College football Week 13: Ohio State-Michigan leads eight must-see games

·9 min read

The final week of college football’s regular season is at hand. That usually means your favorite team is playing a school you really, really want to beat. Yes, they call it Rivalry Week for a reason, and as such there will be a ton of games that will interest somebody over the next few days.

From a national perspective, however, some teams don’t have much to play for other than bragging rights, possession of a traveling trophy, or bowl eligibility. That figures to be enough reason to tune in if your team is involved in Week 13.

But for purposes of compiling this list of what we think will be the best games to watch for casual fans, we’ll operate under the assumption that high stakes will mean high effort and high intensity. In short, the game’s importance will in some cases take precedent over local passion when it comes to ranking viewing options.

Our top eight choices in order for your holiday weekend enjoyment, headed by a pair of top-10 clashes with playoff implications.

No. 3 Ohio State at No. 6 Michigan

Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State as Michigan coach.
Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State as Michigan coach.

Saturday, noon ET, Fox

Why watch: The weekend’s headliner just happens to be one of the sport’s most intense rivalries, although it has tilted decidedly toward the Buckeyes of late (just don’t remind Jim Harbaugh). The winner claims the Big Ten East and earns a date with, most likely, Wisconsin for the conference title (more on that below). A win there will all but guarantee a playoff berth. The Wolverines have been winning by comfortable margins and, with the exception of that visit to East Lansing, have been able to close out leads. Getting the lead, however, figures to be a different challenge against the Buckeyes. QB C.J. Stroud’s dazzling array of receiving weapons have been all but unstoppable in their last two outings, so Michigan RBs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum will be needed for ball control. Corum missed Michigan’s win against Maryland with an ankle injury but hopes to be ready for the Buckeyes.

Why it could disappoint: There are offenses capable of keeping up with Ohio State in a shootout, but Michigan likely isn’t one of them. DE Aidan Hutchinson and the Wolverines’ pass rushers might be able to slow the Buckeyes, but if Stroud gets time to work, the big plays could start to snowball.

No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 7 Oklahoma State

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Why watch: The Bedlam rivals have been on a collision course for some time, so expect an electric atmosphere in Stillwater. Oklahoma State will play for the Big 12 championship next week no matter what. But the Cowboys have a chance to eliminate the Sooners from the picture, assuming Baylor takes care of business at home against Texas Tech. Oklahoma knows it must beat its in-state rival twice, but of course the Sooners have to get this one first. OU QB Caleb Williams was able to flash his speed in last week’s escape against Iowa State, but the Sooners’ passing game still isn’t clicking. The Cowboys’ defense, the stingiest in the Big 12 and ranked third nationally, will look to keep the Sooners grounded, so OU RB Kennedy Brooks could get a heavy workload. Cowboys’ QB Spencer Sanders and RB Jaylen Warren lead an efficient attack with a solid 44% conversion rate on third down.

Why it could disappoint: Oklahoma State is playing like the more complete team and is therefore the stronger candidate to make it a romp despite recent series history. Conversely, the Cowboys haven’t been forced into comeback mode for most of the season, so some early pressure from the Sooners could present difficulties.

No. 4 Cincinnati at East Carolina

Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Why watch: The Bearcats already know they’ll meet Houston next week for the American Athletic Conference championship. But if they want to enter that contest with playoff aspirations intact, they must get past this final road test. The Pirates are riding a four-game winning streak and will be bowl bound for the first time since 2014. The driving force for ECU is the backfield tandem of QB Holton Ahlers and RB Keaton Mitchell.

Why it could disappoint: The Pirates’ defense is also vastly improved, but UC is still significantly stronger on that side of the ball. The Bearcats also have their own playmaking duo in QB Desmond Ridder and RB Jerome Ford, and they’ll all do their best to eliminate any potential drama.

Oregon State at No. 11 Oregon

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Why watch: By the time this game kicks off, the Beavers will know if they have a chance to win the Pac-12 North. If Washington State beats Washington a night earlier, the answer will be no, as the Cougars would win a three-way tiebreaker with the Oregon schools based on division record. Regardless, Oregon State will have plenty of motivation to knock the archrival Ducks out of the championship picture. For its part, Oregon must get off the deck after last week’s disaster at Utah to earn a rematch with the Utes. Ducks’ QB Anthony Brown and RB Travis Dye should have more room to operate against the Beavers’ defensive front that isn’t as physical as Utah’s. But Oregon State QB Chance Nolan and RB B.J. Baylor could prove equally difficult to contain.

Why it could disappoint: It’s unlikely to happen, but potential blowout scenarios exist both ways. The Ducks’ defensive line could assert itself and take away the Beavers’ backfield options, or Oregon will still be licking its wounds after last week and come out flat. Again, those are unlikely. This should be close.

No. 18 Wisconsin at Minnesota

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Fox

Why watch: The Big Ten West isn’t quite as cut and dried as the East, but the Badgers can simplify matters by winning the Ax. Minnesota could also still win the division but only in the event of a four-way tie, and that might already be off the table by the time its game with the Badgers kicks off if Iowa gets by Nebraska on Friday. All that aside, Wisconsin would figure to be the most formidable opponent for the Ohio State-Michigan winner. The Badgers have won seven in a row and have rediscovered their tough identity behind RB Braelon Allen and a stiff defense. The Golden Gophers have some nice wins along with some puzzling losses and will need QB Tanner Morgan to be at his best.

Why it could disappoint: Time of possession is a stat that doesn’t matter to some teams, but for Wisconsin it does. The Badgers average about eight more minutes with the ball, and if they can execute their share of long drives they’ll have their way of things in the second half. The Gophers’ third-down defense isn’t bad, allowing a 36.5% conversion rate, but will probably have to be even better.

No. 21 Wake Forest at Boston College

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2

Why watch: The Demon Deacons came up short last week at Clemson but have one more chance to clinch the ACC Atlantic and earn a date with Coastal champion Pittsburgh. A Wake loss would give the division to either N.C. State, which would need a Friday win against North Carolina, or Clemson if the Wolfpack also lose. The road hasn’t been particularly kind to the Deacons this month, and the Eagles have been more dangerous since regaining the services of QB Phil Jurkovec.

Why it could disappoint: The Eagles will have trouble matching scores with the Deacons if Wake can get closer to its 43-point scoring average. Jurkovec struggled under pressure in last week’s loss to Florida State. He figures to get help from RB Pat Garwo III against Wake’s leaky defense, but Deacons’ QB Sam Hartman should also have an easier day against the Eagles’ pass rush that isn’t as fierce as Clemson’s.

Boise State at No. 22 San Diego State

Friday, noon ET, CBS

Why watch: This early Mountain West showdown will be closely watched by fans of at least three other schools around the league. Both the participants can still win their respective divisions as well, but they’d be unlikely to meet again next week. San Diego State’s path is the simplest – a victory against the Broncos clinches the West, while a loss leaves the door open for Fresno State. BSU is in a three-way battle in the Mountain with Air Force and Utah State and would need help even with a win but can’t afford a loss. The Broncos’ 3-4 start had their fans grumbling, but they’ve reeled off four victories in succession to get back into the conference race. The Aztecs’ last five victories have been by eight points or fewer, so this one should also be tight.

Why it could disappoint: Neither of these teams are offensive juggernauts, and the early 9 a.m. local kickoff time isn’t likely to boost the energy level. As we said, it should be close, but figure on seeing a lot of punts.

No. 2 Alabama at Auburn

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Why watch: As far as the SEC race is concerned, the Iron Bowl will have no impact. The Crimson Tide will play Georgia next week for the league title regardless. What Alabama cannot afford, however, is a second loss heading into that game if it wants to remain a viable playoff team, and Auburn would be more than happy to ruin the Tide’s season. We therefore include it on this list, especially since strange things have been known to happen when the game is played at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the Tigers have won three of the last four meetings.

Why it could disappoint: The problem, of course, is Auburn has dropped three in a row, and QB Bo Nix went out with a season-ending ankle injury in the second of those losses to Mississippi State. The Tide defense hasn’t been as airtight as fans have come to expect, but it seems unlikely the Tigers, with QB T.J. Finley at the controls, will be able to keep pace with Alabama QB Bryce Young and all his weapons.

Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 13 games to watch topped by Ohio State-Michigan