College Football Week 13 Recap: Rivalry Week Doesn’t Disappoint

College Football Week 13 Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer SandersSue Ogrocki/AP / Shutterstock

College football Week 13, also known as Rivalry Week, is the best week on the college football calendar because just about everyone has something to play for. Are you in the Playoff hunt? Great, you’d better win. Are you trying to win your conference title? Awesome, you’d better win. Are you out of the hunt altogether, but playing against a team you hate? Well, then you really ought to win, because it might be the only highlight of your season.



Some Rivalry Weeks are spicier than others, but we got lucky in 2021. Saturday was the best college football day of the year, for reasons that have both everything and nothing to do with the title races that will take up most of our attention in the coming weeks. Here’s a selection of teams who had great performances—and some who did not.

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College Football Week 13 Recap

Winner: Michigan

The Wolverines’ commanding 41–27 win over Ohio State was noteworthy in a lot of ways. It was by far the biggest triumph for Jim Harbaugh in his seven seasons at Michigan, and it ended his winless run against the team that has dominated Michigan for decades. It gave the Wolverines the Big Ten East division crown for the first time and put them a win away from the College Football Playoff. It was also an exhibition in effective offensive line play, as Michigan’s five big men up front blew open holes in the Ohio State defense all afternoon. It was the perfect encapsulation of what Harbaugh has been trying to do all along and a beautiful display of offensive football in general.

Loser: Wisconsin

The Badgers will not be playing Michigan in the Big Ten Championship. Wisconsin lost 23–13 at Minnesota on Saturday, and that combined with Iowa’s win over a tortured Nebraska on Friday handed the West division title to the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin had one of the best defenses in the sport this year, but the team never could figure out how to play offense behind quarterback Graham Mertz. As a result, they let the Gophers take Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2018.

Winner: Oklahoma State

The Pokes beat rival Oklahoma in Stillwater, 37–33, in one of the weirdest and most dramatic games of the season. It was a get-over-the-hump game for Mike Gundy, who (like most OSU coaches) has struggled against OU and had lost six in a row in the series. It also flew in the face of an idea pushed by certain media observers (definitely not me; OK, yes, including me) that even an elite Oklahoma State defense wouldn’t be enough against the Sooners. Despite the naysayers, Gundy and his team pulled it off.

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Winner: Bryce Young

Young, the redshirt freshman Alabama quarterback, delivered the comeback effort of his life in a 24–22, quadruple-overtime win at Auburn on Saturday. The Tide trailed their Iron Bowl rivals 10–0 in the fourth quarter and 10–3 when Young took the ball at his own three-yard line with a minute and a half left to play. Young coolly led a 97-yard touchdown drive to tie the game, and then he created a couple of key third- and fourth-down conversions before dropping in a dime of a 28-yard ball to ​​Ja’Corey Brooks and winning the game in the following possessions. Young is the clear Heisman frontrunner, and the Tide are alive heading into an SEC Championship meeting with Georgia.

Loser: Bryan Harsin

Harsin, Auburn’s head coach (who may or may not be vaccinated as the vaccine deadline approaches), had a rough conclusion to the Iron Bowl. His running back, Tank Bigsby, preserved crucial seconds for the Bama comeback by going out of bounds on a run in the final minute. That’s primarily Bigsby’s fault, but it’s also something his coaching staff should’ve made absolutely sure he didn’t do. Harsin also passed on a two-point conversion attempt to win the game in overtime, even though his quarterback, TJ Finley, appeared to be badly hobbled and in no shape to extend the game much further.

Harsin finished the season 6–6, and while I don’t expect him to lose his job over his vaccination status, I do expect him to lose it within two years because of a lack of recruiting success, forthcoming turnover within Auburn’s administration, and Auburn’s willingness to spend big money to hire (and fire) coaches.

Winner: Seth Littrell

Littrell, the head coach at North Texas since 2016, appeared to be as good as fired a month ago. The Mean Green started the year 1–6, and that came on the heels of a combined 8–14 record over the previous two seasons. But Littrell bounced back to win four games in a row against some of the worst teams in Conference USA—nothing too impressive, but better than losing. Things really escalated when UNT played unbeaten UTSA on Saturday and made roadkill out of the Roadrunners with 45–23 victory. I’m only speculating here, but getting to bowl eligibility by beating one of the better teams in the country should help Littrell keep his job.

Winner: Notre Dame

The Irish would’ve been bigger winners if Alabama had lost to Auburn and removed itself from Playoff contention. Although that didn’t pan out, Notre Dame handily defeated Stanford 45–14 on the road. Notre Dame was sixth in the selection committee’s rankings last week and will have a legitimate Playoff chance heading into conference championship weekend. The Irish, of course, will be idle, but they’ll get in if they get a reasonable amount of help from some teams around them. When the rankings emerge on Tuesday, we’ll get a better idea of how much of an assist they’ll need, but it’d be helpful for the Irish if Baylor beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship and Georgia avoided an upset against Alabama in the SEC.

Loser: Teams Whose Rivals Storm Their Home Fields

The Cavaliers lost to Commonwealth Cup rival Virginia Tech by a score of 29–24. UVA is always the little brother in this rivalry, but this year’s loss was extra cruel. The Hoos had the ball deep in Tech territory with a chance to take a last-minute lead, but they lost yardage on a misguided throwback to an offensive tackle and then got stopped on a fourth down to end the contest. The night ended with Virginia Tech fans storming the field at UVA’s Scott Stadium.

Washington met a similar fate on Friday night after falling to Washington State in the Apple Cup. A good rule of thumb in Rivalry Week? Keep your opponent’s fans off your grass.

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