B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 13

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2019

B/R Experts Answer Biggest CFB Questions for Week 13

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Penn State or Ohio State? SMU or Navy? Pitt or Virginia Tech?

    It's not quite the same stacked schedule of games we've seen recently, but there are still some compelling matchups on tap in Week 13.

    To help sort through all the biggest storylines, Bleacher Report's crew of college football experts―David Kenyon, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepardassembled to provide their thoughts on the upcoming slate.

    Let's get things rolling with our predictions for the heavyweight showdown in the Big Ten.

Will Ohio State Remain Undefeated?

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    Justin Fields
    Justin FieldsG Fiume/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    Two weeks ago, I thought Penn State would give the Buckeyes a 60-minute fight. But after seeing the Nittany Lions get shredded through the air by Minnesota and Indiana, my confidence in a close finish has disappeared. Ohio State may start slowly as usual, but the Buckeyes will earn a comfortable lead by the third quarter.

                     

    Kerry Miller

    For a little while in October, I thought Penn State had the best defense in the nation and might be the team that finally stifles Ohio State's offense just a little bit. However, that Nittany Lions secondary has been exposed in a massive way over the past two weeks against Minnesota and Indiana. Justin Fields hasn't needed to exert much effort yet this season, but he'll pick apart Penn State and finally get some much-deserved love in the Heisman Trophy conversation. Meanwhile, I have no faith in Penn State's offense to keep pace against Ohio State's defense. Not only will the Buckeyes win, but I see this one getting a little ugly. Ohio State 42-14.

               

    Joel Reuter

    The Nittany Lions secondary has fallen apart the past two weeks, allowing Minnesota (339 yards) and Indiana (371 yards) to throw the ball all over the field. It's a prime opportunity for Fields to make a statement in the Heisman race, and he'll take full advantage. The sophomore signal caller has completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards and 31 touchdowns, adding another 377 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Ohio State 38-21.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Definitely. I pity Penn State for having to face an angry Chase Young after his two-game suspension, and he will live in the Penn State backfield. With all the difference-makers in the Buckeyes secondary, it will be a tough day for Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford. On the flip side, yes, their front seven has been good, but their secondary is susceptible to the deep pass, as Minnesota proved. What do you think Fields is going to do to them? This one won't be close. Ohio State wins 38-20.


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AP Top 10 Team at Biggest Risk of Upset: Oregon, Utah or Oklahoma?

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    I'll go with Oklahoma because the Sooners don't have an elite defense to fall back on. Oregon and Utah are both excellent on that side of the ball. Other than a horrible game against Oklahoma State, TCU has defended the run well, and it faces the Sooners this week. Oklahoma has proved it can win through the air, but it's less preferable than Jalen Hurts being dynamic as a runner too.

              

    Kerry Miller

    All three will win, but Oklahoma is in the most danger. TCU is averaging well over 200 rushing yards per game, and the Sooners defense has been a disaster for the vast majority of the past month. They finally dug in their heels and got some stops and turnovers in the second half against Baylor, but they had allowed 120 points in the span of 10 quarters before that one good half. I suspect the Sooners will revert to more than the occasional lapses on defense and make this home game against a .500 team more interesting than it should be. Hurts and Co. score 49 against the Horned Frogs, but the defense gives up 35.

             

    Joel Reuter

    The Sooners have allowed 120 points over the past three games, and a strong TCU rush defense that has allowed just 119.5 yards per game (24th in the FBS) could help negate Hurts' dynamic two-way skills. I think all three will win, but with Oregon and Utah both poised to cruise to victory, Oklahoma faces the biggest threat Saturday.

                  

    Brad Shepard

    With that defense, I've got to say Oklahoma, and this probably would be the answer every week. On one hand, the second-half adjustments defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's unit made to enable the 25-point comeback win over Baylor a week ago are encouraging, but the Sooners still allowed a ton of points. Oregon is facing a sliding Arizona State, and Arizona won't pose any threat to Utah. All three will win, but the Sooners may have to sweat a little because of the defensive issues.

How Will Mac Jones Look Leading the Alabama Offense?

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    Alabama quarterback Mac Jones
    Alabama quarterback Mac JonesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    Mac Jones will look more than serviceable. He's been competent in limited action, and it's not like Western Carolina is built to handle Alabama's ridiculous level of talent at receiver. Jones will probably throw 15 or 20 passes and complete about 75 percent of them before taking an early place on the sideline.

                 

    Kerry Miller

    He might crash or burn, but it's possible Jones is Joe Burrow 2.0, considering the amount of time he has spent behind excellent quarterbacks with an excellent head coach and how well he has always fared in spring games and garbage time. Who knows? I'm relatively confident he'll look great against Western Carolina, though. In the process of being shut out by NC State earlier this season, the Catamounts were out-gained 540-106. This isn't a good litmus test for what to expect from Jones in the Nov. 30 Iron Bowl, but he should at least perform as well as he did against Arkansas on Oct. 26 (82% completion, 235 yards, 3 TD).

                                         

    Joel Reuter

    It depends on how much Alabama decides to throw the ball. Western Carolina has struggled mightily against the run (260.9 yards per game), so the Crimson Tide could just decide to run it down the Catamounts' throats all game. If they air it out, Jones should have no problem piling up yards against an inferior opponent, but I'm not sure he'll get the chance.

              

    Brad Shepard

    Against Western Carolina, he'll look like Joe Namath because UA will out-athlete the heck out of the Catamounts. Everybody wants to see how he's going to be in the Iron Bowl. Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III are three of the nation's best receivers, and the Tide can scheme ways to get them the ball in space quickly. Jones is a good passer, but he doesn't have the timing or accuracy of Tagovailoa. That doesn't mean he'll be bad. There's no reason he can't be a Greg McElroy-type game manager for a title contender.

Who Wins an Important Group of Five Matchup: SMU or Navy?

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    SMU running back Xavier Jones
    SMU running back Xavier JonesRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    I'm going with SMU. Navy's secondary has struggled badly against its best competition. The Mustangs, meanwhile, have one of the nation's most prolific quarterbacks in Shane Buechele and a 1,000-yard receiver in James Proche. Plus, SMU has allowed just 3.5 yards per carry. Defending a triple-option attack is difficult, but an extra week to prepare should benefit the Mustangs.

                    

    Kerry Miller

    Give me SMU as a road dog. The Mustangs have had a lot of trouble with slowing opposing passing attacks, but they have fared surprisingly well against the run, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns in 10 games. And as you may have heard at some point in the past two decades, Navy prefers to run the ball. Plus, the Midshipmen have had defensive issues, too, allowing 52 points in last week's loss to Notre Dame and nearly 500 total yards in a close call against Tulane a few weeks back. Buechele does just enough damage to carry the Ponies to victory.

                     

    Joel Reuter

    I picked Navy to pull off the upset against Notre Dame last week, and the Midshipmen were torched for 52 points and 410 total yards. Now they have to contend with an SMU offense that ranks sixth in the FBS with an eye-popping 522.2 yards per game. I won't make the same mistake twice. If the Mustangs seize an early lead, which seems likely, this one could get out of hand.

                 

    Brad Shepard

    SMU will win going away. Listen: Nobody is comparing the Mustangs to Notre Dame, but Navy's defense made Ian Book look like one of the best passers in the nation a week ago, and Book normally struggles to throw the ball downfield. The Midshipmen cannot play from behind, and it's hard to envision this game going any way other than SMU jumping ahead with its prolific passing game. The Mustangs will win by double digits.

Which Team Stays Alive in the ACC Coastal Title Hunt: Pitt or Virginia Tech?

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    Hendon Hooker
    Hendon HookerMichael Shroyer/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    Virginia Tech looked dead in September. Eight weeks―and a much-needed quarterback switch―later, the Hokies are a consistent threat to score. Pitt has a couple of quality receivers, but Tech should handle a Pitt passing game that is only marginally explosive.

                 

    Kerry Miller

    I've got to go with the Hokies at home. It took a while, but Justin Fuente has found something special in quarterback Hendon Hooker. The Hokies have scored at least 34 points in each of the five games he has been the primary QB, compared to the five games they scored 31 or fewer without the redshirt sophomore behind center. He'll get the job done against a Pittsburgh team with limited offensive firepower.

              

    Joel Reuter

    With Clemson on track for a spot in the College Football Playoff, a berth in the Orange Bowl is up for grabs in a wide-open and largely mediocre ACC. That said, the Hokies have been a different team since switching to Hooker following a 45-10 loss to Duke on Sept. 27. In their last six games, they've gone 5-1 while outscoring opponents 220-131, and their lone loss came by just one point to Notre Dame while Hooker sat with a knee injury. Pitt won't be able to keep up offensively.

                   

    Brad Shepard

    If there's a guy who deserves to go out with a strong season, it's longtime elite Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who will retire at the end of this season. All of a sudden, the recently dormant Hokies program is ranked in the AP poll and looking better on both sides of the ball. The difference in this game will be Tech's ability to score, which will allow them to win this grudge match.

Are Memphis and Cincinnati Both Safe This Week?

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    Memphis quarterback Brady White
    Memphis quarterback Brady WhiteJoe Murphy/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    Memphis and Cincinnati are both safe. South Florida's offense is just so unreliable; I'd rather be wrong in sticking with Memphis than embarrassed with a baseless upset pick. Cincinnati needs to deal with Temple, which was extremely stingy to start the season but has showed a vulnerable pass defense lately. I'll stick with the favorites, though.

                  

    Kerry Miller

    I trust Memphis' offense to open up its usual can of unstoppable scoring and cruise to victory against South Florida. But Cincinnati has been flirting with disaster for a while and could be headed for a heaping dose of it against a seven-win Temple team that already stunned Memphis earlier this season. Cincinnati should be able to run at will against Temple like UCF did (385 yards, five TD), but close calls against East Carolina and South Florida this month make it difficult to put faith in the Bearcats. I'll pick them to win, but don't make me bet anything on it.

                    

    Joel Reuter

    I feel comfortable calling Memphis safe, but I can't say the same for Cincinnati. After all, the Bearcats have already almost lost twice already this month to East Carolina (46-43) and South Florida (20-17), and seven-win Temple will be no walk in the park. In the end, the Owls' shaky run defense will be their undoing, but it will be another close one for the Bearcats.

                      

    Brad Shepard

    Memphis is definitely safe, despite some signs of life recently from South Florida. Cincinnati could be in a bit of trouble. Ultimately, they'll eke out a win against Temple, but the Owls are a good team with a quarterback in Anthony Russo who's capable of big things. The Bearcats have shown a propensity to play up or down to their competition, so you'd expect them to be up for this game against a good Temple team. But if they sleepwalk through a half the way they did against the Bulls last week, they'll be in trouble.

Can Illinois Stay Hot, Upset Iowa?

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    Lovie Smith
    Lovie SmithCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    If the Illini keep forcing turnovers, they'll have a great shot! Illinois leads the FBS with 26 takeaways. As much as Iowa's offense can be frustrating, though, it's not because of constant giveaways. The Hawkeyes have just nine of those all season. Sustaining drives opposite this Iowa defense without the benefit of favorable field position is unlikely.

                   

    Kerry Miller

    Anything is possible, but I'm picking Iowa. The Hawkeyes have not yet allowed an opponent to score more than 24 points in a game this season, and the Illini are not about to break that streak at Kinnick Stadium. The big key to Illinois' success has been turnover margin, sitting at plus-nine during this four-game winning streak. But Iowa has averaged less than one turnover per game and has only coughed the ball up twice in its last four games. Without those drastic swings in momentum, Illinois picks up an L. The Illini should cover, though, because this Hawkeyes offense does not deserve to be favored by more than two touchdowns against anyone.

                 

    Joel Reuter

    Just because Iowa has done a good job of taking care of the football, it doesn't mean it's immune to Illinois' ball-hawking defense. The Illini beat Wisconsin earlier this season by forcing three turnovers from a Badgers team that has coughed it up just 10 times in their other nine games combined. The Hawkeyes offense has been inconsistent all season, but their defense is playing extremely well, and that will be enough to avoid the upset. Illinois should easily cover a ridiculous 15.5-point spread, though.

              

    Brad Shepard

    Nope. For all the nice stories in college football this year (Burrow's star turn, P.J. Fleck's elite Gophers, Kansas showing signs of life for Les Miles, etc.), Illinois' rise from the ashes to save Lovie Smith's job is another great one. But Iowa is playing at a high level defensively, and that will be the difference. The 7-3 Hawkeyes have lost three games (10-3 to Michigan, 17-12 to Penn State and 24-22 to Wisconsin) to three strong opponents by a score or less. They're that close to being undefeated. They'll handle the Illini by more than a score.

Over/Under 450 Passing Yards for Joe Burrow?

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Under, but barely. Burrow's ability to reach 450 passing yards isn't a question; rather, it's his volume. LSU's defense might give up enough points to Arkansas for him to stick around into the fourth quarter, and he probably will go over if that happens. Otherwise, an early hook (perhaps midway through the third quarter) will keep Burrow around the 375 mark. Slow day at the office, for sure.

             

    Kerry Miller

    Under. Way under. Only one quarterback (San Jose State's Josh Love) has thrown for more than 251 yards against Arkansas this season, and that was simply because the Spartans have one of the nation's worst run games. For the most part, teams with capable backs have run Arkansas into the ground, and LSU has an underappreciated stud in its backfield in Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He'll be instrumental in blowing this game wide open by halftime, allowing Burrow to have a light day. He'll still do damage, though. Ed Orgeron won't torpedo Burrow's Heisman campaign by limiting him to five pass attempts or anything. But this won't be one of those days where he's out there slinging it all over the place into the fourth quarter. I'd guess his day ends early with around 275 yards and three touchdowns.

                  

    Joel Reuter

    Under. This one will get out of hand quickly, and with the Tua Tagovailoa hip injury still fresh in everyone's minds, LSU won't take any chances with its Heisman candidate. The Arkansas rush defense is also one of the nation's worst (225.4 yards per game, 123rd in the FBS), which means one less reason to air it out. That said, I still expect something like 250 yards and three touchdowns before Burrow heads to the sidelines.

             

    Brad Shepard

    Over. Easily. This Arkansas team is historically bad, and the Hogs had to get rid of Chad Morris before his second year was over. They didn't have a choice as poorly as they've played. The Razorbacks will cover the 42-point spread, but throwing the ball all over the place is LSU's M.O., and with Burrow the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, they won't show mercy. It's going to be debauchery.

                                  

    Odds via Caesars.