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A weekend in the wild world of college football can be expected to produce shocking disappointments and better-than-expected performances in conferences throughout the country.
The unpredictable results are especially routine late in the season where teams are playing with the most pressure or have nothing to lose. However, guessing when and where they will happen is difficult even if everyone knows they are coming, .
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, Brent Schrotenboer, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with its bold predictions for Week 13 of the college football season:
History suggests Alabama will win this year’s Iron Bowl against Auburn. The Crimson Tide have not lost to the Tigers in Tuscaloosa since Cam Newton led an epic comeback 10 years ago, and Alabama has not lost two consecutive games in the rivalry series since Tommy Tuberville guided Auburn to six straight wins from 2002-2007. That 2007 game (a 17-10 Tigers win) was Nick Saban’s first against Auburn as the Alabama head coach, but he will not be on the sidelines this week after testing positive for COVID-19. Will that alter the results of this game? I think it will – but only to a point. Weird things can happen in this rivalry, but when they do they usually happen On The Plains in Auburn. Playing in the confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium also typically benefits Tigers quarterback Bo Nix, who completes 62.9% of his passes and has a striking 15-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home in his career. On the road, as he’ll be this week, he completes a far more pedestrian 54.6% of his passes and has eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. Even without Saban at the helm I think Alabama wins the rivalry showdown, but the contest will be a lot closer than it probably looked like it would be on paper this time last week.
WHAT TO WATCH: Five games in Week 13 with the biggest playoff impact
STAFF PICKS: Alabama, Notre Dame prepare for ranked challengers
Trevor Lawrence shows no rust and throws for 300-plus yards and three or more scores as Clemson returns to action against Pittsburgh for the first time in several weeks. It’s been an even longer wait for Lawrence, who last played more than a month ago before missing time following his positive test for COVID-19. A good game against Pitt will help the junior get back into the Heisman race.
Nick Saban’s absence from the Iron Bowl because of COVID-19 brings up a couple of intriguing questions about No. 1 Alabama: How much of Alabama’s success on game day is due to his presence on the sideline? And if Saban ever decides to retire, should the Crimson Tide turn the program over to one of his top lieutenants? There’s arguably no better way to audition to become Saban’s successor someday than to blow out archrival Auburn. Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will get that chance as the team’s acting head coach and will show he’s capable of keeping this machine moving without a hitch.
It's been a lost year for Penn State. From seemingly beating Indiana on opening day and playing Ohio State tough, the Nittany Lions have fallen apart the past three weeks. Winless entering their trip to Michigan, this seems like the last opportunity to turn their season around and salvage something out of 2020. The first key will be improved quarterback play. Nether Sean Clifford nor Will Levis have inspired the offense with much consistency. The biggest issue is turnovers. Penn State is 125th in total turnover margin, which is remarkable considering it has played just five games. That changes in Ann Arbor as the Nittany Lions finally play an inspired game and get their first win.
Let’s face it. Rivalries are a big part of what drives the passion of college football. The SEC has plenty of them, but a new one is emerging before our eyes.
The LSU-Texas A&M series doesn’t have nearly the long history of the Iron Bowl or the recent theatrics of the Egg Bowl. But thanks to the seven-overtime marathon of a couple of years ago – and a little extra curricular activity in its aftermath – it is starting to develop the kind of edginess and mutual dislike that fuels a true rivalry.
And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about rivalry games, it’s that anything can happen. Last year the Tigers, en route to a championship run for the ages, laid a 50-7 beatdown on the Aggies in Baton Rouge. But with most of that LSU team gone, the pendulum would appear to have swung dramatically with the Aggies now entering with the high ranking and playoff aspirations.
So will A&M return the favor with a blowout of its own? Don’t count on it. The Tigers will probably be short-handed, which they have been for most of the season, but they’ll find a way to keep it close. Seven overtimes close? Probably not, but it should be worth watching.
The rivalry between Texas A&M and LSU had been pretty one-sided since the Aggies joined the SEC with LSU winning seven out of eight meetings. The lone exception was in 2018 when Texas A&M outlasted the Tigers in seven overtimes. Though LSU is disappointing this season, Orgeron tends to get his team up for this hame specifically and there’s no doubt LSU will play its best game of the year in this one. Texas A&M might be a bit rusty after a two-week break, and the pressure of being ranked No. 5 by the College Football Playoff committee will start to kick in now. This is a good spot for LSU to pull the upset.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football bold predictions Week 13 led by Alabama, LSU, Clemson