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College Football Week 13 Preview: Picks, predictions, players to watch and more

Nov 7, 2020; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) throws in the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Week 13 college football slate contains an exciting matchup between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the North Carolina Tar Heels that could clear up the College Football Playoff picture to some degree, though it could also make things a lot murkier. 

If UNC pulls off the upset, there is a clear path for a team like Cincinnati or BYU to claim a CFP spot. But if Notre Dame wins, those non-Power 5 teams will see their chances significantly diminish.

With the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics — which are now available to PFF's CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers — we can give you everything you need to know ahead of this week's top college football matchups. Please note that any picks and predictions made here are not reflective of PFF Greenline or our expert betting analysts. For betting insights into the Week 13 slate, click here! 

No. 15 IOWA STATE @ NO. 20 TEXAS

Friday, Nov. 27 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC

The Cyclones and Longhorns both enter Week 13 as ranked teams, but these two offenses have been among the most disappointing in the FBS this year. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has led this team to a successful pass rate (the percentage of pass plays that generate positive expected points added) that ranks 41st among the 65 Power 5 programs this season. At the same time, Iowa State’s Brock Purdy lowered his passing grade from 87.8 across 2018 and 2019 to 63.6 this year.

Still, both teams will try to put their struggles aside for this matchup — one that is essentially a play-in game for the 2020 Big 12 Championship.

Treash’s prediction: Iowa State, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised at any outcome with how inconsistent these passing offenses have been.

Seth’s prediction: ISU. If we are seeing a Brock Purdy bounceback, then this team is extremely hard to beat.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 2 NOTRE DAME @ NO. 25 NORTH CAROLINA

Friday, Nov. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

These two offenses have been red-hot as of late, and it’s all thanks to aggressive quarterback play.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is coming off two of his three highest-graded games ever against Power 5 programs, after posting passing grades of 90.7 and 87.2 against Clemson and Boston College in Week 10 and 11, respectively. Up until that Week 10 upset win over the Tigers, the highest single-game grade of Book's 2020 season sat at a relatively average 72.3.

A big reason for the drastic improvement has been his willingness to throw the ball downfield. There was seemingly no hesitancy to throw the ball downfield in his last two games, in stark contrast to his attitude to begin the year. Book completed a season-high seven passes thrown over 10 yards downfield against Clemson. He then topped it the following week against BC with eight. If this new Book is here to stay, then this Notre Dame team is a CFP contender.

Meanwhile, UNC starting quarterback Sam Howell has been cooking ever since the second half of his Week 7 loss against Florida State. Since then, Howell ranks third in the FBS in passing grade at 91.9, and he's first in total passing yards on passes thrown over 10 yards downfield at 1,346 (235 more than the next closest signal-caller). A change in playcalling has been the difference — Howell has been given the green light to take downfield shots, and it’s paying dividends. His average depth of target jumped from 7.7 yards in his first three games to 13.1 yards over his last five games. The Tar Heels have doubled their EPA per pass play mark from 0.19 to 0.40 as a result.

One thing to keep an eye on in this one is the Notre Dame offensive line. It has clearly been the best unit in college football to date, and they have given Book all the time in the world to drop back and pass. The Notre Dame quarterback is throwing the ball in 2.84 seconds after the snap on average, the seventh-highest in the FBS. This week, though, Notre Dame will be without starting center Jarrett Patterson and right guard Tommy Kraemer. Patterson,  the sixth-highest-graded center in the FBS, is now out for the year with a foot injury. Kraemer, the seventh-highest-graded right guard in the FBS, isn’t out for the year but will miss the next couple of weeks following an appendectomy. The Fighting Irish offensive line should still be fine overall, but we shall see if that holds true against UNC.

Treash’s prediction: UNC. I’m struggling with this one, but I think Sam Howell is playing at too high a level right now to pick against him. Either way, I think it’s a close one.

Seth’s prediction: UNC. UNC is so explosive, so I'll take them, BUT if we are getting the Ian Book from the last two games it's Notre Dame.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 9 OREGON @ OREGON STATE

Friday, Nov. 27 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

This Oregon defense has been a bit of a disappointment this season. Yes, they lost their top two players, Thomas Graham Jr. and Jevon Holland, to opt-outs, but many expected the Ducks to still field a top-10 unit. That has not been the case so far. Oregon ranks 73rd in the FBS in EPA allowed per pass play since the Pac-12 began in Week 10.

What has not been a disappointment for Oregon this year, though, has been its passing offense. The Ducks have fielded the 13th-most-efficient passing offense in the FBS since their season began, and new starting quarterback Tyler Shough has shown a lot of growth after a poor debut. Shough recorded a 46.2 passing grade in his first game of 2020, but he has improved that mark to 79.5 over his last two contests. The arm talent is there, and he really has all the fixings to become a premier player at the position.

Oregon State’s new starting quarterback, Tristan Gebbia, has been on the opposite path to Shough this season. He had an impressive debut against Washington State with an 84.6 passing grade but has since fallen flat. The redshirt junior has recorded poor sub-60.0 passing grades in each of the last two weeks and has displayed concerning accuracy.

Treash’s prediction: Oregon. The future is bright for this team, in my opinion.

Seth’s prediction: Oregon. I'm a big fan of the Beavers but Oregon is much better.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 3 OHIO STATE @ ILLINOIS

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 12:00 p.m. ET, FS1

Illinois, a team that is fifth-to-last in successful pass play rate allowed in the Power 5 (54.5%), will face off against a determined Justin Fields, who will be looking for a big bounce-back game after earning the lowest PFF grade of his season last week. This one could get ugly for the Illini.

The Ohio State signal-caller was producing at a near-perfect level before the Buckeyes’ Week 12 affair against the Hoosiers. His 93.9 PFF grade ranked first among quarterbacks in the FBS from Week 8 to Week 10. Then, against Indiana, the quarterback earned a subpar 63.7 passing grade and led the offense to its worst passing performance of the Fields era from an EPA per play standpoint.

The last time we saw Fields produce a sub-65.0 passing grade — back in Week 11 of 2019 — he responded with a career-high 95.9 passing grade the very next week. The question isn’t if Fields will bounce-back but rather to what extent he will.

Treash’s prediction: Ohio State. Fields gets back on track with an elite performance.

Seth’s prediction: Ohio State. Blowout incoming. They won't play as bad as last week.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


KENTUCKY @ NO. 6 FLORIDA

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

Kentucky had to face the Alabama Crimson Tide offense last week, the best offense in college football, and they got smashed by 60 points. This week, the Wildcats will have an easier matchup for their offense, but the defense is still going to have a lot on its plate.

The Gators trail only the Crimson Tide for the most efficient passing offense in the Power 5 this season. The playcalling, the slew of receiving threats, the offensive scheme and now quarterback Kyle Trask has made this offense a must-watch. Trask has recorded an FBS-best 93.7 passing grade over his last three games. Over that span, he has made throws that he wouldn't have even come close to making in years past. He has completed 39 pass attempts that traveled over 10 yards downfield over the last three games, 10 more than anyone else in the FBS.

There’s no reason to worry about the Florida offense in this one — to be quite frank, there's no reason to worry about this offense for the rest of the season — but there is definitely cause for concern with the defense. Week after week, this Florida defense has struggled; they even made one of the SEC’s worst offenses (Vandy) look good last week. Heading into Week 13, the Gators have the eighth-worst team coverage grade in the Power 5.

Offense wins games, but if Florida wants a chance at knocking off Bama in the 2020 SEC Championship Game, they need their defensive playmakers to step up to the plate.

Treash’s prediction: Florida. I need to see some progress on defense like I need air to breathe.

Seth’s prediction: Florida – Big statement game for the UF defense.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


MARYLAND @ NO. 12 INDIANA

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Indiana may not have been able to knock off Ohio State last week, but quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and the defense gave the Buckeyes what will be their toughest test of the regular season.

The Hoosiers defense has allowed successful pass plays at the eighth-lowest rate in the Power 5 since their season began in Week 8. They've also come away with an FBS-leading 15 turnovers over that span. They rattled Fields on a few occasions last week with their creative blitzes, just as they had done to other quarterbacks in the weeks leading up to Week 12.

Only two Power 5 teams have blitzed at a higher rate than the Indiana Hoosiers (48% of snaps). One of them is the Maryland Terrapins, who actually lead all Power 5 programs with a blitz rate of 56%. And considering that the Hoosiers’ offensive line is the second-lowest-graded pass-blocking unit in the Power 5 this year, Penix is bound to have his hands full in this one.

The Indiana QB has been under pressure at an astounding rate this season, but he has handled it exceptionally well. He has faced pressure on 39% of his dropbacks this year (seventh-highest in the Power 5) yet has still managed to earn a 90.6 PFF grade that puts him eighth among signal-callers. Penix is converting pressure to sacks at an extremely low rate and is routinely delivering dimes out of tight pockets. His 24 big-time throws since Week 8 lead all Power 5 quarterbacks by nine.

Indiana has a top-10 quarterback in college football and is making a push for a New Year’s Six bowl.

Treash’s prediction: Hoosiers. Indiana is now a football school.

Seth’s prediction: Maryland. Here's my upset special. Baby Tua is for real!

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Nov 21, 2020; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Shane Illingworth (16) throws as Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Nik Bonitto (11) grabs his leg during the second half at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

TEXAS TECH @ NO. 21 OKLAHOMA STATE

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX

We now have ourselves a quarterback controversy at Oklahoma State, as Spencer Sanders was pulled in favor of true freshman Shane Illingworth against Oklahoma in Week 12. It’s unknown whether it was due to injury, poor performance, or a little bit of both, but there’s a good chance we see Illingworth at quarterback moving forward. And that’s a move we here at PFF support.

Illingworth got destroyed by the Sooners’ pass-rush when he came in. He was under pressure on 50% of his dropbacks, and the results weren’t pretty. No sacks were taken, but Illingworth completed just one of his 11 pass attempts when under pressure that day.

However, Illingworth's two starts earlier in the year — when Sanders was out with an injury — should be enough to fill his coaching staff with confidence. The freshman recorded an 83.1 passing grade in those two games against West Virginia and Kansas in Week 4 and 5.

Regardless of who is at quarterback on Saturday, Oklahoma State will be facing off against one of the worst coverage units in the Power 5. Texas Tech ranks dead last in the Power 5 in coverage grade on passes thrown over 10 yards downfield.

Treash’s prediction: Oklahoma State. It’s time for the Illingworth era to commence.

Seth’s prediction: OK State — bounce-back game for the Pokes to keep their slim Big 12 title game hopes alive.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 16 COASTAL CAROLINA @ TEXAS STATE

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN+

A win may be a win, but Coastal Carolina’s passing attack was not up to snuff in Week 12 against App State. The Chanticleers had the sixth-most-efficient passing offense in the FBS leading up to that matchup. Then, against the Mountaineers, they produced a successful pass play at a season-low rate of 39%.

Fortunately for Coastal Carolina, the defense came in clutch in the fourth quarter of that game with a couple of interceptions to seal the W. That defensive success hasn’t been much different than what it has been throughout the 2020 season. In fact, Coastal ranks fifth in the FBS in EPA allowed per play. Considering Texas State ranks 104th in the FBS in that same metric, I would say it’s safe to expect a bounce-back week for the Chanticleers.

Treash’s prediction: Coastal Carolina.

Seth’s prediction: CCU — the boys continue to roll!

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 23 LOUISIANA @ UL-MONROE

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3

UL-Monroe is going to be an interesting one to watch this week. They’ll be introducing new starting quarterback Jeremy Hunt in the wake of former starter Colby Suits' departure from the team last week. Suits' 19 turnover-worthy plays are tied for the most in the FBS, however, so things really can't get much worse with Hunt at the helm.

It’s not going to be easy for the new starter, a 2020 JUCO transfer addition, in his first career start for UL-Monroe. Louisiana has fielded the nation's 12th-highest-graded coverage unit this season.

Treash’s prediction: Louisiana.

Seth’s prediction: ULL. My other boys continue to roll.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws during Alabama's game with Texas A&M Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

NO. 22 AUBURN @ NO. 1 ALABAMA

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

The Iron Bowl is one of the greatest rivalries in college football, but it’s going to be extremely tough for Auburn to hold up their end of the bargain and make this a competitive game.

Mac Jones has been on fire this season at quarterback for the Crimson Tide. He has earned a PFF grade above 75.0 in every single one of his seven starts, something only Zach Wilson has done this year at the quarterback position.

Jones is also avoiding negatively graded throws at the second-lowest rate in college football, though that is not a product of the elite supporting cast he has at his disposal. He’s just a darn good quarterback. And when you combine a passer like Jones with a wide receiver like DeVonta Smith, who is on pace to break the PFF College record for highest single-season receiving grade, you have yourself the best offense in the country.

If any team is knocking off the Crimson Tide, they will need a lot of offensive firepower. And that is something the Tigers are lacking. Former five-star recruit Bo Nix has failed to take that next step and lead the Auburn offense to the promised land. They rank 52nd in the FBS in passing efficiency.

Auburn's rushing attack, led by true freshman Tank Bigsby, has been the backbone of most of the team's offensive success this season, but Bigsby is questionable for Saturday’s game. He missed most of Auburn’s game against Tennessee with an injury, and their rushing offense failed to generate positive EPA per play for just the second time this season.

Treash’s prediction: Alabama. It’s a sad year for the Iron Bowl if you are an Auburn fan.

Seth’s prediction: Bama. We will not see the Bo Nix from last year's Iron Bowl.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


PITT @ NO. 4 CLEMSON

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

After a near-month hiatus due to Covid-19, a bye and then a game cancellation, Trevor Lawrence will finally be back on the field for Clemson this Saturday. The future No. 1 overall pick has put together a 91.3 PFF grade across six games this season, a mark that is on pace to surpass the grades he put forth in his true freshman and sophomore seasons.

Lawrence let go of multiple turnover-worthy throws against both Miami and Syracuse, but I’d bank on him breaking that trend, given that he did that just five times in his previous 33 games. It won’t be a complete walk in the park against this Pitt defense, though. as the Panthers have allowed a successful play at the eighth-best rate in the FBS this year (35.8%).

Treash’s prediction: Clemson.

Seth’s prediction: Clemson, but I hope this game gets canceled 45 minutes before the game so that I can see Dabo's reaction.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 11 NORTHWESTERN @ MICHIGAN STATE

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This Northwestern coverage unit has been the most surprising in the country this season. The Wildcats rank first among all Power 5 teams in both EPA allowed per pass and in passer rating allowed (56.3). The latter would be the best we have ever seen in the PFF College era.

On deep passes (passes thrown 20-plus yards in the air) in particular, Northwestern has made three times as many plays on the ball (nine) than catches allowed (three). And this week, they could be getting fresh meat, as Michigan State may start Payton Thorne — who has never started a game at the collegiate level — at quarterback. Thorne came in for Rocky Lombardi in their Week 11 game against IU and led the Spartans to the least efficient FBS passing attack of the week.

Treash’s prediction: Northwestern. I’m all in on the Fightin’ Rece Davises (and by all in, I mean beating everyone but Ohio State in the Big Ten championship).

Seth’s prediction: NW. The Wildcat pass defense is gonna stifle MSU.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


COLORADO @ NO. 19 USC

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Who would have thought that a fifth-year senior who used to play safety and who only had 48 career dropbacks to his name — and he struggled on those, I might add — would be the Pac-12’s highest-graded quarterback through their first few weeks of play?

That player is none other than Colorado’s Sam Noyer. Noyer has recorded a 91.1 passing grade through two weeks of action, well above USC’s Kedon Slovis, who has somewhat disappointed to start 2020.

Slovis' underneath accuracy has been as automatic as it was in 2019, but the downfield accuracy has not. Since the Pac-12's season began back in Week 10, Slovis is 12th-to-last in the percentage of accurate passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield at 29%. He ranked second to only Joe Burrow in that same metric last year (62%).

On top of that, Slovis still makes the odd bad decision, just as we saw in his true freshman campaign. His eight turnover-worthy plays are three more than any other Pac-12 quarterback this season.

Treash’s prediction: USC. Slovis didn’t break out last week … but he does this week!

Seth’s prediction: USC. There is a fishy smell of upset here, but I'm not gonna pull the trigger.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 7 CINCINNATI @ TEMPLE

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The biggest things we wanted to see from Cincinnati last week against UCF were: 1) the defense effectively shutting down Dillon Gabriel’s deep ball, and 2) the offense to continue the hot streak it has been on since its two-week bye in mid-October. The Bearcats took care of both of those things.

They now have the 10th-most-efficient offense in the FBS since Week 8. Desmond Ridder will get his chance at putting together a sharp passing outing this weekend, too, as he faces off against the lowest-graded coverage unit in the FBS, Temple.

Treash’s prediction: Cincinnati by 50.

Seth’s prediction: Cincy all day, every day.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Oct 10, 2020; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond (11) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Florida Gators at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

LSU @ NO. 5 TEXAS A&M

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

Kellen Mond has looked quite different in his last two outings. The Texas A&M quarterback opened up the year with four straight sub-70.0 PFF grades. His 62.8 PFF grade over that entire span was the fourth-worst in the SEC.

Mond’s downfield passing was practically nonexistent. Then, in Week 9 and 10, he came out and recorded an SEC-best PFF grade of 93.6 and actually moved the ball for the Aggies. Texas A&M went from seventh in the SEC in EPA per pass at 0.12 in those four weeks to second at 0.72 in those next two — all thanks to Mond's play.

The only question is, can he sustain it? It’s worth noting that he is going up against an LSU defense that ranks dead last in the SEC in explosive pass play rate allowed.

With Myles Brennan out for the year, LSU has introduced true freshman TJ Finley as their starter to close out the year. We aren’t going to lie, Finley looked bad in his first two starts back in Week 8 and 9. He recorded a passing grade of 52.5 in those two games. However, he looked like a completely different player this past week against Arkansas when he delivered the best passing grade we have seen by a true freshman this year at 92.2. Is this Finley here to stay, or was this a one-hit-wonder? Similar to the situation with Mond, we will find out this weekend.

Treash’s prediction: Texas A&M, but I’m not so sure this “new” Mond is here to stay.

Seth’s prediction: LSU. Ya, whatever, they're gonna lose, but I can hope.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 13 GEORGIA @ SOUTH CAROLINA

Saturday, Nov. 28 — 7:30 p.m. ET, SECN

JT Daniels had one of the most surprising season debuts I have seen at the collegiate level. He went from ranking 129th among 130 FBS quarterbacks in PFF’s wins above average (WAA) metric as a true freshman in 2018 for USC to tearing his ACL Week 1 of 2019 to transferring to Georgia after losing his starting job. He didn’t win the job after being medically cleared, and it was reported that he was the third man on the totem pole behind Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis, despite being ready to go.

Following an injury to Bennett and Mathis' poor performance, Daniels got the nod last week against Mississippi State and went on to win PFF Offensive Player of the Week. He recorded the second-best passing grade we have seen from a Power 5 quarterback this season at 94.8. Georgia is no longer in that CFP conversation, but this is a can’t-miss game for the sole reason of seeing whether or not Daniels can come remotely close to repeating that performance.

Treash’s prediction: Georgia. I’m still shook by Daniels’ UGA debut last Saturday.

Seth’s prediction: UGA.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


 

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