History suggests a few highly ranked programs are due an upset.
The schedule may not appear intimidating in Week 12 of college football, but poor quarterback play can quickly become the root of a jaw-dropping result.
After a Saturday on which every top-10 team earned a victory, history suggests a few highly ranked programs are due for an upset.
That’s simply one part of an important weekend, though. Some division titles remain up for grabs, and a victory could secure that place in a conference championship game. Bowl eligibility is at stake, too.
Every player feels pressure. These quarterbacks are dealing with the most.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Ohio State is not exactly in a great place right now. After tearing through defenses to begin the campaign, the Buckeyes are merely getting past opponents. Their red-zone efficiency has tanked, mustering just five touchdowns in the last 17 trips compared to 21 in their first 29. The running game has struggled mightily against any team with a winning percentage of .500 or better. Dwayne Haskins is the reason Ohio State hasn’t completely collapsed. And with Michigan looming in Week 13, he needs to rediscover that early season form against Maryland.
Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Penn State obliterated Pitt 51-6 two weeks into the season, and UCF followed suit with a 45-14 beatdown at the end of September. The Panthers also fell to North Carolina, which hasn’t won any other game in 2018. Yet here they are, a single victory from clinching the Coastal Division and earning a clash against Clemson for the ACC crown. The matchup sure is a favorable one for Kenny Pickett, considering Wake Forest has allowed 300-plus passing yards six times this season. And as long as Pickett protects the ball, Pitt should celebrate that improbable Coastal title.
Jason Shelley, Utah
The season-ending collarbone injury to dual-threat standout Tyler Huntley forced Jason Shelley into the lineup. As the in-game replacement, he managed just four completions in 11 attempts. But during his first start — a win over Oregon — Shelley finished with an 18-of-31 line with 262 yards and rushed for two touchdowns. Utah currently sits in a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 South but doesn’t hold the tiebreaker advantage. The Utes cannot afford a loss, particularly since Colorado has dropped five straight games. Utah is leaning on Shelley to stay in the division race.
Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Syracuse is a popular upset pick, but the pressure really isn’t on Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have a clear advantage on defense, particularly a run-stopping unit that has ceded only 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. Outside of Navy’s triple-option attack, though, Notre Dame hasn’t faced a running quarterback of Eric Dungey’s caliber. The senior has scored 12 times on the ground this season, including at least one touchdown in seven straight games. Capitalizing on every scoring opportunity will be crucial for the Orange and their upset bid. That demand is on Dungey.
Will Grier, West Virginia
Oklahoma State’s biggest vulnerability is the pass defense, considering it has allowed 20 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions so far. Will Grier should be able to pick apart that secondary all the same. Given how West Virginia’s defense has played on the road, however, the Mountaineers may be relying fully on Grier to win the critical tilt anyway. They’ve been outscored in three true road games this season. Grier has done a commendable job avoiding critical mistakes, but if that WVU defense has another rough day, he must be perfect.
N’Kosi Perry, Miami
Both Miami and Virginia Tech are in rough shape, owning a combined record of 9-10 entering this tilt. They were projected to have 9-10 wins in 2018! Nevertheless, such is the position they’re currently in. Miami’s Mark Richt appears to have finally recognized the future is most important. N’Kosi Perry will start his second straight game for the ‘Canes, who had three fumbles (two on special teams) in a loss to Georgia Tech. Miami isn’t good enough to overcome constant mistakes, so Perry must provide a superb day for the Hurricanes to secure a sixth win.
Daniel Jones, Duke
Will anyone topple this Clemson squad before the College Football Playoff? It sure seems unlikely, but Daniel Jones is definitely arriving as a confident player. Three weeks ago, he passes for career-high marks of 396 yards and four touchdowns. Last Saturday, Jones had 361 yards and three scores through the air while scampering for a personal-best 186. Meanwhile, Clemson hasn’t allowed more than 312 offensive yards in any game since the week of September. To say there’s a fair bit of pressure on Jones would even be an understatement.
Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Texas flashed its defensive potential following the season-opening loss to Maryland, holding four straight opponents to 21 points or less. That surge was short-lived. The Longhorns have allowed 34 points or more in four of their last five contests, two of which were losses. Still, they’re at home for this important clash with Iowa State. Brock Purdy has guided the Cyclones to a five-game winning streak, and a victory at Texas would propel them into a great position to reach the Big 12 Championship Game. His production will be key to Iowa State’s late-season surge continuing.
McKenzie Milton, UCF
Central Florida has scored no fewer than 31 points in every game. That’s a mark Cincinnati hasn’t surrendered all season. Something has to give. McKenzie Milton has played well for most of the campaign, though a touch below his efficiency of 2017. But as strong as Cincinnati’s secondary has been all year, SMU and South Florida recently combined for 560 yards, five scores and zero interceptions. Milton, who’s also a mobile threat, has a clear opportunity to succeed. UCF’s hopes of another New Year’s Six bowl berth depends on his contributions against a strong opponent.
Khalil Tate, Arizona
Arizona is thinking upset against Washington State — and for a much larger reason than we anticipated in September. The Wildcats entered 2018 with a bunch of hype thanks to Khalil Tate and the arrival of Kevin Sumlin, but a 2-3 September removed them from the conversation. However, the Pac-12 South kept losing. And losing. Now, Arizona is included in a three-way tie atop the division. If the ‘Cats can manage an upset in Pullman, they’ll eliminate Wazzu from the College Football Playoff discussion, achieve bowl eligibility and maybe even keep a Pac-12 title dream alive.