The top two teams in the BCS Standings—Florida State and Alabama—are both playing meaningless games against pitiful opponents, but Week 13 could still have a huge effect on the BCS National Championship picture.
No. 4 Baylor faces its stiffest test of the season at No. 10 Oklahoma State, a game that could either seal its fate as a national title contender or cost it a shot at even winning the Big 12 Conference.
Elsewhere, the Pac-12 South and SEC East could both be decided in important divisional matchups, while Johnny Manziel tries to exorcise some demons against the only team that's ever truly stopped him.
Bleacher Report's BCS Guru, Sam Chi, ranked the five biggest impact games on the schedule for Week 13. Here's a quick preview of each.
Note: All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Football is the consummate team sport; unlike something like basketball, it's hard for one player to will his entire team to victory. Too many parts need to function in sync at the right time.
But Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois are the exception that prove the rule. The Huskies' Heisman dark horse put the team on his back against Ball State, spearheading a couple of late fourth-quarter drives that gave them a 48-27 win, even though it was tied at 27 with under seven minutes remaining.
"If Jordan isn't in the conversation for the Heisman, I don't know what people are watching," said NIU head coach Rod Carey after the game, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN). "In my estimation that trophy goes to the best player in the nation, and...he dang sure should be in that conversation."
Lynch will be tasked with carrying the 10-0 Huskies once again this Wednesday, as they travel to play a Toledo team that is soaring. The Rockets are coming off an impressive win over Buffalo, and they represent the best remaining chance to beat NIU this year.
Toledo's offense will probably be able to find some success—roughly the same amount as Ball State's did. Especially on the ground, this team can move the chains. It will be up to the Rockets defense to determine the outcome.
If they can find a way to slow down Lynch, Wednesday might be the night that NIU finally falls. If not, the Huskies will stay undefeated and continue putting pressure on Fresno State, its main competition for a spot in the BCS.
LSU stymied Johnny Manziel in 2012, holding the eventual Heisman winner to season-lows in passer rating (82.48) and yards per play (4.15), while also forcing him into three interceptions.
But that was a different Tigers defense—one that lost 6-of-7 starters in the front seven this offseason, and has struggled to replace their production all year. After allowing 4.46 yards per play in 2012, the unit has allowed a swollen total of 5.18 in 2013.
Despite last season's success against Texas A&M, LSU head coach Les Miles understands the difficult task at hand. He realizes how much can change between seasons.
"[Manziel is] bigger, faster, stronger...I see him as a much more complete quarterback," Miles said, according to Jim Kleinpeter of The New Orleans Times-Picayune. "If there's a better player in college football, I'd like to know who he is."
Even if LSU's defense struggles, though, the Tigers might be able to win this game in a shootout. Their offense has been a revelation under new coordinator Cam Cameron, and Texas A&M is allowing an SEC-worst 454 yards per game.
Manziel will need his teammates on the other side of the ball—for once—to step up and play a complete football game. Otherwise, his chances of reaching the BCS are dust.
The Pac-12 South title will (for all intents and purposes) be on the line at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, where UCLA and Arizona State will vie for a spot in the conference championship game.
When last these teams met, just last year, it was a 45-43 track meet that went to the Bruins on a last-second field goal. Both quarterbacks, Brett Hundley and Taylor Kelly, threw four touchdowns in that game and are planning to enjoy similar success in 2013.
But that might be easier said than done. Each team's defense is playing at a much higher level than last year—especially the once-porous Sun Devils, who lead the conference in yards-per-game allowed.
"I think we’re playing the best [defense] that we’ve played since I’ve been here," said second year head coach Todd Graham, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral Sports. "...We’ve been pretty dominant the last three or four weeks."
That "dominant" Sun Devils defense—led by legitimate All-American candidates in Will Sutton and Carl Bradford—will have its hands full with UCLA's Myles Jack, who has burst out of the gate since debuting on offense a couple of weeks ago.
Arizona State has struggled a bit in the red zone, while UCLA leads the conference by converting 73 percent of its red zone chances into touchdowns. In a game this even, that is where the outcome might be decided.
Missouri controls its own fate in the SEC East, needing to win its final two games in order to make the conference championship. But neither of those games will be easy.
Before facing Texas A&M at home, the Tigers must travel to Oxford and play a streaking Ole Miss team that has won four consecutive games—including one over mighty LSU on this very same field.
Ole Miss has already become bowl eligible, but it's putting a lot of stock into this game as a measuring stick. Quarterback Bo Wallace, for one, is thirsty for another high-profile upset.
"It’s a huge week for us," Wallace said, according to Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion Ledger. "We have some games that we didn’t play as well in that we feel like we could have been in, but this is our redemption game."
While the Rebels look for redemption, Missouri will look for a little bit of restoration. Senior quarterback James Franklin is expected to start under center, which would be his first start since injuring his shoulder against Georgia in mid-October.
If Franklin gets back to playing at a high level—he was in rare form before suffering the injury—there's no telling how high this offense can fly. Even on the road, a non-rusty Franklin might give Mizzou the ultimate edge.
This one might be for all the marbles in the Big 12; but much more importantly, it could also be a deciding factor in the BCS National Championship picture.
Given the form (or lack thereof) Texas showed last weekend, this appears to be the only major hurdle left on Baylor's road to perfection. Win in Stillwater, and the chances of staying undefeated go up astronomically.
But winning in Stillwater will not be easy. The Cowboys are playing their best football at the right time—especially on the ground, where they've eclipsed 180 rushing yards in three of their last four games, averaging 269 yards in those contests.
Baylor has overcome slow offensive starts in the past two games, but neither of those came on the road. At Oklahoma State, the Bears cannot afford to fall behind early like they did against Texas Tech in Arlington.
"[Other teams] always come out and play us different than they have anybody else," said Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, according to quotes published by the university. "...It just takes us a couple drives [to figure it out] unfortunately. That's not what we want to do."
The Bears offense is so explosive that the slow starts haven't mattered against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. But in Stillwater, Petty will need to at least move the chains on the first couple of drives; even if the team isn't scoring, it can't just hand the ball back to Clint Chelf and the Cowboys offense.
Regaining momentum might be harder than Baylor realizes in such a hostile stadium. If it coughs up the lead early, there may not be enough time to gain it back.