Rivalry weekend isn’t just one of the great weekends in college football. It’s one of the great weekends in sports. Playoff implications abound along with races for conference championship games concluding. For schools not operating at the top of the food chain, there’s bragging rights on the line.
The biggest matchup of the weekend comes with No. 3 Ohio State traveling to No. 6 Michigan. The Buckeyes have won the last eight games in the heated rivalry, including five in a row against coach Jim Harbaugh. The team that prevails Saturday captures the Big Ten East title and would be one win from securing a place in the College Football Playoff. It should be an amazing atmosphere at the Big House.
The Big 12 championship game will get sorted out when No. 7 Oklahoma State hosts No. 9 Oklahoma. The Cowboys, who are within shouting distance of the playoff, have already confirmed their trip to Arlington, Texas, next week. The Sooners will be the opponent if they can again win their Bedlam matchup, which may be taking place in Stillwater for the last time before OU leaves for the SEC. No. 10 Baylor would stand to benefit if Oklahoma loses, providing the Bears get past Texas Tech.
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No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama visit respective in-state rivals Georgia Tech and Auburn as large favorites. There are other grudge matches worth watching. No. 11 Oregon has to get past Oregon State to secure the Pac-12 North title. No. 18 Wisconsin will be playing for a trip to the Big Ten title game and Paul Bunyan’s Axe when it faces Minnesota. No. 8 Mississippi heads to Mississippi State for the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving with the possibility of a New Year’s Six bowl berth on the line.
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Some of our experts offer their forecasts on what we will be shocked by this weekend.
Since this is the season of giving, look for athletics directors to start spreading their holiday cheer by handing out more pink slips between now and next weekend’s conference championships. Because the landscape of coaching is so unpredictable, let’s just put the over/under of more coaching vacancies at four. This isn’t exactly rocket science, because once the first domino in one of the big million-dollar jobs falls, there will be a flurry of activity in order to salvage the early signing period.
Mike Gundy has done phenomenal work in his 17 seasons at Oklahoma State, producing seven campaigns with at least 10 wins – four more than the program has in the rest of its history combined. The black mark on his on-field résumée, however, is his 2-14 record against rival Oklahoma. No supposedly great rivalry is more one-sided than Bedlam,” but if the Cowboys are ever going to reverse the narrative this is the year to do it. The Sooners’ offense is the most inconsistent of Lincoln Riley’s tenure and Oklahoma State’s defense is one of the best in the country, tied for second in points allowed per game, placing third in total defense and ranking fourth in yards per play. The Cowboys find a way to finally hold the Sooners down and get just enough points from their uneven offense to get a program-defining win ahead of the Big 12 title game.
Oklahoma finds an offense and scores just enough to get past Oklahoma State and win a low-scoring Bedlam. Not that history would call this an upset: OU is 90-18-7 in the series. But to beat the Cowboys after two weeks of below-average play from Caleb Williams and the rest of the normally explosive offense would leave the Sooners in range of the playoff heading into another matchup against OSU to decide the Big 12 title.
Looking at the past two weeks of Ohio State film would be like a horror movie for any defensive coordinator trying to slow the Buckeyes. Ohio State blew away Purdue and Michigan State and would seem poised to do the same to Michigan given its recent results and domination of this series. However, there’s more to the story of this game. The Buckeyes offense hasn’t been as productive away when facing a team that can physically challenge it. Nebraska held OSU to 23 points. Penn State allowed 33, but seven of those came on a defensive score by the Buckeyes. So it is plausible, with Michigan playing in the Big House and the added intensity of the crowd, that it can keep Ohio State under 30 points. The big unknown is whether the Wolverines can get to that number with their ground-based attack. They’ll do enough to control the clock and move the chains to keep this one closer than expected. Their first win against the Buckeyes since 2011 would not be a surprise.
From a purely football perspective, there’s no reason to believe LSU will beat Texas A&M on Saturday night. In their last three SEC games, all losses, the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points. Even last week in what was supposed to be a tune-up against Louisiana-Monroe, the Bayou Bengals were anything but impressive on offense. The Aggies for their part are surrendering a mere 14.9 points a game, second in the country only to Georgia. And yet – this just feels like one of those games where silly things happen. Somehow, some way, Ed Orgeron will get one more big moment as LSU’s coach and ride off with one final hearty “Geaux Tigahs!”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 13