Rivarly week is finally here in Week 13 of the 2015 college football season, and there are some tremendous games lined up for what is the regular-season finale for most programs around the nation.
Thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, a few of the top games this weekend fall on Friday, meaning all you football fanatics have a great excuse to avoid the ridiculous crowds swarming retailers around the country. So save up your leftovers for a second day of feasting while you hunker down for a glorious weekend of college football.
These are the top storylines as we head into Week 13.
1. Keenan Reynolds gets another crack at history
Early Friday we’ll be treated to a terrific American Athletic conference clash between a couple of one-loss teams in Navy (No. 15) and Houston. Both programs are led by dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks, and it’s honestly a toss-up trying to predict which team will emerge victorious.
You’d have to say the season has already been a rousing success for both schools, but the upcoming battle is critically important to determine which of the two will host the inaugural AAC Championship Game, and which has the best shot at getting invited to a New Year’s Day bowl game.
On top of that, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds will have another shot at making history. With one more rushing touchdown added last weekend against Tulsa, he brought his career total up to 82 rushing touchdowns. This is just two away from the all-time NCAA all-divisions record of 84, set back in 2001 by Adrian Peterson (not that one) of Georgia Southern.
With two games left before bowl season, it seems inevitable that Reynolds will break the record at some point. With 18 total rushing touchdowns and five games this season with multiple rushing scores, chances are he’s due for another big game this Friday.
2. Iowa’s final tuneup before the Big Ten Championship Game
There should be no doubt about the legitimacy of No. 4 Iowa’s playoff aspirations at this point.
The program’s detractors want to point to the “lack of competition” faced by the Hawkeyes this year, but many of those same folks had no problem with Ohio State as a top team before the Buckeyes were knocked off by Michigan State last Saturday, and it could be argued they had an easier schedule until the final two games.
Of course, the program’s remarkable run in 2015 could be ruined with a hiccup against Nebraska — the team that is responsible (along with the refs) for handing the Spartans their only loss of the season. Don’t expect the Hawkeyes to suffer a lapse in concentration, though. This team has displayed a single-minded focus to execute every play as if it was the last of the season and put the pedal to the metal last weekend against Purdue.
And more importantly, the players aren’t worried about the lack of respect around the nation.
“We’re fine with it,” said cornerback Desmond King, via Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com. “The team comes first in every situation. That’s what we all want. We just work for one goal and buy into it.”
Nobody should expect anything less than another dominating performance by Iowa on Friday against the Cornhuskers. At this point, the only question left to answer for Kirk Ferentz and his players is which team will be on the other side of the field during the Big Ten Championship Game.
3. Big 12 showdown in the great state of Texas
Closing out the evening on Friday is a phenomenal matchup featuring Big 12 powerhouses Baylor (No. 7) and TCU (No. 19). Both teams have been dealt difficult circumstances due to injuries to key players, but Baylor remains on the outskirts of the playoff picture with just one loss on the season.
Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham was knocked out of Saturday’s game with an ankle injury on top of his already sore back, but receiver Chris Johnson stepped in admirably and led the Bears to a shocking upset over previously undefeated Oklahoma State. He threw two huge touchdown passes in the second half of the game, and receiver KD Cannon did his best Corey Coleman impersonation with 210 yards and two touchdowns.
With so many weapons, and thanks to the quarterback-friendly system of Baylor’s Art Briles, the Bears should be formidable this weekend, regardless of Stidham’s status for the game. At this time, he’s considered “highly questionable” to play, meaning it’s going to be Johnson’s show to run once again.
Don’t feel sorry for Baylor, though, because there hasn’t been another school in the nation that can match the ridiculous amount of injuries suffered by TCU this year. Without a handful of starters on defense and the team’s top receiver, Josh Doctson, it’s going to be up to quarterback Trevone Boykin, who is getting healthy, to come up with some magic at home to pull off the win over the Bears this Friday night.
4. Could the Buckeyes lose two in a row?
After a season of uninspiring play that had many questioning the Buckeyes (No. 8) as playoff contenders the truth came out in a big way against the Spartans, who dominated Ohio State — in Columbus — and now have the inside track on the Big Ten Championship Game.
Meanwhile, it’s not crazy to think the Buckeyes could drop two in a row as they head to Ann Arbor to face Jim Harbaugh’s No. 10-ranked Michigan Wolverines. Michigan has featured one of the nation’s top defenses all year long, and given the way Ohio State’s offense has sputtered it shouldn’t shock anyone if the Wolverines pitch a shutout — or something close to it — this Saturday at home.
This is especially true considering the post-game interview session put on by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who didn’t hide his displeasure about the game plan, which didn’t feature him nearly as much as it should have. There could be much more brewing under the surface, and Elliott likely isn’t the only player who is upset with the way the offense has struggled this year.
On the other side, the Wolverines are suddenly hot offensively, with quarterback Jake Rudock playing his best ball of the season. Since losing to Michigan State, Rudock and Co. have put up an average of 38.5 points per game, which has led to four straight wins.
5. Last chance for South Carolina to play spoiler
To say the 2015 season has been a disappointment for the Gamecocks would be a ridiculous understatement. After getting annihilated by LSU earlier this year, the “old ball coach” Steve Spurrier decided to hang up his signature visor for good, retiring mid-season to the surprise of many.
With a record of 3-8 and one final game this season before it’s time to retool the program Spurrier built up from the ground up, the Gamecocks have a chance to do something memorable against the No. 1 team in the nation.
Of course, nobody should hold their breath waiting for Clemson to lose to South Carolina, and nobody should expect this team to approach the Gamecocks lightly.
,” safety Jayron Kearse said (h/t Scott Adamson of the Independent Mail). “You know everybody who plays Clemson is gonna give their all. We’re the No. 1 team in the nation. Everybody is going to try to spoil what we’ve got.
The Tigers feature one of the nation’s top defenses and Heisman hopeful quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has developed into one of the most impressive pure passers in college football.
Chances are, the Tigers will absolutely dominate their in-state rival on their way to the ACC Championship Game, and it’s likely North Carolina will be waiting. Which leads us to our next point.
6. No gimme for Tar Heels in final game before ACC Championship Game
— GoHeelsVideo (@GoHeelsVideo) November 23, 2015
Since losing to none other than the Gamecocks in Week 1, the Tar Heels (No. 14) have been one of the hottest teams in the nation, rattling off 10 wins in a row. With one more victory North Carolina would be looking at a dream opportunity in the conference championship game against Clemson. Win that one and the committee would have a hard time justifying keeping this program out of the four-team playoff.
But looking ahead to that pivotal game would be a veritable dream killer. NC State isn’t a trifling opponent and easily has the firepower to send the Tar Heels home from Raleigh to Chapel Hill with their tails between their legs. With four losses on their record, the Wolfpack have been competitive in every game this year, including a high-scoring affair against Clemson.
This means Marquise Williams cannot have another pedestrian outing this week like he did last weekend against Virginia Tech. North Carolina State is capable of racking up points in a hurry.
7. Iron Bowl should be a blowout, but could Auburn surprise us all?
We all know how this one should go. Alabama (No. 2), which has been making minced meat out of just about everyone since losing to Ole Miss early in the season, should blow out the hapless Tigers on Saturday in Auburn. Featuring one of the nation’s most ruthless defenses and the top running back in college football, the Crimson Tide have won their last eight games by an average score of 35-11.
On the other side, Auburn has only won two games against SEC competition and has lost three of its last five games. Without a reliable quarterback, Gus Malzahn’s offense has been hapless for most of the season, and the team’s defense hasn’t been good enough to compensate for the lack of production on the scoreboard.
But anyone who has kept a close eye on this rivalry over the years can tell you records and national rankings rarely have much to do with the outcome.
“I don’t think I have to tell anybody anything they don’t already know about this game. The Iron Bowl is one of the great rivalries in college football,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said (h/t ESPN.com). “It means a lot to a lot of people in this state as well as all over the country. It’s certainly an opportunity you appreciate as a competitor.”
Likely the best chance Auburn has of pulling off the biggest upset of the 2015 season is by way of trickery. Malzahn is know for his trick plays, and we’ve seen the Tigers successfully utilize them to devastating effect numerous times in the past.
8. Fighting Irish win and they’re in?
Of all the top teams in the nation with one loss, perhaps only Florida has been less impressive down the stretch than Notre Dame (No. 6).
However, because the final game is on the road against Stanford (No. 9), many assume all the Irish need to do is win against the Cardinal in order to get into the playoff. After all, Stanford is a top national program that could be a playoff contender if the Pac 12 didn’t cannibalize itself with such a brutal schedule every year.
That said, if Iowa wins out (including the Big Ten Championship Game) and a one-loss Notre Dame are head to head, would the Irish get in? What about the Big 12? It’s a given that ‘Bama gets in by winning out. And it’s a given Clemson does the same. Folks shouldn’t assume that Notre Dame will get in, especially if the Irish come out the other side on Saturday with another unimpressive win against Stanford.
And on that note, nobody should assume Notre Dame will win at all. Since scraping by Temple last month, the Irish have struggled to get past the likes of Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Boston College. The defense has been stout the past two weeks while the offense hasn’t done much of anything.
It’s going to take an impressive outing by Brian Kelly’s Irish to convince the playoff committee that they belong among the final four.
9. Gators can’t afford another sub-par outing
Speaking of unimpressive one-loss teams, No. 12-ranked Florida’s ability to squeak past inferior opponents this year is laudable. It’s hard to be this close to disaster so often and still find a way to make it to the SEC Championship Game. And in spite of the near-misses the Gators would be another team to consider for the playoff with a win Saturday and then a victory over ‘Bama in the championship bout.
However, the program’s playoff aspirations will go down in flames if the Gators cannot figure out how to compete at a higher level than they have the past three weeks. Another effort like the one that saw them needing overtime against Florida Atlantic (at home, no less) will end up as a blowout in favor of Florida State (No. 13), which is visiting Saturday night in Gainesville.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that FSU is favored to win the Florida Cup, if only by a little.
Both teams feature defenses that are capable of pitching shutouts, while it’s clear the Seminoles are more offensively potent. In particular, keep an eye out for running back Dalvin Cook, who is still very much one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
The Gators can sure clear up some misconceptions about what they’re capable of doing this Saturday, but then again they might just as well prove all their haters right by losing big at home.
10. Bedlam Series offers tasty nightcap
Oklahoma (No. 3) heads into Stillwater Saturday night for a showdown against Bedlam Series rival Oklahoma State (No. 11), and it’s quite possible they’re playing for one of the four playoff spots. The winner would finish the season with just one loss and a chance to get in, while the loser would certainly be out of the running with a second loss on the record.
Oklahoma State is fresh off a surprising loss to Baylor last weekend — the team’s first loss of the year — and will need to rebound quickly to avoid being regarded as nothing more than an afterthought at the end of the year.
Rather than feeling down and out about the loss, though, the Cowboys are looking at the season through the glass-half-full perspective. The Big 12 title is still up for grabs, and depending on what else happens around the nation the playoff could still be within reach.
“We’re blessed,” linebacker Seth Jacobs said (h/t Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com). “We’re very fortunate. A lot of people, in situations like this after a loss, could be down, but at least we still have a lot to play for.”
Momentum-wise, this is all about the Sooners, however, who haven’t lost since the embarrassment of falling to Texas in a stunner a couple months back.
Featuring an explosive offense that has scored over 40 points eight times this year and a formidable defense, Oklahoma is a team that can hang with any program in the nation, especially if quarterback Baker Mayfield is on the field. After missing half the game last weekend with a concussion, he’s expected to play barring any setbacks to his health. This is a good thing, because backup Trevor Knight was nothing short of horrible last weekend in reserve.
Offensive production should come in droves, but watch out for some huge splash plays by both teams on the defensive side. It should be an exciting game and is going to cap off a phenomenal weekend of college football.