The end of the college football regular season is here—and so is Rivalry Week. Old tempers will flare in Week 14 as rivals square off with anything from a College Football Playoff spot to pride on the line. As as is typical, Ohio State-Michigan and the Iron Bowl are the marquee matchups, but Paul Bunyan’s Axe carries bonus stakes as well this year. From the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night to Florida and Florida State’s Saturday night showdown, our writers lock in their picks.
Pat Forde: 27–8 (77.1%)
Molly Geary: 110–44 (71.4%)
Max Meyer: 110–44 (71.4%)
Michael Shapiro: 110–44 (71.4%)
Laken Litman: 107–47 (69.4%)
Ross Dellenger: 104–50 (67.5%)
Lorenzo Arguello: 54–27 (66.7%)
Ole Miss at Mississippi State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Lorenzo Arguello picks Mississippi State: What more could you want out of the Egg Bowl than the chance for one bad team—4-7 Ole Miss—to ruin the other not-so-great team’s—5-6 Mississippi State—shot at reaching a bowl game? Add in some lingering animosity from the brawl that broke out during last year’s game, and this should be an interesting battle to watch. Both teams have solid running games, which could very well lead to a big pass play or two making the ultimate difference, even though both air attacks leave a lot to be desired. Let’s say the Bulldogs win a very close one to, at least temporarily, save Joe Moorhead’s job.
No. 23 Virginia Tech at Virginia (Friday, 12 p.m. ET, ABC)
Ross Dellenger picks Virginia: The ACC Coastal is on the line in Charlottesville, along with Tech’s 15-game win streak against their in-state rival. Just five of those 15 games have been close (one-score results), but three of those came in the last five years. These two teams’ seasons have gone in opposite directions. The Cavaliers started 4-0 before a slide that included losses to Miami and Louisville (and escapes against bottom-dweller Georgia Tech and North Carolina). The Hokies, meanwhile, started 2-2, including a blowout home loss to Duke, before winning six of their last seven. This was a toss-up pick. UVA ends the skid—barely.
No. 18 Cincinnati at No. 17 Memphis (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Laken Litman picks Memphis: Cincinnati is playing for home field advantage in the AAC championship game, while Memphis is playing to get there. The Tigers can clinch the West Division here with a victory and would then host the Bearcats one week later in a rematch for the conference title. While these teams have identical 10-1 records and coaches who are constantly mentioned in the coaching carousel, give the edge to the Tigers, who are coming off what coach Mike Norvell said was their “most complete” game of the season when they steamrolled South Florida 49-10. Memphis has had minimal trouble handling opponents lately. Since its only loss of the season (to Temple) five games ago, the Tigers have beaten teams by 18.8 points per game. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has found itself in tighter situations, needing a field goal as time expired and a blocked extra point to win its last two games.
Washington State at Washington (Friday, 4 p.m. ET, FOX)
Max Meyer picks Washington: Washington has been such a maddening team with its inconsistency this season. Last weekend may have been rock bottom, as the Huskies lost 20-14 at Colorado coming off a bye. But if there is one thing you can count on from Washington, it’s the Huskies’ ability to shut down Air Raid offenses. That defense already shut down USC in Seattle early in the season, holding the Trojans to just 14 points. And Jimmy Lake has had Mike Leach’s number since joining the Washington coaching staff in 2014. I think the Huskies will end a disappointing campaign on a high note.
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 10 Michigan (12 p.m. ET, FOX)
Laken Litman picks Ohio State: This isn’t going to be the 62-39 beatdown from last year. While Ohio State is the better team, Michigan has finally figured out its identity. Since the second half of the Penn State game—when Michigan nearly came back to win but lost by one possession—QB Shea Patterson has been sharper and therefore the offense has been stronger, scoring 41.5 points and racking up 422.8 yards per game. The defense, too, has looked like the top-five unit it is, dismantling opponents and holding its last four to less than 12 points per game. The big question, however, will be if the Wolverines can neutralize Chase Young, who leads the country with 16.5 sacks, and contain the duo of QB Justin Fields and RB J.K. Dobbins. Michigan should make enough plays to keep this close for a while, but Ohio State will make a few more. Ryan Day will get his first win over Michigan as the Buckeyes’ head coach, while Jim Harbaugh will suffer his fifth consecutive loss in this heated series.
No. 3 Clemson at South Carolina (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Molly Geary picks Clemson: The wheels have fallen off for South Carolina ever since its stunning win over Georgia, losing five straight and—at four wins—with no more hopes of a bowl. Winning this one would be an even bigger upset than the one over the Bulldogs. Clemson has rounded into form of late, dismantling its last four opponents by a combined score of 225–34. The only thing standing between the Tigers and another playoff berth are the rival Gamecocks and the ACC title game.
No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Pat Forde picks Alabama: The Iron Bowl is essentially a one-game season for the Crimson Tide—show that you’re still playoff worthy with Mac Jones as your quarterback. That requires, at minimum, winning the game. It might well require winning impressively. That won’t be easy against a good team that has played the toughest schedule in the country and is led by a formidable defense. The second layer of intrigue is whether this is Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s last game on The Plains. Tigers fans wishing him away should remember one thing: he’s beaten Nick Saban-led Alabama teams twice, which is more than any other active SEC coach.
No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 9 Minnesota (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Pat Forde picks Minnesota: Biggest Paul Bunyan Ax Game ever? Has to be. Winner goes to the Big Ten championship game—and if that winner is the Golden Gophers, it keeps their College Football Playoff hopes alive. The Badgers’ defense that was so good for the first half of the season has been springing some leaks lately: after giving up 4.8 points and 174 yards per game in the first six games, those numbers are 25.8 points and 382 yards over the last five. If Minnesota wins, it will become the third Big Ten West winner in the last three years and fourth in the last five.
Texas A&M at No. 1 LSU (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Ross Dellenger picks LSU: This one could get ugly. A&M won in seven overtimes in last year’s matchup to snap a lengthy losing skid over its SEC West border rival. After the two teams traded blows on the field for more than five hours, they exchanged haymakers off it, too. The Aggies could spoil LSU’s perfect season. The connections between these two schools are endless, from LSU AD Scott Woodward, who spent the previous three years in that role at A&M, to A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, a former LSU staff member under Nick Saban who the school has three times flirted with in hiring. The Tigers roll to move to 12-0.
Florida State at No. 8 Florida (7:30 p.m. ET, SECN)
Lorenzo Arguello picks Florida: Until last season, Florida State was in control of this series, winning five in a row and seven of the last eight meetings. Then Florida put a beatdown on the Seminoles in Tallahassee last year and looks to do the same on Saturday as double-digit favorites. For the Gators, a win here likely locks them in to a New Year’s Six bowl spot; probably the Cotton Bowl against the Group of Five representative. For the ‘Noles, a win could mean a slightly better bowl opportunity. UF’s defense and passing game should be more than enough for a home victory.
Iowa State at Kansas State (7 p.m. ET, FS1)
Michael Shapiro picks Iowa State: Late November in the Little Apple can be a worrisome proposition, but consider this an endorsement of Iowa State QB Brock Purdy. The sophomore was impressive in 10 starts last season, leading Iowa State to eight wins alongside an impressive crop of skill players including David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler. The Cyclones’ talent is more middling this season, but Purdy has been terrific nonetheless, leading the Big 12 in passing yards and completions. Expect Iowa State to secure its third straight eight-win season for the first time since 1976-78.
No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 21 Oklahoma State (8 p.m. ET, FOX)
Michael Shapiro picks Oklahoma: Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard will have to deliver a spectacular performance for the Cowboys to keep up with Oklahoma in the 106th Bedlam battle. Cowboys’ starting QB Spencer Sanders is out for the game with a thumb injury, with Mike Gundy now turning to backup QB Dru Brown. The Hawaii transfer has two years of starting experience under his belt, though there’s little question who powers the Cowboys’ attack. Hubbard leads the NCAA in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. A win in Stillwater could send him to New York. But both Hubbard and Oklahoma State will ultimately fall a touch short. Oklahoma will survive another thriller, setting up the Sooners for a potential fourth Playoff appearance with a win over Baylor in the Big 12 championship.