Bleacher Report Expert Predictions for Week 13 in College Football
Can't-miss college football showdowns have been few and far between for the past several weeks, but that's because we've been saving up all the big ones for this final week of the regular season.
You've got the Iron Bowl, the Apple Cup, "The Game," the Egg Bowl, a huge Mountain West throwdown between Utah State and Boise State and a possible 100-point shootout between Oklahoma and West Virginia.
And those are just the games we all know should be incredible. Factor in the possibility of some long-overdue chaos atop the rankings, and this could be a wild few days of pigskin action.
Our college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—have offered up predictions on the biggest questions heading into Week 13.
Who You Got in the Big Game: No. 4 Michigan or No. 10 Ohio State?
Matt Hayes (Twitter: @MattHayesCFB)
Unless Michigan reverts back to Week 1 problems in ball security and blocking, Jim Harbaugh gets his first meaningful win as the Wolverines' coach. Beating Penn State is fine; so is beating Michigan State. But every Michigan coach is judged on how he fares against Ohio State. And this is the most vulnerable Ohio State team since the transition season between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. If Michigan can't win here, there are legitimate "When will it ever happen?" questions to be asked of Harbaugh.
David Kenyon (Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR)
All the pressure is on Michigan. If Ohio State falls, the consensus thought will be something close to "OK then." If Michigan loses, there will be "Jim Harbaugh is a failure" reactions. Good thing I'm taking the Wolverines, right? Michigan's biggest problem in this series lately has been an inability to run successfully, but Ohio State's run defense is bad. Maryland just put up 339 rushing yards on the Buckeyes.
Adam Kramer (Twitter: @KegsnEggs)
I have Michigan, but I don't feel like this game will be a blowout by any means. Sure, Ohio State is flawed. Defensively, this team could struggle against a pretty dangerous offense when quarterback Shea Patterson is on, especially when the Wolverines rely on their legs. And offensively, I could see Dwayne Haskins having trouble against one of the best defenses in the nation.
But the game is in Columbus, which makes an enormous difference. And for as much as we have criticized the Buckeyes—and at times for good reason—we just sort of skipped past the fact that Michigan struggled with Indiana for a while. (I get why; ultimate look-ahead game. But still.) Michigan will win, but it will be close and probably kind of ugly. Wolverines 24, Buckeyes 20
Kerry Miller (Twitter: @kerrancejames)
Defense will be the difference in this one. More specifically, the fact that Michigan has the best secondary in the country while Ohio State can't even slow down an opponent with a competent quarterback will be the difference. Haskins will do more damage against this Wolverines defense than any QB has this season, but it won't be nearly enough to keep up with what Shea Patterson, Karan Higdon and Co. are going to do to the Buckeyes defense.
Because this game is being played at the Horseshoe and not the Big House, it might be close for a little while. In the end, though, Michigan will win by enough of a margin to eliminate any lingering doubt about whether it belongs in the playoff.
Brad Shepard (Twitter: @Brad_Shepard)
Ohio State has the better offense, thanks to Heisman Trophy hopeful Haskins. But the fact that the Buckeyes don't have a consistent running game will doom them against Michigan. It's hard beating the Wolverines if you're one-dimensional, and this game is set up for Big Blue to win, even if they are on the road.
The hope in Columbus is that OSU maybe banded together last week in a 52-51 double-overtime win over Maryland, but something just hasn't looked right recently with this team. If you can't get up for this game, you shouldn't be playing college football. Harbaugh will have his team up, and Michigan will grind out a huge win.
Ian Wharton (Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy)
Everything prior to what we know about the 2018 season says to take the Buckeyes. Not only are they home underdogs—which has historically been a great motivator for Urban Meyer teams—but they've owned this rivalry since 2001. But Michigan has been clearly better since the middle of this season when the Buckeyes' defensive flaws began to pile up each week.
The fascinating part of this game will be Ohio State's powerful passing game against Don Brown's talented defense. But it'll come down to Michigan's improved offense against the Buckeyes' porous defense, and the Wolverines will win because of their advantages with that head-to-head matchup.
Will Oklahoma Keep the Big 12's Playoff Hopes Alive by Beating West Virginia?
West Virginia is a completely different team in Morgantown, and now this is a completely different team with something to prove. Blowing a 17-point lead at Oklahoma State—thus ending its CFP hopes—will do that.
Cold and rain are expected this weekend, so that might slow down two prolific offenses. Then it comes down to which defense can get more stops. The Mountaineers got multiple stops against Oklahoma State, including a few three-and-outs, but the offense kept getting bogged down in the positive end of the field. No field goals for WVU this time. Only touchdowns—and a big win.
Yes, though I won't be surprised if Oklahoma needs a fourth-quarter comeback to make it happen. West Virginia has played excellent defense in Morgantown this season, and OU has allowed 40-plus points in three straight games—one of which was "renowned offensive juggernaut" Kansas. I just have excessive faith in Kyler Murray during a first-to-50 type of matchup.
Let me start by saying that I believe this could end up being the best game of the college football season. I really do. Sure, West Virginia's loss last weekend took some of the shine out of the matchup, but I would be surprised if we don't see 85 combined points. Heck, they could go over 100 total and I wouldn't be shocked.
But I like West Virginia. Once again, home field is a massive advantage. Despite the loss last week, the Mountaineers should feed off that. And for as talented and explosive as Oklahoma is, the lack of defense will ultimately bite the team here. And yes, that would likely be it for the Big 12 in the playoff conversation. No matter. I will be consuming every moment of this game. It is going to be beautiful carnage.
Did you know West Virginia only has one win this season against a team that currently has a winning record, and it only got that win because Dana Holgorsen was rewarded for the gutsy decision to go for two at the end the game against Texas? The Mountaineers have played just two games against teams who rank in the top 35 nationally in total offense and allowed an average of 533.5 yards and 39.5 points in those games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
The point here is that while I won't trust Oklahoma's defense if it gets into the playoff, I really don't trust West Virginia's defense against the Sooners. Murray triumphs over Will Grier in the race to 56 points.
How many points are going to be scored in this one? 80? 90? 100? The sky's the limit for the over. It's tough picking against the Sooners because Murray is so, so good, and there are plenty of offensive weapons for OU.
But Oklahoma's defense is awful. Last week against Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers running game was neutralized by Oklahoma State, and that really hurt Grier and Co. WVU will be able to run the ball against Oklahoma, though, and I think Holgorsen is going to pull out the biggest win of the year, knocking the Big 12 out of the College Football Playoff.
Yes, Oklahoma wins. Neither team has a defensive crutch to stand on, so it comes down to which offense you trust more to take care of the ball and create explosive plays. Murray and the Sooners have been unstoppable, and they will overwhelm the Mountaineers as the game progresses.
As well as Grier has played, there's times when his unwillingness to push the ball past the markers on conversion downs—sometimes because of his lack of arm strength—has stymied the offense. That tendency must die hard for the Mountaineers to hang with Murray, CeeDee Lamb and Hollywood Brown's offensive assault.
Does Washington State Snap Its 5-Year Losing Steak in the Apple Cup?
The Cougars are full of confidence, and they are playing with an edge. They're a lot like Mike Leach's 2008 Texas Tech team that won 11 games but was passed over for the Big 12 Championship Game because of a three-way tie with Texas and Oklahoma. That won't happen this time around. Too much Gardner Minshew II and the Wazzu passing game, and too much pressure from the Cougars' front seven creating havoc for Washington QB Jake Browning.
Washington State made me reconsider this pick when it completely smashed Arizona last week. Perhaps I'm stubborn, but I'm still taking Washington because of its secondary. This is a matchup Leach hasn't managed to solve, losing the last five games by a combined margin of 189-71.
I'm going to take a mild upset here. I love Washington State this year, and anything Leach does is entertaining. But I also believe—and I say this without meaning for it to come off negatively—that perhaps we are overrating Wazzu ever so slightly right now.
That is not to say that Washington is some juggernaut. I thought this team was going to the playoff, and it clearly disappointed. But I think the Huskies present a pretty balanced attack that might be difficult to deal with. The perception of this game and the reality are a little off here. (The spread is only a few points.) I like the Huskies outright.
Washington State has struggled (by its standards) to score against good defenses. The Cougars barely won home games against Utah (28-24) and California (19-13), and their lowest yardage output of the season (394) was against Wyoming. Those were their only three games against teams ranked in the top 50 nationally in yards allowed per game—a category where Washington resides in 16th place.
However, Washington has been thoroughly unimpressive for most of the season, and my fear of the 'stache is at an all-time high after what Minshew did to Arizona. Give me Washington State, as the glorious possibility of Leach vs. Nick Saban in the College Football Playoff lives on for at least one more week.
I believe it's time for everybody to fear the 'stache. Minshew has been the difference this season for a Wazzu team that wasn't supposed to be all that good, even in a Pac-12 conference that's down. He'll be the difference in this game, too.
Washington State dialed in and got ready last week in trouncing Arizona, a team that had been hot before playing the Cougars. They'll encounter a much tougher defense this week, but the Huskies haven't played anything like this offense. The Cougars will snap the streak.
I'm a bigger believer in the Cougars than I am in the Huskies, but I think college football's penchant for chaos will win out and see a Huskies win. The Cougars have been terrific to this point, as Minshew and their defense have carried them to prominence, but the margin of error becomes almost zero this game.
The Huskies are a deeply talented team despite losing three times in close games. Minshew's passing windows will shrink against the nation's 10th-ranked scoring defense, and it'll be enough to slow Wazzu's offense. I like the Huskies to win a close one.
Any Chance Auburn Beats Alabama in Tuscaloosa to Win the Iron Bowl?
Zero chance. Once Alabama struggled in the first half last week with Citadel, it refocused the Tide like nothing else could. For a team that has heard all season about its invincibility, 30 minutes vs. FCS Citadel might have been the best thing that happened to it all season. If they're not ready, if they're not prepared and zeroed in on competing, anything can happen. Before last weekend's wake-up call, Auburn might have had a chance with a stout defense and an unusual game from a suddenly pedestrian offense. Not anymore.
Not unless Auburn can attack downfield all game. The Tigers rank tied for 91st nationally in gains of 30-plus yards through the air, barely averaging one such play per game. Without that, Alabama wins a laugher.
Look, there is always a chance. I mean that sincerely. College football is a weird sport that produces weird results, even if this season is lacking in the weird department.
The problem for Auburn—and there are more than a handful in this game—is that the Tigers offense just won't be able to keep up. Alabama's defense has seemed to find itself since the team's bye week, and it just doesn't feel like Auburn will be able to muster up enough points.
It wouldn't shock me to see Alabama's offense struggle a bit; the offensive line has not played as well as usual, and Auburn's defense can really play. But it just doesn't feel like it's going to be enough. Tua Tagovailoa will find a rhythm. Alabama will eventually run the ball. I don't see this as a 40-point blowout, but it will be enough for the Tide to win.
Auburn's odds are better than one in a million, but not by much. The best thing that could have possibly happened to Alabama was that wake-up call in the first half against The Citadel. No longer will this team be tempted to take for granted games it is supposed to win by a landslide. The Crimson Tide are going to come out for this game with the same fire that they approached the second half on Saturday.
They aren't going to start a new shutout streak, but this one is going to get ugly. Alabama will suffocate an Auburn offense that has been held below 350 yards six times this season, and Tagovailoa is going to end this Heisman debate once and for all.
This is a game in which you can normally throw out the records. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they aren't good enough on offense to pose much of a threat against UA. Even though the defense has a bunch of talent, it can't slow down Alabama enough, either. The Tide will win by three touchdowns or more. It'll never be close.
There's always a chance when one team has a great defensive line and a quarterback capable of ascending in a big game. The Tigers don't have to be the better team throughout the season, but they must create their own fortune in this one game. I don't foresee it, but Jarrett Stidham has flashed big-time throws this season.
If he can connect on a few chunk plays in addition to Auburn's usual run-game success, the Tigers can shorten the game and limit Alabama's offensive possessions. Even a perfect game plan will be ruined with a turnover or two, though, so it's a small chance they can pull off the upset.
Utah State or Boise State in the Battle for the MWC's Mountain Division Crown?
Utah State has been impressive since dropping the season opener to Michigan State, dismantling most opponents behind undervalued QB Jordan Love until nearly blowing last week's game to Colorado State. That said, it's hard to pick against Boise State at home, on Senior Day, and in star QB Brett Rypien's last regular-season game of his career. The Broncos defense has picked it up in November, and that will be the difference this weekend.
Give me Utah State. This is the least-efficient Boise State defense since the program became relevant, and the Broncos probably would've lost to Fresno State had the Bulldogs not missed two early field goals. Picking against Boise at home is typically futile, but I'll protect my place on the Aggies bandwagon.
The blue turf is magical. And as we witnessed a few weeks ago against Fresno State, it is still capable of producing its fair share of sorcery. So I like Boise State, which has flown nicely under the radar behind the performances of UCF and also Utah State.
I still think the Aggies are a fantastic football team, despite how close of call they just had against Colorado State. But Boise State, which has now ripped off six wins in a row, looks to be recapturing some of its ol' Bronco magic. There will be points, and this could end up being one of the best games of the weekend. Boise State 38, Utah State 31
I want to pick Utah State, because I have been on that Aggies bandwagon since watching them nearly upset Michigan State way back in August. However, this offense just is not the same on the road. USU QB Jordan Love has averaged 404.3 passing yards and 4.0 touchdowns over his last four home games, racking up at least 322 yards in each one.
But in the last four road games, he's averaging 128.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns. And Boise's blue turf can cause major issues for quarterbacks who don't already have a hard time playing away from home. My heart says Utah State, but my brain says Boise State. Better go with the ol' noggin on this one.
How Rypien goes, the Broncos go. Other than a two-game stretch earlier this year against San Diego State and Nevada in which he threw two touchdowns and five interceptions, he has been brilliant. But so has Love for Utah State, sitting at the helm of an offense averaging 49.3 points per game.
The Aggies are one of the nation's two best Group of Five teams along with UCF, and though Boise is a slight favorite at home, it's hard not to take the Aggies getting points. This is going to be a blast to watch, and USU will get a close win.
This is one of the most evenly matched games of the day. I'll take Utah State because of how enjoyable the offense is to watch, but each team boasts a top-20 scoring offense and top-35 scoring defense. They're eerily similar in performance, and both have a plethora of playmakers to break a big play at any moment.
Watch for Aggies running back and overall playmaker Darwin Thompson to be a difference-maker this game. The Broncos have a solid run defense, but Thompson has shown he's a capable receiver who can force defenses to spread out and open more opportunities elsewhere. If he has another big game, the Aggies should pull this one out.
Does Clemson, Notre Dame or UCF Finally Acquire a Loss This Week?
No, no and no. Clemson, Notre Dame and UCF aren't losing through championship weekend. That means Clemson and Notre Dame are in the College Football Playoff, and UCF likely is left out. The Knights need a Notre Dame loss as part of a convoluted set of events that could lead to their getting the final spot in the playoff. It's not likely to happen.
No, and none will be particularly close to losing, either. Clemson's first-string defense still hasn't allowed a touchdown since September, and South Carolina's No. 55 defense sure looks a lot worse than its ranking. USC will struggle against Notre Dame's defense, and UCF will torch South Florida. Pretty easy weekend for all three, in my humble opinion.
Clemson will win against South Carolina. Before the season began, I felt like this could be a really good game. I just haven't seen enough from the Gamecocks for this feeling to carry over into Saturday. The Tigers are better on both sides, and they are at home.
Central Florida should also take care of business, although this should end up being a closer game. South Florida has been a tough team to figure out all season, and four straight losses don't help that struggle. But three of those losses have come on the road against good teams. I like UCF, but I could see the Bulls hanging tough.
Notre Dame, strangely, feels like the game that is most likely of the three to produce an upset, but again, I just don't see it. USC will likely be fired up to play spoiler, but the Irish are really good. A cross-country trip could make things interesting, I suppose. But Notre Dame wins and locks up a playoff spot.
South Carolina is going to give Clemson more of a game than Vegas thinks it will, but no, none of the undefeated teams will lose this week. Maybe if there were a huge matchup looming next week, I'd be more willing to buy stock in a trap game. That's not the case, though.
Clemson is going to play Pittsburgh, UCF is probably going to play a Houston squad that has struggled lately, and Notre Dame's regular season will be over. All three will be focused on the task at hand and will keep a goose egg in the loss column.
Nope. Clemson is a huge favorite against rival South Carolina, and though it probably won't cover the spread, the Tigers will win relatively easily. Notre Dame gets to play a USC team in turmoil coming off a bad, bad loss to UCLA in a game that could be Clay Helton's last one in L.A. Central Florida will torch South Florida, too. Not only do I believe none of these three powers will lose, I don't think any of the three will ever be in question.
No, but UCF will have a closer game than the other two. Clemson and Notre Dame are easily superior to their rivals and should comfortably suffocate their opponents' offenses. Neither may need to score more than 24 points to win by two touchdowns.
While the Golden Knights will also win, USF can score on the UCF defense to make this close. It's just not a strong year for undermanned rivals to feel good about their chances against these powerhouses, though.
Will Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor Get to 2,000 Yards This Week?
He'll get there in the first half. Wisconsin's regression this season has overshadowed another brilliant season from Jonathan Taylor, who has increased his average per carry (6.6 to 7.2) and will reach the 2,000-yard mark he missed by just 23 yards in 2017. Don't be surprised if he's well over 2,200 yards by the end of bowl season. And for good measure: Wisconsin wins the Axe again.
Minnesota has surrendered only 3.1 yards per carry in seven home games this season. That is excellent! The same Gophers defense has ceded 8.3 yards per carry on the road. EIGHT. POINT. THREE. How is that even possible? Taylor should hit 131 before halftime.
Yes. I know the Wisconsin season has been a giant "meh," but Taylor has been awesome, and he should stay awesome. He is averaging 170 rushing yards per game, and Minnesota is giving up more than five yards per carry. I may stink at math, but I know that matchup doesn't bode well for the Golden Gophers.
I'll say that Taylor gets another heavy workload after going off last weekend: 28 carries, 202 yards and three touchdowns. Welcome to the 2K club, my good man.
It's a shame Wisconsin has fallen so far shy of preseason expectations, because we've barely even noticed that Taylor is better than he was last year. It's almost like what happened last year with Lamar Jackson, where even though his stats were better than his Heisman year, everyone overlooked it since Louisville's defense was such a travesty.
But to answer the question, you better believe Taylor is getting to 2,000 yards. He might even get to 2,200 yards in this one, given how horrific Minnesota's run defense was earlier this year at Maryland, Nebraska and Illinois.
In fact, factor in Wisconsin's upcoming bowl game, and Taylor is going to join former Badger Melvin Gordon (2,587 yards) as the only players in the past decade to rush for at least 2,250 yards in a season. And he will be No. 2 behind Tua Tagovailoa in the preseason Heisman odds next year. Is that enough of a prediction?
How are you going to bet against Taylor? He's the best non-quarterback in the country. As a matter of fact, if he played for a better team, he'd be getting the same publicity as Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray.
Yes, he plays for a Wisconsin team that has traditionally had running backs with huge numbers—it's as much of a "system" as Gardner Minshew in Mike Leach's offense. But Taylor is the best of all of them, and Wisconsin knows it needs to ride him to win. That means he'll get his carries, which means he'll get his yards. He's close to unstoppable.
He will easily reach 2,000 yards this week. Minnesota has been inconsistent this season, and there's no reason to think it stops one of the most dominant running games we've seen in recent years.
The Badgers are a factory for punishing trench play, and Taylor is the perfect back to maximize the opportunities they create. He has earned a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony with the way he's carried this offense all year long. He will have 131 yards by halftime.
Will Florida State, Georgia Tech or Louisville Upset Their Ranked SEC Rival?
Of the group, Florida State has the best chance—if only because you don't know what you're going to get from Florida QB Feleipe Franks from one game to the next. If he struggles against a solid FSU defense, the Gators are in trouble and have no chance to earn a New Year's Six bowl bid.
Georgia Tech, which has won four in a row, might make it interesting for a couple of quarters with Georgia, too. But Louisville has no shot.
While I'm saying no, I'm super-very-extremely curious with Florida State. The Seminoles have allowed just 2.46 yards per carry in home games this season. And do you trust Franks to carry Florida's offense? That's the question that determines the result. And my answer: Just barely.
I don't see a win from any of the three, but none of these games are impossible. Given how Louisville has played, a victory over Kentucky feels the most unlikely. And given how talented Georgia appears to be, a loss to feisty Georgia Tech would be a surprise. (It would also nicely shake things up.) But again, unlikely.
Florida will likely be pushed by Florida State, which would like nothing more than to cap off a tough year with a win over the rival. But I feel the Gators are a better team, and they will find a way to win a close one on the road.
There is no way Louisville will upset Kentucky, but the other two games could be interesting. Georgia Tech has won six of its last seven this season and has won each of its last two road games against Georgia. The Yellow Jackets will put up a stiff fight, but they'll fall short by a touchdown.
Same goes for Florida State against Florida, although I'd be much less surprised if that one ends up being an upset. FSU is at home, it is desperate for a win to keep its bowl streak alive, and Florida's defense (especially its pass rush) has been nonexistent for more than a month. But I just cannot put any faith in this 'Noles team.
The other two are extremely interesting. You can never, ever count out the Yellow Jackets because, when that triple option is on, it's a great equalizer. Just ask The Citadel, which hung with mighty Alabama for a half last week. The problem is Georgia is playing its best football of the season, which is why I'll give the nod to the Bulldogs, even if it's by a single-digit margin.
I've gone back and forth all week on the Florida-Florida State game. The Gators have been on the brink of collapse a few times this year, but do you trust the Seminoles in a big game? I can't, even coming off the Boston College win last week. The Gators and Bulldogs will escape.
No. Both Florida State and Louisville are bad teams, and Georgia Tech has too daunting of a task against Georgia. One thing that can be said about the ACC is it has built a deep conference with the exception of Florida State and Louisville. Both programs need to overhaul their rosters over the next few years through recruiting and better development once those recruits are on campus.