There’s so much on the line in the last regular season of the year that we need three days to fit it all in. Besides the typical rivalry matchups, we have numerous games in the Big Ten, Big 12, and the SEC which will directly impact the College Football Playoffs. And, we also have two matchups which will decide the Big Ten and ACC Championship game participants. Let’s take a look at some of the critical matchups in our week 14 college football watch guide.
What does Baylor, Hawaii, and Navy have in common? All three have a chance to win a conference championship. For Baylor and Hawaii, they both stamped their unlikely spots in the game already while Navy must win and hope for a Memphis loss. Meanwhile, Boise State will be waiting in the wings cheering for chaos to ensue this week and win next week. Let’s preview the final weekend in the regular season as we look at our week 14 college football watch guide.
Note: All game times are in central standard time
Week 14 College Football Watch Guide
The Egg Bowl showcases our only Turkey Day game in college football. This year, the game gives us two teams that had disappointing seasons in the SEC. Ole Miss comes in at 4-7 but has seen four of those seven losses coming by a single possession. They’ve settled in with John Rhys Plumlee at the quarterback position and while he hasn’t excelled at getting the ball downfield with his arm, he has done so with his legs. That was evident by his 212-yard, four-touchdown performance against LSU. Meanwhile, Mississippi State has lost five of its last six SEC conference games but could salvage a tough season by not only beating their rivals but attaining bowl eligibility on Thursday night in Starkvegas.
It’s hard to believe that this Texas football team could come into this game with five losses. The Longhorns will only be playing for bowl positioning and pride at this point in the season as they host Texas Tech. It was the offense’s turn to struggle last week as a last-second score just put up 10 points against Baylor. Meanwhile, Texas Tech is 4-7 and out of bowl contention mostly due to their inability to win close games. They have lost their last three games by a total of eight points. I would anticipate another close game for these two schools that have consistently played in one-possession games for the balance of the season.
Now, we make it to the most important game nationally in the early set of games on Friday. This rivalry game brings even more to the table this year as the winner gets the privilege of taking on Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Virginia Tech comes into this game as one of the hottest teams in the country, particularly defensively. Under the final year of defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies have not allowed a point in over nine quarters of play. Meanwhile, Virginia has not been as dominant as of late as they lost to Louisville and struggled with North Carolina and Georgia Tech. The benefit of Bryce Perkins and playing this game at home will make this a very interesting matchup.
Iowa is sitting at 8-3 and has an opportunity for a 10-win season. But, Hawkeye fans must be thinking about what could have been as they are 16 points away from an undefeated season. Be that as it may, currently they are fighting for bowl positioning and playing spoiler to Nebraska. For the Cornhuskers, this hasn’t been quite the season that many thought it might be in Lincoln with many predicting a possible conference championship. An upset win here over Iowa would get Nebraska to bowl eligibility and a much needed extra set of practices for a building program under Scott Frost.
This is the biggest game of the year in the American Athletic Conference. Cincinnati has already clinched a spot in next week’s conference championship game but desperately needs a win here to continue their hopes for a New Year’s Six invitation. The Bearcats haven’t been impressive, but they are finding ways in winning three of their last four by three, three, and two points respectively. Meanwhile, Memphis is clicking on all cylinders after back to back road blowout wins over Houston and South Florida. With a win, Memphis will get a chance to defeat Cincinnati in back to back weeks and will be in the driver’s seat for a New Years Six bowl bid.
Last year, this game was played with a PAC-12 Championship on the line. Fast forward one year and we have two teams that have experienced disappointing seasons with both coming in with 6-5 records for the Apple Cup. But, with rivalry games, each team will get the others best shot in this matchup. The best matchup might just be at the quarterback position with Anthony Gordon of Washington State going up against Jacob Eason for Washington. The two have combined to throw 66 touchdown passes on the season. Expect a high scoring affair in Husky Stadium.
Ohio State was challenged for the first time all year against Penn State and showed its championship moxie. The collective Buckeye nation held their breath however as they saw Justin Fields laying on the ground late in the game but was able to get up under his own power. Fields wasn’t as sharp as he has been earlier in the year in turning the ball over twice and will need to be much more efficient against Michigan. The Wolverines have hit their stride and are playing dominant football on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they haven’t given up more than 14 points in their last four games while averaging 42 points on offense. Shea Patterson has been the key in throwing 12 touchdowns and only one interception during that period. If the Michigan offensive line can hold up against Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Young, they could find themselves in a position to get the upset.
Clemson seems to have become the forgotten team nationally this year. Partly due to the early season struggles and the fact that the ACC has not been as strong as in previous years. But, the Tigers have hit their stride after the close call against North Carolina. Since then, the Tigers have won each of their last six games by at least 31 points. That’s a scary thought for the opposition as they roll into late November. On the other side, it’s been a bit of a tailspin for South Carolina after their upset of Georgia. The Gamecocks have lost four of five since. Head coach Will Muschamp has been given the infamous vote of approval to be back for another season. With nothing else to play for, can South Carolina make their annual rivalry game with Clemson a close game?
On the outside, Georgia appears to be in a great spot right now. They are fourth in the College Football Playoffs and have clinched a spot in the SEC Championship game against LSU. But, the Bulldogs are really struggling offensively. Last week, they were outplayed everywhere but the scoreboard against Texas A&M and escaped with a 19-13 win. They will look to get that offense back on track against a rebuilding Georgia Tech club. Georgia Tech is only 3-8 on the year but does have wins against Miami and last week against NC State. If Georgia Tech can make some stops on defense early and put some doubt in the Georgia offense then they can possibly make this interesting in the second half.
For Louisville, it’s been a great bounce-back year for them as they have an opportunity to win eight games this season after only two wins a year ago. The biggest improvement has come offensively in the form of quarterback Malik Cunningham and wide receive Tutu Atwell. Cunningham has thrown 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions while Atwell has just under 1,100 yards and 11 touchdown catches. Conversely, Kentucky will look for a ground and pound game in this one. It’s remarkable what the Wildcats have been able to do with their limitations this year at the quarterback position. But, do-everything wide receiver turn running back turn quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. has been carrying the torch. He’s the teams leading rusher and receiver and will attempt to will Kentucky to another rivalry win.
Young Mac Jones finally gets to prove his worth. Jones has had two tune-ups against Arkansas and last week against Western Carolina but now he goes on the road in the Iron Bowl against what is arguably the best defense in the country. Not only does Alabama likely need to win, but they probably need to win fairly decisively to get into the playoffs. Not winning their own division would be a big deterrent, but if they can get a 17-21 point win here it would be difficult to leave the Tide out. For Auburn, it’s about their young quarterback as well in Bo Nix. Although he was slightly better against Georgia, Nix must be more efficient for the Tigers to get the Iron Bowl victory over Alabama.
Now, we come to our second win and you’re in the conference championship game of the weekend. Minnesota will get the home-field advantage as well as the College Gameday audience in Minneapolis as Minnesota tries to advance to the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time in program history. Minnesota bounced back well after suffering their first loss of the season and have the pedigree with an efficient quarterback in Tanner Morgan, a pounding running game led by Rodney Smith and a 1,000-yard receiver in Tyler Johnson. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will continue to rely on the two legs of Jonathan Taylor. Taylor might have the hottest November as any player in the country with three consecutive 200-yard games in the month. Expect your typical low-scoring, defensive battle in the Big Ten in what could be the best game of the weekend.
Navy rebounding very well after the blowout loss against Notre Dame with an important win against SMU on senior day. Now, the Naval Academy heads to the road to face Houston with so much on the line. With a win, Navy has the opportunity to win 10 games in a season and they also have a chance to play for a conference championship if Cincinnati were to upset Memphis. For Houston, it’s all about playing for pride. Things have not gone according to plan for the Cougars this season but they have been getting some younger players some valuable experience. Now, Houston could play the spoiler role against the Midshipmen.
LSU and Texas A&M treated the nation to the best game in 2018 a year ago. Can they provide an encore? Texas A&M must rebound quickly after losing a game they must feel like they let slip away last week against Georgia. Kellen Mond played well last week considering how tough the Bulldog defense is in throwing for 275 yards. He’ll most likely need a 350 or more yard performance for the Aggies to shock the world against the Tigers. LSU has one last hurdle to leap before heading to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers already have punched their ticket to Atlanta but this game is pivotal to have the opportunity to play for a National Championship.
The Oklahoma Sooners are the cardiac kids of college football over the last few weeks. The inability to put together a full game is preventing dominating performances, especially at home. Meanwhile, the much-maligned Sooner defense has produced game-winning interceptions in each of the last three weeks to preserve Oklahoma’s chance at a third straight playoff berth. They’ll need to put a full four quarters together to defeat Oklahoma State in the Bedlam matchup. The Cowboys have won four consecutive games and like the Sooners, they are doing so on defense. They have only allowed 13 points in each of their last two games. Dru Brown was efficient in his first start for the injured Spencer Sanders in completing 76% of his throws with two touchdowns. Brown is not the mobile quarterback that Sanders is, so look for heavy doses of Chuba Hubbard and will look to combat the Sooners defensive front by keeping Brown out of obvious passing situations. The Cowboys would love nothing more than to ruin Oklahoma’s chance for another playoff berth and could set up an opportunity for a 10-win season for Oklahoma State.