With over three months’ worth of action in the books, the 2016 college football regular season boils everything down to the game’s very essence: Rivalry Week.
Enemies from across the state and conference foes form the bulk of Week 13’s slate, and for good reason. Only a few elite teams are left standing after the regular season gauntlet, so it’s only fitting that the final hurdle on the path to a College Football Playoff berth is provided by an old rival.
On Tuesday the latest set of rankings were released by the Playoff Committee, setting the stage for a momentous Saturday of high-profile games. Defending national champion and class of the SEC Alabama (11-0) is the consensus choice at number one, followed by Big Ten powers Ohio State (10-1) and Michigan (10-1) in the second- and third-seeds, respectively, while Clemson (10-1) occupies the fourth and final spot representing the ACC.
On the outside looking in is a Washington (10-1) team that has feasted on weak Pac-12 competition, and Wisconsin (9-2), which counts narrow 7-point losses against the aforementioned Buckeyes and Wolverines as its only defeats.
Both the Huskies and the Badgers will clearly need one of the Top-Four to stumble this week, while posting big wins of their own, if either dark horse is to secure an unlikely postseason appearance.
They just might get what they need too, with two of the current Playoff selections facing off against upset-minded in-state rivals, and the other two finally meeting after a season-long conference collision course.
Top-ranked Alabama hosts Associated Press (AP) 16th-ranked Auburn (8-3) in the 81st edition of the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide lead the all-time series 44-35-1, including two consecutive wins by at least 10 points.
The Tigers have won seven of their last eight, but they’ve already been boxed out of the SEC Championship Game by Nick Saban’s juggernaut. That puts Auburn in upset mode, looking to put Alabama’s quest for a fifth title in eight years in jeopardy.
The consensus line made the Tide 20-point home favorites, but that number has slipped to -17.5 as of now.
The showcase game this Saturday sees Michigan travel to Ohio State with the Big Ten East title on the line in what locals call simply The Game. Both teams have spent the year blowing out overmatched foes en route to compiling identical 10-1 overall and 7-1 conference records.
A win for the Wolverines sends Jim Harbaugh’s team to the Big Ten Championship Game, while the Buckeyes will need to win and hope for Penn State (9-2) to fall. In any event, if the winner here winds up as the Big Ten champion, both teams are expected to reach the eventual Playoff.
Harbaugh is keeping his quarterback choice close to the vest so far, with starter Wilton Speight still suffering from a shoulder injury. For this reason, the Bovada sportsbook has yet to post a line, while the consensus number makes Ohio State 6.5-point home favorites.
In other rivalry games with Playoff ramifications, fourth-ranked Clemson hosts South Carolina (6-5) in the Palmetto Bowl – the second-longest continuous rivalry in college football at 107 consecutive games played – and the Tigers are big 24-point home favorites via Bovada.
Fifth-ranked Washington travels across the state from Seattle to Pullman to take on 23rd-ranked Washington State (8-3). The Huskies will be fighting for their postseason lives, and Bovada has them as 6.5-point road favorites.