Week 13 college football predictions for the 10 biggest games. It’s rivalry week, with each of the top six teams facing a familiar and despised foe.
It’s rivalry week in college football, that contentious time of year when states are split down the middle and families square off and choose sides. Passion and intensity will fill the chilly air like no other time of the season. But more than bragging rights will hang in the balance from Thursday to Saturday, as each of the top six teams in the College Football Playoff rankings faces a longtime rival eager to play spoiler.
Below are the breakdowns and predictions for the 10 most consequential and entertaining games of Week 13.
10. South Carolina (6-5) at Clemson (10-1)
It’s the 114th chapter of the Palmetto Bowl, and Clemson needs it to remain alive in the playoff chase.
Whatever margin for error the Tigers once enjoyed is gone, the result of that shocking Nov. 12 loss to Pitt. But the formula from here is simple—beat South Carolina and the ACC Coastal champ, and a No. 2 or No. 3 seed is there for the taking. All things considered, like going 3-9 a year ago, it’s been a solid first season for Will Muschamp in Columbia. Having already achieved bowl-eligibility with four wins in the last five games, the Gamecocks will play with house money in Death Valley.
Deshaun Watson could struggle against the Gamecock secondary. But life will be much harder for South Carolina rookie quarterback Jake Bentley. He’ll play like a true freshman in the face of the Clemson pass rush and secondary, as South Carolina’s offensive woes continue against a far superior opponent.
Prediction: Clemson 33, South Carolina 13
Line: Clemson -24
9. Nebraska (9-2) at Iowa (7-4)
With a win in Iowa City on Friday, the Huskers will put pressure on Wisconsin to hold serve the following day.
The Huskers and Badgers are knotted atop the Big Ten West, but Wisconsin holds the tiebreaker by virtue of its head-to-head overtime win on Oct. 29. Iowa will play spoiler, but also to build on its recent surge, which includes the upset of Michigan and a shutout of Illinois. Since Big Red joined the Big Ten in 2011, this matchup with the Hawkeyes is rapidly becoming one of the most anticipated in the heartland each November.
Nebraska doesn’t have a healthy quarterback, though Tommy Armstrong plans to play with a tender hamstring. And that’s a troubling sign when facing Iowa, which has found its groove defensively. It’ll be close and hard-hitting, but the Hawkeyes will survive on the strength of the two-headed ground game of Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels.
Prediction: Iowa 24, Nebraska 20
Line: Iowa -3
8. Notre Dame (4-7) at USC (8-3)
Sure, this game loses some appeal when one of the participants is circling the drain. But it’s still the most storied intersectional rivalry in college football.
Every passionate college fan has some memory of ND-USC. This year? Well, it could be Brian Kelly’s final game as the leader of the Irish. And it’s another opportunity to take in young quarterback Sam Darnold and the resurgent Trojans, winners of seven in a row and one of the hottest teams in the country.
USC is on the kind of roll that isn’t about to be stopped by a Notre Dame team whose collective head is already in the offseason. The Trojans will dominate at the line of scrimmage, pile up massive rushing yards with backs Ronald Jones and Justin Davis and delight in smacking around one of their biggest rivals from one end of the Coliseum to the other.
Prediction: USC 41, Notre Dame 21
Line: USC -17
7. LSU (6-4) at Texas A&M (8-3)
A pair of SEC West rivals meet on Thanksgiving night to determine who is better positioned to overcome the physical and mental grinds of a long season in one of the nation’s premier divisions.
The Aggies have lost three straight league games. The Tigers, two of their last three, including heartbreakers to Alabama and Florida. It’s gut-check time in College Station, with both of the coaches, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and LSU’s Ed Orgeron, hoping to leave a positive impression before the start of the bowl season.
Neither team is using its opening day starter at quarterback. Plus, both backfields could be depleted by injuries. LSU has the overall better defense, though, even as star linebacker Kendell Beckwith rests with an injury. Running back Derrius Guice will outplay a dinged-up Trayveon Williams, leading the Tigers to their sixth straight win in this budding rivalry.
Prediction: LSU 26, Texas A&M 20
Line: LSU -5
6. Minnesota (8-3) at Wisconsin (9-2)
Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be at stake when the Gophers and Badgers meet for the 126th time. So, too, might the Big Ten West crown.
With a win—or a Nebraska loss on Friday—Wisconsin heads to the Big Ten title game. The Badgers have been one of the nation’s steadiest teams since the opening weekend, losing only to Michigan and Ohio State by a touchdown apiece. And they’ve owned the Gophers for the past dozen straight years. Minnesota has been solid as well, with its three losses coming by an average of just six points. Breaking through against Wisconsin would be a seminal achievement for first-year coach Tracy Claeys.
The Badgers will have their hands full with the Gophers, who have been sneaky-good all year on defense. However, the lack of balance and pop through the air against quality defenses will haunt Minnesota once more. Wisconsin will grind out enough conversions from Corey Clement and wideout Jazz Peavy to escape the Gophers and win the West.
Prediction: Wisconsin 26, Minnesota 16
Line: Wisconsin -14.5
5. Utah (8-3) at Colorado (9-2)
The Buffaloes can complete one leg of their fairytale journey with a win in Boulder Saturday night.
Colorado has arguably been the biggest surprise of the 2016 season, trekking from the Pac-12 South hinterlands to a spot in the league championship game with one more victory. USC will be watching closely from the Coliseum locker room, because a Buff stumble would mean the Trojans capture the South. Utah could have controlled its own divisional destiny, too, had it not lost to Oregon last Saturday in a heartbreaker in the final seconds.
The mindsets of these teams couldn’t be more different. The Utes are saddled with what might have been, while the Buffs are dreaming of what’s still possible. Plus, Colorado has been the more consistent team on both sides of the ball, a trend that’ll continue in Week 13 to add an exclamation point to this most improbable campaign in Boulder.
Prediction: Colorado 31, Utah 24
Line: Colorado -10.5
4. Florida (8-2) at Florida State (8-3)
With neither team in the hunt for the playoffs, bragging rights is all that’ll be at stake in Tallahassee. That ought to be enough to keep the 61st Sunshine Showdown as feisty and entertaining as ever.
The Gators have already won the SEC East for a second straight year, courtesy of an epic goal line stand to stonewall LSU a week ago. And the Noles are locked into third place in the ACC Atlantic. But there’s a history and a hatred here that guarantees both sides will be sufficiently motivated to notch that ninth win at their rival’s expense. Florida ought to be particularly testy after losing five of the last six meetings.
Florida State has momentum, albeit on the backs of Boston College and Syracuse. And the Noles also boast the far superior backfield, star running back Dalvin Cook and improving freshman quarterback Deondre Francois. Plus, with the emotion of last week in Baton Rouge and the prospect of playing Bama in Atlanta a week from now, it’d be forgivable if the Gators don’t deliver a gem at Doak Campbell.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Florida 17
Line: Florida State -6.5
3. Washington (10-1) at Washington State (8-3)
It’s winner-take-all in the Pac-12 North, an Apple Cup for the ages for fans in the Pacific Northwest.
There have been 108 prior meeting between these rivals. But this is going to be something special. Whoever wins in Pullman moves on to face either Colorado or USC in the league title game in Santa Clara. The Cougars can move one step closer to Pasadena for the first time in 13 years. The Huskies, meanwhile, can keep their playoff hopes very much alive by handling Washington State for the seventh time in the last eight years. There could also be Heisman implications, with U-Dub’s Jake Browning making a strong case as a finalist and Wazzu’s Luke Falk entering the discussion.
The quarterback duel will be riveting. However, this game will be won on the defensive side of the ball. Edge, Huskies. U-Dub is just tougher on D, even after losing stalwarts Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor. Wazzu allowed 603 yards in last week’s loss to the Buffs, and there will be plenty of seams for Browning, Myles Gaskin, and receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis to exploit Saturday.
Prediction: Washington 34, Washington State 27
Line: Washington -6
2. Auburn (8-3) at Alabama (11-0)
Can anyone stop Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide this season?
Bama is the last of the Power Five unbeaten teams and the heavy favorite to win back-to-back national championships. The Tide have been so good this season, winning by an average score of 40-11, that even an Iron Bowl loss wouldn’t end playoff hopes if it took care of Florida in next week’s SEC Championship Game. Auburn, on the other hand, has been moving in the opposite direction, narrowly defeating Vandy and losing to Georgia in its last two league games.
The Tiger defense can keep this game close. But the offense is in for an excruciating afternoon. Not only is Tuscaloosa home to the nation’s top defense, yielding a measly 3.9 yards a play, but Auburn quarterback Sean White and running back Kamryn Pettway also remain question marks with injuries. Points will come at a premium, but Bama has quarterback Jalen Hurts, a healthier backfield and a penchant for scoring non-offensive touchdowns on command.
Prediction: Alabama 28, Auburn 10
Line: Alabama -17.5
1. Michigan (10-1) at Ohio State (10-1)
The Game. And The Stakes haven’t been this high in a decade.
Michigan-Ohio State has been a really big deal for the better part of a century. This 113th edition is the equivalent of a playoff quarterfinal game, with the winner taking a profound step toward locking down a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines also capture the Big Ten’s East Division with a victory, while the Buckeyes need a win and a Penn State loss to Michigan State later in the afternoon.
Statistically speaking, there’s little separation between the resumes of the Wolverines and the Buckeyes. They’re almost identical—oppressive defensively, particularly in the trenches and the secondary, and a little inconsistent offensively. The difference: quarterback. Michigan starter Wilton Speight is hurting, and backup John O’Korn was ineffective last week versus Indiana. Ohio State, though, will lean on its steady veteran, J.T. Barrett, to direct a second-half drive or two that provides the Buckeyes with the winning margin for the 14th time in the last 16 meetings.
Prediction: Ohio State 21, Michigan 16
Line: Ohio State -6.5