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  • For several teams in the hunt for the College Football Playoff, it all comes down to this. Will the College Football Playoff favorites hold off their bitter rivals, or will there be chaos on the final full slate of the regular season? Our experts make their picks.
By The SI Staff
November 21, 2018

For several teams in the hunt for the College Football Playoff, it all comes down to this: one last game against a bitter rival that offers a chance to make a statement to the selection committee or secure a spot in next weekend's conference championship games. Can Ohio State snap out of its sloppy stretch and continue its recent dominance of Michigan? Will Oklahoma or West Virginia play for a Big 12 title in Arlington? Can Auburn pull off another Iron Bowl miracle? Can Washington State shake its Apple Cup demons?

Below, our writers and editors take turns defending their straight-up picks for the biggest games of the Week 13 slate, from the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night to a Mountain West division decider late on Saturday.

Season-long standings
Scooby Axson: 101–41 (71.1%)
Ross Dellenger: 99–43 (69.7%)
Max Meyer: 97–45 (68.3%)
Molly Geary: 96–46 (67.6%)
Joan Niesen: 93–49 (65.5%)
Andy Staples: 93–49 (65.5%)
Laken Litman: 87–55 (61.3%)
Eric Single: 83–59 (58.5%)

Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Ross Dellenger picks Mississippi State: The Bulldogs and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald are hungry for a win after the Rebels upset them in Starkville a year ago, snapping Fitzgerald’s ankle in the first quarter to knock him out of the game. Ole Miss’s defense has been porous, to say the least, but these Egg Bowls go to the underdogs quite often. It’ll be close.

Virginia at Virginia Tech (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Joan Niesen picks Virginia: Both teams are coming off of losses, and Virginia Tech needs a win against the Cavaliers to have a chance at bowl eligibility—but that won't be enough for a banged-up and underperforming Hokies team. This one looks like it’ll be low-scoring, and Virginia’s defense should ultimately be able to contain the Hokies, who have struggled at times under quarterback Ryan Willis.

UCF at USF (Friday, 4:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Joan Niesen picks UCF: The Knights’ big win over Cincinnati last week quieted some fears that UCF would take a step back against the American’s best, and against an inconsistent USF team, McKenzie Milton and company should keep rolling and take advantage of a mediocre defense that allows 231.4 yards on the ground per game.

Oklahoma at West Virginia (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Scooby Axson picks West Virginia: The West Virginia offense has to be licking its chops watching film on the Oklahoma defense, which has given up 40 or more points in three straight games, a first in school history. This is where the madness stops. The Mountaineers will move up and down the field at will, and their defense will do just enough to stop Kyler Murray and the nation’s top scoring unit.

Washington at Washington State (Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Max Meyer picks Washington: Washington State is one of the best stories in college football this season. But the rules of Pac-12 football state that every team must be cannibalized out of the playoff picture, no matter how slim their odds are. Mother Nature is supposed to play a role in the 111th Apple Cup, with rain and even a chance of snow making an appearance in Pullman. These type of conditions do not bode well for Washington State’s pass-happy offense. Neither does Washington’s stingy secondary. I think the Huskies can grind it out on the ground with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed and pull off the upset against their in-state rival.

Michigan at Ohio State (Saturday, noon ET, FOX)

Laken Litman picks Michigan: This is Jim Harbaugh’s chance to get that elusive win over Ohio State. He has the better team and the better defense, which has been led the nation for most of the season in yards allowed, currently with 234.8 per game). The Wolverines excel at defending the pass and will have a plan dialed up for Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who is averaging 339 yards per game through the air. Now, can the Buckeyes’ defense, which is giving up the most yards per play (5.97) and yards per game (402.6) in school history, stop Michigan from marching up and down the field? The Game is in Columbus, but all signs point to Michigan getting its first win over Ohio State since 2011.

Florida at Florida State (Noon ET, ABC)

Andy Staples picks Florida: This game is huge for both teams for recruiting purposes as two first-year coaches try to show future players where this rivalry is headed. The Gators need a win in this series after five consecutive losses. The Seminoles need a win to keep their bowl streak alive. This one is only relevant in the Sunshine State, but expect a close one as the programs try to put themselves in the best position for future years when this game becomes relevant everywhere once more.

Troy at Appalachian State (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Eric Single picks Troy: The last two meetings between these Sun Belt powers have been decided by a total of seven points, and the Trojans and Mountaineers are teeing it up in Boone for a spot in the inaugural Sun Belt championship game, so don't get caught up in either team's recent performance—we should be in for a dogfight. Since starting quarterback Kaleb Barker went down in early October, the Trojans have had to scrape by with a less consistent running game and backup Sawyer Smith's less accurate arm, but their defense has picked up the slack, leading the charge on a plus-six turnover margin in the last five games. Appalachian State's running game hasn't faced a front this good since the season opener at Penn State.

Auburn at Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Scooby Axson picks Alabama: Most years, this game would be intriguing, with two highly touted teams fighting for SEC West supremacy and much more, as was the case in 2017. There will be no such drama this year. Tua Tagovailoa figures to have his way like he has all year, and the Crimson Tide can look forward to bigger and better things like the SEC Championship against Georgia next week.

LSU at Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Molly Geary picks LSU: Joe Burrow hasn't lit the world on fire this season, but he's going to need to step up in this one given that the Aggies have the nation's No. 2 run defense. Still, Texas A&M has yet to beat the Tigers since joining the SEC and will have its own challenge of cracking the LSU defense. Look for this to be a close, low-scoring affair at Kyle Field.

Notre Dame at USC (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Laken Litman picks Notre Dame: Dino Babers said Notre Dame is “better than what people think they are” after the Irish suffocated Syracuse last week 36-3, and that they belong in the top four. Notre Dame is one win over a rival away from a perfect regular season and clinching the College Football Playoff. They’re not going to let up now.

Utah State at Boise State (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Max Meyer picks Utah State: Utah State survived Colorado State's Hail Mary attempt this past weekend thanks to a replay review. But the Aggies were likely looking ahead to this showdown, pitting the Mountain West's two top teams against one another. After suffering a season-opening loss to Michigan State, the Aggies have rolled off 10 straight wins. The keys to their success? Utah State is second in the country in scoring offense, and also second in takeaways. Boise State is always tough to play on the blue turf for any team, just ask Fresno State. In an exciting QB battle between Jordan Love and Brett Rypien, however, I'll side with the more complete team in Utah State.

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