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Top 10 storylines for college football Week 12

Jesse Reed

It’s going to be hard to top the drama that unfolded last Saturday, but college football Week 12 will do its best with a tremendous slate of action.

Undefeated teams clinging to College Football Playoff dreams. Pivotal matchups between longtime conference rivals. Entertaining individual matchups. This Saturday is going to be a blast to watch unfold.

These are the biggest stories we’re following in college football Week 12.

‘Bama rebound game

The final score of 46-41 against LSU doesn’t really indicate just how thoroughly Alabama was dominated by the Tigers last weekend. That’s clearly seen in how the College Football Playoff selection committee responded, putting the Crimson Tide outside the top-four (No. 5 heading into Week 12).

Nick Saban and Co. will be on the road this Saturday for a date with Mississippi State. On paper, this is a game the Crimson Tide should win handily. Tua Tagovailoa, with one more week of rehab under his belt, should be a bit healthier in this one after thankfully coming out of last weekend’s contest without any further damage to his surgically repaired ankle.

The big issue is whether Alabama’s defense can tighten things up. This unit has been a liability all year, but the offense more than made up for it until the LSU game. If the Tide are going to climb back into the top four and have a shot at the Playoff, this defense must get better, and fast.

Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy

Michigan (No. 15) is hosting Michigan State for the annual contest between these two bitter rivals, and the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy typically features plenty of wild plays. As for the stakes, well, perhaps Wolverines cornerback Ambry Thomas said it perfectly:

The Spartans are not good right now. They’ve lost four straight, including utterly humiliating blowouts to Ohio State and Penn State. They are also coming off a brutal loss to Illinois after going up 28-3 in that game. Don’t think for a second that this means they’re about to get rolled again, though. Look for Michigan State to put on its big-boy pants Saturday against Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Biggest game of the year for Navy

Navy has just one loss on record this year and has gotten some love from the selection committee, coming in at No. 23 ahead of college football Week 12. Now the Midshipmen are traveling to South Bend for a road game against No. 16 Notre Dame. Not surprisingly, the Fighting Irish are heavily favored to win at home (-9.5).

It might be a safe bet to take Navy and the points, however. The Midshipmen feature relentless, physical fronts on both sides of the ball and will do everything they can to keep Ian Book off the field with a run-heavy offense that averages over 357 rushing yards per game. Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry is a phenomenal playmaker, and he has nerves of steel.

When Book is on the field, he better have his head on a swivel. Navy averages three sacks per game and is led by junior Jake Spring, who has seven sacks and three forced fumbles.

Will Chase Young play?

This is a storyline that many are keeping track of, despite the fact that the answer to the question, “Will Chase Young play?” will have absolutely no bearing on the Ohio State game against Rutgers on Saturday.

You may be aware that Young did not suit up last week against Maryland. He took out a personal loan last season from a family friend (which he paid back) so that his girlfriend could attend the Rose Bowl. He could be suspended four games for this. Ohio State has reportedly set into motion a request that Young be reinstated by the NCAA, and he is currently practicing with the team preparing to play against Rutgers.

The NCAA has a huge image problem right now. In addition to the Young situation, Memphis basketball’s James Wiseman was ruled ineligible recently due to Penny Hardaway helping his family move when he was still in high school. Memphis has defied the NCAA, and that’s a whole other ball of wax.

It’s going to be fascinating to see what the NCAA does concerning Young as it battles Memphis, especially since Ohio State did toe the line and has done everything by the book.

Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

If the season ended today, Georgia would be in the College Football Playoff. Coming into Week 12, the selection committee has the Bulldogs ranked No. 4 overall. Now they’ll have another big test on the road against No. 12 Auburn.

Jake Fromm needs to have another game like he did against Florida, rather than the performances he put up against South Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri. He’s been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde quarterback this year, especially late, and absolutely must be sharp against an opportunistic Auburn defense that has forced 16 turnovers this season.

On the other side, freshman Bo Nix needs to avoid the turnovers that plagued him against LSU and Florida (four interceptions) if the Tigers are going to pull off the upset at home.

Must-win game for Memphis

The AAC West is wild. SMU, Navy and Memphis (No. 18) all enter college football Week 12 with just one loss in the conference and still have a shot to get to the AAC Championship Game later this year. SMU has a bye week, and Navy is taking on Notre Dame. That means Memphis has a prime opportunity to gain some ground on the Midshipmen while staying even with the Mustangs.

Houston will host Memphis this Saturday. And while the Cougars have just three wins on record, this is a team the Tigers cannot take lightly. Just a few weeks back, Houston gave SMU a scare and nearly pulled off a huge upset. This game could come down to whether the Memphis defense can avoid giving up the farm — something it has been unable to do the past couple of games in narrow wins for the Tigers.

Row the boat to Iowa

One week after stunning Penn State to stay undefeated, No. 8 Minnesota hits the road for a rivalry game against No. 20 Iowa. The Hawkeyes are no joke, and the Golden Gophers have to remain razor sharp to keep their miracle season alive.

Last weekend’s upset win was shocking in large part because of how the Golden Gophers were able to attack Penn State’s dominant defense through the air. Tanner Morgan completed 18-of-20 passes for an absurd 339 yards with three touchdowns, thanks in part to some bonkers receptions that made highlight reels nationally.

Iowa has one of the nation’s best defenses and allows just under 12 points per game. The Hawkeyes are also at home, and Kinnik Stadium gets loud. Needless to say, if Minnesota wins on Saturday this team will continue rocketing up the rankings.

Pedal to the metal for LSU

There’s a new No. 1 as LSU leapfrogged Ohio State after beating Alabama last weekend. Since the start of the season, all the Tigers have done is slay dragon after dragon, beating four top-10 teams. Ole Miss isn’t a high-caliber team but is still dangerous nevertheless. Mainly because the Tigers cannot afford a let-down game, and because every team from here on forward is going to treat them like their own mini national championship game.

Look for Joe Burrow to keep firing strikes as he attempts to finish his final collegiate season in style with the Heisman Trophy. None of the remaining teams in LSU’s path — Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M — should have any business beating the Tigers. But if this squad is going to live up to its full potential and finish with a title, it’s got to keep the pedal to the metal the rest of the way.

Oregon and Utah both still alive…for now

The College Football Playoff selection committee is showing love to the Pac-12. Heading into Week 12, it has Oregon ranked No. 6, and Utah No. 7. These two teams appear destined to meet up in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but Utah has to continue winning to keep USC from sneaking in.

Regardless, one more loss for either Oregon or Utah will eliminate them from Playoff contention. It’s a marvel they’re still in the running to begin with.

Utah is hosting UCLA in prime time at 8 p.m. on FOX, while Oregon will be hosting Arizona on ESPN late for some Pac-12 after dark action. These are games both teams should win handily. But we’ve seen shocking upsets every weekend in college football this year. Should be a blast.

Can Baylor stay perfect?

The prime-time game on ABC this Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET) takes place in Waco, Texas, as No. 13 Baylor hosts No. 10 Oklahoma. These Big 12 rivals both have an outside shot to sneak into the College Football Playoff, but they’ll have to win out to do it and perhaps get some help along the way.

The reason to believe Baylor can stay perfect is that Oklahoma’s defense has recently devolved into a white-hot trash heap that can’t seem to stop anyone. The past two games the Sooners have played, they’ve allowed 903 yards and 89 points to Kansas State and Iowa State. If that trend holds up, Charlie Brewer and Co. should put up big numbers for the Bears.

The reason to believe the Sooners can knock Baylor off its perch atop the Big 12 is that Jalen Hurts leads an offense that is downright ridiculous. CeeDee Lamb is a darn cheat code and seems to make at least one jaw-dropping play every game. Baylor’s defense hasn’t been phenomenal, so it’s not hard to imagine this game is going to turn into a track meet.