Rivalry Weekend Preview: Analysis of 2023's Top Matchups

By Matt Edwards | November 21, 2023 | 1 min read

Rivalry Weekend Preview: Analysis of 2023's Top Matchups

Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays growing up. A celebration that is built around a meal where you eat as much as possible (and are thankful for all the food that you are eating). Finally getting to turn the clock and attention to the winter holiday of your choice. As well as high-quality NFL and college football all weekend. The only thing to make it better is the rivalries that are built around this weekend. Let’s use our team radars to highlight some of the big rivalry matchups this weekend.

Ole Miss - Mississippi State: Thursday, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

Every rivalry has its dose of weirdness and hatred, but the Egg Bowl has been especially weird lately. Last year Ole Miss drove 99 yards to score a TD but was stopped on the 2 pt conversion in what was Mike Leach’s last game before he tragically passed away. 2019 featured one of the most memorable unsportsmanlike penalties (yeah, THAT one) after Ole Miss scored a TD with 9 seconds left that made the extra point to tie the game longer than usual. Ole Miss missed the PAT and Mississippi State won the game.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Ole Miss Rebels

The line would suggest this year’s Egg Bowl will not be as close as those two years (Ole Miss -12). Ole Miss is one of the top offenses in the country ranking 9th in explosive play rate. The majority of these are through the passing game (#2). Jaxson Dart has been especially successful on throws down the field 15 yards or more completing nearly 50% of those passes.

Mississippi State has gone through a difficult scheme transition away from the Air Raid offense. In 2022 Mississippi State passed more than any team in college football. This year they are a much more balanced (in the traditional sense of the word) team and are more successful running the ball than passing the ball.

Oregon - Oregon State: Friday, 8:30 PM ET, FOX

One of the few ranked-on-ranked games this weekend is the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry (in need of a new catchy nickname) should be one of the top games of the weekend. Oregon comes in at 10-1, just needing a victory against their rival Beavers to go to the Pac-12 championship game. And Oregon State is hoping to play spoiler and cement their place as the top team in the remaining Pac-2.

Oregon State Beavers
Oregon Ducks

Oregon has been known for the flashy offense for a while, and this year's offense doesn’t disappoint. Bo Nix is on pace to break the single-season completion percentage record of 77.4% set by Mac Jones in 2020. Although Nix does have a decent chunk of short passes, he leads the country in completion percentage over expected (CPOE) with a CPOE of 9.4%.

But Oregon’s defense has stepped up this season, and is a main reason the Ducks are legitimate playoff contenders. Oregon ranks in the top 25 in EPA and points per drive allowed. The biggest weakness for the Oregon defense is against the run game, and Oregon State is as primed as any team to take advantage of that. Look for that matchup early to get a look at how this matchup is going to play out.

Oregon State as mentioned above wants to be able to run the ball effectively against the Ducks, but on defense it is going to be the pass rush that is going to be the main attraction. Washington was able to protect against the Beaver pass rush on Saturday, and Oregon looks to be able to do the same. Oregon State gets pressure on 19% of opponent dropbacks, while Oregon is number 1 in the country for the lowest pressure percentage allowed (4%). The key matchup for the Beavers is going to be the strength of the Oregon State pass rush against the quick passing attack and great protection from the offensive line of the Ducks.

Washington - Washington State: Saturday, 4:00 PM ET, FOX

We all got great news on Sunday when it was announced that the Apple Cup will be going on for 5 more seasons. With teams switching conferences and long time rivalries going away, it is good to see one that will continue for a little while longer at least. Washington is looking to finish the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1991 and take one more step toward a potential college football playoff invite.

Washington State Cougars
Washington Huskies

Everyone is well aware of Washington’s pass game, and rightfully so. Michael Penix is one of the favorites for the Heisman trophy and Ja’Lynn Polk is one of the top wide receivers in the country. But the Huskies are a well rounded team and can run the ball when they need to. Against Oregon State in the downpour, Dillon Johnson was able to consistently move the chains and have successful runs. Nothing will beat his game against USC (256 yds and 4 TD’s), but he is a great change of pace, game finisher when Washington needs him to be.

For Washington State it all comes down to Cam Ward. Quarterback play is important for every team, but especially so for the Cougars. In Washington State’s wins Cam Ward is averaging .24 EPA per play. In 6 losses, that number drops all the way to -.09. When Cam Ward is at his best, he is a threat on the ground as well as in the air. Oregon State found success on the ground last week against Washington, especially with DJ Uiagalelei. Look for Ward to use his legs, as well as his arm, on Saturday.

Florida State - Florida: Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

This game has lost some of its luster with the injuries to Graham Mertz and Jordan Travis (hoping for positive recoveries for them both). But Florida State is still hoping it can play their way into the College Football Playoff with an undefeated season and ACC championship.

Florida Gators
Florida State Seminoles

Florida State is going to have to lean on Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson to make big plays in the passing game if they want to keep the undefeated season going. Coleman was just named one of the 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, and his passing chart can show us how he is being used this year. Coleman has the unique combination of downfield skills and run after the catch that make other coaches say things like “God was showing off when he made him.” Coleman is 7th in the country in % of catches that go for 30 or more yards.

Max Brown came in and played well in replacement of Graham Mertz, but expect to see a heavy dose of Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson on Saturday. Florida has a great run blocking offensive line, and is number 7 in the country in yards before contact allowed on run plays. This allows Etienne and Johnson to get to the next level and use their speed and agility to get extra yards. Keep an eye out for Etienne in the pass game as well as he has shown good ability as an outlet and safety valve, especially with a new QB playing.

Montrell Johnson (RB) - Performance Radar
Trevor Etienne RB) - Performance Radar

Michigan - Ohio State: Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, FOX

And we finish off this piece with The Game. There seems to be a little extra something to The Game this year because of everything going on at Michigan. For Michigan, there will be no Jim Harbaugh for the 7th time this season. No Connor Stalions, no Coach Partridge, and who else knows what else by the time this game kicks off. For Ohio State, a new QB has stepped in and played well so far. Can he pass another test against the Wolverines? How much of an impact can the Buckeyes scheme up for Marvin Harrison Jr?

Ohio State Buckeyes
Michigan Wolverines

Michigan has been dominant on both sides of the ball this season. It’s hard to find a big weakness on either side of the ball. But as mentioned above, this will be the 7th game that Jim Harbuagh has missed this season. Early on, Michigan did a fun gimmick and let multiple coaches get an opportunity to be Head Coach for their opening cupcake games. In close games (which rivalry games have a tendency to be, especially between two top 5 teams) having an inexperienced coach at the helm might be a recipe for disaster for the Wolverines.

Ohio State on the other hand has just been getting better and better as each week goes by. After a close win against Notre Dame, and a tight game against Penn State, Ohio State has started to put things together. Kyle Mccord has started to look more comfortable, Traveyon Henderson is healthy and running hard, and Marvin Harrison Jr continues to be an unstoppable force in the pass game. When I look at pass placement charts for WR I love to see the catches away from the body. And Harrison shows the ability to make catches well away from his body.

Between these rivalry games, NFL games on Thursday and Friday, and the rest of the slate of the weekend, there will be plenty of football to fill up on our last weekend of the college football regular season. Find some turkey, grab a new TV on Black Friday, and get ready for some fun.

By Matt Edwards | November 21, 2023