Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Saturday's Essentials - Week 13

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Michigan (-4.5/54) at Ohio State, 12 p.m. ET, FOX: The Buckeyes haven’t inspired much confidence on the defensive side off he ball over the past month, surrendering one big play after another in struggling with the likes of Maryland and Nebraska after getting crushed at Purdue. If Terps QB Tyrrell Pigrome hadn’t misfired on a two-point conversion attempt, the Buckeyes would already be cooked, so we’ll see if they make the most of their ninth life in front of the faithful in Columbus. Ohio State is 46-3 in the Horseshoe in the Urban Meyer era, handling business under co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day earlier in the season. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is on the hot seat due to all the miscues complicating matters on that side of the ball, but his track record suggests he should be able to save his best for a Wolverines offense that isn’t exactly innovative. A physical offensive line has helped produce 30 points or more in eight of Michigan’s last 10 games, while QB Shea Patterson has settled in.

Showers are expected to rain down on this one, so avoiding turnovers will likely be the deciding factor. Michigan lists key linebacker Chase Winovich as questionable and may not have RB Berkley Edwards available, so this will be all about survival amid adverse conditions. The Wolverines would look like an CFP Top-4 lock if they pick up wins here and against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship, allowing them to survive a season-opening loss to Notre Dame. They’re currently locked in at No. 4, while Ohio State comes in at 10 but would move up significantly with an upset here. The Buckeyes have won 13 of the last 14 installments of “the Game,” including each of the last six under Meyer. Jim Harbaugh lost in his lone visit to Columbus in triple overtime despite getting a game-tying field goal with one second left.

Auburn at Alabama (-24.5/53), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The Tigers beat Alabama in this spot last season and came into the season as the team most likely to bring down the reigning champs. Of course, now that Auburn has looked rather ordinary in dropping four contests, most recently failing mightily at Georgia 27-10, the only reason anyone gives them a chance to keep this game remotely close lies in silly psychological reasons like the rivalry aspect or the fact that familiarity breeds an immunity towards being too shook to cook, so to speak. Auburn may save its best game for Alabama simply because players prepare to do so every morning they wake up. We’ll see if that narrative helps them score, because they’re not competing solely because they want to. A 53-0 blanking of Liberty during last week’s SEC Cupcake weekend produced the team’s highest-scoring output since a 63-9 Sept. 8 win over Alabama State, but the reality is that Auburn scored more than 30 points only twice in SEC play and looks more likely to score in single-digits against ‘Bama than they are at producing enough to seriously threaten.

The Crimson Tide will have RB Damien Harris back after he’s cleared concussion protocol and also list safety Delonte Thompson as probable despite a knee issue. Offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Deonte Brown are also likely to participate. QB Tua Tagovailoa, the heavy Heisman favorite (-400) wasn’t even listed on the injury report, so expect him to play for as long as the Crimson Tide needs him. He’s only worked into the fourth quarter twice and looks to bounce back against a real defense after being sacked four times by Mississippi State. Counterpart Jarrett Stidham, a junior, may announce he’s turning pro as early as next week and enjoyed his highest-rated game last season against Alabama, so he can reverse all the damage he’s done to his stock with his shaky play this season by putting together a strong effort this afternoon.

South Carolina at Clemson (-26/58.5), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: This role hasn’t gone well for Will Muschamp, who has lost the first two Palmetto Bowls during this tenure by a 90-17 margin. QB Jake Bentley has started both games for South Carolina against the Tigers and has thrown three interceptions while being held to just 167 yards. He’ll be facing the best defensive line in the country, but has been able to produce over the last few weeks, passing the Gamecocks to over 30 points in each of the last three games, which includes a solid performance at Florida. He’ll have top target Deebo Samuel in the mix for this season’s game after being forced to miss last season’s contest, so count on getting the senior the ball being a huge priority.

Clemson hasn’t beaten South Carolina five straight times since the 1930s. The Tigers have covered in three of the last four wins against the Gamecocks and are 5-1 against the number since October began, outscoring opponents 302-49 (50.3-8.2). The Tigers are averaging 47 points over freshman Trevor Lawrence’s seven starts since taking over for Kelly Bryant, while RB Travis Etienne has stepped up to take the pressure off and leads the ACC with 1,157 yards and a single-year school-record 17 TDs. Rain may factor in.

Notre Dame (-11.5/54) at USC, 8 p.m. ET, ABC: Without a conference championship to worry about, defeating the Trojans would solidify Notre Dame’s spot in the college football playoff. That’s some heady circumstances, but USC is very invested in producing an upset too. Head coach Clay Helton may get axed without a victory to pick up a few extra weeks of work with his young group by getting to .500 and achieving bowl eligibility. Although there have been injury issues, losing four of five games in a season where the Pac-12 isn’t at all strong has the natives restless and calling for change. USC has only defeated Oregon State since mid-October, getting blown out at Utah while losing one-possession games against Oregon State, Cal and UCLA in Los Angeles. Freshman starting QB J.T. Daniels has thrown 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and has been criticized for an inability to hit big plays despite having talented options everywhere you look. Notre Dame has registered 29 sacks and has turned defensive coordinator Clark Lea into one of the country’s hottest assistants by backing up his aggressive calls. If Daniels can’t handle the pressure, the Trojans will have no shot at an upset. USC has scored just three second-half points over their last two losses and will need a big day from RB Aca’Cedric Ware to keep the Fighting Irish from coming after Daniels and imposing their will up front.

The Fighting Irish offense had struggled until Brian Kelly replaced junior Brandon Wimbush with sophomore Ian Book, who doesn’t have much experience in true road games but has excelled in most situations, displaying poise beyond his experience level. He’ll be facing a Trojans defense that has already lost top pass-rusher Porter Gustin for the season and may be without middle linebacker John Houston (hamstring) or safety Marvel Tell (ankle). Both will be game-time decisions. Last year’s 49-14 win in South Bend was the most lopsided in series history. A repeat of that here would almost certainly seal Helton’s fate.

LSU at Texas A&M (-7.5/75), 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC: The first Jimbo Fisher Bowl will be played in College Station, where the defensive coordinator the new Texas A&M head coach intended to hire will look to further earn his substantial pay raise that he signed to keep his at LSU. Dave Aranda has been well worth the raise, keeping the Tigers in the national conversation despite another underwhelming offense. Fisher hired Mike Elko away from Notre Dame, so two of the country’s top defensive minds will be facing off and trying to keep QBs Joe Burrow and Kellen Mond from finding a rhythm. Since being humbled at home by Alabama in a 29-0 loss, LSU has handled Arkansas and blown out Rice, so this season finale will be by far its toughest test and the most difficult road game since losing at Florida on Oct. 6.

The Aggies have averaged 39.5 points in home wins over Ole Miss and UAB, but facing a defense featuring two of the top performers in the country is going to be a graduation of sorts for Mond and an offense that has wrestled with inconsistency over the past few months. Texas A&M has lost the last seven games against LSU and is winless against the Bayou Bengals since joining the SEC. The ‘under’ has clicked in five of seven featuring A&M and three of the last four LSU games.

Others to watch: Georgia Tech at Georgia, Syracuse at Boston College, Stanford at UCLA, Oklahoma State at TCU, Florida at Florida State, Kansas State at Iowa State, BYU at Utah, Hawai'i at San Diego State, Texas Tech at Baylor, Tennessee at Vanderbilt, Minnesota at Wisconsin, Wake Forest at Duke, Colorado at Cal Purdue at Indiana, Kentucky at Louisville, UAB at Middle Tennessee, Troy at Appalachian State, Georgia Southern at Georgia State

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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