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College Football Picks 2021: Week Thirteen (Rivalry Week)

Blake Corum, Michigan

Current Picks Record: 73-35

Upset: 6-6

Superdogs: 7-5

(#2) Ohio State Buckeyes @ (#5) Michigan Wolverines

Although there is plenty of football on Thursday and Friday this week, "Rivalry Week" really gets rolling with this year's iteration of "The Game". There are plenty of reasons to tune in; not only is the rivalry one of the greatest in sports, but the Big Ten East and a possible Playoff berth are on the line in Ann Arbor. Is this the year Michigan finally gets back on top and beats Ohio State for the first time since 2011?

The Ohio State offense is playing at a terrifying level right now, fresh off two consecutive weeks of dropping 50-plus points. They made it look easy against Michigan State last weekend, with QB C.J. Stroud likely asserting himself as the Heisman favorite with a dominant 432-yard, six touchdown performance. It helps that Stroud has the best collection of receivers in the country and perhaps one of the best we've seen in recent college football memory. The trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a load to handle for any secondary, but even guys further down the Buckeye depth chart have proven they can make plays, such as Julian Fleming and Marvin Harrison Jr. The explosive OSU aerial attack is not only a pain to stop, but it does a great job opening up the ground game for TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, who are operating behind a strong offensive line. As I mentioned last week, you add in one of the game's best play-callers and offensive minds in Ryan Day, and you have the nation's best offense that can legitimately go toe-to-toe with the fearsome units boasted by 2020 Alabama and 2019 LSU. With all that being said, this Michigan defense may be the best defense they've seen all season, with Oregon coming in as a close second. New DC Mike MacDonald deserves a bunch of credit for turning around this group, which plays with an aggressiveness and confidence they didn't have during the shortened 2020 campaign. Not only do they have a fearsome pass rush, led by future high NFL Draft selection Aidan Hutchinson, but Michigan's pass defense has been vastly improved. I'm not sure if they can completely shut down the Buckeyes in this one, but they have the best shot of anyone on OSU's schedule.

Offensively, Michigan clearly plays a different brand of football than Ohio State. This remains a power-run, physical offense that will occasionally take a shot or two to keep defenses honest. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum have been an overpowering 1-2 punch all season, with Haskins providing the thunder and Corum the lightning. Corum has been beat up as of late, missing the last several weeks and is listed as questionable. The Wolverines absolutely need him to play in this game, even if he's not 100 percent, as he's one of the few consistent big-play threats on the roster. The passing game is what it is; it's never going to throw for 400 yards per game, but QB Cade McNamara has been steady and has taken care of the football all year. Junior Cornelius Johnson has stepped up and emerged as the team's most consistent weapon on the perimeter, as has tight end Erick All and veteran Mike Sanristil. However, it's the young playmakers that might be the most critical for the Wolverines here. Freshman Andrel Anthony and sophomore Roman Wilson have been two of their most explosive weapons all season and may be the type of players necessary to open up this offense. Anthony had a huge game in the tight loss to Michigan State and has superstar potential. However, most critical for Michigan is their offensive line, which absolutely has to hold up if they want to survive this one. Ohio State dominated at the point of attack all last Saturday against MSU; Michigan's O-Line has been a strength all season, but can they handle all the athletes the Buckeyes can throw at you? They need to not only keep McNamara upright, but open up new lanes for Haskins, Corum, and youngster Donovan Edwards.

Michigan has been a superb story in 2021, as they've responded to last season's disappointment with a nearly perfect season up to this point. At some point, they're going to turn the tide in this rivalry, even if it's just for one season. This is not going to be the year, as Ohio State is just playing too well and has too many weapons to slip up. A close game is a possibility in Ann Arbor, but the Buckeyes come out on top once again.

The Pick: Ohio State, 34 Michigan, 24

(#10) Oklahoma Sooners @ (#7) Oklahoma State Cowboys

"Bedlam" has earned a reputation as one of the craziest rivalries in the entire sport, but rarely has the series had this important of implications. Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State sit on the outside of the CFB Playoff field right now, but if one were to sweep the series, they could sneak their way into the four-team field. With so much on the line and two teams with different strengths, it should be a thriller in Stillwater.

Oklahoma has been shaky all season long, but they still enter this game 10-1 with a legitimate shot at another Playoff berth. The switch at quarterback to Caleb Williams has dominated the headlines, but the key for the Sooners will be getting more production elsewhere. Williams has had his ups-and-downs, as you would expect from a freshman QB, but so too have Oklahoma's other top skill position talent. Tailback Kennedy Brooks has had moments where he looks like an All-American, but has had a quiet few weeks before a nice day against Iowa State. Marvin Mims is always a threat to go yard, but he's had just three catches for 39 yards in their last two games. Supporting players such as Eric Gray, Mario Williams, Jeremiah Hall, and more have had their flashes in 2021, but simply have not put it together for consecutive weeks. The offensive line has been playing better, which will be crucial against the Cowboys, but the offense has to develop some consistency. They face an Oklahoma State defense that is disciplined, physical up front, and great at tackling in space. This is one of the best defenses Oklahoma has seen during the Lincoln Riley era; I'm not sure how confident I am this is the week they put it all together.

As streaky as Oklahoma's offense has been in 2021, Oklahoma State's has arguably been even more inconsistent and uneven. To be fair, the Cowboys have dealt with a rash of injuries at both quarterback and receiver, but the long-time strength of Mike Gundy-coached teams just has not been there. The Cowboys average roughly 31 points per game and while they have a decent ground game, the aerial attack has been pedestrian all season. This may just be the game QB Spencer Sanders needs to finally put it all together, as he faces an Oklahoma secondary that is beat up and has been decimated all season long. Sanders has always had a big arm, but his decision-making has been suspect at times. If he can take some deep shots but still not give Williams and the Sooners extra chances, OSU will be in good shape. It helps that Cowboy back Jaylen Warren has been a revelation all year. The workhorse has essentially been Oklahoma State's entire offense at times this fall, but needs to get back on track after a quiet game against Texas Tech last weekend.

This rivalry series over the last two decades has become synonymous with high-scoring, up-tempo affairs. Don't expect to be the case in 2021; both offenses are much more methodical and conservative than past groups they've had and both defenses are some of the best each program has had in awhile. There will some shots down the field and a few big plays, but the X-factor may be who controls the line of scrimmage. I think Oklahoma is the more talented team top-to-bottom, but that talent hasn't shown up this year. I think the best bet is that these two evenly matched foes split the series, with one winning here and the other taking home the Big 12 Title. Considering the game is at Boone Pickens, the Cowboys seem like the smart bet for this initial meeting.

The Pick: Oklahoma State, 28 Oklahoma, 25

(#3) Alabama Crimson Tide @ Auburn Tigers

"Rivalry week" is full of intense hatred between opposing programs, but they don't come a lot more heated than the Iron Bowl. This game means more to the state of Alabama than just about anything else and despite the Crimson Tide's dominance over the last decade, it's been fairly evenly matched. The Tide once again enter as the favorite, but don't be surprised if the Tigers give them another tough one in Bryan Harsin's debut in the series.

Alabama's offense continues to operate as it has all season long, with a core group of players leading the charge. QB Bryce Young remains in serious Heisman consideration after going for 559 yards and five touchdowns against Arkansas last Saturday. Nobody has ever questioned Young's arm talent, but his growth as a complete quarterback has made him lethal. He's making better decisions with the ball and playing with significantly more poise than previously. Along with Young, the core of back Brian Robinson Jr. and wide outs Jameson Williams and John Metchie remain the only consistent sources of offense. Tight end Cameron Latu has also proven to be an effective piece to the puzzle, particularly as of late. They face an Auburn defense that isn't elite, but is solid across the board. The Tigers aren't as physical up front as past teams, but are really strong in the back seven and tackle well. They're unlikely to get killed by the big play the way that past Auburn teams occasionally have in this series. A point I raised last week that will be worth a watch is Alabama's lack of depth. This not an Alabama team that can boast four and five-stars off the bench in much the same way they have in past years. You have to wonder if that begins to be a factor late in the year against a rival, especially after a hard-fought meeting with a tough Arkansas team last weekend.

Auburn jumped out to an impressive 6-2 start with Harsin at the helm but the offense has ground to a halt over the last three weeks without starting QB Bo Nix. His replacement, former LSU transfer T.J. Finley, hasn't been terrible but can't create with his legs quite the way that Nix can, or doesn't have the chemistry with the Tiger receivers. Auburn has been forced to lean particularly heavy on their ground game in recent weeks, especially with talented tailback Tank Bigsby. Bigsby has done his best, but the one-dimensionality of the offense is a real problem. The Tigers desperately need new faces to emerge on the perimeter and strike some fear into the Tide defense, whether it be Shedrick Jackson, Demetris Robertson, Kobe Hudson, or somebody else. Hudson has been one of their most consistent weapons all season but is listed as questionable in this game. If he isn't able to go, the Auburn aerial attack becomes even more of a concern. It's an interesting matchup with the Alabama defense, which simply has not lived up to expectations this year. While the front seven, particularly the linebacker corps, is full of talent and has All-SEC pieces in Henry To'o To'o and Will Anderson, the secondary has not been very good. They allowed over 300 passing yards to K.J. Jefferson and the pedestrian Arkansas passing attack, which doesn't bode well for potential future matchups in the SEC Championship or CFB Playoff. 

A fully healthy Auburn team would be a stiff challenge for this Alabama squad, especially at home. But with Nix out and the receiver corps a little thin, I'm not sure they have the offense to compete with the Tide over four quarters. However, it is the Iron Bowl and the intensity of this game should create sixty minutes of compelling football.

The Pick: Alabama, 30 Auburn, 21

Other Picks

(#14) Wisconsin, 21 Minnesota, 17 --  P.J. Fleck has beaten Wisconsin just once during his tenure in Minneapolis. This Badger team is definitely beatable, but the Gophers just don't have the offense to get over the top.

(#23) Clemson, 38 South Carolina, 24 -- This Clemson-South Carolina game could be one of the most competitive in recent series history. Clemson still finds a way to come out on top, as their ground game leads the way offensively once again.

(#15) Texas A&M, 27 LSU, 21 -- The Aggie offense has been struggling as of late, but their stingy defense helps them finish off an LSU sleepwalking towards the conclusion of their season.

(#11) Oregon, 34 Oregon State, 30 -- The Ducks are looking to not only get back on track after last week's debacle, but get vengeance against Oregon State after losing in 2020. The Beavers will be a tough out, but Oregon's superior depth gives them the advantage.

Upset: Penn State, 28 (#12) Michigan State, 27 -- Michigan State is a better team than what we saw last weekend, but Penn State is better than their 7-4 record may indicate. Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson pick apart the nation's worst pass defense.

Superdog (covers > 21 spread): Duke +21.5 vs. Miami -- Neither of these teams have a ton to play for at this point in the season. This may be the final game for David Cutcliffe at Duke, and the emotions surrounding that likely departure could galvanize the Blue Devils.

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