Rivalry games could provide some wackiness and shake up CFP race
The final weekend of the regular season finds some interesting matchups, including at Ann Arbor where Michigan seeks to break a seven-game losing streak to Ohio State.
Week 14 is a busy one in college football. The matchups for next week’s conference championship games will be finalized.
The list of rivalry games raises the possibility that the College Football Playoff rankings could be scrambled. Stand by for some wackiness.
Ohio State (No. 1 College Football Playoff/No. 2 Associated Press) at Michigan (No. 13 CFP/No. 10 AP), noon, Fox29
Jim Harbaugh saw a change in Michigan during the second half of the Penn State “White Out” last month. The Wolverines lost that game but have won four straight since, scoring at least 38 points in each game. Harbaugh said his team is “ascending” going into the Big House for its biggest game of the season.
Yes, but …
Michigan has lost seven straight to Ohio State, including going 0-4 since Harbaugh became head coach. The Wolverines were favored and ranked No. 4 by CFP going into last year’s game but were stunned, 62-39, in Columbus.
This year it’s the Buckeyes who are favored in The Game. First-year head coach Ryan Day is feeling the urgency.
“Nothing matters if we don’t win the game,” Day said. “That’s the only way I look at it. We’ve got to win the game.”
The game could come down to defense. Ohio State ranks first in the nation in allowing total yards and points, while Michigan is fourth in total defense and 10th in scoring defense.
Texas A&M at Louisiana State (No. 2 CFP/No. 1 AP), 7 p.m., ESPN
The Tigers want to complete their first unbeaten regular season since 2011, while quarterback Joe Burrow (4,014 passing yards, 41 touchdown throws) wants to further solidify his front-runner status for the Heisman Trophy.
However, the LSU defense got some attention this week after the CFP selection committee moved Ohio State up to No. 1 and dropped the Tigers to No. 2. Committee chair Rob Mullens said of LSU: “To date, their defense isn’t quite as strong as Ohio State’s.” The Tigers have allowed 98 points in the last three weeks and their average yield of 23.5 points per game is 42nd in FBS.
The Aggies outlasted the Tigers, 74-72, in a seven-overtime classic last season.
Clemson (No. 3 CFP and AP) at South Carolina, noon, ESPN
The Tigers are seeking their 27th straight victory and back-to-back 12-0 regular seasons. Their offense has rolled up 500 or more yards of total offense in their last six games. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is up to 27 touchdown passes and eighth in the nation in passing efficiency.
Interesting note: Gamecocks running back Tavien Feaster won two national championship rings as a Clemson backup the last three years.
Georgia (No. 4 CFP and AP) at Georgia Tech, noon, 6ABC
The Bulldogs are 28-point favorites but can’t afford to take the Yellow Jackets lightly as they await LSU in next week’s SEC championship game and a possible playoff berth. Their defense is one of the nation’s best, but quarterback Jake Fromm is on a three-game run of failing to complete 50 percent of his passes, leading Dogs fans to wonder: “Whatever happened to Justin Fields?”
Alabama (No. 5 CFP and AP) at Auburn (No. 15 CFP/No. 16 AP), 3:30 p.m., CBS3
Hanging around just outside the CFP top four, the Crimson Tide hope that quarterback Mac Jones can keep his wits about him in his first career start on the road matched up against the likes of Tigers defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. Auburn freshman Bo Nix has completed 47.9% of his passes vs. ranked teams for an average of 181 yards per game with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Wisconsin (No. 12 CFP/No. 13 AP) at Minnesota (No. 8 CFP/No. 9 AP), 3:30 p.m., 6ABC
The stakes are high for the Golden Gophers against their oldest rival. A victory secures a berth in the Big Ten championship game opposite Ohio State and earns them their first 11-win season since 1904. The Badgers are trying to reach the title contest for the sixth time since 2011. The game features Minnesota’s 1-2 receiving punch of Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, and Badgers star running back Jonathan Taylor (Salem High), who needs 144 rushing yards to reach the 6,000-yard mark for his career.
What else is happening?
The opponents in the Big 12 championship game are already set, but Oklahoma (No. 7 CFP and AP) might have the tougher matchup against Oklahoma State in the 114th Bedlam rivalry game than Baylor (No. 9 CFP/No. 11 AP), which travels to Kansas. The Sooners’ Jalen Hurts is second in FBS in total offense at 394.5 yards per game, but the Oklahoma defense has struggled, something that the Cowboys’ Chuba Hubbard, who leads the nation in rushing with 1,832 yards, can capitalize on. For the Bears, quarterback Charlie Brewer left last week’s game against Texas after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit, and coach Matt Rhule may elect to go to his backup, Gerry Bohanon, against the lowly Jayhawks.
Then we have the Pac-12 where Utah (No. 6 CFP and AP) and Oregon (No. 14 CFP and AP) are on a collision course to meet next week for the conference championship. The Utes, now the league’s only CFP playoff hope after the Ducks’ stunning loss last week at Arizona State, host Colorado. Oregon prepares for the 123rd edition of the Civil War facing in-state rival Oregon State. The Ducks, whose defense didn’t play well last week, now faces Beavers quarterback Jake Luton (2,714 yards, 28 touchdowns).
Expatriates of the week
Two mainstays of the Michigan offensive line during the team’s four-game winning streak have been fifth-year senior tackle Jon Runyan, a St. Joseph’s Prep graduate, and junior center Cesar Ruiz, who is from Camden and starred at IMG Academy. The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Runyan, son of former Eagles All-Pro Jon Runyan, will make his 24th career start Saturday against Ohio State. The 6-4, 319-pound Ruiz will make his 30th consecutive start and his 25th in a row at center. The Wolverines offense has scored 47 touchdowns — 24 rushing, 23 passing.