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College Football Picks 2017: Week Thirteen

Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
College Football Picks 2017: Week Thirteen
Current Record: 69-27

(11-0) 1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. (9-2) 6 Auburn Tigers
@Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn), 2:30 PM CBS on Saturday

Considering how intense of rivals Alabama and Auburn are, the Iron Bowl always is important, but that importance is at a whole new level this year. The Tide enter this one undefeated but lacking a true, overwhelmingly win, while Auburn enters 9-2 with a significant chance of crashing the College Football Playoff party. The winner takes not only the SEC West, but likely becomes the representative of the conference in the four-team field, depending on what occurs in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama has jumped out to their 11-0 start by using a familiar formula: running the ball and being physical up front. The team's committee of running backs, which includes Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs and Najee Harris, has a ton of versatility and the amount of depth allows the group to never tire. That ground attack will be quite a challenge for Auburn, but this is a defense that played wonderful early in the year against Georgia, who has a scary good running games themselves. The Tigers must also deal with true sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts, who continues to grow as a passer and has a couple potent wide receiving options in Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy. An important key for Auburn in this one will be how their pass rush performs. When Alabama controls the line of scrimmage, they are nearly impossible to stop. If the Tigers are able to match their physicality and cause some chaos in the backfield they will disrupt the Tide rhythm, key to any upset. On the other side, Auburn will need a spectacular showing from Jarrett Stidham at QB, but he has shown he is up to the challenge. After a shaky start to 2017, Stidham has played as good as any signal-caller in the nation, including a tremendous performance against a top-flight defense in UGA. The big-armed signal-caller can really stretch defenses out, has improved as a decision-maker and has really benefitted from an offensive line that has really improved over the season's second half. Auburn will also lean heavily on feature back Kerryon Johnson, who has had a monster senior season. Johnson runs as hard as anybody, and could be in store for a big day, particularly against a 'Bama defense that is severely beat up. The Tide have lost big-time contributors throughout their front seven, and even a team that prepares as well and has as much talent as Alabama could be susceptible. On paper, these teams look incredibly even and this could come to the little things, like special teams and the turnover game. I have never had luck picking up against Alabama, and the Tide could still be the dominant team we've seen in the past once more in this one. But, I think there is something special about the way this Auburn team is playing. If Stidham can once more play the game of his life (which he can) and the defense can hold up, I like the Tigers to cause some Playoff chaos by pulling off a thrilling upset at home.

The Pick: Auburn, 31 Alabama, 28

(10-1) 3 Clemson Tigers vs. (7-3) 24 South Carolina Gamecocks
@Williams-Brice Stadium (Columbia), 6:30 PM Saturday on ESPN

While Auburn could cause plenty of chaos by beating Alabama, South Carolina could do much the same by stunning Clemson at home. The Gamecocks have quietly put together a superb 2017, jumping to a 7-3 record behind the play of quarterback Jake Bentley and a strong defense. A sophomore, Bentley has shown plenty of progress in his second year with the Gamecocks, and has some really dangerous weapons around him, including speedy sophomore A.J. Turner and wide out Bryan Edwards. The offense did take a hit when star receiver Deebo Samuel was lost for the year early on, but it still has shown the ability to move the ball down the field. The Clemson defense has some problems in the defensive backfield, but it still is superb up front. All four of the Tigers' starters on the defensive line (Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence) all have NFL futures and should present an interesting challenge for South Carolina. On offense, Clemson is the healthiest that they have been in a long time. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has had issues staying healthy and throwing the ball down the field, but he is a dangerous runner and the offense still has plenty of big-play potential. Clemson is equipped with a number of talented running backs to choose from, while also featuring a number of quality receivers. Deon Cain is the team's premier deep threat, while Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud give the team two possession wide outs that can spring open games. Defensively, South Carolina has played with a lot more fight and energy this season, in large part to head coach Will Muschamp's ability to recruit and develop on that side of the ball. Senior linebacker Skai Moore missed all of 2016 due to injury, but has come back and played like an All-American in his final year with South Carolina. He will be tasked with containing the Clemson rush offense, while also supporting the Gamecocks' pass defense. That secondary has played well for much of the season, but playing in the run heavy SEC East, they haven't seen much great pass offenses. Clemson and South Carolina is always quite intense, and South Carolina should be especially fired up, considering they have lost three straight to the Tigers. However, the Gamecocks will need a masterful showing from Bentley and a superb defensive performance to take down Clemson, who could be even more scary with their improved health.

The Pick: Clemson, 38 South Carolina, 27

(9-2) 13 Washington State Cougars vs. (9-2) 17 Washington Huskies
@Husky Stadium (Seattle), 7 PM Saturday on FOX

Now nearly 13 weeks into this college football season something seems pretty clear: the Pac-12 is not putting a team in the Playoff. The preseason favorite, USC, had their moments but lost two games, Washington was unable to avoid choking away two games, Washington State lost two as well, and nobody else was able to avoid the upset bug. However, Washington or Washington State could still find a way into the Pac-12 Championship Game with a win in the Apple Cup. Both teams feature high-octane offenses that want to move the ball down the field. The Cougars feature Mike Leach's patented Air Raid attack, which is especially lethal with veteran quarterback Luke Falk leading the way. Falk has already shattered countless records while at the helm in Pullman, and he would love to finish his career here with a Pac-12 title. Falk somewhat struggled against Washington's secondary last year, but this Huskies' defense is not at that level. The absence of NFL draftees Kevin King, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones has really hurt the group, which also lost possible breakout candidate Byron Murphy to injury early on. However, the Huskies still have a stout front seven that includes defensive tackle Vita Vea and linebackers Keishawn Berria and Azeem Victor, so the group should still be able to hold their own. The real question mark this season for Washington has been their offense, which has been wildly inconsistent. Quarterback Jake Browning still has his games where he is dominant, but he has also had his struggles. He'll need his offensive line, which has dealt with injuries and inexperience, to really perform to overcome a vastly underrated Washington State defense. The Cougars still struggle with their consistency as well, but Leach and staff have really rebuilt the group, and they've proven they can get after opposing quarterbacks, as they did against Sam Darnold when they upset USC. UW will hope to get some help from a talented backfield, which includes Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, as while as some big plays from wide out Dante Pettis. Gaskin and Coleman are a superb 1-2 punch, while Pettis is deadly not only as a receiver but in the return game, where he has nine career punt returns. Neither of these teams will be going to the CFB Playoff, but they should still play with plenty of passion and fight. If Browning can have a good one, the Huskies should be able to come out on top, but I actually like the Cougars on the road. Falk has proven himself in big games before this year, and the defense seems to be playing with some significant momentum.

The Pick: Washington State, 37 Washington, 31

Other Picks
(#8) Notre Dame, 34 (#21) Stanford, 30
(#9) Ohio State, 35 Michigan, 17
(#7) Georgia, 30 Georgia Tech, 20
(#5) Wisconsin, 38 Minnesota, 17
(#4) Oklahoma, 45 West Virginia, 31

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