College FootballMichigan vs. Ohio State, USC vs. Notre Dame, more we're watching in Week 13
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And here we are at Week 13.
It's the final week of college football action before the best of the best head to their conference championship games, bowl games, and for a lucky quartet, the College Football Playoff. And that means there are a host of games with much at stake.
The biggest, of course, is the contest appropriately referred to as The Game — No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State (Noon ET on Saturday; FOX and the FOX Sports app). This season's version of the sport's biggest rivalry is a battle for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, a likely spot in the CFP, and possibly even a statement on who will rule the conference moving forward.
But as big as Wolverines-Buckeyes is, there are a handful of other games that carry also great meaning, some of them even impacting the CFP chase.
Here's what we're looking forward to watching in some of the biggest matchups this weekend.
What should people know about No. 21 Tulane at No. 25 Cincinnati? (Noon ET)
Young: This game is all about home-field advantage. The winner will have a chance to play for the opportunity to host the American Athletic Conference Championship. And unless something wild happens in the final week of the regular season — like UCF beating South Florida, Tulsa beating Houston and fun with tiebreakers — this game will be played again for the conference title game.
Cincy has been in this position before, but the Green Wave have not. I'm watching to see how much — or how little — each team leaves in their bag for a rematch a week away.
Cohen: It doesn’t mean as much this year with a four-team playoff, but Friday’s matchup between Tulane and Cincinnati will decide the best team in college football outside the Power 5 conferences. The Green Wave won eight of their first nine games this season as head coach Willie Fritz authored a tremendous turnaround following a 2-10 finish in 2021. They enter the weekend tied for 25th nationally in scoring at 35.1 points per game, which is tied for eighth among Group of 5 schools thanks in large part to dual-threat quarterback Michael Pratt’s 29 total touchdowns.
The Bearcats continue to solidify their claim as the best mid-major program in college football under head coach Luke Fickell. This is Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive year with at least nine wins and has a chance to be the program’s fourth 10-win season during that stretch. There are three bona fide NFL prospects worth watching on Fickell’s roster based on preliminary draft grades from earlier this year: QB Ben Bryant (third-round grade); CB Arquon Bush (late third); TE Josh Whyle (late third).
What are you watching in No. 16 UCLA at California? (4:30 p.m. ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)?
Cohen: Consecutive home losses to Arizona and then-No. 7 USC eroded UCLA’s slim hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff as a one-loss team from the Pac-12, but there’s still plenty the Bruins can play for. At 8-3 overall, they’ve already equaled head coach Chip Kelly’s highest win total since taking over the Bruins in 2018 and have won at least eight games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2014-15. Finishing the year with a win over Cal and a win in whichever bowl the Bruins qualify for would get them to 10 wins for just the fourth time in the last 20 years.
Zooming in, Saturday’s game should be an appreciation for quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and tailback Zach Charbonnet, the offensive stars who fueled the program’s turnaround under Kelly. Thompson-Robinson enters the weekend with 10,235 career passing yards and 1,725 career rushing yards across five standout seasons. Charbonnet has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since transferring from Michigan ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Young: While the Bruins have lost the opportunity to play for the Pac-12 title, they haven't lost the chance for a memorable season.
As Michael said, UCLA is looking for just its fourth 10-win season in two decades. That could go a long way toward future recruitment and prestige as the Bruins prepare for an eventual exit to the much more competitive and tradition-rich Big Ten.
What are you looking forward to in No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State (Noon ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)?
Young: I'm watching to see if this year’s Heisman winner emerges from this game. A great performance by either Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud or a Willis Reed-style entrance and performance from Blake Corum would be right on cue.
The Buckeyes are not only looking to avenge their first loss to the Wolverines since 2011 but to restore its reputation as a tough and physical team after being called "a finesse team" — read: soft — by former Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis last year.
Cohen: It’s hard to look beyond the health of Corum after he dropped out of last week’s win over Illinois with an apparent knee injury. Corum ranks fifth nationally in rushing with 1,457 yards and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns with 18. For as good as the Wolverines’ offensive line has been in earning a second consecutive nomination for the Joe Moore Award, it’s Corum’s blend of sorcerous jump cuts and lightning-strike acceleration that provide the requisite pop. There are only six tailbacks in college football with more 40-yard runs than Corum (four) this season.
In a broader sense, whatever success Michigan has running the ball against Ohio State — or, conversely, a potential lack thereof — will shed some light on whether Buckeyes’ head coach Ryan Day succeeded in closing the toughness gap between the two programs after last year’s walloping in the trenches. All season, Day has spoken about the manner of his team’s loss at Michigan Stadium hovering over the program like a dark cloud. Can Ohio State respond by winning at the line of scrimmage?
What are you curious to see in No. 12 Oregon at No. 23 Oregon State (3:30 p.m. ET)?
Cohen: Oregon’s hard-fought, 20-17 win over then-No. 10 Utah last week put head coach Dan Lanning’s team in the driver’s seat for a potential berth in the Pac-12 title game. The Ducks and the Trojans from USC are the only Pac-12 schools with a single conference loss this season and appear destined to meet for the league’s championship in Las Vegas next weekend. The two programs did not play each other in the regular season.
The final hurdle between Oregon and a trip to Las Vegas is an improving Oregon State squad led by fifth-year head coach Jonathan Smith. The Beavers’ 8-3 record this season already represents their highest win total since finishing 9-4 in 2012 under former head coach Mike Riley. Oregon State has beaten its in-state rival just twice in the last 14 years and has only notched 11 wins in the series since 1975. The Ducks maintain a commanding all-time lead of 67-48-10 since the game was first played in 1894.
Young: Oregon State can inch closer to securing its first 10-win season since 2006 with a win against their in-state rival.
For Jonathan Smith and the Beavers, a win here would be pivotal in positioning them for a great season in 2023 and set them up as a force to be reckoned with in the new Pac-12 — Pac-10 again? — in the years after USC and UCLA depart.
For the Ducks, it's about getting to the Pac-12 title game against USC. But that is only a certainty if Oregon beats Oregon State.
What’s worth watching in Iowa State at No. 4 TCU (4 p.m. ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)?
Young: The Horned Frogs can't afford a letdown here if they want to keep their hopes of playing for a national title alive. They must be perfect.
To do that, though, the Horned Frogs have to beat the worst team in the Big 12 in Cyclones, who also happened to beat perhaps the best team in the Big Ten West in Iowa.
I expect a slobber knocker.
Cohen: Much like Michigan will be racing against the clock to get Corum and backup tailback Donovan Edwards healthy in time for kickoff, TCU is monitoring the status of its star running back, Kendre Miller, as well as standout wide receiver Quentin Johnston — both of whom dropped out of last week’s come-from-behind, last-second win over Baylor.
Head coach Sonny Dykes said Miller absorbed a powerful hit in the third quarter and was removed from the game for what sounded like precautionary reasons "to make sure he was in good shape." But Dykes also revealed that Miller, who has rushed for 1,188 yards and 14 touchdowns, is dealing with more than one injury concern.
Johnston’s situation sounded a bit more serious when Dykes was asked about it earlier this week. The focal point of TCU’s passing game has battled injuries for the better part of a month, Dykes said, and generally only practices in the last couple of days of a given week. The current problem is what Dykes described as "a pretty good ankle sprain" that could inhibit Johnston’s explosiveness this weekend. A probable first-round pick, Johnston has 49 catches for 764 yards and five touchdowns this season.
How about No. 6 LSU at Texas A&M (7 p.m. ET)?
Cohen: The selection committee’s decision to elevate LSU (9-2, 6-1 SEC) to fifth in the latest CFP rankings suggests the Tigers are in pole position to potentially leap into the top four when one of the remaining undefeated teams suffers a loss. And with No. 2 Ohio State hosting No. 3 Michigan this weekend, the leapfrog could happen as soon as Tuesday depending on how lopsided the score in Columbus turns out to be. The committee’s message seems clear: If LSU beats Texas A&M this week and beats Georgia in the SEC title game, then the Tigers are going to the playoff.
And there shouldn’t be much resistance from an embarrassing Texas A&M that snapped a six-game losing streak by squeaking past UMass — arguably the worst team in college football — in a barren stadium last week. The fan base has turned on head coach Jimbo Fisher even though his $86 million buyout makes it a virtual certainty that he’ll be back again in 2023. The Tigers should win this one comfortably to set up a titanic clash with Georgia.
Young: Now would be an outstanding time for the Aggies to put their prodigious talent to good use. And that's the shame of A&M.
The Aggies are a more talented team than LSU, but they have not played like it. For LSU, it's a chance to show the CFP committee was not wrong to rank them ahead of one-loss USC or Clemson and vindicate The Suits with a big win ahead of their date with Georgia in the SEC title game.
What interests you most in No. 18 Notre Dame at No. 7 USC (7:30 p.m. ET)?
Young: Nobody has had more ups and downs this season than the Fighting Irish. They’ve proven capable of beating the ACC champion — whether that’s North Carolina or Clemson — and of losing to Marshall at home.
However, they’ve put together a strategy that works and can work against USC — run the ball and play outstanding defense.
If the Irish can do that, they can knock off USC and likely slam the door shut on the Pac-12’s CFP hopes. For USC, the Trojans need an outstanding win to position themselves to be the fourth team in if Ohio State, Michigan, TCU or Clemson falters in the final week of regular season play or the conference title game.
Cohen: How about the second-half resurgence at Notre Dame? The Fighting Irish were left for dead after a season-opening loss to Ohio State gave way to unsightly home stumbles against Marshall and Stanford. Head coach Marcus Freeman’s team won just three of its first six games to tumble out of the national rankings by mid-October. Since then, Notre Dame has tallied five consecutive wins over UNLV, No. 16 Syracuse, No. 4 Clemson, Navy and Boston College to re-enter the CFP rankings and climb all the way to 15th in the latest poll. Ohio State’s best non-conference win of the season is looking better and better, which could be an important factor if the Buckeyes lose to Michigan and have to stand on a one-loss resume.
The Trojan found themselves ranked sixth in this week’s rankings behind the presumptive top four of Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU with a surprise from the committee at No. 5 in two-loss LSU. Most assumed USC would be the team in college football’s version of the on-deck circle following an impressive road win over UCLA last weekend. But the Trojans still have two chances for high-profile wins against Notre Dame and then whichever team they face in the Pac-12 title game.
And finally, what catches your eye in Kansas at No. 15 Kansas State (8 p.m. ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)?
Cohen: Kansas athletic director Travis Goff was so pleased with the work Lance Leipold has done in reviving the football program that he gave his head coach a second contract extension in the span of two months. The Jayhawks first extended Leipold’s contract in September, committing themselves to him through 2027, and then added two more years in a second extension agreed upon earlier this week. The 58-year-old Leipold has already guided Kansas (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008 when former coach Mark Mangino elevated the program to national relevance by winning 33 games in a four-year stretch.
A bit of wind whistled out of Kansas State’s sails with two losses in its last five games that dropped the overall record to 8-3 after a 6-1 start. But the Wildcats still have a realistic chance of finishing the year with 10 wins by beating the Jayhawks and coming out on top in an eventual bowl game. That’s something the K-State program hasn’t done since 2012 under legendary former coach Bill Snyder.
Young: In what has been a dream season for Kansas, what better way to finish it than to knock their in-state rival out of a chance to play for a conference title? That’s what Lance Leipold’s Jayhawks can do on Saturday.
For the Wildcats, it’s as simple as winning, and you’re playing for the league title. That, in and of itself, is motivation enough.
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.
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