There’s plenty at stake entering the final week of the 2023 college football regular season.
There weren’t any big upsets in Week 12 as multiple ranked opponents scheduled lesser non-conference foes. Or, in the case of No. 1 Georgia, absolutely dominated a conference opponent.
A couple of teams got scares. No. 5 Washington was a slight underdog at No. 11 Oregon State but got a two-point win. No. 9 Missouri needed a field goal with five seconds left to beat Florida. No. 16 Iowa beat Illinois by two in a typical low-scoring Big Ten West affair.
Overall, the polls and conference standings look a lot like they did entering the weekend. And there’s a lot to play for in Week 13. Here are the biggest games looming on the schedule that will impact the College Football Playoff race and conference title chases around the country.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 3 Michigan
This one needs no explanation. The winner heads to the Big Ten championship game. The loser could still be in the playoff at 11-1. It’s the biggest game between these two fierce rivals since … last season. This marks the first time ever that Michigan and Ohio State have met as undefeated teams in consecutive seasons and the matchup is just the fifth time ever both teams have been undefeated at the time of the game. Michigan has won the last two games against the Buckeyes and won’t have Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines as he serves the third game of his three-game Big Ten suspension for the Wolverines’ in-person sign-stealing scandal.
No. 11 Oregon State at No. 6 Oregon (Friday)
Oregon QB Bo Nix looked very much like the Heisman frontrunner in the Ducks’ big win over Arizona State. Nix threw for six touchdowns and had five incompletions as Oregon scored 42 first-half points. The Ducks need the win over their rivals to make the Pac-12 championship game and this is an Oregon State team that’s more than capable of ruining Oregon’s dream season. And remember, it’s their last meeting as Pac-12 rivals before Oregon heads to the Big Ten.
The Seminoles need a win to cap off an undefeated regular season and also need to show the College Football Playoff committee that they are still an excellent team without QB Jordan Travis. The senior suffered a serious left leg injury Saturday night in the Seminoles’ win over North Alabama. He’s been excellent this season as the Seminoles have been the class of the ACC. If Tate Rodemaker shows he can fill in admirably for Travis, FSU’s playoff hopes are still very much alive.
Washington State at No. 5 Washington
The Huskies moved to 11-0 with a 22-20 win over Oregon State in the rain in Corvallis and clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game in the process. Michael Penix Jr. found Rome Odunze seven times while the rest of the Huskies’ receivers had a combined six catches. Washington State enters the final Pac-12 Apple Cup needing a win to get bowl-eligible after a massive win at home against Colorado on Friday night. This could be an extremely high-scoring game.
Texas Tech at No. 7 Texas (Friday)
Texas went to Iowa State and got a 26-16 win to move to 10-1 and likely stay at No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings. A win clinches a spot in the Big 12 title game for the Longhorns and keeps them in the thick of the playoff race. Texas Tech beat UCF 24-23 at home on Saturday and sits in a tie for fifth in the Big 12 and is a game out of second. But three teams are tied at 6-2 in the conference: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
No. 8 Alabama at Auburn
The Tigers enter this game on the heels of an embarrassing loss to New Mexico State. Auburn paid the Aggies nearly $2 million and lost 31-10 at home. Alabama, meanwhile, had a very easy win over Chattanooga on Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide need the win to stay in the thick of the playoff mix with a win over Georgia in the SEC title game. And we’ve seen crazy things happen in the Iron Bowl when an unranked Auburn hosts. This could be closer than you’d think.
UTSA at No. 24 Tulane (Friday)
This game is basically an AAC semifinal. The winner heads to the title game, the loser will be sitting at home if SMU beats Navy in Week 13. UTSA has won seven straight after a 1-3 start that included losses to Houston and Tennessee, and Tulane is currently in line to be the Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six bowl games for a second consecutive season.
Texas A&M at No. 15 LSU
The Aggies’ trip to the Tigers doesn’t mean anything for the national title picture or the SEC race. But it could have a massive impact on the Heisman race. LSU QB Jayden Daniels had eight total touchdowns as he continued to be impossible to stop. Week 13 is Daniels’ last game of the season while other Heisman contenders like Nix, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison and Penix could play two more games before the voting concludes. Another big game would go a long way for Daniels’ Heisman hopes. He’s currently the No. 2 betting favorite behind Nix to win the award.
There are multiple Mountain West games to pick from as the conference joins the Big 12 in having an exceptionally fun title race entering the final week of the season. The Rebels beat Air Force on the road Saturday and San Jose State has pushed its way into the title mix over the last few weeks. Boise State got a big win over Utah State on Saturday and hosts Air Force on Black Friday. The winners of those two matchups could play in the MWC title game.
The Dukes suffered their first loss of the season as they fell 26-23 at home to Appalachian State in overtime on Saturday. Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, lost at Army. But this is a significant game in the Sun Belt because James Madison is ineligible to win the East Division title. Coastal Carolina beat App State earlier in the season and has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Mountaineers. A win against JMU wins the East for Coastal. If both JMU and App State win in Week 13, the Mountaineers face Troy in the title game.
Here are Week 12’s winners and losers:
Georgia: Georgia moved up to No. 1 in the CFP rankings and it showed why in Saturday night’s 38-10 road win over Tennessee. The Bulldogs dominated a Tennessee team that hadn’t lost at Neyland Stadium since November 2021. Coincidentally, that was Georgia’s last visit to Knoxville. The yardage advantage this time around was 472 to 277 as Bulldogs QB Carson Beck completed 24 of 30 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Bulldogs improve to 11-0. Georgia has now won 28 consecutive games with the rivalry game with Georgia Tech and the SEC title game matchup with Alabama on the horizon.
Washington: Washington went into hostile territory and managed to stay undefeated with a dramatic 22-20 victory over Oregon State. The Huskies jumped out to a 22-10 halftime lead and managed to pull out the win despite being shut out in the second half. The Washington defense got the fourth-down stop it needed in the final minutes and then Michael Penix Jr. sealed the victory with a beautiful third-down throw to Rome Odunze. Odunze caught seven passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns in the win, which clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Bo Nix & Jayden Daniels: While Penix threw two touchdown passes and added another on the ground, he had a season-low 162 yards in Washington’s win. The two other top Heisman Trophy contenders, Oregon QB Bo Nix and LSU QB Jayden Daniels, had incredible statistical outputs on Saturday. Nix threw for 381 yards and six TDs in the first half as the Ducks jumped out to a 42-0 halftime lead over Arizona State. Nix barely played in the second half and finished the day with 404 yards on 24-of-29 throwing. Daniels had a combined eight TDs in LSU’s 56-14 win over Georgia State. Daniels completed 25-of-30 passes for 413 yards and six TDs and added 96 yards and two TDs as a runner. At this point, it’d be a shock if these two — and Penix — didn’t make it to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
Louisville: Louisville is heading to the ACC title game for the first time thanks to a 38-31 road win over Miami. It was just the third true road game of the season for the Cardinals, but they were able to score a late touchdown and get a late goal line stand to emerge with a seven-point victory. Now 10-1 in Year 1 under Jeff Brohm, the Cardinals will meet Florida State in the ACC title game after next week’s rivalry game vs. Kentucky. On top of that, UL’s CFP hopes are still alive. The Cardinals are the lowest-ranked one-loss team, so they will need some chaos to crack the field of four.
Arizona: Arizona just keeps on winning and is still alive in the Pac-12 title race thanks to a 42-18 victory over No. 22 Utah on Saturday. Arizona has won five consecutive games with the rivalry game vs. Arizona State on deck. If the Wildcats beat the Sun Devils and Oregon State upsets Oregon, Arizona will meet Washington in the conference championship game. The Wildcats went winless the year before Jedd Fisch arrived. Now in Fisch’s third season, the Wildcats are 8-3 with wins over four ranked teams and alive for a conference championship. Arizona can also notch just its second 10-win season in the past 25 years.
Iowa: Despite its lackluster offense, Iowa is going back to the Big Ten title game. The Hawkeyes, now 9-2, clinched the West division crown with a 15-13 win over Illinois thanks to a 30-yard touchdown run by Kaleb Johnson with 4:43 to play. Before that score, Iowa had punted on its previous six possessions as Illinois turned a 9-3 deficit into a 13-9 advantage. And not only did Johnson score the winning TD, his 12-yard run on third down in the final minutes allowed Iowa to run out the clock and lock up the division. Things will get much more difficult next season with the Big Ten expanding and divisions going away, so Iowa should savor this success.
UNLV: UNLV, a program that had just one winning record since 2000, is in first place in the Mountain West with one week remaining in the regular season. How unbelievable is that? The Rebels, in their first year under Barry Odom, improved to 9-2 (6-1 Mountain West) with a come-from-behind 31-27 road win over Air Force. The Falcons had a 24-7 first half lead, but UNLV stormed all the way back and took a 28-27 lead late in the third quarter. The Rebels would add a field goal and pitch a second-half shutout defensively to pull out a remarkable win. With a win next week over San Jose State, UNLV will host the Mountain West title game.
SMU: SMU is in the driver’s seat in the AAC race thanks to a 38-34 road win over Memphis on Saturday. The Mustangs are a perfect 7-0 in conference play with only Navy remaining on the regular season schedule. Tulane and UTSA are also unbeaten in AAC play, but the Green Wave and Roadrunners will meet next week in New Orleans with a spot in the conference title game on the line. If SMU takes care of business vs. Navy, the Mustangs will be on the other side.
Auburn: Auburn… what happened? The Tigers, winners of three straight, thought they had a pushover on the schedule with the Iron Bowl on deck vs. Alabama next week. But New Mexico State had other ideas. NMSU, which had already clinched a spot in the Conference USA title game, went into Jordan-Hare Stadium and upset the Tigers 31-10. The game wasn’t even close. The Aggies, previous 0-24 vs. SEC opponents, out-gained Auburn 414 yards to 213 as Diego Pavia threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns. That’s just a ridiculously bad loss for Hugh Freeze.
USC: Has any team in the country been more disappointing than USC? The Trojans, with Heisman winner Caleb Williams returning, entered the season with CFP hype. Instead, they lost five of their final six games and finished the regular season with a 7-5 record. USC went 11-1 in its first regular season under Lincoln Riley. Since then, the Trojans are 7-7 in their last 14 as their miserable defense has routinely come up short and wasted the presence of an incredible quarterback. While Williams goes to the NFL, Riley will have some major changes to make as he oversees the transition to the Big Ten.
North Carolina: Speaking of wasting a star QB, let’s not forget about North Carolina. If Williams doesn’t go No. 1 in next year’s NFL draft, it may be UNC’s Drake Maye. Maye emerged as one of the best players in the country last year but the Tar Heels crumbled down the stretch with four straight losses following a 9-1 start. The main culprit for that ugly finish was a porous defense. It has been more of the same in 2023. The Tar Heels started the season 6-0 but have since lost three of their last five to drop to 8-3. Maye isn’t completely blameless as he had a rough game in Saturday’s 31-20 loss to Clemson, but the UNC defense allowed a beat-up Clemson offense to put up 466 yards.
Florida: Florida was on the verge of upsetting No. 9 Missouri on the road, but Billy Napier’s team melted down in the final minutes. With starting QB Graham Mertz out with an injury, the Gators managed to take a 31-30 lead with 1:36 to play. Before the go-ahead field goal, Trevor Etienne inexplicably ran out of bounds, meaning Missouri did not have to use its final timeout. That made a difference. The Tigers subsequently drove down the field, converting a fourth-and-17 in the process, and Harrison Mevis hit the game-winning 30-yard FG. Florida has gone from 5-2 to 5-6 and now needs to upset undefeated Florida State to go to a bowl game.
Kentucky: The second half of the season has just been miserable for Kentucky. The Wildcats started the year 5-0 but has since dropped five of its last six following Saturday night’s 17-14 loss at South Carolina. With the loss, the Wildcats are 6-5 overall and 3-5 in SEC play. Kentucky was doomed by three turnovers in this one, two of which came from Devin Leary. The graduate transfer quarterback has disappointed as he’s completed only 56.3% of his passes this season.
Colorado: Colorado’s bowl hopes were dashed by an ugly 56-14 loss to Washington State on Friday night. Shedeur Sanders was sacked four times in the first quarter before exiting the game with an injury. Once Sanders was knocked out of the game, the Buffs just had no shot. Now 4-7, the Buffs cannot reach a bowl game in Year 1 under Deion Sanders. It’s a disappointing turn of events after an electric 3-0 start to the season. CU won just one game in 2022, so the team has improved under Sanders but there’s still a long way to go.
Marshall: The name of Marshall coach Charles Huff gets floated quite often during the coaching carousel, but it’s hard to imagine Huff will get a new job with the way his team is playing. Marshall started the season 4-0 but has since lost six of seven to drop to 5-6 on the year. The Thundering Herd were considered Sun Belt contenders when the season began, but they are just 2-5 in conference play and need a win next week just to get to a bowl. Marshall has missed a bowl just once (2016) in the past 10 seasons.