- Michigan and Ohio State aren't the only rivals who have a lot to play for in Week 13.
It’s rivalry week and there are lots of games that will have playoff and bowl implications, but after another unpredictable season, exactly which rivalry games dominate the final weekend of the regular season may come as a slight surprise. The headliner, at least, is obvious: Ohio State is a rare underdog at home in Columbus, where Michigan will be looking for its first victory in The Game since 2011.
Not only are state bragging rights, division titles and lengthy bowl streaks on the line, the playoff picture and in some cases a coach’s employment could hinge on the outcome of this weekend's action.
After 12 weeks of set-up, we've ranked the most intriguing matchups of this year's rivalry week in terms of drama and watchability.
1. Michigan at Ohio State
The stakes couldn’t be biggest for both teams. The winner clinches the Big Ten East and will play Northwestern for the conference championship with its College Football Playoff hopes very much alive. The Wolverines come into the contest with the nation’s best defense, as well as topping the NCAA in passing defense, and passing efficiency defense. Throwing the ball just happens to be Ohio State’s strength, with Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins having four 400-yard passing games this season. The defense is another story, having already given up 20 plays of 40+ yards.
2. Washington at Washington State
The Huskies could do everyone who doesn’t think much of the Pac-12 a favor by going up to the Palouse and knocking off Washington State in the Apple Cup. An argument can be made for the Cougars’ entry into the playoff based on the way they have played, not who they have played. But you should keep your eyes glued on Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew, who has been terrific, leading the nation in total offense and coming off a 473-yard, seven touchdown performance in a 69–28 thrashing of Arizona.
3. Auburn at Alabama
This year's Iron Bowl seems anticlimactic, with Alabama being dominant and Auburn dealing with hot seat talk around Gus Malzahn at every turn. While it is not suggested that Auburn turn into The Citadel and adopt the triple option, it would be wise to stick with running the ball no matter how big a deficit it runs into. This, of course, could be and should be another notch in the Tua Tagovailoa Heisman train that has been rolling over opponents all season.
4. Notre Dame at USC
A victory over Notre Dame might not save Clay Helton’s job. Yes, things are that bad in the Land of Troy, where a coach who has won 67% of his games and has a conference title could be on his way out. Some might believe that an Irish loss to the Trojans still might not keep them out of a playoff spot, but none of the other contenders would have a loss this bad—except Washington State (remember, USC handed the Cougars their only defeat this season). Do the Trojans actually show up and fight for their coach or just lay down and accept the inevitable?
4. UCF at South Florida
The eye test doesn’t mean much these days, especially for fans of UCF who are waiting for the committee to include the Knights in any playoff talk. The Knights need total chaos to happen in the next few weeks, meaning Oklahoma, Washington State need to lose and Northwestern must win the Big Ten, all of which isn’t impossible. The War on I-4 was arguably the most exciting game of last year's rivalry week, but this year's South Florida team has felt the effects of electric quarterback Quinton Flowers's graduation and has lost its last four after a 7–0 start that smelled fishy all along. With the AAC East locked up, Charlie Strong will circle the wagons around the opportunity to put a stop to UCF's playoff hopes at Raymond James Stadium. Watch for Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton (2,577 yards, 24 TD, five INT) and an above-average defense that has created at least one turnover in each of its last 29 games.
5. Mississippi State at Ole Miss
The 115th edition of the Egg Bowl features two teams that are on opposite ends of the forward passing spectrum. The Rebels rank second nationally in passing and fifth in total offense, while Mississippi State is one of 33 teams that can’t break the 200 passing yards a game threshold. But the Bulldogs make their bones on the defensive side of the ball, so the contrast in the game should be fascinating. Plus, Ole Miss has won four of the last six meetings and thanks to a self-imposed postseason ban due to a variety of infractions, the Rebels will be playing their bowl game on Thanksgiving.
6. Virginia at Virginia Tech
In some circles, keeping an otherwise irrelevant bowl streak going is important. (Conference foe Florida State can attest to this.) This is the case with Virginia Tech, which must beat Virginia to get to five wins. But it doesn’t stop there. If it beats the Cavaliers, it has scheduled a conditional game against Marshall on Dec. 1 to try to get that elusive sixth win and push its bowl streak to 26 straight seasons. The game would replace one against ECU that was cancelled back in September due to Hurricane Florence, but a Virginia victory would make it all moot.