A berth to the conference championship is at stake.
College football’s final regular-season week will shove several of the nation’s most respected quarterbacks into their brightest spotlight of 2018.
For some, a berth to the conference championship is at stake. Others are eyeing a New Year’s Six bowl. And for a select few, they’re still aiming at a national title. Losing in Week 13 will crush those aspirations.
The upcoming slate features a bunch of rivalries, but there’s a clear trend in which of the two quarterbacks has the most to prove. And it’s not the signal-caller for program that has recently thrived in the series.
These quarterbacks will have the biggest impact on Week 13’s most important games.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
It’s only Kansas, right? Yes, this Longhorns squad has a different mentality than the one that fell to the Jayhawks in 2016. But if Texas doesn’t take Kansas seriously, this contest might be a little interesting. After all, the Jayhawks just scored 40 points on Oklahoma. Since we’re never fully confident in which Texas defense actually shows up, Sam Ehlinger needs to ensure that any letdown doesn’t matter. The sophomore exited Week 12’s win over Iowa State with a shoulder injury, so he must be able to produce while hobbled. The Big 12 championship depends on it.
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
West Virginia’s loss at Oklahoma State was predictable because the Mountaineers have struggled defensively on the road in 2018. They are, however, tremendous in Morgantown. West Virginia has surrendered only 281.2 yards per game at home, nearly 200 fewer than its road average. That’s the long version of saying Kyler Murray must have his A-game. If the Sooners lose, they’ll be out of the College Football Playoff hunt and won’t reach the Big 12 Championship Game unless Kansas stuns Texas. Murray’s performance will shape the result.
Gardner Minshew, Washington State
Not only has Washington won the last five series meetings, the Huskies have flat-out dominated. In three of those matchups, Washington State posted its least-efficient passing game of the regular season. Overall, the quarterbacks combined for seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Wazzu is the deserving favorite for Friday’s showdown, but Gardner Minshew has more to prove because his predecessors were unable to compete with Washington. And if the Cougs fall again, their dream season won’t even end with a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.
Shea Patterson, Michigan
There’s hardly any pressure on Ohio State. Most everyone outside of Buckeyes fandom agrees Michigan is a better team, and even a fair number of OSU supporters would admit it. But the Buckeyes own victories in 13 of the last 14 clashes, including six straight. Their defense is mediocre, especially compared to U-M’s elite unit. If the Wolverines can’t win this season, when will they? This type of opportunity is why Shea Patterson transferred. With a win, he can cement a place in U-M history and back up Karan Higdon’s guarantee. If the Wolverines lose, he’s just another QB who couldn’t beat OSU.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Given that Alabama awaits in the SEC Championship Game, it’s improbable Georgia will reach the College Football Playoff. But that’s next week. If the Bulldogs get caught in the forward-thinking trap, they’ll watch CFP dreams evaporate against Georgia Tech. This rivalry has a bizarre trend, considering the road team has earned five straight wins. Jake Fromm is responsible for one of those. He picked apart GT with 224 yards and two touchdowns in the 2017 matchup. Repeat that performance, and the Dawgs will prepare for Alabama with a playoff berth at stake.
Feleipe Franks, Florida
The first season of Willie Taggart’s tenure has included anemic offense and inconsistent defense. However, the upset of Boston College means Florida State has a chance to extend its 36-year bowl streak this weekend. Reaching six wins while derailing Florida sure would feel great. Feleipe Franks is responsible for 26 touchdowns with only six interceptions this season, but his effectiveness can vary greatly. Since FSU boasts the nation’s No. 1 run defense in home games, the Gators will likely be forced to lean on Franks’ throwing arm. Can he put together a productive day?
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
This is simple: No program will topple Alabama unless the quarterback carries the offense. Jarrett Stidham did exactly that in 2017, completing 75 percent of his passes for 237 yards. He also scampered for a career-best 51 yards and a critical touchdown that iced the upset. Auburn’s outlook is dramatically different in 2018, however. The Tigers cannot reasonably expect a running game that has labored all season to produce. Alabama is a 24.5-point favorite for the Iron Bowl, per OddsShark. Only Stidham can keep Auburn competitive.
Joe Burrow, LSU
LSU has an approximate 55-45 run-pass split in 2018 when factoring in sacks. That’s not a problem, but it’s a reasonable concern heading into a matchup with Texas A&M. The Aggies haven’t surrendered more than 150 rushing yards or 4.6 per carry in any game this season. And in LSU’s last three SEC contests, the offense has trudged to a meager 3.2 per attempt — and that’s after excluding sacks. Joe Burrow hasn’t saved the offense, but he’s regularly done enough to avoid a loss. The excellent A&M defense and rowdy Kyle Field environment will provide another test.
Ian Book, Notre Dame
Just one more victory stands between Notre Dame and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The opponent isn’t exactly daunting yet, there’s a few things working against Ian Book and the Irish. At 5-6, USC is scrapping for bowl eligibility. The home side has five straight victories in the series. Clay Helton is coaching for his job. All those circumstances taken into consideration, you’d expect the Trojans will play a motivated game. But this defense has allowed 18 passing scores with only three interceptions. Book could destroy USC. And if he does, the Irish are CFP-bound.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Utah State survived a scare at Colorado State and extended its winning streak to 10 games. Now, Jordan Love and the upstart Aggies head to Boise State with a spot in the Mountain West Championship Game on the line. The Broncos rank 106th nationally with a 8.2 yards allowed per pass, and they basically only clipped Fresno State a couple weeks ago because the kicker missed two field goals. Utah State’s red-zone efficiency is barely above average, so Love must take full advantage of every scoring opportunity on the road.