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College Football Picks 2023: Week Thirteen

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Current Picks Record: 69-30

Upsets: 7-4

Superdogs: 6-5

Locks: 8-3

(#2) Ohio State Buckeyes @ (#3) Michigan Wolverines

Line: Michigan -3

O/U: 46.5

It all comes down to this. Michigan and Ohio State have been on a collision course all season long, and now both teams are set to square off. It looks like the biggest game we've seen of 2023 - two teams with perfect records, a Big Ten East Title on the line, and likely College Football Playoff hopes hanging in the balance. Who will leave Saturday with their undefeated mark still intact?

Kyle McCord was tasked with the unenviable job of taking over for one of the most decorated passers in Ohio State history and naturally, there have been growing pains. But, the junior seems to be playing his best football as of late, albeit against some of the weaker defenses on the Buckeye schedule. It isn't surprising that McCord has needed time to adjust to his new starting job, particularly with the Buckeyes also breaking in a first-year offensive coordinator in Brian Hartline, but this weekend will tell us a lot about the young quarterback. At times, he's seen hesitant and a bit overwhelmed by the big stage - well, it doesn't get much bigger than "The Game" between two Top 5 teams. It would help if the Ohio State ground game could take a bit of pressure off McCord, but that just hasn't consistently been the case this year. TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams have both battled injuries all year long and although they appear to be on the mend, they face a physical Michigan defensive front, a group that has held OSU in check the last two seasons. On the perimeter, the Ohio State offense is also looking for more consistency beyond Marvin Harrison Jr. Harrison Jr. has been as good as any Buckeye fan could have hoped, but the injury bug hitting Emeka Egbuka has negatively impacted this group. Egbuka does appear to be good to go, and tight end Cade Stover has stepped up in a major way as needed, but this isn't the best group of Ohio State pass-catchers we've seen in recent years. They're in for a battle against these Wolverine defensive backs, a chess match that could very well decide this one.

It's been fascinating to watch Ohio State's transition into a defense-first team this fall. Coordinator Jim Knowles has truly done a tremendous job in his two seasons running this defense, and the group is allowing just over nine points per game on the year, one of the best marks in the entire country. But, now comes the ultimate test - a meeting with J.J. McCarthy and the Michigan offense. McCarthy has remained a fixture in the Heisman conversation all season despite rather pedestrian numbers, at least in comparison to many of the other top quarterbacks in the race. Instead, McCarthy has gained national respect for his crisp control running this offense, making smart decisions, and moving the chains. He should be eager to show what he can do on the big stage after a pair of quiet weeks, in which he totaled just 201 passing yards total. Those numbers have mainly been a result of Michigan's elite ground attack, which has removed the need for McCarthy to throw down the field very often. But, this Buckeye defense is going to give them a test, and he's going to need to do more than hand the ball off 40-plus times to the likes of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. That also puts pressure on a Wolverine receiver corps that doesn't have a Harrison Jr., but instead has leaned on steady play from the likes of Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson. Perhaps ultra-versatile Semaj Morgan could provide the additional spark this Wolverine offense could need to get over the top. 

This may be a matchup of Top 5 teams, but it's likely not going to be a pretty one. The forecast indicates it's going to be a cold, and potentially wet one, and the game will feature two good, but not great, offenses going up against a pair of elite defenses. I think that type of environment favors Michigan, especially when you consider the game will be in Ann Arbor. This has looked like the more complete team top-to-bottom, and even without Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines, I'm picking them to win their third straight in the series.

The Pick: Michigan, 27 Ohio State, 21

(#16) Oregon State Beavers @ (#6) Oregon Ducks

Line: Oregon -14

O/U: 62.5

It's the final installment of the rivalry once known as The Civil War, at least with the two programs in the same conference. But if that wasn't enough to pique your interest, consider that this is a rivalry game with significant implications. Oregon's College Football Playoff hopes are still very much alive, while the Beavers are not only trying to play spoiler, but also still has a chance to reach the ten-win plateau for the second straight season.

D.J. Uiagalelei has given the Beaver offense a passing threat that they didn't have far too often in 2022, as the former Clemson transfer has notched 2,418 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year. Yet, it's still all about the ground game when it comes to the Oregon State offense, with superstar tailback Damien Martinez leading the charge. The sophomore has not only eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark, he's averaging over six yards per carry, a remarkable number when you consider how much usage he gets. He's helped by veteran Deshaun Fenwick, a change-of-pace that gives the Beavers much-needed explosiveness out of the backfield. Those two will be featured heavily, but it does feel like Oregon State may alter their game-plan slightly, considering the opponent. The Ducks retain a clear advantage in the trenches and up front, but we've seen the secondary struggle at times this fall. That doesn't mean Uiagalelei is going to step back and throw 50 times, but don't be surprised if the Beavers are a bit more aggressive than we've seen them in the past, even on the road.

The Oregon State defense poses an interesting challenge for Bo Nix and company as they look ahead to the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Beavers aren't the most talented team in the Pac-12 on this side of the ball, but are well-coached and fundamentally sound. They're also physical at all three levels, and should mix and match packages in an effort to slow down Nix and the Oregon supporting cast. That's easier said than done, however, as Nix has been on fire all season long and has plenty of weapons to help him. Bucky Irving and Jordan James are a two-headed monster out of the backfield, both with varying strengths, while Troy Franklin is a Biletnikoff Award contender, reeling in 68 catches for 1,221 yards on the year. There's also Tez Johnson, Nix's half-brother, a dynamic option on the perimeter that can line up just about anywhere. I don't doubt this group is going to be able to move the ball, but I'm particularly curious about the offensive line. It's been tremendous throughout the fall, but Oregon State is a challenge, and if the Ducks can reach the Playoff, this is unit that decides just how far they go.

This is one of those rivalries where you can truly throw out the records - any team can win at any time. That's particularly true this season as we look at two teams ranked in the Top 16 nationally, both with goals of their own. I've been impressed with Oregon State all season, but it's going to be a tough ask to go into Eugene and come away with a victory. I also wonder about the Jonathan Smith factor, after rumors surfaced this week about potential mutual interest between him and Michigan State. It could be more smoke than fire, but you never know how that's going to impact a game this late in the season.

The Pick: Oregon, 38 Oregon State, 28

(#8) Alabama Crimson Tide @ Auburn Tigers

Line: Alabama -10.5

O/U: 48.5

For all the narratives that the Alabama dynasty was crumbling over the first month of 2023, the Tide have rolled into the final week of the regular season in pretty good position to get back to the College Football Playoff. They have one of the best losses anywhere in the country in Texas, have built a solid resume with Tennessee, LSU, and Ole Miss, and have a chance to add to it by beating Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. But first, they must get past Auburn in the Iron Bowl, a 6-5 team looking to play spoiler in their final game of the regular season.

Jalen Milroe's growth as Alabama quarterback has been one of the most fascinating aspects of the 2023 college football season. The sophomore has went through growing pains, but seems to be getting more confident each and every week and in turn, the Tide offense continues to improve. That doesn't mean Milroe is perfect - he'll mix in a few wild throws every once in awhile, but his legs give this Alabama offense an element they've missed at times during the Nick Saban era. The supporting cast also appears to be hitting its stride, with Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan providing a solid 1-2 punch out of the backfield, and Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond out wide. It's certainly not the most imposing group of skill position players Saban and staff have put out on the field, but it's been able to get the job done, and should match up nicely against this Auburn defense. With that being said, the X-factor remains the offensive line, which has been very un-Alabama like in 2023. The group appears to be playing better, but Auburn has enough athletes to throw at you to make things interesting. If anything, it will be an important game for the Tide offensive line to develop confidence and get into a rhythm before the real test, which is Georgia.

Part of the reason Hugh Freeze was brought in as head coach by Auburn is because of the explosive offenses he helped engineer during his stint at Liberty. Unfortunately, those explosive offenses haven't quite shown up in Year One on The Plains, as the Tigers 27.5 PPG total is 69th in the country. Although if there has been a bright spot, it's been an effective rushing attack that is Top 25 nationally, headlined by Jarquez Hunter. The Tigers will certainly look to establish the run game early on, but this is a bad matchup for them. Their offensive line, whose bad play effectively sunk the Bryan Harsin tenure (among other things), remains among the worst in the SEC, and they face an Alabama front loaded with future NFLers. The reality is that the Tigers are going to need something from their passing game if they are to spring an upset, a worrying need from an aerial attack that is among the worst in FBS ball. Payton Thorne's regression over the last two years has been a baffling watch after he tossed for 3,240 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2021 at Michigan State. Sure, Thorne was always a boom-or-bust passer, prone to the turnover as often as the big play, but there has been something missing this year at Auburn. That might be the lack of a true alpha on the perimeter, with tight end Rivaldo Fairweather as the team's top pass-catcher. Alabama's secondary certainly is not invincible, as we saw in the Texas defeat, but the script to beat them isn't easy, either. I'm not entirely sure this is an offense that can take advantage, even if there's some Iron Bowl magic thrown into the mix here.

You never know with these types of rivalry games, but it's difficult to find a reason to pick Auburn in an upset. This program may always be a thorn in the side of Nick Saban, but Freeze's first team doesn't look up to snuff, fresh off a shocking loss to New Mexico State. Even if they are able to hang with Alabama deep into the second half, I think the mighty Tide will keep on rolling into the SEC Championship Game.

The Pick: Alabama, 35 Auburn, 17

Other Picks

(#5) Florida State Seminoles @ Florida Gators -- This game got a lot more interesting due to unfortunate injuries to both starting quarterbacks. Yet, even with Tate Rodemaker under center, the Seminoles are still the better team top-to-bottom.

The Pick: Florida State, 24 Florida, 17

(#24) Clemson Tigers @ South Carolina Gamecocks -- It's been a less-than-ideal fall at Clemson, but the Tigers appear to have turned a corner. Their elite defensive front should terrorize a South Carolina O-Line that has been atrocious the entire year.

The Pick: Clemson, 31 South Carolina, 20

Wisconsin Badgers @ Minnesota Golden Gophers -- It hasn't been a banner year for either of these programs, but there's still plenty to play for in this ever-important rivalry. As much as I'd like to pick my Gophers, the continued absence of Darius Taylor and a surprisingly porous defense makes the Badgers the right pick.

The Pick: Wisconsin, 20 Minnesota, 14

Upset: (#17) Iowa Hawkeyes @ Nebraska Cornhuskers -- With the Hawkeyes officially in the Big Ten Championship Game, it wouldn't be shocking if they get caught looking ahead. Matt Rhule has had a strong debut campaign, and this would be the icing on the cake.

The Pick: Nebraska, 21 Iowa, 13

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): Colorado Buffaloes (+21.5) @ Utah Utes -- Things have gone south for Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes, but Utah hasn't been playing at full strength all season and could struggle to defend a vertical Colorado passing game. 

The Pick: Utah, 34 Colorado, 20

Lock of the Week: Kansas Jayhawks (-7) @ Cincinnati Bearcats -- Two straight losses has knocked Kansas down a peg, but this is still a good football team, and Cincinnati is one of the worst Power Five teams in the nation.

The Pick: Kansas, 35 Cincinnati, 21

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