It’s crunch time. College football Week 13 represents the penultimate weekend before conference championship games, and the College Football Playoff rankings are still fluid.
Looking ahead to the biggest games this weekend, there’s a lot on the line. With that in mind, these are the top storylines we’re going to be following in college football Week 13.
Penn State can make massive waves
This is pretty incredible. No. 8 Penn State has just one loss on record and has for much of the season looked every bit the part of a powerhouse. Yet No. 2 Ohio State is favored to win at home by nearly three touchdowns.
Given the way the Nittany Lions have fallen apart on the defensive side of the ball the past two weeks, though, it’s not shocking. Ohio State’s offense is a juggernaut that can beat defenses any which way and has to be licking its chops for Saturday’s matchup.
What will be shocking is if Penn State goes into the famed Horseshoe and knocks off the Buckeyes. If that does happen, it will create massive waves that will ripple across the landscape of college football and the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes still have to travel to Ann Arbor next weekend and must win to ensure they stay atop the Big Ten East and get into the conference title game. So yeah, there is a lot at stake Saturday in Columbus. The game should be pretty great, too.
‘Bama moving on without Tua
Tua Tagovailoa underwent successful hip surgery on Monday and won’t even begin throwing the ball again until next spring — if his rehabilitation stays on schedule. Alabama, still very much in the playoff hunt, has to forge a new identity without the star quarterback on the fly. As head coach Nick Saban expressed, Tagovailoa’s value went so far beyond his football abilities. Now the Crimson Tide have a huge task on their hands.
Redshirt sophomore Mac Jones will now be front and center for the Tide. Though, given the way running back Najee Harris has been playing, both as a runner and receiver, we’d advocate that the best strategy going forward would be to run the offense through him and bully teams into submission.
This Saturday, No. 5 Alabama will have the benefit of a glorified practice session as it hosts Western Carolina. But the offense needs to get things figured out quickly, because Auburn looms large next Saturday.
Minnesota must rebound quickly
The Golden Gophers (No. 10 this week) did not have much left in the tank last weekend after stunning the nation with their upset win over Penn State in Week 11. Iowa took it to Minnesota and dominated the line of scrimmage to pull off an upset of its own. Now P.J. Fleck and his team have to get right Saturday before hosting the formidable Wisconsin Badgers to finish off the regular season. Suddenly a conference title game berth is in question.
Adding to the drama here is the news that quarterback Tanner Morgan is in the concussion protocol and may not play Saturday. The good news is that Northwestern isn’t a very good team, and Minnesota should win regardless. We’re going to learn a lot about this team’s character based on the way it responds in Week 13.
Chuba racing toward 2K
Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard is one of the most entertaining players to watch every weekend. Blessed with tremendous explosiveness and speed, he routinely rips off long-distance touchdowns.
Heading into college football Week 13, Hubbard already has 1,726 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, and he’s averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The Cowboys will be on the road Saturday against a West Virginia team that features a squishy run defense. Hubbard should have a huge day and move even closer to that rare 2,000-yard mark.
Will TAMU finally beat a top team?
Jimbo Fisher’s team has faced three top teams this year — Clemson, Auburn and Alabama — and put up a good fight each time in a losing cause. When Fisher signed on at Texas A&M, he inked a gargantuan contract and was tasked with turning the program around. Until his team starts winning these huge games, he’s failing.
On Saturday, the Aggies will be in Athens for a date with No. 4 Georgia, and it doesn’t get much bigger than this. As good as the Bulldogs have been, they are still vulnerable. Auburn nearly won last weekend and we’ve seen Jake Fromm go ice cold numerous times this season. With that in mind, we’re not going to be surprised in the least if Texas A&M pulls off the upset and Fisher finally gets his signature win.
Texas vs. Baylor should be loads of fun
No. 14 Baylor and its fans have to be bitterly disappointed about the undefeated season ending last Saturday, and along with it the program’s Playoff dreams almost certainly going down the drain. Still, there’s a lot to be excited about. Nobody envisioned that head coach Matt Rhule would be able to turn this program around so quickly.
Looking ahead to the team’s Week 13 matchup, it should be one of the most entertaining games on the schedule. Texas doesn’t play much defense but has one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, Sam Ehlinger. He and Charlie Brewer should put on a show. And with a win, Baylor still sets itself up for a likely Big 12 Championship Game rematch with Oklahoma.
Can No. 13 Michigan finish strong?
The Wolverines have suffered a couple of disappointing losses to top teams already this season, leading to a lot of discussion about whether Jim Harbaugh is the guy Michigan wants to keep long term. However, the Wolverines responded to the losses with a tremendous second-half push, and they still have a chance to make waves.
It starts this Saturday against a pretty darn tough Indiana team that just gave Penn State a run for its money in Week 12. Assuming the Wolverines do dispatch the Hoosiers, then Harbaugh and Co. will have another chance to take down the champ, Ohio State. We’re going to learn a lot about this program and its coach in the next couple of weeks.
The AAC West headed toward wild finish
Heading into college football Week 13, the AAC West features a three-team logjam at the top, with Navy, No. 18 Memphis and No. 25 SMU all sporting 5-1 records in the conference. Two of these teams — SMU and Navy — are going head-to-head this Saturday in Annapolis. Memphis has South Florida this weekend and then finishes the season at home against No. 19 Cincinnati, which is very tough.
All that to say, buckle up. These teams are set up to have a wild finish the next couple of weeks. The program that finishes strong will likely face the Bearcats in the AAC Championship Game in a few weeks.
Oregon and Utah still in this thing
The Pac-12 is still on the outs as far as the Playoff is concerned. Oregon and Utah rank No. 6 and No. 7 in the nation, respectively. But both programs had very strong wins last weekend and are still on pace to clash in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The winner of that game will have a real chance of getting in.
Oregon will take on Arizona State Saturday, while Utah will be in the same state to battle the Arizona Wildcats. Assuming neither team experiences a total lapse of character and keeps playing like we’ve seen the past couple of months, they’re going to be players on the national stage.
Important game in Honolulu
The final game Saturday night is taking place in Honolulu as Hawaii hosts San Diego State. And while this game won’t be broadcast nationally and kicks off at 11 p.m. ET, it is hugely important to the Mountain West conference.
The Aztecs lead the Mountain West West division with a 5-2 record, while Hawaii is nipping at their heels at 4-3. If the Rainbow Warriors can crack San Diego State’s defense and get a big win at home, they’ll have a shot to make the conference title game by winning out.