootout in which Joe Burrow’s Tigers outlasted Tua Tagovailoa’s Crimson Tide and the box score featured more current NFL stars than you can count. Both teams gained more than 500 total yards in the classic, and Tagovailoa threw three second-half touchdowns while gutting it out through an ankle injury, but LSU answered every Alabama punch and eventually won the national championship.

2022 was the first season when the Alabama-LSU winner didn’t reach the CFP, but that doesn’t mean the game didn’t have huge championship implications. The teams went back and forth with 25 combined fourth quarter points, leading to an overtime period when LSU went for two and got the win in a 32-31 thriller. Given that a one-loss Alabama surely would have been selected for the playoff over either TCU or Ohio State, this defeat directly kept the Tide out of the bracket.

Alabama’s wins have often been more lopsided recently, but one that stands out is the first Tagovailoa-Burrow showdown in 2018 when No. 1 Alabama took down No. 3 LSU 29-0. If the Crimson Tide do make this year’s playoffs, Jalen Milroe’s four-TD performance against the Tigers will surely be a big reason why.

3. Florida State-Clemson

  • Head-to-head during CFP era: Clemson leads 7-2 (no contest in 2020)
  • Amount of times the winner reached the CFP: 6 (Clemson 5, FSU 1)
  • Combined total CFP appearances: 7 (Clemson 6, FSU 1)

In a display of perfect symmetry, Florida State beat Clemson in the first and last years of the four-team CFP era, and Clemson won every matchup in between. Making the symmetry even more eerie, both Florida State wins were in overtime, while all seven Clemson wins were in regulation. 

Nonetheless, there have only been two years so far when the winner of this game didn’t make the CFP (2021 and 2022), as this battle has typically been for ACC supremacy.

And while this game didn’t go to OT, it’s very easy to argue that the best matchup between these foes came in 2016 when Deshaun Watson’s Clemson overcame four Dalvin Cook rushing touchdowns for FSU in a 37-34 win that was punctuated by a 34-yard TD pass to Jordan Leggett with two minutes left. The one-loss Tigers went on to win that year’s national championship, which certainly wouldn’t have been possible with a defeat in this game.

But this year’s contest was nothing to scoff at either, as the Seminoles overcame a 17-7 deficit to earn a 31-24 win in overtime, despite being outgained by more than 100 yards. If Florida State can earn its first CFP appearance since 2014, it will be especially thankful for this victory. 

4. Auburn-Alabama

  • Head-to-head during CFP era: Alabama leads 7-2
  • Amount of times the winner reached the CFP: 6 (all Alabama)
  • Combined total CFP appearances: 7 (all Alabama)

How can a rivalry be this high when one of the teams has never reached the CFP? Because, in a similar vein to the Alabama-LSU series, it can make a major impact when the team that’s not Alabama manages to win.

Consider the 2019 season, for example. Though the Crimson Tide had fallen to LSU, they still were in great position to surge into the playoff as the No. 4 seed with one loss to the nation’s best team, even after Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury. All that was in the way was the Iron Bowl. And though Alabama outgained Auburn by 161 yards, a series of Crimson Tide miscues, including a Pick-6 that hit Najee Harris’ back and a game-tying FG attempt off the post, led to an improbable 48-45 win for the Tigers, and the first time that Alabama ever missed the CFP.

In 2017 when Auburn took down Alabama 26-14, it initially looked like the impact would be the same. But after two-loss Ohio State took down undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, Alabama managed to get the final playoff spot and went on to win the national championship.

As an aside, the 2017 Auburn team has a remarkably unique place in college football history. The Tigers went 10-4, yet they defeated both of that year’s national finalists in the regular season by a combined 35 points, both of whom (Georgia and Alabama) were the No. 1 team in the CFP rankings at the time.

Getting back to the Iron Bowl, one special Alabama win came in 2021. A 6-5 Auburn team had smothered Alabama all day and the Crimson Tide trailed 10-3 with 1:32 left when they took over from their own 3-yard line. But then Bryce Young had his “Heisman Moment,” leading a remarkable 97-yard drive to tie the game, before Alabama eventually earned a 24-22 win in four overtimes to stay alive in the CFP race.

With the Crimson Tide also already having a loss entering this Saturday’s matchup, the stakes will be just as high. Alabama is up to eighth in TRACR with a playoff potential rating of 64.3, while Auburn is 31st in our rankings.

playoff potential rating

5. Oregon-Washington

  • Head-to-head during CFP era: Oregon leads 5-4 (no contest in 2020)
  • Amount of times the winner reached the CFP: 2 (1 apiece)
  • Combined total CFP appearances: 2 (1 apiece)

These are the only Pac-12 schools to ever make the College Football Playoff and if any Pac-12 teams make it this year, it will be either (or perhaps both) of them. But their history of impacting the playoff race goes far beyond this season.

In both 2014 and 2016 – the only seasons in which a Pac-12 team reached the CFP – it was the winner of this game that won the Pac-12 North and went on to secure the postseason berth (Oregon in 2014, Washington in 2016). But even in years when neither team made the playoff, the game still had a major impact.

Last year, No. 6 Oregon entered with an 8-1 record and in prime position to make the CFP if it won out (with its only loss coming to Georgia), but Washington stunned the Ducks with 10 points in the final 3:30 to earn a 37-34 win. In 2019, a one-loss Oregon was the victor in a similar shootout, winning 35-31 in Seattle (though the Ducks fell to a Jayden Daniels-led Arizona State squad shortly after). In 2018, it was No. 7 Washington who entered as the playoff hopeful in the final season of the Jake Browning-Myles Gaskin era, but took its second loss of the season in a 30-27 overtime battle in Eugene. 

And of course, let’s not forget 2023 when the first Washington-Oregon game resulted in a thrilling 36-33 Huskies win. The second one in the Pac-12 Championship might leave an even bigger mark on the playoff race.

6. Oklahoma-Texas

  • Head-to-head during CFP era: Oklahoma leads 8-3 (two matchups in 2018)
  • Amount of times the winner reached the CFP: 3 (all Oklahoma)
  • Combined total CFP appearances: 4 (all Oklahoma)

As is the case with Auburn-Alabama, one of these teams has never made the CFP. But unlike the Iron Bowl, that team has a strong chance to do so this year and it very well might have to get through Oklahoma to do it.

The wild maze of the 2023 Big 12 tiebreaker scenarios is something that requires its own article. But here’s something a bit more straightforward: The Red River Rivalry matters on a national scale.

Oklahoma reached the CFP four times from the span of 2015-19. And every year in that span, the regular-season Red River game was decided by one possession. 2018 was a particularly notable year, as it stands as the only time in the post-WWII era that these teams met twice in a season. Texas won a 48-45 classic in the regular season, but Oklahoma took home a 39-27 win in the Big 12 Championship to earn a CFP berth. This was one of two years in which Oklahoma lost to Texas but still reached the CFP (also 2015).

This year, those roles could be reversed, as Texas’ only loss came in a 34-30 shootout against Oklahoma, but the Longhorns remain in playoff contention. Only time will tell if Steve Sarkisian’s squad will get there – and if they’ll need to beat their rival again on the way.

Week 13 NCAA Football Predictions

Who does our TRACR projection model have winning this week’s rivalry games? How do they compare to sportsbooks’ college football picks?

Here are the win probabilities for this week’s TRACR top 25 college football games:

TRACR No. 1 Oregon over No. 12 Oregon State (82.5%) on Friday

No. 2 Michigan over No. 4 Ohio State (60.8%)

No. 3 Georgia over No. 58 Georgia Tech (96.5%)

No. 5 LSU over No. 16 Texas A&M (72.2%)

No. 6 Washington over No. 47 Washington State (90.0%)

No. 7 Florida State over No. 33 Florida (83.6%)

No. 8 Alabama over No. 31 Auburn (81.9%)

No. 9 Penn State over No. 85 Michigan State (96.1%) at Detroit on Friday

No. 10 Notre Dame over No. 108 Stanford (97.8%)

No. 11 Oklahoma over No. 37 TCU (80.6%) on Friday

No. 13 Kansas State over No. 44 Iowa State (81.5%)

No. 14 Arizona over No. 87 Arizona State (93.7%)

No. 15 SMU over No. 106 Navy (95.8%)

No. 17 Texas over No. 50 Texas Tech (80.5%) on Friday

No. 18 Ole Miss over No. 69 Mississippi State (85.9%) on Thursday

No. 19 Louisville over No. 48 Kentucky (76.7%)

No. 20 North Carolina over No. 54 NC State (74.6%)

No. 21 Missouri over No. 53 Arkansas (74.9%) on Friday

No. 22 UCLA over No. 68 California (80.9%)

No. 23 USC is idle

No. 24 Tennessee over No. 101 Vanderbilt (91.4%)

No. 25 Liberty over No. 116 UTEP (94.8%)

On the outside of the top 25 looking in: No. 26 Miami (FL) (at Boston College), No. 27 Clemson (at South Carolina), No. 28 Maryland (at Rutgers), No. 29 Utah (vs. Colorado), No. 30 Duke (vs. Pittsburgh), No. 31 Auburn, No. 32 Troy (at Southern Miss), No. 33 Florida, No. 34 Nebraska (vs. Iowa) and No. 35 UCF (vs. Houston).

No. 36 Wisconsin (at Minnesota), No. 37 TCU, No. 38 James Madison (at Coastal Carolina), No. 39 UTSA (at Tulane) and No. 40 South Carolina round out the TRACR top 40.

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