No national championship dreams dashed.
The 2018 college football season has featured plenty of shakeups each time new polls are released. As Week 12 approaches, though, nary anything of consequence changed in the hierarchy this past weekend.
None of the top 10 teams in the College Football Playoff rankings budged at all from their prior slots. No upsets of note. No national championship dreams dashed.
The potential for underdogs to triumph over the nation’s best seems bleak in Week 12, but the slate still offers plenty of compelling matchups to tune in for.
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Syracuse
This neutral-field clash at Yankee Stadium will see Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book return from injury, barring any setbacks. Notre Dame easily defeated Florida State in Book’s absence to preserve its undefeated record.
The Orange are a surprising program to be featured this high in the rankings. A balanced offensive attack helps the Orange average 44.4 points per game. They’ve only lost to Pittsburgh in overtime and to Clemson by four in September.
Book has been sensational all year, though, completing 74.5 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He should be the X-factor that allows the Irish to improve to 11-0 with a fairly facile win.
Duke at No. 2 Clemson
Daniel Jones is an underrated quarterback who will get buzz leading up to the 2019 NFL draft. However, the grandest heroics he might have up his sleeve wouldn’t be enough to help the Blue Devils defeat the Tigers in Death Valley.
Freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence is Jones’ counterpart. Lawrence is already a star and one of the best pure throwers in the college game. His preternatural abilities give Clemson an even greater advantage than when Kelly Bryant was running the offense.
Oh, and the Tigers start four young men on the defensive front that will be playing on Sundays. That adds up to a lot of pressure for Jones and another “W” as Clemson will keep pace for a playoff berth.
Arizona at No. 8 Washington State
The Cougars overcame a sluggish start to score 31 unanswered against Colorado in Week 11 and easily triumph. Garner Minshew triggers the country’s No. 1 passing offense.
After flopping as a possible dark-horse Heisman candidate, Arizona signal-caller Khalil Tate has come to life. In his past two starts against Oregon and Colorado, he’s thrown eight touchdowns.
Both those wins were at home, though, so it’s a much taller order to play at that high a level in the unfriendly confines of Martin Stadium.
With intrastate rival Washington on deck, this is a potential trap game for home team. On the other hand, that’s why the close win over California, followed by the bounce-back versus Colorado, bodes well for Washington State.
No. 16 Iowa State at No. 15 Texas
The Big 12 isn’t celebrated for defense, but the Cyclones have arguably the best unit in the conference. That’s contributed to their resurgence in the second half of the season. A huge spark arrived in the form of true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, though.
Purdy guided Iowa State to a comeback over Oklahoma State in his first action and has started for four straight wins thereafter.
Texas has a fine field general of its own in Sam Ehlinger, who’s thrown 20 touchdowns to just two picks this year. With three losses by a combined nine points, the 2018 campaign is an intriguing “what-if” scenario for the Longhorns.
Both teams are 5-2 in conference play, adding to the intrigue for this top-25 showdown.
No. 24 Cincinnati at No. 11 UCF
At this point the Knights must feel they’re receiving Rodney Dangerfield-levels of respect. Despite a perfect record, they’re not in the playoff picture.
UCF went 13-0 last season. The program lost its head coach to Nebraska, along with its best defensive player and leading receiver to the NFL. Thanks to the presence of McKenzie Milton under center and other playmakers who have emerged, the Knights continue to defeat anyone in front of them.
But the 9-1 Bearcats pose one of the toughest tests UCF has faced. Dual-threat signal-caller Desmond Ridder distributes the ball to many different pass-catchers — six who have at least 17 receptions — and Michael Warren II already has 1,092 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.
Will Grier vs. Taylor Cornelius
A one-year PED led Grier to transfer from Florida to West Virginia. The adversity was a blessing in disguise, as his move to Morgantown has been extremely fruitful.
Oklahoma State’s Cornelius is a former walk-on who patiently waited for years for his opportunity, and he’s been spectacular at times. Only an inaccurate two-point conversion throw prevented the Cowboys from upsetting Oklahoma this past Saturday.
Cornelius threw for 501 yards and three scores against the Sooners. He’ll need a similar effort for OSU to have a shot at the upset in Stillwater.
The Mountaineers are ninth in the CFP rankings and have the edge in offensive weaponry. But Cornelius, like Grier, has tackled adversity with a blazing competitive fire — and could well catalyze another captivating shootout.
Clay Helton vs. Chip Kelly
Helton’s Trojans have struggled the year after losing star quarterback Sam Darnold. Kelly has had a rough go in his maiden leading the Bruins, posting a 2-8 record.
USC’s five losses have been to respectable foes who were previously in the AP top 25 this year. Its victory over Washington State stands as the Cougars’ lone defeat.
Meanwhile, Kelly and Co. have lost eight, but seven were against prior top-25 teams. Saturday will be a good test to see where each venerable program is.
Kelly is trying to build something and Saturday could be a signature win. It’s possible Helton is coaching for his job down the stretch. A loss to the Bruins would put USC’s bowl eligibility in jeopardy with Notre Dame looming in the regular-season finale.
AJ Dillon vs. Florida State front seven
With a 4-6 record, the Seminoles have two home contests against ranked adversaries and must take both to play in a 37th consecutive bowl game. Thankfully one of their strengths matches up well with Dillon and 20th-ranked Boston College.
Florida State averages 2.5 sacks per game and allows only 3.4 yards per carry. Brian Burns and the front four can rush the passer, while the Seminoles linebackers tackle well in space.
Dillon is a punishing 245-pound ball-carrier. Unfortunately, a nagging ankle injury has limited him of late. He had 16 carries for only 39 yards in last week’s loss to Clemson, needs a bounce-back performance to push past the 1,000-yard milestone.