“Sometimes the best thing you can say about a day is that it’s over.” Many college football teams will look back on this season and understand that sentiment. Some are already thinking it. Expectations haven’t been met for most teams, but for some, the failures of this year have been especially acute. Those teams now have one more thing to play for. They have a chance to ruin a rival’s season, win a state championship and take something from this season.
Columbia 12:00 pm ESPN
Since Kenny Hill walked into Williams-Brice stadium 15 months ago, times have been rough for the Gamecocks. A pre-season Top 10 ranking vanished to reveal a team that wasn’t Top 25 quality. More alarming than the losses on the field was the realization that more were coming. The success of the Spurrier era was not going to continue. Optimism peaked briefly in the offseason with the hiring of a new defensive coordinator and an upbeat mindset from the Head Ball Coach. A win over North Carolina stoked primed some sunshine pumping, but a Kentucky loss made clear just how wrong things had gone at South Carolina.
The season and program continued to spiral down, and Steve Spurrier abruptly resigned. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott took over and briefly re-energized the program. No unexpected wins came, but the team seemed to be playing hard in losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Florida game’s lack of offense was disappointing, and the Citadel loss looked a lot like rock bottom. Now Clemson comes to town to see if the Gamecocks have quit on this season and their interim coach.
South Carolina can finish no better than 4-8, which isn’t much different from 3-9, but the last game is a rivalry game. A win in that game carries the weight of accomplishment in a way that few other games do, regardless of the record. This season a win might be the only positive for the Gamecocks to hold on to. That win, however unlikely, would also come at the expense of their rivals national championship hopes. Ruining Clemson’s season would be a nice bonus.
It seems the players genuinely like their interim head coach. Can he pull off a miracle? Can his players rally around him for one game? When things don’t go their way, and they won’t at some point, will they pack it it? Will they rally? If they do, will it matter, or will Clemson be too good?
Charlottesville 12:00 pm ESPNU
Virginia head coach Mike London has been a dead man walking for weeks. His probable dismissal at the end of the season has been common knowledge for most of the season. That hasn’t stopped his players from playing hard for him. An early season near-upset of Notre Dame could have sent the season in a different direction, but like so many games of the London Era, it didn’t work out for the Cavaliers.
The Hokies come to town on Saturday. Unlike many of the other games on this Saturday, this isn’t a game where David is trying to ruin Goliath’s season. This is more like David versus David. Both teams have sub .500 records, and both will have new coaches next year. The winner isn’t going to a new year’s day bowl. In fact, if Virignia wins, neither team is going to a bowl.
This is a game for the coaches. Mike London is probably coaching his last game in navy and orange. Across the filed Frank Beamer has announced his retirement. The game would have meaning anyway because of the rivalry, but it should have an added level of importance because of the pending exits of the coaches. The winner will claim a state championship and a nice parting gift for their departing leader.
Atlanta 12:00 ESPN2
Poor Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were once in the conversation for the Playoff. Then the preseason ended, and the losses mounted as fast as the injuries. They were quickly out of the playoff and quickly out of the divisional race. The only speck of light in a dark season was the kick six against Florida State.
They don’t as strong a chance for redemption as some of the other schools do this weekend. Georgia isn’t playing well enough to have something to ruin. The Bulldogs didn’t win the East, and they aren’t on the verge of some great bowl game. Can the Rambling Wreck hope to pull anything other than bragging rights out of this game?
Yes, they can create turmoil in Athens. This season hasn’t gone as expected for UGA, either. Although they didn’t fall as far, there is plenty of discontent between the hedges. There has been some chatter about Mark Richt being on the hot seat. A loss to Georgia Tech would go a long way to fueling that speculation. Would it be enough to get Richt fired? I don’t know, but it might be.
Auburn 3:30 pm CBS
This isn’t how Gus Malzahn offenses are supposed to behave. This isn’t how his return to the Plains was supposed to work. It was all supposed to be Ellis Johnson’s fault. It was his defense that held them back. The lack of success this season with Malzahn has been surprising to more than just the Tiger faithful. Few people saw this coming, and the Plainsmen will probably finish last in the SEC West.
There is redemption for Auburn. They can make it all better. If they win, they will clearly and completely knock Alabama out of the Playoff. They will be headed to a meaningless bowl themselves, and if they can find a way, they’ll relegate the Crimson Tide to the same fate. That’s worth playing for.
Gainesville 7:30 pm ESPN
The last two years, the shoe has been on the other foot. It has been Florida trying to ruin Florida State’s season, not this year. This year the Gators are headed to their conference’s championship game. The Gators are looking at the probability of making a contract bowl, and with an upset in Atlanta, the playoff.
Florida State has had a good season. They lost to #1 Clemson on the road and in improbable fashion to Georgia Tech. Although 9-2 is a great place to be, it is short of where their rivals are. A win by the Noles would even things. Both teams would finish 10-2, and Florida State might take Florida’s spot in a contract bowl. That would redeem most of the disappointment of the season.
Palo Alto 7:30 pm FOX
Stanford’s season goals were wounded in the opening week at Northwestern. The Cardinal rebounded for 8 weeks before meeting Oregon. The Ducks, having a disappointing season themselves, salvaged some redemption by knocking Oregon out of the playoff conversation. The Cardinal rallied to win the North division and will play for the Pac 12 title, but their dreams of going to the playoff are over.
Stanford needs no redemption. Winning their conference is a fine accomplishment in any season, regardless of the expectations. They have an opportunity to add a feather to their cap. A new goal is in front of them. They can kill a rival’s playoff hopes, just as their playoff hopes were killed. They can take an out of conference game with no impact on their bowl, no impact on their post season and make it matter. Their actions will echo across the country.