We've reached the penultimate weekend of the college football season and the races for the College Football Playoff and conference titles have recached critical stages.
Berths in the semifinals and major bowls are on the line and can cause teams to raise their level of play or stumble close to the finish line. This leads to unexpected results – often in places where it is least anticipated.
That's why we're here to make sense of things. The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Scooby Axson, Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with bold predictions for Week 13 of the college football season:
Caleb Williams makes Heisman statement against Notre Dame
Whatever people think about USC head coach Lincoln Riley, one thing that can’t be denied is the man can coach some offensive football. The resume is stacked and whether it’s Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts, Riley has put the college football world and NFL scouts on notice. His newest project is Caleb Williams, who bolted out west with Riley after a successful 2021 at Oklahoma. Williams will increase his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy with a steady performance against Notre Dame and to be realistic, the only competition Williams has to keep him from being Riley’s third Heisman winner is Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, but the award is Williams to lose.
– Scooby Axson
Notre Dame poised to pull big upset on USC
Notre Dame was 3-3 on the morning of Oct. 16 following a disastrous loss to a bad Stanford team. Since then, though, few teams have been playing better football than the Fighting Irish. They’ve scored at least 35 points in five consecutive victories, with winning margins of 23, 17, 21 (vs. Clemson), 3, and 44 points. This week, No. 15 Notre Dame travels to Los Angeles to take on rival Southern California, which has given up at least 35 points in four of its last five games. If the Fighting Irish can slow down the No. 5 Trojans just a little bit, they can pull off the upset.
– Jace Evans
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Michigan does it again to Ohio State
Michigan runs right at Ohio State and forces a key turnover in the second half to beat the Buckeyes for the second year in a row and earn a spot in the Big Ten title game. While they have a thin margin for error against the Buckeyes, who have shown an unmatched ability to blow teams away in a matter of minutes, success on the ground and a positive turnover margin are two factors that could quickly turn the game in the Wolverines’ favor. If it turns into a game decided by quarterback play, all bets are off.
– Paul Myerberg
Oregon State spoils season for Oregon
The Civil Ware is always unpredictable even with Oregon State isn't having a great season. That's not the case this year as the Beavers are in the Top 25 after an 8-3 start with close losses to Southern California and Washington. They're more than capable of knocking Oregon out of the Pac-12 title game with the Ducks coming to Corvallis. The health of Oregon quarterback Bo Nix also plays in Oregon State's favor. Nix was not 100% last week and didn't play to his usual standard with his mobility limited. The Ducks survived a close game against Utah, but if his status is not improved then the situation is much more difficult. Look for the Beavers, backed by a strong home crowd, to ride that emotion and take down their neighbors and knock them from the Pac-12 title game.
– Erick Smith
TCU going to get scare from Iowa State
When the first-place team in a power conference is slated to play the league’s last-place squad, it’s natural to expect a rout. That might not be the case Saturday when fourth-ranked TCU hosts Iowa State.
In some respects, the Cyclones have been the absolute antithesis of the Horned Frogs, catching a bad break for every good one that has gone TCU’s way. With the exception of the blowout win over Oklahoma, TCU’s other seven Big 12 victories have been by a total of 48 points, an average margin of just 6.86. Iowa State lost to Oklahoma 27-13, but the Cyclones have been outscored by just 24 total points in their other six conference losses, just a four-point average margin of defeat with none of those by more than seven.
It seems that for every clutch play TCU has delivered, the Cyclones have been undone by a critical mistake. Iowa State will not pull off the massive upset in Fort Worth, but neither will it be a walk in the park for the Horned Frogs, who will give their fans a few more nervous moments. But hey, at least Iowa State gets to keep the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the year.
– Eddie Timanus
Tulane takes down Cincinnati to reach American title game
The American Athletic Conference race hasn't gotten as much attention this year because there isn't an unbeaten team to catch. It's been much more even at the top, with Tulane, Cincinnati and Central Florida separating themselves from the pack. The Green Wave needed to beat one of those two to win its first conference title since 1998. On paper, it blew its best opportunity against UCF at home two weeks ago. Now, Tulane will likely need to go to Cincinnati and pull an upset in order to make the conference championship game and play for the Group of Five access bowl bid.
The prediction here is that Tulane will get it done against a Cincinnati team that certainly knows how to win but has not been overly impressive getting to 9-2. Behind the record, the Bearcats have beaten East Carolina by two, Navy by 10, SMU by two and South Florida by four. It's hard to win that many close games in a season without a regression to the mean. It should happen Saturday.
– Dan Wolken
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football Week 13 bold predictions: Ohio State, USC upset alert