The college football season is winding down, but the slate this week is a feast to match what will be on your Thanksgiving tables. Washington at Washington State will decide the PAC-12, Western Michigan puts its undefeated record to the test against Toledo, the Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama is up once again, Florida and Florida State will vie for sunshine state supremacy, and the BIG 10 will be decided as Minnesota faces west leaders Wisconsin, and Michigan travels to face Ohio State in a top four matchup. Our experts Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, and Mike Loveall are on hand to offer their previews and predictions.
#5 Washington at #23 Washington State (Friday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Washington by 6
Steen: Washington State saw their winning streak snapped last week against Colorado, while Washington regained their footing but now has a tough road test to reach the PAC-12 title. The Apple Cup has always mattered in the Pacific Northwest, but for the first time in a long time it has national implications. Mike Leach’s aggressive swagger will match up with the steady confidence of Chris Peterson in what should be a high scoring football game. Don’t sleep on the Cougars, but look for Jake Browning to step up and schedule the Huskies for another big game next week. Washington 42, Washington State 35
Yesh: I really don’t know what to say about this Apple Cup. I had some faith in the Washington State defense until it got beaten pretty easily by Colorado last week–and Jake Browning is so much more mobile than Sefo Liufau. On the other hand, Mike Leach will do everything humanly possible to win the division. Literally anything can happen in this game, but I like Luke Falk enough to pick the upset. Barely. Washington State 35, Washington 34
John: Friday’s tilt in Pullman between the Huskies and Cougars may be the biggest Apple Cup in the history of the rivalry. Only five times previously in the series have both teams been ranked. That’s saying something considering they’ve played each other 96 times in a series dating back to 1917.
Exceptional quarterback play will be on full display. Both Washington’s Jake Browning and Wazzu’s Luke Falk have combined for 73 touchdown passes and have just seven interceptions apiece. Falk is currently third nationally with 3,935 pass yards while Browning sports the fourth best quarterback rating (180.72) in FBS.
But the edge on defense goes to the Huskies. They’ve forced 26 turnovers (second best in FBS) and only Colorado is giving up fewer yards among Pac-12 teams. That unit should help lead U-Dub to victory and keep them alive for a spot in the CFP if teams ahead of them falter. Washington 38, Washington State 27
Mike: Washington got back on track last week after their perfect season was ruined by USC. However, the Huskies are still on the outside of the College Football Playoffs. For the Huskies to get in, they must be a conference champion. And as crazy as it sounds, the path to the Pac-12 Championship runs through Pullman this year. Mike Leach’s Cougars stumbled last week, but can still win the North Division with a victory in the Apple Cup. Leach has his typical high-powered offense, but the Huskie defense makes the difference in this one. Washington 35, Washington State 31
Toledo at #21 Western Michigan (Friday 5:00 P.M.)
Line: Western Michigan by 9
Steen: Neither MAC team has won any notable games this season, but with just two losses between them, this is going to be a great football game. Toledo has nothing to lose, while Western Michigan has to stay undefeated to make a New Year’s Six Bowl game. The Rockets will make this close, but I trust WMU to row their boat into the MAC title game. Western Michigan 38, Toledo 34
Yesh: I’ve loved watching Western Michigan this season, but I don’t think the Broncos are quite as talented as their record shows. Toledo is, without question, the best team that Western Michigan has faced this year. The game is in Kalamazoo, which helps WMU, but I see Toledo coming out of this as the MAC West champ. The drought has lasted long enough. Toledo 35, Western Michigan 28
John: Only one game stands between Western Michigan and an undefeated regular season. And don’t expect it to be a cakewalk. The Broncos welcome a Toledo team to Kalamazoo that will come into this game at 9-2 and 6-1 in the MAC.
Both teams are loaded at the quarterback position. Rockets signal caller Logan Woodside currently leads the MAC with 3,653 passing yards and the nation with 40 touchdown passes. Zach Terrell has arguably been the most mistake free quarterback in college football, having thrown just one interception all year.
WMU receiver Corey Davis is just 19 yards away from setting the all-time FBS record in receiving yards. The senior pass catcher could very well be the next Antonio Brown (himself a former MAC wideout) if he can translate his collegiate success to the next level. He should figure prominently in helping P.J. Fleck’s boys “row the boat” to a MAC West title on Friday. Western Michigan 34, Toledo 20
Mike: The biggest game in Western Michigan history. Which isn’t saying too much, but still, it’s good to see P.J. Fleck succeeding in Kalamazoo. The Broncos have a very balanced attack, but Toledo has a passing attack that has potential to put up points. This game will decide the MAC-West Division. If Western Michigan wins, they are one win away from a New Year’s Six bowl berth. But Toledo might also be in play with a win as well. Is Western Michigan’s story too good to be true? Say it ain’t so, Kalamazoo. Toledo 34, Western Michigan 31
#3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State (Saturday 12:00 P.M.)
Line: Ohio State by 6.5
Steen: Michigan’s offense has sputtered at times this season, while their defense has been the rock they have leaned on. Both teams know the importance of this game, beyond the huge rivalry, and will be up for it. Ohio State struggled last week, and is on the outside looking in for a Big 10 title, but I still get a feeling the Buckeyes are a better team. Michigan will stay in this game, but I don’t think they have the offensive playmakers to pull it out. Ohio State 24, Michigan 17
Yesh: I’ll happily admit my bias in this game. I grew up in Columbus and am a Buckeye through and through. But Ohio State just has so much more talent right now, at least in enough skill positions. The matchup is one that the Buckeyes could easily run away with. As long as Ohio State’s offensive line holds up (and that’s the biggest question in this game), the Buckeyes offense shouldn’t have trouble moving the ball in this game. Ohio State 42, Michigan 13
John: Forget college football. There might not be a better rivalry in all of American sports than Michigan-Ohio State. And with both teams currently ranked in the CFP top three, it’s possible that this year’s edition might go down as the biggest in the history of the series.
Perhaps the biggest question leading into this game is the status of Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight. The junior signal caller injured his collarbone in the Wolverines loss to Iowa and missed last week’s game against Indiana. Considering how much John O’Korn struggled in their narrow win over the Hoosiers, most UM fans are hoping Speight’s able to go.
Jim Harbaugh will be looking to reverse an extended string of dominance from Ohio State in this rivalry. The Buckeyes have won four straight and 13 of the last 15 dating back to 2001. On paper, the talent level hasn’t been this even for a while. But the home field advantage combined with an inspired performance from J.T. Barrett sees OSU through. Ohio State 35, Michigan 28
Mike: These two teams have been on a collision course all season. Unfortunately, both have stumbled lately. Michigan fell to Iowa and Ohio State’s perfect season was blocked by Penn State. Ohio State has struggled in bad weather under Urban Meyer, and of late they have squeezed by Northwestern and Michigan State. Wilton Speight’s health is the one big question mark this week. With Speight, Michigan is a threat to win the game. Without Speight, the Wolverines defense would be on their own. The weather forecast for Columbus is sunny and 47 degrees. That will make for a nice walk home for Buckeyes fans. And the score will, too. Ohio State 27, Michigan 23
Minnesota at #6 Wisconsin (Saturday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Wisconsin by 14
Steen: Wisconsin lost to the Big 10’s two best teams back to back but otherwise has dominated their schedule. The Badgers are a really good football team, and still have a shot at making the playoff if they can win out. Minnesota is a good team in their own right, the Golden Gophers are going bowling once again and this an experienced team that plays solid football on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin is simply better though, and they should win this game. Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 14
Yesh: Minnesota is talented. Minnesota has one of the best running back corps in all of college football. A two-touchdown spread is just huge here. If the Wisconsin offense clicks like it did last week, this could be a blowout. But I have a very difficult time having faith in an offensive showing against Purdue. Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 14
John: Saturday’s game between the Badgers and Gophers marks the 126th all-time meeting between the schools. That makes it the most played college football rivalry in the nation among Power 5 conferences. Since 1948, they’ve played for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
The rivalry has been fairly one-sided over the past two decades. Wisconsin is 19-2 against Minnesota since 1995. Despite that, the Gophers still lead the overall series, a distinction they’ve enjoyed for the entirety of its 126 year history. The Badgers can tie it with a win today.
A lot is on the line. Should Wisconsin prevail, they’ll capture their fourth Big Ten divisional title since the conference began staging a championship game back in 2011. With a stifling defense and a dynamic running back in Corey Clement, that scenario seems highly likely. Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 14
Mike: Wisconsin is in a very interesting position. Currently sitting in sixth place in the CFP poll, a win against Minnesota gets them into the Big Ten Championship Game where they could avenge a loss to either Michigan or Ohio State (or beat Penn State) which might leap them into the Playoffs. But first they have to get past a pesky Minnesota team that is still in the Division race. The difference here is on the defense. While Wisconsin’s offense has found their rhythm the past two weeks, scoring 48 and 49, Minnesota’s defense allows an average of 351.7 yards per game. Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 13
#13 Auburn at #1 Alabama (Saturday 3:30 P.M.)
Line: Alabama by 17.5
Steen: FCS Chattanooga gave Alabama one of its more difficult games this year, as the Crimson Tide are the one great team in college football this year. Auburn is good, but they don’t have an offense to keep up with their in state rivals. Look for the Crimson Tide to lock down on defense and win this game somewhat easily. Alabama 24, Auburn 7
Yesh: Alabama is going to win this game. I’m going to start by saying that. Picking Alabama to lose a game this year, except maybe in the National Championship Game, is just foolish. Still, Auburn is a good team and I think that this rivalry can keep it close. 17.5 points is a big enough spread that I think I can pull the trigger on the underdog here. Alabama 31, Auburn 14
John: For the sixth straight year, Alabama heads into their annual Iron Bowl showdown with Auburn in the thick of the national title discussion. It’s a testament to the juggernaut that Nick Saban has built during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. And his Tide squad will be expected to prevail Saturday against their bitter rival.
That becomes even more apparent in looking at Auburn’s quarterback situation. Regular starter Sean White has been ruled out for the game. In his place will likely be Jeremy Johnson who has played sparingly this year but appeared in ten games last season. Bama’s defensive front is probably chomping at the bit.
The Crimson Tide is ranked no less than second in three of the four major defensive categories. Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson have combined for 21.5 sacks. This one should go in favor of the home team as they make their march to another CFP appearance. Alabama 41, Auburn 17
Mike: Everyone knows about Alabama’s defense, and deservedly so. But Auburn’s defense has had a solid season as well. They held DeShaun Watson and Clemson in check during the first game of the season. And only a stumble against Georgia is keeping this game from being the deciding match in the SEC West. As it is, Auburn still has a shot at the Sugar Bowl, if they can keep this close or win. You can beat Tigers fans are a little upset at the enormous spread, but Alabama looks like a machine this year. They continue to roll, as Sean White’s health is a concern for Auburn. Alabama 31, Auburn 20
#15 Florida at #14 Florida State (Saturday 8:00 P.M.)
Line: Florida State by 6.5
Steen: Florida made the SEC title game on the back of a great defense, but their offense is pedestrian at best, and Florida State has shown improvement on both sides of the ball since early season struggles derailed their ACC title hopes and left the Noles playing for pride. DeAndre Francois continues to improve, the FSU receiving corps is an improving unit, and Dalvin Cook is an under appreciated Heisman contender. With this game in Tallahassee, Florida State should have an edge, and the ACC could sweep the SEC this weekend. Florida State 27, Florida 17
Yesh: I don’t know what to think of Florida. It didn’t prove anything at all this year, then the Gators went on and beat LSU last week. Sure, that could have easily been a blowout–LSU had three trips inside the 10-yard-line that ended without points. If Florida State can move the ball, especially through the air, this could get ugly fast. I don’t know if that will happen, but it feels more likely than Florida scoring enough points for this game to be comfortable. Florida State 31, Florida 17
John: The annual Sunshine State hatefest between the Noles and Gators hasn’t gone in Florida’s favor recently. FSU has taken five of the last six with their wins coming by an average margin of 19.6 points. Second year UF head coach Jim McElwain will be hoping for a better outing from his team than last year when they were handily beaten 27-2.
The Gators do boast an extremely stingy pass defense that’s giving up just 160 passing yards per game, fourth best in FBS. Defensive backs Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson have combined for seven interceptions. So they may be able to make things difficult for redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois.
Florida State is out of the hunt for the ACC title, while Florida faces Alabama in the SEC title game next week. It’s certainly a rivalry game but, nevertheless, there is the risk of either team looking past this game. The home-standing Noles ultimately prevail but in a tight one at Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State 24, Florida 20
Mike: This game looks like a carbon copy of last season’s in-state rivalry, with the exception of Florida State’s unexpected struggles on offense. Florida is coming off an upset win against LSU that clinched the SEC East for the second straight season. Florida State is looking to remain in the national conversation and, of course, win against the team just two hours down I-75 in the Sunshine State. Florida has exceeded expectations, while Florida State is dealing with disappointment and questions about Jimbo Fisher. Will that distraction cost the Seminoles? Florida State 24, Florida 17