Week 13 college football picks, games, odds: Alabama on upset alert in Iron Bowl
Alabama should be vigilant against an inspired Auburn team with playoff hopes on the line
And, like that, we're at the last full weekend of the 2017 regular season. It goes by fast. It always does.
Not everything is wrapped up neat and tidy, though. There are still some major divisional matchups on the slate with playoff and/or New Year's Six bowl implications. With plenty on the line for some teams, don't be surprised if a few games don't go as planned.
Each week, we give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. As an extra challenge, we try to avoid games whose lines are well within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them, which there are this week.
South Florida at No. 15 UCF
When: Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Orlando, Florida | Opening line: UCF -9.5
Why it's listed: Believe me, I'm not stoked about putting UCF on upset alert again because the Knights have passed nearly every test with flying colors. They might even make easy work of the Bulls. This choice is more circumstantial than anything else. UCF is a double-digit favorite against a quality opponent -- and a rival, no less -- in a game that will decide the AAC East. Stakes that high combined with that spread makes this a natural choice.
USF wins if: Its defense corrals the top scoring offense in the nation. The Bulls have an outstanding defensive front and have the best run defense in the AAC in yards per attempt allowed. They also rank first in sacks and interceptions. Disrupt UCF's offense and USF's own quarterback, Quinton Flowers, gets a chance to steal the spotlight.
UCF wins if: The Knights also have a good defense, but offense is what drives this team's success. One name to keep an eye on is running back Adrian Killins Jr. Though he's only topped 100 yards three times this season, he's a field-flipper and can break a game wide open. He's not a bell cow back, but if he can break open a few big plays against USF's defense, he will be the unheralded difference-maker.
No. 25 Virginia Tech at Virginia
When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Charlottesville, Virginia | Opening line: Virginia Tech -8
Why it's listed: Virginia gave the Cardiac Canes a scare in Week 12. It's possible the Hoos blew all their energy on that game and will suffer a hangover this week. It's also possible Virginia is just that dangerous and will be mad as hell (and unwilling to take this anymore) when its biggest rival rolls into town. Also: count me as a fan of quarterback Kurt Benkert, who is definitely one of the more entertaining quarterbacks to watch.
Virginia wins if: Benkert plays like he did against the Hurricanes. It hasn't been a particularly consistent season for Benkert, but when he's connecting on the deep ball, there are few quarterbacks more fun to watch. Since Virginia Tech's passing offense has sputtered over the past month, it would probably be best for Virginia to rack up points quickly.
Virginia Tech wins if: This game hits the under (49.5). The Hokies have leaned heavily on their defense and it's paid off. The last team to eclipse 30 points on Virginia Tech was Clemson. That was in September. When all else fails, stick to your identity, and Bud Foster's defense is as synonymous with Virginia Tech football as anyone or anything.
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Auburn, Alabama | Opening line: Alabama -3
Why it's listed: Forget the line for a minute. The Crimson Tide have been the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the Associated Press and Coaches polls, and is currently the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. They're also the betting favorite to win the national championship. Technically, the Tide could still get into the playoff with a loss to Auburn. In fact, this is the most likely playoff chaos theory that could come to fruition. But an upset here would have the biggest ramifications in any Power Five divisional race. Keep in mind, too, that Auburn has two wins against Alabama in the last nine seasons. Both times, the Tigers went on to play in the national championship.
Auburn wins if: Jarrett Stidham gets into a rhythm with the passing game. Auburn doesn't attack the middle level of the field much, but with Alabama's depth issues at linebacker, now might be a good time to start being more aggressive. The Tigers have the No. 1 scoring offense in the SEC during conference play, and when they stay aggressive, good things tend to happen. Don't confuse this with going fast, however; LSU and Mississippi State had good game plans by holding on to the ball against the Tide.
Alabama wins if: Damien Harris is the best running back on the field. Harris is an electrifying player, but he's been held under 100 yards for the past four games. Alabama runs the ground game by committee, and does so effectively, but when Harris is on, he's a dangerous runner. Auburn's run defense is solid, but it shouldn't be up to Jalen Hurts to carry the load. The O-line needs to do its job, too.
No. 3 Clemson at No. 24 South Carolina
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET | Where: Columbia, South Carolina | Opening line: Clemson -15.5
Why it's listed: South Carolina doesn't have anything to play for other than its seniors and the desire to plunge a knife through the heart of its most heated rival's playoff chances -- which, make no mistake, are two good motivators. Clemson's loss to Syracuse earlier in the season, while explainable, looks worse by the week. Dropping a second game might be too much to overcome. South Carolina would love to play spoiler.
South Carolina wins if: It gets ugly. The Gamecocks aren't going to win a beauty competition against the Tigers. However, they can grind this thing out, use Jake Bentley to occasionally hit the big passing play and focus on stopping Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant in the run game. Bryant remains the primary runner in this offense, and while Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster remain big-play threats, they're not the most efficient options.
Clemson wins if: Receiver Hunter Renfrow is the MVP. South Carolina doesn't give up a ton of big plays through the air, but they will allow a lot of intermediate yardage. Renfrow is excellent in all situations, but he's especially good on third downs. If Clemson needs three yards, he'll get four. If it needs six yards, he gets seven. That, and he makes insane catches. He doesn't need to score all the touchdowns, he just needs about a half-dozen key catches.
No. 13 Washington State at No. 17 Washington
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Seattle, Washington | Opening line: Washington -10
Why it's listed: Washington can't win the Pac-12 North, but the Apple Cup still has major implications. Washington State wins the North if it beats its in-state rival ... but the Huskies can keep the Cougars from going to the Pac-12 Championship Game with a win. And misery loves company, especially when rivalries are involved.
Washington State wins if: It can keep Washington in the 20s. Lower-scoring affairs aren't Washington's thing. The Huskies are 0-2 when scoring fewer than 30 points and they needed a monumentally ill-advised timeout from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham to escape the Utes with 33 points in Week 12. The Cougars also happen to have one of the better defenses nationally, if you can believe it, ranking in or near the top-10 in many major S&P+ categories. When Washington isn't dictating the game, its offensive limitations begin to show.
Washington wins if: Its pass rush shows up. The defensive front is still this team's strength, even with Azeem Victor's indefinite suspension and overall regression. Plus, a banged up secondary vs. Washington State's passing attack could be problematic. The good news for the Huskies is Washington State is last in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed and its offensive line doesn't grade out well in sack rates.
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