It’s rivalry week, and that means there’s plenty at stake in college football. Here’s what to watch, starting with the two biggest games of the weekend (all games Saturday):
Can Michigan finally do it?
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan (Noon, Fox)
There are college recruits who have only seen Michigan beat Ohio State once in their lifetime. The Wolverines have lost eight straight and 15 of their past 16 against their archrival in a historic series that dates to the 19th century. It’s been particularly lopsided of late, with the Buckeyes winning five of the past six games by 11 points or more.
So why should this year be any different?
Simply put, this might be coach Jim Harbaugh’s best team since he came to Ann Arbor in 2015. The Wolverines rank fourth in ESPN’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency, and while there’s a bigger gap between Ohio State and Michigan in overall SP+ rating (32.3 vs. 24.0) than there is between Michigan and Tennessee (24.0 vs. 16.6), the Wolverines are still by far the toughest team the Buckeyes have faced this season.
If there’s a reason for optimism, it’s the Michigan defense. Aidan Hutchinson and David Njabo form perhaps the best pass-rushing duo in the country, recording a combined 19 of the team’s 28 sacks. Daxton Hill has emerged as one of the nation’s best safeties to solidify the secondary, but the Wolverines’ cornerbacks will be tested by Ohio State’s star wide receiver trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. If Hutchinson and Njabo can win consistently off the edge to make quarterback C.J. Stroud uncomfortable in the pocket, Michigan’s defensive backs have a chance. Otherwise, this game could get as lopsided as the Buckeyes’ 56-7 rout of Michigan State last week.
A spot in the Big Ten title game is at stake, and likely a berth in the College Football Playoff, too. The Wolverines have caved under such pressure against their biggest rival, but this could finally be their moment to shine.
Can Oklahoma State do it, too?
No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 7 Oklahoma State (7:30, ABC)
The rivalry is called Bedlam, but there’s been nothing unpredictable about the outcome for quite some time. Since 2003, Oklahoma State has knocked off Oklahoma just twice. Their last win came in 2014, but since then the Sooners have won by a combined 110 points.
So, again, why should this year be any different?
Well, the Oklahoma State defense. The Cowboys own the nation’s sixth-best defense in SP+ and allow just 14.9 points per game. They lead the nation in sacks with 43, with defensive linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties all getting in on the fun. They play a fast and aggressive style under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, a semifinalist for the Broyles Award given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
They might be catching the Sooners at the right time, too. After taking the college football world by storm in the middle of the season, freshman quarterback Caleb Williams has struggled of late. According to ESPN, Williams had a 1.4% interception rate and a 7.6% sack rate in his first three starts. In his past two, those numbers have climbed to 8.3% and 16.3%, respectively. An overaggressive quarterback who holds the ball too long will be playing right into Oklahoma State’s hands.
The Cowboys have already clinched a spot in the Big 12 title game, but if they want to keep their hopes alive for a possible playoff berth, they need to find a way to beat their biggest rival.
Also keep an eye on …
Penn State at No. 12 Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ABC): It’s a battle of 10-year extensions. James Franklin and Mel Tucker both secured lucrative deals to stay in the Big Ten after being rumored candidates for other top jobs. This figures to be an annual measuring stick for both programs about their place in the Big Ten East.
No. 3 Alabama at Auburn (3:30 p.m., CBS): Auburn quarterback Bo Nix isn’t playing, but that didn’t stop him from being part of the conversation this week. His comments about officials favoring Alabama should stir up plenty of controversy, but it’s not going to stop the Crimson Tide from running away with this one.
Oregon State at No. 11 Oregon (3:30 p.m., ESPN): Oregon’s — and the Pac-12′s — playoff hopes died with the Ducks’ loss to Utah last week. But forget about all of that for a second. Oregon State, just three years removed from a 2-10 season, can win eight games for just the second time this decade. Jonathan Smith, who just signed a big extension Friday, is the best college coach you haven’t heard of.
No. 14 Wisconsin at Minnesota (4 p.m., Fox): Wisconsin can clinch the Big Ten West title with a victory. Behind breakout star Braelon Allen, the Badgers seem poised to win their third division crown in five years.
Texas Tech at No. 8 Baylor (Noon, FS1): If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma and Baylor beats Texas Tech, the Bears will face the Cowboys for the Big 12 championship. Keep an eye on Baylor coach Dave Aranda, who could be a hot candidate during this hiring cycle.
No. 23 Clemson at South Carolina (7:30 p.m., SEC Network): First-year coach Shane Beamer has the Gamecocks playing better than anyone expected. Can South Carolina end its six-game slide against the Tigers, who had their ACC title hopes dashed Friday night?
No. 18 Wake Forest at Boston College (Noon, ESPN2): Wake Forest might not be a playoff contender anymore, but Demon Deacons can still secure their first trip to the ACC title game since 2006.
Maryland at Rutgers (Noon, BTN): This one’s for bowl eligibility. The Terps haven’t gone to a bowl since 2016, and Rutgers hasn’t made one since 2014. Maryland coach Mike Locksley could really use a feather in his cap as he heads into Year 4 at the helm.
No. 1 Georgia at Georgia Tech (Noon, ABC): Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate remains one of the nation’s greatest rivalries, even if the Bulldogs have made it one-sided of late. Georgia has won the past three games by a combined 100 points, so it’ll take a small miracle just for the Yellow Jackets to cover the 35-point spread.
Florida State at Florida (Noon, ESPN): Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Florida just fired coach Dan Mullen, and Florida State hasn’t won more than seven games since 2017. The winner becomes bowl eligible, which is a heck of a thing to say about two of the sport’s premier programs.
No. 15 Texas A&M at LSU (7 p.m., ESPN): How badly does LSU want Jimbo Fisher? It seems unlikely the Tigers can pry him away from Texas A&M, but hey, you never know.
Western Kentucky at Marshall (3:30 p.m., CBSSN): The winner claims the Conference USA East title and a date with No. 22 UTSA for the conference championship. WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe, the nation’s leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, should get a firm test from Marshall’s defense.
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Miami (Ohio) at Kent State (Noon, ESPN+): The winner secures the MAC East title and plays Northern Illinois for the conference championship.