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Rivalry Week!

I appreciate everyone getting into the spirit of the holiday by bickering about proper turkey preparation, the hierarchy of Thanksgiving sides, and other inconsequential food traditions. Rivalry Week is a time for hatred; unrelenting entrenchment in the tenants of what is holy, good, and right with the world.

In other words, I’ll be rooting for Michigan to beat Ohio State. Sorry, Buckeyes fans!

Rival match-ups between elite programs spells some stellar prospect battles, four of which I highlighted here. I didn’t get to every great rival game this weekend — not because there aren’t some good battles, but because these are the games I imagine will be the most competitive, and thus warrant four-quarter attention.

If you disagree with me, well, that is the way Rivalry Week should go.

Ole Miss v. No. 18 Mississippi State (Thursday, 7:30 PM EST, ESPN)

I’m excited for this one, because it’s a battle of two players I simply haven’t been exposed to as much as I’d like. When I watched the Ole Miss offense earlier in the season, I focused on fellow WRs A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf; on the Mississippi State defense, it was trench animals Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat. And here we are, Week 12, and I’m watching two totally different players:

Ole Miss WR DaMarkus Lodge v. Mississippi State CB Jamal Peters

Now Lodge is getting more buzz, especially from Ledyard, who prefers Lodge to Brown, flying in the face of convention. Peters has gotten more national hype, such as from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, though nobody on staff here holds Peters in so high of a light. Lodge is probable for the game and looks good to go, and I want to see his technical strength test the physical profile of Peters.

If you want to watch the Saints eviscerate the Falcons tonight, that’s your business — but I’d prefer to see if this Ole Miss offense and Jordan Ta’amu can put stress on a Mississippi State defense that held Alabama to their lowest point total this year.

No. 6 Oklahoma v. No. 13 West Virginia (Friday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN)

Oklahoma v. West Virginia isn’t the only interesting game on Friday — Houston v. Memphis is gonna be an absolute barnburner (over/under is set at 75!), Virginia v. Virginia Tech always has an added edge, and Oregon v. Oregon State will also be…happening. But there aren’t necessarily any great match-ups there — if you want some prospects to watch, make sure you search our database by team to see who’s of interest.

The best battle of the day comes in the night slate, in a battle for a Big 12 Championship berth:

West Virginia LB David Long v. Oklahoma offensive line (LT Bobby Evans, LG Ben Powers, RT Cody Ford)

The overarching idea here: I wanna see Long play against the Oklahoma defense. I wanna see the explosive, slippery, undersized linebacker dart through and between and inside the various pullers of the Oklahoma offense; I wanna see him read the play action and RPO game to stay in position underneath pop passes and quick slants.

Long currently leads the Big 12 in tackles for loss, and I love the range and physicality he offers to the position despite playing at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. Is he a safety type at the next level? Probably some sort of overhang defender, yeah — but I’m positive he at least has a defensive role. Too good to not be utilized.

Oklahoma’s offensive line — my pick for the Joe Moore Award, as it is — has draftable talent across the board. The best three are Ford, Powers, and Evans, all of whom tip the scales over 300 pounds. With great mobility, especially from Ford and Powers, across the board as well, Long will be challenged to hold up in the hole and fill downhill to maintain gap integrity.

This scheme and line present Long’s biggest test this season. I want to love him unconditionally, and if he clears this hurdle, I’ll be getting there.

No. 16 Washington v. No. 8 Washington State (Friday, 8:30 PM EST, Fox)

Man, who could have expected this to be the nature of the Apple Cup! Last year, a sprightly Washington State team came into the game with a fair bit of momentum and got absolutely trashed by the Washington defense. This year, you have to imagine Leach and Minshew are looking for better results with the Pac-12 North on the line. That’s what I’ve gotta have eyes on:

Washington State QB Gardner Minshew II v. Washington secondary CB Byron Murphy III, SAF Taylor Rapp, SAF Jojo McIntosh, CB Myles Bryant

Minshew’s record-setting tear is going up against a brick wall in the Washington pass defense this weekend: coming off of a seven touchdown game, Minshew has thrown for over 300 yards in every game this season and over 400 in over half of the games as well — but with a productive corner like Murphy on one side of the field, Washington State won’t have as much space for free yardage.

The big story is Rapp and McIntosh however, as Minshew’s target share behind the line of scrimmage will stress their ability to close into the boundary and make tackles in space to limit YAC opportunities. Nickel corner Myles Bryant will also have quick tackle opportunities against WR screens, as he plays up into the line of scrimmage. If Minshew is forced into tight window throws down the field because the underneath coverage is holding up, his accuracy and safety manipulation will be tested.

No. 4 Michigan v. No. 10 Ohio State (Saturday, 12:00 PM EST, Fox)

Michigan is gonna win this game by at least 10, if not more.

Ohio State WR K.J. Hill v. Michigan CB Lavert Hill

While Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin get a fair bit of attention, the best Ohio State WR from a Draft perspective is likely K.J. Hill, who has come along nicely for the Buckeyes this year. One of the few bright spots on the season, I suppose.

Against Hill, but generally against the strong caliber of the Ohio State WR room, I’m going to be focused on Lavert Hill. The Michigan corner has a big fan in Kyle Crabbs (CB3!), but the rest of staff doesn’t have Hill nearly as high. I want to see more of Hill, who I initially deemed as too small to have a significant impact against NFL-size wide receivers.

To beat size concerns, you have to add stellar technique to elite quickness levels, justifying your lighter size. You need both to hang with Hill, who is an explosive route runner with good movement skills in space. Lavert Hill certainly profiles as a nickel corner at the next level, and K.J. Hill has a slot receiver’s look to him as well. Strength v. strength in this battle of King of the Hill (please kill me).