Each step towards the revelation of the final College Football Playoff rankings is more difficult than the last, but there’s a special challenge to rivalry week, when national title contenders cross paths with teams who spend all year preparing to beat them. Will Michigan muster up enough offense to scare Ohio State in Ann Arbor? Can Auburn vault Alabama as the SEC’s playoff favorite with an upset in Jordan-Hare Stadium? Will Washington State crack Washington’s defense to set up a Pac-12 title game trip with plenty on the line?
Below, our experts make their picks for Week 13’s biggest games, taking turns defending their selections.
Chris Johnson: 111–37 (75%)
Molly Geary: 108–40 (73.0%)
Andy Staples: 102–46 (68.9%)
Bruce Feldman: 94–44 (68.1%)
Scooby Axson: 90–44 (67.1%)
Eric Single: 98–50 (66.2%)
Joan Niesen: 94–54 (63.5%)
Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Chris Johnson picks Mississippi State: This could be one of Dan Mullen’s last games in charge of the Bulldogs, and the Rebels are undergoing their own search for a new head coach, but the enmity between these two programs should override the coaching-carousel speculation. Nick Fitzgerald will feast on Ole Miss’s leaky defense.
Miami at Pittsburgh (Friday, Noon ET, ABC)
Scooby Axson picks Miami: This is a classic trap game for the Hurricanes, and they will need all of their turnover chain magic to remain undefeated before next week’s ACC title game. Miami knows that too much is at stake not to once again find a way to win.
South Florida at UCF (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Bruce Feldman picks UCF: McKenzie Milton has been fantastic in Scott Frost’s offense, but this very fast, physical USF squad will be the toughest test he’s faced. Expect this one to be tight going into the fourth quarter, but I don’t see anyone in the AAC derailing the Knights this year.
Nebraska at Iowa (Friday, 4 p.m. ET, FS1)
Joan Niesen picks Iowa: Sure, Iowa is 1–3 on the road this season and has lost two straight, but I still think the (at times inconsistent) Hawkeyes can get the win on the road against a hapless Nebraska team that Mike Riley somehow still coaches. This one could be high-scoring, but I think Iowa can outgain and outscore the Huskers.
Virginia Tech at Virginia (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Eric Single picks Virginia: This has arguably been the ACC’s most one-sided rivalry of the millennium, but in recent years Virginia has had a couple of golden opportunities to break a losing streak that now sits at 13 straight losses. Cavaliers senior quarterback Kurt Benkert can find enough big plays to outduel Virginia Tech’s hit-and-miss offense and make his Scott Stadium farewell a memorable one.
Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday, Noon ET, FOX)
It’s unclear whether Great Ohio State or Mediocre Ohio State will show up from week to week, but given the special emphasis Urban Meyer puts on rivalry games, it seems like a safe bet the Great Buckeyes will take the field in Ann Arbor.
Florida State at Florida (Noon ET, ESPN)
Eric Single picks Florida State: Seminoles fans have soured on James Blackman for not being the hyper-talented quarterback that he replaced (Deondre Francois), but his competitiveness has been on display in some close losses against top-tier opponents. With Florida State fighting for bowl eligibility, he’ll make enough plays to mercifully end Florida’s season.
Louisville at Kentucky (Noon ET, SEC Network)
Scooby Axson picks Louisville: If Louisville actually played some defense (the Cardinals have allowed an average of 43 points in their four losses), Lamar Jackson might be headed toward a second Heisman. But expect Jackson to slice through a vulnerable Kentucky defense with relative ease to avenge last season’s loss.
Alabama at Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Bruce Feldman picks Alabama: As well as the Tigers have been playing of late, especially running back Kerryon Johnson, my hunch here is that Alabama is about to play its best game of the season. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has played in a lot of big games in two seasons in college, and I think he’ll be able to take advantage of some things in how the Tigers like to defend. The Tide also has healed up some on defense, and I think they’ll be locked in for the road trip with so many folks aboard the Auburn bandwagon.
Boise State at Fresno State (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
Eric Single picks Boise State: Weall left the Broncos for dead after they lost twice in September, and once everyone had looked the other way they took out their frustration on the rest of the Mountain West, beating everyone except Colorado State by double digits. In a game where neither team wants to show much—they play again next weekend for the conference title—Boise State will out-talent its hosts.
Arizona at Arizona State (4:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12)
Molly Geary picks Arizona: Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate is coming off his worst start of the season, especially on the ground, but Oregon’s run defense is a lot stronger than the Sun Devils’. Look for Tate to rebound and lead Arizona to a road Territorial Cup win.
Clemson at South Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Molly Geary picks Clemson: The Tigers must avoid looking ahead to the ACC title game, but the threat of what’s on the line regarding their playoff hopes should keep Kelly Bryant & Co. focused enough to handle an eight-win South Carolina squad.
Texas A&M at LSU (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Joan Niesen picks LSU: This LSU team is almost unrecognizable from the one that lost two games in September. Texas A&M has won two straight, but it doesn’t have the defense to stop Derrius Guice, D.J. Chark and the Tigers’ offense.
Notre Dame at Stanford (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Chris Johnson picks Stanford: Neither of these teams are in the conversation for playoff berths anymore, but this matchup will feature an intriguing matchup between two of the nation's best running backs: Notre Dame’s Josh Adams and Stanford’s Bryce Love. Advantage Love.
Washington State at Washington (8 p.m. ET, FOX)
Andy Staples picks Washington: This feels like a much better matchup for the Cougars than the past two years (when they’ve lost by an average of 31.5 points), but Washington’s defensive personnel (good corners and a big, quick line) is built to slow offenses like Washington State’s.