What does Week 13 mean to the savvy national television viewer?
If nothing else, it means that we are only two jam-packed, regular-season weekends away from the end of college football as we’ve known it.
Though we still have the conference championship games, Army-Navy, the regular bowls and the Playoff to watch, the end of the regular season marks the beginning of the end.
This week, you’ll find what might be the fullest national-TV schedule of the year. After two solid power-five games on Thursday night and some under-the-radar intrigue on Friday, Saturday offers a significant number of opportunities for the next huge upset that could change everything.
Highlights include Ohio State-Indiana (Big Ten Network) early, Florida State-Boston College (ABC/ESPN 2) and Oregon-Colorado (Pac-12 Network) in the mid-afternoon and Baylor-Oklahoma State (FOX) and Mississippi State-Vanderbilt (SEC Network) in the early evening.
The best contest of the weekend might be Ole Miss-Arkansas, CBS’s game of the week on Saturday afternoon.
Thursday, Nov. 20
7:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 12 KANSAS STATE (7-2) at WEST VIRGINIA (6-4): These two have played four times in history, West Virginia’s only win came 84-years ago in 1930 in Morgantown. Even though this is a high-flying Big 12 affair, the key to knocking off K-State is shutting down its rushing attack. The only two games the Wildcats posted fewer than 130-yards rushing are also its only two losses: Auburn held K-State to 40 and TCU gave up a mere 34. Defensively speaking, stopping the run has been West Virginia’s biggest struggle—it ranks No. 88 in rushing D and gave up 223 and 227 ground yards respectively in its last two games, losses to TCU and Texas.
7:30PM ET, ESPN: NORTH CAROLINA (5-5) at DUKE (8-2): The annual battle for the Victory Bell is also the Blue Devils’ ticket to the ACC title game—if they win and beat Wake Forest next week, they capture the ACC Coastal and advance to the championship game vs. Florida State. The Blue Devils’ No. 41-ranked rushing attack ought to run all over the Tar Heels’ defense—ranked No. 125 in scoring (out of 128 FBS teams) and No. 115 vs. the run. The real battle in this one will be North Carolina’s No. 21-ranked passing attack vs. Duke’s No. 21-ranked secondary. If you like unsung heroes, check out the Blue Devils’ offensive line, tied for No. 4 in the nation in sacks allowed and No. 3 in tackles for a loss allowed. North Carolina went 21-1 against Duke from 1990-2011 before dropping the last two by a total of five points.
9:30PM ET, ESPNU: ARKANSAS STATE (6-4) at TEXAS STATE (5-5): Last season’s game between these two was the first ever, Arkansas State won 38-21 in Jonesboro. This is the story of two solid rushing attacks squaring off with defenses that have struggled to stop the run. Check out Arkansas State running back Michael Gordon (#34), averaging 93.7 yards per game, No. 35 in the FBS—he could have a field day vs. a Texas State defense that ranks No. 108 against the run. On the flip side, check out Bobcat linebacker David Mayo (#3) who leads the nation in tackles with 141. The Red Wolves haven’t lost a game in the state of Texas since 2007, when they fell 21-13 to No. 4 Texas in Austin.
Friday, Nov. 21
8:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: UTEP (6-4) at RICE (6-4): The second straight year the Miners will travel to Houston to face Rice, they are 1-7 vs. Rice since 2006, the only win coming in 2010. The key to another Rice victory is shutting down UTEP’s No. 26-ranked rushing attack, anchored by sophomore running back Aaron Jones (#29), averaging 118.1 yards per game, No. 16 in the nation. The Miners have posted 300-plus rushing yards four times this season, all wins. Rice has given up 250-plus ground yards three times— but those hiccups were vs. Notre Dame, option-happy Army and undefeated Marshall. Check out Rice defensive end Brian Nordstrom (#47), No. 8 in nation in tackles for a loss (16.5).
9:30PM ET, ESPN2: SAN JOSE STATE (3-7) at UTAH STATE (8-3): Utah State went 1-11 vs. San Jose State from 1986-2008, but since then have won five straight. What’s interesting about this game is how the Aggies’ one blaring statistical weakness on defense—they are No. 98 vs. the pass—lines up with the Spartans’ No. 24-ranking passing attack, SJSU’s sole offensive strength. This is one of the last opportunities to watch Utah State’s Vigil brothers on national television: Zach (#53, a senior linebacker) and Nick (#41, a sophomore linebacker) lead the team in tackles and tackles for a loss. If that weren’t enough, Vigil the Elder (Zach) is No. 7 in the nation in tackles (114) and No. 11 in tackles for a loss (15). Though San Jose State won’t go bowling this season, it can play spoiler to a Utah State team which is very much alive in the hunt for a Mountain West title.
Saturday, Nov. 22
12:00PM ET, BIG TEN NETWORK: INDIANA (3-7) at No. 6 OHIO STATE (9-1): After surviving a 31-24 decision at Minnesota last week, Ohio State shouldn’t be overlooking the Hoosiers this week. To stay alive in the race for the bracket, the Buckeyes must shut down Indiana’s No. 11-ranked rushing attack, anchored by running back Tevin Coleman (#6), No. 2 in the nation in yards per game (167.8) and fresh off a 307-yard performance vs. Rutgers. Ohio State is No. 30 vs. the run, holding eight of its 10 opponents to under 180 ground yards—the exceptions are Navy, who understandably optioned its way to 370 in the opener and Minnesota, who just last week hung up 218 on the Buckeyes. For the Hoosiers, the key to upsetting Ohio State is thwarting third down tries—the Buckeyes posted a season-low 25% conversion rate in its upset loss to Virginia Tech and spiked to a season-high 71% in its huge win at Michigan State. Indiana ranks No. 28 in the nation in opponent’s third down conversions, holding foes to 35%. The Hoosiers have dropped 19 straight to the Buckeyes, last tying in 1990, last winning in 1988 and last capturing a victory in the Horseshoe in 1987.
12:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 25 MINNESOTA (7-3) at No. 23 NEBRASKA (8-2): Minnesota’s 34-23 win last year snapped its 16-game losing skid vs. the Huskers. Nebraska should come out angry after getting drilled 59-24 by Wisconsin last week. What looms large in this game is the Gophers’ No. 27-ranked rushing offense, not necessarily Melvin Gordon and company, but still a big challenge for a Husker D that coughed up 581-rushing yards to the Badgers. Check out Golden Gopher running back David Cobb (#27), No. 7 in the FBS in rushing yards per game (135). He has six 100-plus yard games this year and has gone over the 180 mark four times. Minnesota hasn’t won in Lincoln since 1960, when it beat No. 12 Nebraska in the season opener, the same year the Gophers captured their most recent national championship.
12:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: KANSAS (3-7) at No. 21 OKLAHOMA (7-3): Kansas has lost nine straight to Oklahoma by 14-plus points, the Jayhawks last beat the Sooners in 1997 and last won in Norman in 1996. Oklahoma ought to pound Kansas, especially on the ground. Look for Sooner true-freshman running back Samaje Perine (#32)—the same guy who posted 242 yards vs. West Virginia and 213 vs. Texas Tech—to have a field day against Kansas’ No. 86-ranked rush defense. What makes this game compelling is Oklahoma’s No. 121-ranked pass defense—allowing an average of 292 yards per game—squaring off with a Kansas aerial attack that has averaged 288 passing yards in its last five outings, including hanging up 342 in last week’s upset bid vs. TCU.
1:00PM ET, Pac-12 NETWORK: WASHINGTON STATE (3-7) at No. 13 ARIZONA STATE (8-2): Though you may have to go out to find this one, it may be worth your while, especially since a quality sports bar should also have access to the Ohio State-Indiana game. What’s intriguing here is Washington State’s aerial attack—still ranked No. 1 in the nation—taking on Arizona’s State’s pass defense, a unit that is No. 76. Despite the switch at quarterback from the injured Connor Halliday (#12) to Luke Falk (#4), the Cougars are still averaging 477 passing yards per game. That’s a whopping 109 yards more than the next closest competitor, No. 2 East Carolina at 368. Arizona State has given up an average of 348 passing yards in its last two outings: 446 to Notre Dame and 251 in its loss at Oregon State last week. The performance vs. the Irish was a season-low for the Sun Devils, a mark that was masked by the win and Notre Dame’s five turnovers. Washington State has only beaten Arizona State once in the last ten tries and dropped the last two by an average of 37 points. The Cougars haven’t beaten the Forks in Tempe since 2001.
3:30PM ET, ABC/ESPN2: BOSTON COLLEGE (6-4) at No. 3 FLORIDA STATE (10-0): Unfortunately this game doesn’t setup well statistically for an upset, but that’s why the game isn’t played on paper. Boston College is a team with a top-tier rushing attack (No. 12 in rushing yards) and an elite rushing defense (No. 4 vs. the run). This matches up well with a Florida State team that is solid against the run (No. 36) and doesn’t rely on its ground game offensively (No. 83 in rushing yards vs. No. 11 in passing). The Seminoles ought to beat the Eagles through the air, torching their No. 67-ranked pass defense. That said, it’s key to remember that Boston College is the best rushing team FSU has faced, or will face, this season. The only opponent that comes close is Miami (Fla.), No. 38 in rushing yards, averaging 67 fewer yards per game than BC. The Seminoles have won four straight vs. Boston College, last dropping a game in 2009 and last losing to the Eagles in Tallahassee in 2008.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 8 OLE MISS (8-2) at ARKANSAS (5-5): The Razorbacks have dropped two straight to Ole Miss and haven’t beaten the Rebels in Arkansas since 2010. This is a fabulous matchup between a stifling Ole Miss defense (No. 1 in scoring and No. 25 vs. the run) and an Arkansas offense that is No. 22 in rushing yards. The common thread in the Rebels’ two losses is giving up 200-plus yards rushing—264 to LSU and 248 to Auburn. Ole Miss has held its other eight foes to an average of 96 rushing yards. This sets up well for a Razorback ground attack that averages 232. Look for this to be an absolute battle between two squads who suffered six of their seven combined losses to Top Ten teams. The Razorbacks snapped their 17-game SEC losing streak vs. LSU last week and this week have an opportunity to be bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. The last two games between these two were decided by a total of 13 points.
3:30PM ET, ESPN: No. 15 ARIZONA (8-2) at No. 17 UTAH (7-3): Arizona must win this game to stay alive in what is still a wild Pac-12 South division race. What’s iced the Wildcats this season is rushing defense: Arizona has held six of its 10 opponents to under 125-yards rushing (all big wins), but coughed up 193 in its 49-45 near-miss vs. Cal, 239 in its loss to USC, a season-high 271 in the loss at UCLA and then 245 in last week’s narrow 27-26 win over Washington. If there is going to be a hero in this one, look to Utah running back Davontae Booker (#23), he’s gone over the 100-yard mark five times this season (all Pac-12 games) and is No. 22 in the FBS in rushing yards per game (111). Utah has dropped two straight to the Wildcats and hasn’t won in Salt Lake since the 2005 season opener.
3:30PM ET, NBC: No. 24 LOUISVILLE (7-3) at NOTRE DAME (7-3): The first-ever football meeting between the two schools, the Irish ought to be well-motivated to play away the devastating memory of last week’s overtime loss to Northwestern. It’s easy to get the impression that the Irish defense is slipping—after allowing an average of 1.6 touchdowns through its first five games, Notre Dame has given up an average 5.2 per game in its last five. This makes a compelling matchup with a Louisville offense that is gaining momentum, especially through the air. On the flip side, keep in mind that Irish quarterback Everett Golson—who after playing mistake-free in his first three starts has thrown at least one interception in each subsequent game (four vs. Arizona State)—will be facing a Louisville secondary that is ranked No. 1 in interceptions (22), anchored by sophomore safety Gerod Holliman (#8) who leads the nation in picks with 13. Notre Dame hasn’t lost its home finale since 2009, when it fell 33-30 to UConn in double overtime.
3:30PM ET, ABC: No. 16 WISCONSIN (8-2) at IOWA (7-3): This is Iowa’s first game vs. a ranked opponent this season, the Hawkeyes have dropped eight-straight to Top 25 teams, last winning vs. No. 13 Michigan on Nov. 5, 2011. For Iowa to engineer an upset it will have to force turnovers: Wisconsin has lost the ball four times on two separate occasions this year, throwing four picks in the 20-14 loss at Northwestern and fumbling the ball four times vs. Nebraska. The mistakes last weekend were masked by the Huskers’ poor defense and the fact that they had five turnovers of their own, giving the Badgers a plus-one advantage in turnovers. Iowa is minus-two overall in turnovers this year (No. 77) and minus-four in its last two games. This is the third consecutive meeting in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes haven’t scored a victory vs. Wisconsin since 2009, when they won 20-10 in Madison.
4:30PM ET, PAC-12 NETWORK: COLORADO (2-8) at No. 2 OREGON (9-1): The Week 13 sleeper and another reason to find an establishment with a Pac-12 Network feed, this game has almost all the right stuff for a stunning upset. Oregon’s No. 3 scoring offense ought to pound Colorado’s No. 120-ranked scoring defense, but on the other side of the ball things get very interesting. The Buffs are No. 17 in passing offense and No. 29 in pass plays for 10-plus yards. This sets up for must see TV vs. a Duck defense that is No. 123 against the pass and No. 123 in, you guessed it, giving up pass plays of 10-plus yards. It’s one of the most compelling, under-the-radar mismatches in the race to the Playoff. Check out Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce (#22), No. 9 in the FBS in yards per game (109). Colorado is on a 0-9 skid in Pac-12 play, last beating Cal 41-24 on Nov. 16, 2013. Oregon has won four straight vs. Colorado by an average of 41 points.
7:30PM ET, FOX: OKLAHOMA STATE (5-5) at No. 7 BAYLOR (8-1): Baylor is 2-16 vs. Oklahoma State since 1996, the only wins coming in 2005 and 2012, both in Waco. The Bears should pound the young Cowboys on both sides of the ball, the only opening coming via Baylor’s secondary, a unit which TCU torched with 346 passing yards in the 61-58 near miss and West Virginia hit with 322 in its stunning 41-27 upset. Both were season-worsts for the Baylor D. This means that Cowboy quarterback Daxx Garman (#12) will have to do what he hasn’t done since early in the season, post 300-plus passing yards on an opposing defense. Garman hung up 315 and 370 in wins over UTSA and Texas Tech, but has only gone over the 165-yard mark once in his last five starts. The plot thickens with reports that Garman may not start due to a concussion, putting the ball in the hands of Mason Rudolph, a 4-star true-freshman who has never taken a snap in college. The visiting team hasn’t won a game in this series since 2009, when the Cowboys beat the Bears 34-7 in Waco.
7:30PM ET, SEC NETWORK: VANDERBILT (3-7) at No. 4 MISSISSIPPI STATE (9-1): Though Mississippi State didn’t beat Alabama last week, could it be hung over from the emotional loss and looking past three-win Vandy to next week’s Egg Bowl? Probably not. This game is worth watching because it matters so much to the Playoff picture, there is simply no room for error. The Commodores have been awful on both sides of the ball this season, but have shown decent progress passing the ball, posting 225 yards through the air two weeks ago vs. Florida. Though Mississippi State should have no problem with Vanderbilt, it has struggled in pass defense throughout the season, giving up 341 air yards to LSU, 365 to Texas A&M and 401 to Kentucky. Vandy has won only one of its last seven meetings with MSU and hasn’t won in Starkville since 1971, when it blew out the Bulldogs 49-19.
7:30PM ET, ESPN: No. 20 MISSOURI (8-2) at TENNESSEE (5-5): This game is significant to a Tennessee program that hasn’t been bowl eligible since 2010, finishing one-game shy each of the past three seasons. To beat Mizzou, the Vols will need to run the ball successfully— the Tigers’ D has only given up 160-plus yards rushing twice: 241 in the loss to Indiana and 210 to the loss to Georgia, also the only two defeats of the year. This puts tremendous pressure on a Tennessee offense that has struggled to run the ball, averaging only 139 yards per game, No. 97 in the FBS. The Vols’ best shot is true-freshman running back Jalen Hurd (#1), a 5-star prospect who Rivals had as the No. 5 back in the class of 2014. Hurd has posted back-to-back 100-plus yard performances the last two weeks, the first of his career and both wins for Tennessee. The Vols have never knocked off the Tigers, losing both meetings occurring since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 19 USC (7-3) at No. 9 UCLA (8-2): One of the best, if not the best crosstown rivalry in college football, USC and UCLA are the second set of teams vying for a Victory Bell in Week 13. What’s fascinating here is that both these top-shelf programs have struggled vs. the pass: USC is No. 105 in pass defense while UCLA is No. 97. This sets up for either or both quarterbacks—USC’s Cody Kessler (#6) or UCLA’s Brett Hundley (#17)—to have huge nights. The X-factor in this one might be Trojan cornerback Kevon Seymour (#13), who with 12 broken-up passes is tied for the fourth most in the nation. UCLA has won the last two but hasn’t scored three consecutive wins vs. USC since 1996-98, the tail end of what was an eight-game winning streak vs. the Trojans.
10:15PM ET, ESPN2: BOISE STATE (8-2) at WYOMING (4-6): One of two late-night Mountain West options, Wyoming has had eight cracks at Boise State, all since 2002, but has never beat the Broncos. Look for the Broncos’ offense—ranked No. 16 in both scoring and rushing yards—to go off on the Cowboys’ No. 86-ranked scoring D. Check out Boise State running back Jay Ajayi (#27), No. 11 in the nation in yards per game (128). Boise State has won the last four games vs. Wyoming by an average of 35 points.
10:30PM ET, ESPNU: FRESNO STATE (4-6) at NEVADA (6-4): Fresno State won the last two games by an average of 17 points, but before that dropped four straight to Nevada. Look for Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo (#17) to have a huge night—both through the air and on the ground—against a Bulldog defense that ranks No. 111 in scoring, No. 113 vs. the run and No. 108 against the pass. Though their hasn’t been much to celebrate on Fresno State’s young offense, it does feature a 1000-yard rusher in Marteze Waller (#33), who has put together a four-game streak of 115-plus yard performances.