It’s hard to imagine anything more exciting than what occurred last weekend, but college football Week 12 isn’t lacking intrigue.
One team that had preseason championship dreams had them crushed early on. Now it has a chance to crush another team’s championship hope, but in order to do that it will need to figure out how to slow down one of the best players in college football.
There are a few other potential underdogs playing this weekend with legitimate chances to play spoiler. We’ll also be watching with great anticipation to see how the trio of top teams that fell in Week 11 fare on the rebound.
We’re taking a look at these stories and more as we dig into the top storylines for college football Week 12.
1. Can Houston knock Louisville out of Playoff contention?
Before the season began, Houston was seen as the Group of 5’s best chance to earn a College Football Playoff berth this year. A huge win over Oklahoma in Week 1 only solidified that belief, but the season hasn’t panned out as expected. The Cougars enter Week 12 having lost two games this year, both to conference opponents.
With crushed championship dreams, this team still has a chance to make a difference on a national scale this Thursday night when it hosts No. 5 Louisville.
Houston WR Chance Allen on facing top-10 Louisville and QB Lamar Jackson: "This is our Super Bowl."
— Sam Khan Jr. (@skhanjr) November 14, 2016
The Cardinals have lost just once this year, a heartbreaker to Clemson in Death Valley. Unless the Tigers lose a second game after being stunned last weekend, Louisville’s chances of getting into the Playoff are already a long shot. One more loss would be the end of the discussion altogether.
With Greg Ward Jr. looking like a go for Houston in this matchup, fans watching will be treated to two of the most electric dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. Lamar Jackson, the Heisman Finalist, will be looking to bounce back from a frustrating outing in Week 11 in which he managed just one touchdown.
We’re expecting some fireworks in this one. Louisville has handled all comers to this point besides Clemson but has also eked out a few wins against lesser competition. It’ll take a full 60 minutes of top play to defeat Tom Herman’s Cougars Thursday night.
2. TCU looking to spoil Oklahoma State’s Big 12 championship aspirations
The No. 11-ranked Cowboys enter this week as the second-ranked team in the Big 12 behind No. 9 Oklahoma with a 6-1 conference record. They’ll need to continue winning to come out on top in the conference. The Sooners are on the road against No. 14 West Virginia this weekend.
Standing in Oklahoma State’s way this week is TCU, which has already crushed the hopes of one Big 12 team this year when it beat Baylor one week after the Bears lost to Texas. Despite losing four games already this year, the Horned Frogs have been highly competitive in three of their four losses, including a three-point loss to Arkansas and a six-point loss to Oklahoma.
Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph has been red hot of late for the Cowboys, who are on a six-game winning streak.
Rudolph will need to outplay his talented counterpart in this one. Kenny Hill seems to live for moments such as this one, when he has a chance to knock off a ranked team.
Because both programs are so similar in terms of their ability to score in bunches and their inability to stop teams from scoring, this one will come down to turnovers. Based on the season thus far, this bodes well for Oklahoma State, which is plus-eight on the year.
We’re expecting a high-scoring game that comes down to the wire, with the Cowboys lassoing a victory away from the Horned Frogs in the end.
3. Can Sparty find a way to upset Ohio State?
While three of the top four teams lost last weekend, the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes were busy destroying Maryland to the tune of 62-3.
They are on the road for the second week in a row against Michigan State on Saturday afternoon. Historically, Ohio State has a huge edge against Michigan State, but the Spartans did win just last year in a nail-biter of a game, 17-14, in Columbus.
But this year’s Michigan State team can hardly be compared to the one that outlasted Ohio State a year ago. The Spartans are limping to the finish line, sporting a 3-7 overall record and just one win against a Big Ten opponent. Mark Dantonio has found no fixes for the complete and utter meltdown that has occurred this season.
That said, the Spartans did give Michigan a bit of a late run ealier this year. So we cannot say with certainty they can’t rise to the occassion at home this weekend. But let’s be honest, the Buckeyes should easily win this game by double-digit points.
4. Wisconsin and Nebraska neck and neck heading down home stretch
The Big Ten West is very much up for grabs leading into the final weeks of the 2016 season. No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 18 Nebraska both have two losses. At this point, by virtue of Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska, the Badgers have the lead.
They both face teams that have no business beating them this weekend. But as we have seen all year long and witness every season in college football, nothing is guaranteed.
Wisconsin is on the road to face a Purdue team that has lost five straight and six of its last seven. Nebraska is at home hosting a Maryland team that got waxed by Ohio State last weekend.
On paper, these two programs should cruise to victories. They’re both favored to win by multiple touchdowns. Should they win, it would set up a final weekend of regular season action that could get crazy, with the Badgers at home against Minnesota and the Cornhuskers on the road against the same Iowa team that knocked off Michigan in Week 11.
Whichever team emerges atop the Big Ten West will have the tall task of taking on either Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game.
5. Western Michigan in the national spotlight
One of the really cool stories in college football this year that hasn’t been talked about much on a national level is the fact that No. 21 Western Michigan has yet to lose. That’s all about to change, with ESPN’s College GameDay headed to Kalamazoo, Michigan to shine a huge spotlight on the Broncos.
Head coach P.J. Fleck is justifiably about as jazzed about this development as a person can possibly be. He called the move by ESPN “historic” and hopes the city is packed to the brim full of Broncos fans.
“We’re going to pack the city. It’s not just pack the stadium – that’s a given, we’re going to sell this thing out – but pack the city,” Fleck said, per CBS Detriot. We want to have more people than GameDay’s ever seen. To do that, they’re going to have to bear some cold, maybe bear some snow on Saturday but get here early, dress warm, and enjoy the day.”
Whatever level of play you’re talking about, going undefeated is no small feat. This is easily seen when you consider the Broncos are the only team with an undefeated record in the FBS heading into Week 12 besides the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Broncos will be at home Saturday hosting Buffalo, which has won just two games this season. It should be an easy win for the high-scoring home team. The Bulls are allowing more points and yards than they gain, while Western Michigan has been blowing out opponents ever since narrowly beating Northwestern to open its season.
It should be a wonderful day of celebration for the Broncos and their fans.
6. Notre Dame clinging to bowl eligibility
To say that 2016 has been rough for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish would be an understatement of epic proportion.
Heading into Week 12, the Irish are on the verge of losing bowl eligibility with a 4-6 record and just two more games to play. Unfortunately, the final two games are against teams that are far more likely to beat them than to lose to them.
First up is a home game against Virginia Tech, which holds a tenuous lead over North Carolina in the ACC Coastal division. The Hokies are coming off a 10-point loss to Georgia Tech and absolutely need to win out to secure first place.
Should Notre Dame find a way to beat Virginia Tech, then they will travel across the country to face a red-hot USC program that has won six games in a row heading into this weekend’s action.
Needless to say, it’s a stretch to expect Notre Dame to finish with six wins this year. We’re not counting on it, and neither should you.
7. Must-win games for Michigan, Clemson and Washington
When Michigan, Clemson and Washington (previously undefeated) all lost last weekend, it was the first time since 1985 that No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 all fell on the same day.
Only time Nos. 2, 3, 4 in AP poll lost on same day in reg season: Oct. 19, 1985 (2 Mich L at 1 Iowa, 3 Okla L vs Miami, 4 Ark L vs Texas)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 13, 2016
Needless to say, with just weeks remaining in the season, these three powerhouse teams cannot afford another loss. To ensure they have the best chance to get into the College Football Playoff, they must win out.
No. 3 Michigan will be hosting Indiana this weekend. The Hoosiers gave Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska a run for their money and aren’t to be taken lightly. But knowing Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines will not fall into that trap, especially after a loss.
No. 4 Clemson shouldn’t have any trouble on the road against Wake Forest, which doesn’t have the kind of offensive firepower of Pittsburgh — the team that just knocked off the Tigers.
No. 6 Washington is at home again this weekend after being shocked by USC at Husky Stadium in Week 11. Unlike the Trojans, however, Arizona State is about as cold as it gets, coming into this one with four straight losses.
On paper, all three of these top-ranked teams should cruise to victory on Saturday. But will they?
8. Penn State going for seventh win in a row on the road against Rutgers
The No. 8-ranked Nittany Lions needed a huge fourth quarter to overcome a pesky Indiana team that did all it could to stop them from winning their sixth straight game. A 24-point fourth quarter squashed any talk of upset, though, and Penn State improved to 8-2 on the season.
Now this storied program that had fallen on hard times in the wake of the tragic Jerry Sandusky scandal is poised to post double-digit wins for the first time since 2009.
Saturday night’s game against Rutgers should be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage for the Nittany Lions — a tuneup, if you will, for their final game against Michigan State, which has fallen on hard times of its own.
The Scarlet Knights have lost seven in a row and were blanked by the Spartans, 49-0, last weekend. Based on the trajectories of Rutgers and Penn State, this game should be a blowout in favor of the Nittany Lions.
9. Will USC experience a letdown after huge win against Washington?
The No. 13-ranked Trojans are on a meteoric rise after dropping three out of their first four games. They have now won six straight and just defeated Washington in a huge game last weekend at Husky Stadium.
USC is staying away from home again this weekend, though it won’t have to go far to play UCLA in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday night.
These two schools are headed in different directions, as UCLA has struggled to win four games this year. But don’t think for a second that it’s a gimme for USC. We can’t help but wonder if the emotion and effort of taking down the nation’s No. 4-ranked team last weekend might play a role in the outcome.
On top of that, the rivarly between UCLA and USC is fierce, and the Victory Bell has always been hotly contested. The Trojans have won more of late and throughout history, winning last year’s matchup, six of the last 10 times and sporting a 47-31-7 record all time over the Bruins.
If freshman quarterback Sam Darnold continues to play like a seasoned veteran, the Trojans will likely win this one by a touchdown or two. However, if he struggles, then the Bruins will have a shot to claim the win at home.
10. Huge Big 12 clash when Oklahoma visits West Virginia
The Big 12 doesn’t have much of a chance to make a big enough impression on the College Football Playoff Committee to get in. But if any team has a real shot of sneaking in it’s No. 9 Oklahoma.
The Sooners are currently undefeated in conference play and have been playing extremely well since losing two of their first three games to Houston and Ohio State.
No. 14 West Virginia has one conference loss on its record. Oklahoma State is the team that caused that blemish, but that’s the only game the Mountaineers have lost at all in 2016.
The only way a Big 12 team will realistically get into the CFB Playoff, however, is if Oklahoma wins out. Even then, it’s a long shot.
The Sooners bring an offensive attack to the upcoming game that has been blowing opposing defenses out of the water. They average 44.2 points and over 557 yards per game. The team they’re facing this Saturday couldn’t be more different, as the Mountaineers have been winning games by minimizing opposing offenses with one of the better defenses in the nation.
The fans at Milan Puskar Stadium will be rocking for their home team, and it could be a close game if the defense steps up. That said, we’re expecting the Sooners to remain perfect in Big 12 play this weekend.