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What to watch: Week 13 college football viewing guide, picks against the spread

Sam Cooper
·9-min read

Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will pick those five games against the spread and highlight some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.

Welcome to Thanksgiving weekend, everyone.

In a normal college football season, we’d be wrapping up the regular season with a slew of big-time rivalry games potentially deciding the postseason fates of several teams. Things look different this year, but there are still rivalry games and matchups with significant implications on the docket over the next few days as you enjoy your Turkey Day leftovers.

There are two clear top games on Friday, but Saturday’s slate has intrigue from the potential Michigan vs. Penn State trainwreck at noon through a hastily arranged Utah-Washington Pac-12 After Dark matchup late at night.

(Note: All times ET, point spreads/totals from BetMGM)

No. 13 Iowa State at No. 17 Texas

Time: Noon (Friday) | TV: ABC | Line: Texas -1.5 | Total: 56.5

Iowa State has its sights on the first Big 12 title in program history, and a win over Texas would put the Cyclones on the precipice of a spot in the conference title game. Entering Friday’s game, ISU is atop the Big 12 standings at 6-1, with four two-loss teams a game behind. No. 13 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, ISU has won three straight with Heisman Trophy candidate Breece Hall leading the way. Hall leads the nation in rushing and is averaging 146.1 yards per game.

On the Texas side, Friday’s game is pretty much a must-win to keep its Big 12 title hopes alive. With a loss, Texas would lose tiebreaker scenarios to both Iowa State and Oklahoma if it came down to that at the end of the year. A win would give UT tiebreaker advantages over both ISU and Oklahoma State (who UT beat earlier this year) if there are three or four teams tied atop the standings at 7-2. Like Iowa State, Texas is currently on a three-game win streak. But the Longhorns haven’t played since Nov. 7 after last week’s game against Kansas was postponed.

Sam Cooper: Iowa State +1.5, Nick Bromberg: Iowa State +1.5

No. 2 Notre Dame at No. 19 North Carolina

Time: 3:30 p.m. (Friday) | TV: ABC | Line: Notre Dame -5.5 | Total: 67.5

Notre Dame passed its biggest test of the year by beating No. 1 Clemson and then avoided the subsequent letdown with a 45-31 road win over Boston College. Coming off a bye week, the second-ranked Irish now have to go on the road to face North Carolina, a team with one of the top offenses in the country.

And while Notre Dame will be without two of its starting linemen — center Jarrett Patterson and guard Tommy Kraemer — North Carolina could be getting some of its injured players back. Wide receiver Beau Corrales, center Brian Anderson and cornerback Storm Duck all returned to practice this week and are considered gametime decisions on Friday. The UNC offense, led by QB Sam Howell and the RB duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, will be a big test for the heralded Notre Dame defense.

Sam: Notre Dame -5.5, Nick: Notre Dame -5.5

No. 22 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Alabama -25 | Total: 62.5

Auburn has upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl in two of the past three seasons. Can it happen again? This year, the Tigers are ranked No. 22 and are riding a three-game winning streak. Auburn had a three-week layoff before returning to action last week with a 31-17 win over Tennessee, a game that flipped on a 100-yard pick-six by Smoke Monday late in the third quarter. Auburn has relied on its ground game during its winning streak, but injuries along the offensive line and to top running back Tank Bigsby loom large against Alabama.

On the Alabama side, Nick Saban will not be on the sideline after testing positive for COVID-19. Instead, it will be offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian calling the shots on Saturday. Sarkisian’s offense has been rolling all year long. The Tide are putting up 49.4 points and 548.6 yards per game, good for No. 3 and No. 6 in the nation, respectively. Mac Jones has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, while RB Najee Harris and WR DeVonta Smith have put up big numbers as well. After missing the CFP last year, Alabama looks like a team on a mission.

Sam: Alabama -25, Nick: Alabama -25

Colorado at No. 18 USC

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: USC -11.5 | Total: 64.5

The Pac-12’s return to football hasn’t exactly gone smoothly. The conference has seen an array of cancellations, including beloved rivalry games like this week’s Apple Cup. Only four of the league’s teams have managed to play three games in three weeks. USC is one of them, and the Trojans are 3-0. The first two wins — over Arizona State and Arizona — took some late-game drama. Last week’s win over Utah was a bit more conventional, though it was the first game of the year for the Utes.

USC is sitting pretty in the South division, but Saturday’s opponent, Colorado, has emerged as the Trojans’ top challenger so far. In their first year under Karl Dorrell, the Buffs are off to a 2-0 start with wins over UCLA and Stanford. Colorado has been led offensively by QB Sam Noyer and RB Jarek Broussard. Noyer’s story is a notable one. Noyer was moved to safety by the previous staff. Itching for a chance to play QB, Noyer entered the transfer portal in the offseason, but was convinced to come back by Dorrell. Now he has a chance to lead his team into first place in the South.

Sam: USC -11.5, Nick: USC -11.5

LSU at No. 5 Texas A&M

Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Texas A&M -14.5 | Total: 62.5

Texas A&M is firmly in the College Football Playoff picture, but it can’t afford any slip-ups the rest of the way. The Aggies are on the heels of a two-week pause caused by COVID-19 issues and now will host the defending national champions, LSU. LSU has dominated the series since A&M joined the SEC, with the epic 7OT 74-72 game from 2018 as the only win for A&M.

Last year, LSU destroyed the Aggies 50-7 en route to a national title. LSU is struggling in 2020, though. The Tigers are 3-3 and Texas A&M could be in a position to return the favor. Kellen Mond is having a strong year for A&M, and he could be in for a big game against LSU’s struggling defense.

Sam: Texas A&M -14.5, Nick: Texas A&M -14.5

Head-to-head ATS: Sam: 28-26, Nick: 23-31

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley talks with Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) during an NCAA college football game against Kansas in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley talks with Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) during an NCAA college football game against Kansas in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Week 13’s best bets

Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-0-1, Overall: 18-11-2)

New Mexico at Utah State: If you’re fixing for football on Thanksgiving night without the Ravens and Steelers, this is your alternative. Who doesn’t want to watch a battle of winless Mountain West teams? Utah State is one of the worst teams in the country. So I’m taking the Lobos. Pick: New Mexico -6.5

Nebraska at No. 24 Iowa: I don’t trust Nebraska at all. Meanwhile, Iowa has won its last three games by at least 20 points after opening the season with two losses by a combined five points. While both of these teams beat Penn State, Iowa did it more convincingly. That’s my expert breakdown. Pick: Iowa -13.5

Maryland at No. 12 Indiana: The Hoosiers have hit the over in four of five games this season while Maryland is coming off a two-week break because of a COVID-19 outbreak. With Maryland’s long layoff and a relatively high total in this one because of the way Indiana games have gone this season, the under feels like the play. Pick: Under 62.5

Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 21-15)

No. 13 Iowa State at No. 17 Texas: This just feels like a physical game where defenses will be content to allow underneath stuff to avoid allowing big plays. Iowa State has hit chunk plays with Breece Hall all year long while Texas surprisingly leads the Big 12 in scrimmage plays of 40-plus yards. This matchup has typically featured low-scoring games. In the past five seasons, ISU-UT games have gone under the total by an average of 27 points. Pick: Under 56.5

Kentucky at No. 6 Florida: I don’t expect Kentucky to lose by 60 like it did last week against Alabama, but I also don’t think UK has enough firepower on either side of the ball to contain Florida’s offense or score enough to keep this within the number. UF came out a bit flat vs. Vanderbilt last week, so I’m expecting Dan Mullen’s team to roll this week. Pick: Florida -22.5

NC State at Syracuse: I’m not going to overthink this one. Syracuse is up there with Kansas among the worst Power Five teams in the country. Syracuse was shutout by Louisville last week and gained only 137 yards in the process. NC State’s offense is capable of putting up big numbers, so I don’t think the Wolfpack will have much of an issue covering here. Pick: NC State -14

For other Week 13 picks from Sam Cooper, click here.

For Week 13 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pete Thamel and Pat Forde, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports College Podcast.

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