The 2023 college football season moves into Week 13, which is also known as Rivalry Week. Here we are. The biggest showdowns and the most important bragging rights battles have arrived. We all know what the biggest one is. Ohio State and Michigan are both ranked in the top three. The winner will advance to the Big Ten Championship Game and will be a heavy favorite against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Indianapolis with a strong chance of advancing to the College Football Playoff.
Georgia, Alabama, Washington, Florida State, and Texas are also in the mix for a playoff spot and, obviously, the NCAAF Championship Odds. However, the Ohio State-Michigan winner is almost certain to get one of the spots at the table. As long as the winner of this game beats Iowa one week later, it will get in.
We’ll look at OSU-Michigan in depth and also consider some of the other notable Week 13 games. Odds are provided by Bovada (see Bovada review) for all of the games.
Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Wolverines
Odds: Michigan -3.5
This is such a big game for every possible reason. Start with the obvious: Michigan-Ohio State is one of the best, most famous, most passionate, most storied, most celebrated college football rivalries of all time. This game has been hugely consequential so many times in the past, which has built a record and a legacy which are very hard for nearly every other college football rivalry to match.
Only a few rivalries have as rich and as long a history as Michigan-Ohio State: Army-Navy, Auburn-Alabama, Harvard-Yale, Tennessee-Alabama, Notre Dame-USC, and maybe one or two others. This belongs on the short list of great football and sports rivalries. It would be huge for both teams regardless of record … but this year both teams’ records are 11-0. The winner will likely be in the playoff semifinals and will have a shot at the national championship.
That’s a lot to play for, but this year, that’s only half the story. Michigan has been embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal which was identified and revealed with the help of efforts by Ohio State. The cheating scandal has only elevated tensions between the two schools. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been suspended for this game, a reminder of the effects of this scandal and how much it has dominated the headlines over the past several weeks.
The irony, though, about Michigan’s attempts to steal signs from Ohio State is that the Wolverines didn’t really need to do any of that. They were physically superior to Ohio State in each of the last two meetings between these teams. Sign stealing doesn’t matter when one team dominates at the line of scrimmage the way Michigan has in 2021 and 2022. That sets up 2023, in which the team which is dominant at the line of scrimmage will likely win.
Both Ohio State and Michigan have spent their 2023 seasons overwhelming the weaker offenses of the Big Ten. Both Ohio State and Michigan overwhelmed Penn State. They have both struggled on offense at times but have been so good on defense that it hasn’t mattered at all. Ohio State has won multiple games this season when scoring fewer than 21 points. Michigan has looked pedestrian at times on offense but still prevailed. In the Penn State game, Michigan did not throw a pass in the final 37 minutes of the game but still won by nine points (24-15). That gives you a sense of how much better Michigan and Ohio State have been compared to their opponents this year.
As we look at the game itself, it all starts with the quarterbacks. Kyle McCord and J.J. McCarthy have been very ordinary for large portions of the season. McCord didn’t win Ohio State’s biggest games so much as his defense won those games. It has been similar for McCarthy at Michigan. His teammates have done most of the work. He has gotten out of the way and become a solid game manager who doesn’t lose the game. It will be fascinating to see in this game if one of these two quarterbacks can make special plays.
The best way to view this game is that neither McCord nor McCarthy are likely to make huge plays. It’s more about which one will make the big mistake. With Michigan being at home, the burden is on McCord of Ohio State to play with poise under pressure. The view here is that he won’t measure up. McCarthy of Michigan might not be special, but McCord of Ohio State will fall short. Take Michigan in the game of the week.
Pick: Michigan -3.5
Texas A&M Aggies at LSU Tigers
Odds: LSU -10.5
The LSU Tigers will not be playing in the SEC Championship Game. They won’t be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game or in any especially big game this season. Their year has been a disappointment, but there has been a sole exception to this grim reality in Baton Rouge: Jayden Daniels. The LSU quarterback is in the running for the 2023 Heisman Trophy. He might not win, but he will definitely be a finalist. If he can play a big game here, he will increase his chances of winning the award. He will battle Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and Washington quarterback Michael Penix for the award.
How all three quarterbacks finish the season will shape who finishes in what order. The negative factor working against Daniels is that Nix and Penix might play in the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 1. That would give both quarterbacks a late-stage moment Daniels won’t have. That’s why Daniels has to max out here against Texas A&M in order to have a chance.
It is precisely because Daniels needs a huge game to win the Heisman that LSU should be able to win this game by a large margin. LSU won’t merely survive here; it should drill Texas A&M by at least two touchdowns if not more.
Pick: LSU -10.5
Kentucky Wildcats at Louisville Cardinals
Odds: Louisville -7.5
The Louisville Cardinals have been one of the most surprising teams of 2023. They are 10-1 even though their quarterback, Jack Plummer, is not one of the top 20 quarterbacks in the country. Louisville has a relatively average passing game and owns an offense which is considerably less than elite. However, this offense makes clutch plays in important moments and has done enough to get this team a win in 10 of 11 games so far this season.
The defense is what has been special for Louisville this year. The Cardinals have given up very few first-quarter touchdowns and fourth-quarter touchdowns this season. They start and finish games extremely well. They consistently get off to good starts, and on the rare occasions when they don’t, they finish games very effectively. Louisville usually builds leads with its defense, but when the Cardinals don’t, they make huge plays late in fourth quarters.
Louisville has had a far better season than Kentucky, and it might win this game outright, but Kentucky would love to spoil Louisville’s season and will play with maximum intensity, as one should expect in an in-state rivalry game. Taking Louisville on the moneyline might be a reasonable play, but if you are betting on the spread here, Kentucky is the better choice.
Pick: Kentucky +7.5
Florida State Seminoles at Florida Gators
Odds: Florida State -6.5
The Florida State Seminoles are unbeaten at 11-0, so why aren’t they a much bigger favorite over a Florida team which is only 5-6 and might not even make a bowl game? The explanation is simple: Florida State starting quarterback Jordan Travis is out for the rest of the season with an injury suffered last week against North Alabama. Not having Travis means Florida State must play with a backup quarterback who is nowhere near as good as Travis. This greatly levels the playing field in this game and gives Florida, playing at home, a realistic chance of winning.
However, Florida State is still a much better team than Florida at all the other positions on the field. As long as FSU establishes physical dominance at the line of scrimmage, it can run the ball and minimize the negative impact of not having Jordan Travis. Florida State’s players will be highly motivated to do precisely that. With the spread being 6.5 points instead of 16.5 or 19.5 (which is where the spread might have been with Travis playing), FSU minus the points is actually a good play.
Pick: Florida State -6.5
Washington State Cougars at Washington Huskies
Odds: Washington -16.5
This is the Apple Cup rivalry game. Washington is trying to move to 12-0 and maintain inside position on the road to the playoff. If Washington loses once, the Huskies are unlikely to make the playoff. However, if they win here and then again next week versus Oregon or Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, they will finish 13-0 and will be in no matter what else happens in college football.
Washington is a good team, but the Huskies have been carrying a lot of pressure in recent weeks. They’re a much better team than Washington State. Still, it’s a rivalry game, WSU is likely to play above its normal level. The Cougars also need this game to clinch a bowl bid. That should help them stay close enough to Washington to cover the large spread.