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Big Game Hunting: Michigan-Ohio State, Illinois-Northwestern on rivalry-tilt Saturday

There are Big Ten teams that just have a way of making their rivals all kinds of miserable on the last Saturday of November.

Ohio State v Michigan
Buckeyes faithful have had their wishes granted many times against the Wolverines.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There’s a Big Ten team that just has a way of making its rival all kinds of miserable on the last Saturday of November. Maybe things used to be more even between the schools. At times, rivalry success may even have swung the other way.

But not anymore.

Is this an Ohio State-Michigan thing? Well, sure.

But it’s also a Northwestern-Illinois thing. More on the Buckeyes and Wolverines shortly.

Northwestern (+6½) at Illinois (2:30 p.m., BTN, 720-AM, 890-AM) is a chance for the Wildcats — mired in 3-8 misery — to run their Land of Lincoln trophy winning streak to seven. It also happens to be a chance for the 4-7 lllini to make themselves heard for a change and maybe even sneak into a bowl game with a fifth “W.” The oddsmakers are expecting the first part to happen.

“You throw [the records] out in any rivalry game,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, “and I think both teams will compete their tails off for 60 minutes in Champaign.”

Neither team has a functioning offense. The Illini have played better defensively on the whole. But we’ve seen Fitzgerald’s teams outplay the Illini up front many times before. That’s how the Wildcats have won eight of nine and 14 of 18 in this series.

“This is a game of respect for what they are, who they are,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “They’re very hard-nosed.”

Northwestern isn’t so hard-nosed this season, though. And what about the Bielema factor? The first-year Illini coach should be back in charge after a stint in COVID-19 isolation. Illini, 20-16.

Far more important nationally: No. 2 Ohio State (-7½) at No. 5 Michigan (11 a.m., Fox-32). To the winner goes a spot in the College Football Playoff top four heading into the Big Ten title game.

“It’s a playoff game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s at the highest level.”

It’s what it is if you’re Harbaugh, who’s 0-5 against the Buckeyes. Michigan has lost eight straight and 15 of 16 in this series. Should we even make a big deal of this game anymore?

“Our No. 1 goal here at Ohio State is to beat the team up north, period,” OSU coach Ryan Day said.

Anybody believe that? The Buckeyes have quarterback C.J. Stroud gunning for the Heisman Trophy and the best group of receivers in the country. They’re all-in on the playoff and — even in a down year defensively — more talented in most position groups than Michigan has been perhaps ever. It’s 10-1 vs. 10-1, but is it even a fair fight? Buckeyes, 34-21.

OTHER WEEK 13 PICKS

No. 1 Georgia (-35) at Georgia Tech (11 a.m., Ch. 7): The Bulldogs are coasting to their SEC title mega-matchup with Alabama. Get those backups some run, Kirby Smart. Dogs by 28.

No. 18 Wake Forest (-5½) at Boston College (11 a.m., ESPN2): The Demon Deacons are one more improbable “W” from locking Clemson out of the ACC title game. What a strange spectacle that would be. Deacs, 34-27.

Alabama v Auburn
Saban during a loss at Auburn in 2019.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No. 3 Alabama (-20) at Auburn (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): Nick Saban is only 9-5 in this series. Auburn has won the last two matchups at home and owns — believe it or not — a 10-9 record in the last 19 playings of the Iron Bowl. Upset? Please. Tide, 45-17.

Oregon State (+6½) at No. 11 Oregon (2:30 p.m., ESPN): Anybody else old enough to remember when the Ducks were playing for a spot in the final four? Now they’re just trying to squeeze out a Pac-12 North title. Ducks, 31-21.

No. 14 Wisconsin (-7) at Minnesota (3 p.m., Fox-32): Somebody has to win the Big Ten West and sacrifice itself on the Ohio State altar. Badgers by 10.

No. 10 Oklahoma (+4½) at No. 7 Oklahoma State (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7): “Bedlam” is the best name of any rivalry, and it’s especially great when both teams are 10-1. The playoff isn’t within reach, but that’s OK. Cowboy Up — these guys can rock it — to end a six-game head-to-head losing streak.

My favorite favorite: No. 6 Notre Dame (-19½) at Stanford (7 p.m., Fox-32): The Irish need win No. 11 in a spectacular way if they’re going to make the playoff. The Cardinal have humiliated themselves repeatedly since upsetting Oregon on Oct. 2. That’s a long time ago.

My favorite underdog: South Carolina (+11½) vs. Clemson (6:30 p.m., SEC): If the Gamecocks could blow the doors off Florida and beat Auburn at home in November, they can hang with their Palmetto rivals. Clemson by a kick.

Last week: 10-0 straight-up, 6-4 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 78-35-1 straight-up, 62-50-2 vs. the spread.