Top storylines for college football Week 12

By Jesse Reed
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The ones that are big are huge.

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Before things heat up next weekend, the level of intrigue surrounding many of the top contenders is pretty stale in college football Week 12.

We’ll get to the reason for that in a minute. But there just aren’t that many big games on the schedule this Saturday. However, the ones that are big are huge.

Despite some big teams hosting small-time opponents, there are a number of intriguing storylines to follow.

 

Cupcake week in the SEC is pathetic

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One of the biggest storylines this week is that the entire SEC is taking a one-week cupcake adventure. Alabama is hosting The Citadel. Kentucky has Middle Tennessee. Georgia hosts UMass. LSU has Rice coming to town. And on and on.

There’s no drama associated with any of these games. They’re glorified practice sessions, and at this point in the season nobody needs to see that. Sure, the small schools get paid big money to come and get beaten to a pulp. But other than the financial windfall they experience these games are just ridiculous in the worst possible way.

 

Which Ohio State team will we see?

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The Buckeyes have lost just one game this year, but they really aren’t showing up every week like you’d expect from a national powerhouse. Since losing to Purdue a few weeks back, they barely eked out a victory against Nebraska and needed a Michigan State meltdown to win comfortably last Saturday.

Dwayne Haskins has seemingly regressed big time recently and is struggling with accuracy. The Buckeyes were torched on defense by both the Boilermakers and Cornhuskers. And now they are on the road against a Maryland team that has its back up against the wall.

So, which team are we going to see this Saturday? Will the Buckeyes who were steamrolling opponents early finally make a return? Or will the team that’s struggled its way through the latter half of the schedule show up once again?

 

Chance for Nebraska to make a statement

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Since opening the 2018 season with six straight losses, Scott Frost has turned things around. His Cornhuskers have won three of their last four, and their lone loss was a narrow one on the road in Columbus against Ohio State.

On Saturday, Nebraska will be at home hosting Michigan State with its first chance to really log a statement win. The Spartans are reeling a bit after getting thrashed at home by Ohio State due to a second-half collapse on offense — one that saw Mark Dantonio turn to Rocky Lombardi after Brian Lewerke couldn’t get anything done.

But this is still a very dangerous Spartans team that features a tough defense. It’s going to take nothing less than a stellar game from Adrian Martinez and Co. to consistently move the ball and put points on the board. But if the Huskers can pull off a win, it would be a huge positive development to carry into next year.

 

Louisville under new management

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The University of Louisville did the only thing that was reasonable after suffering through a miserable 10-game stretch that saw the Cardinals win just two games. It fired head coach Bobby Petrino, who had completely lost his team in every possible way.

The Cardinals are now being helmed by interim head coach Lorenzo Ward, who was the team’s safeties coach before being promoted.

Louisville is hosting NC State this Saturday, and the Wolfpack are seeking revenge after being shocked last weekend by Wake Forest. If the Cardinals don’t fight with every ounce of energy they have, they’ll get blown out once again. So, it’s going to be interesting to see if Ward can find a way to motivate his guys.

 

Syracuse vs. Notre Dame is game of the week

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While the big dogs in the SEC are dealing with inferior opponents, No. 3 Notre Dame will be playing at Yankee Stadium against perhaps the most dangerous two-loss team in the nation. Syracuse’s two losses were both excruciating, as they nearly beat Clemson and lost to Pitt in overtime.

Since those two games, the Orange have gotten back to dominating folks, including a huge win over NC State a few weeks back. They are averaging over 46 points per game during their latest winning streak.

The Fighting Irish haven’t lost this year, but they’ve been through some nail-biters. Featuring a very good pass defense and a potent scoring offense that will have Ian Book back under center, they are formidable. But this is their toughest test of the season since Week 1, and a loss will likely take them out of the playoff chase.

It’s going to be a lot of fun to see which team prevails here.

 

How high will West Virginia climb?

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The Big 12 is wild. Oklahoma State has lost five out of its last seven games. West Virginia has lost just once this year and is on a three-game winning streak in which it has outscored its opponents by 82 points. Yet on Saturday in Stillwater, the Mountaineers are favored to beat the Cowboys by just five points.

Assuming Will Grier leads his team to yet another victory and enters Week 13 against Oklahoma with just the one loss, the final weekend of the regular season will be incredible. But one wonders if anything the Mountaineers do will be enough to get them into the playoff. Even if they win out, claiming the Big 12 Championship, will the selection committee view the conference and West Virginia’s schedule as good enough to include them in the playoff?

Of course, all this is moot if the Mountaineers don’t take care of the Cowboys Saturday. And this really should be an exciting game full of offensive fireworks, and it’ll be nationally televised on ABC. Get your popcorn ready.

 

Florida State probably won’t make a bowl game this year

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The Seminoles have been really bad this year. They’ve been even worse the past three games — against ranked teams all three times — losing by an average score of 49-17.

They’re at home this Saturday for a date with a Boston College team that’s looking to take out some frustration after getting hammered by Clemson last weekend. The Eagles are very good, so barring a huge upset we’ll chalk this up as a loss for Florida State.

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That means the Seminoles will enter the final weekend of their regular season — against Florida — with just four wins. The first year of the Willie Taggart era has not gone according to plan.

 

Hoosiers looking to crash Michigan’s party

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Can Indiana shock Michigan this weekend? Probably not.

Michigan has developed into one of the nation’s most powerful juggernauts ever since losing to Notre Dame by a touchdown to open the season. Quarterback Shea Patterson has injected life into an offense that desperately needed it, and the Wolverines have the best defense in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are 5-5 and have lost four of their last five games.

The last time Indiana beat Michigan on a football field was way back in 1987. Last year, they lost by just seven points, and the year before that, it was a 10-point Michigan win. But make no mistake about it, there’s no rivalry here — it’s a one-sided affair.

 

Blue Devils head into Death Valley

Duke Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones

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Duke comes into Saturday’s game against Clemson having won seven games this year. Yet the Tigers are favored to win by four touchdowns at home — that’s how good they are.

Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones is capable of putting up jaw-dropping stats, but he’ll need to have the game of his life to lead his team to victory over Clemson. The past five games, the Tigers have allowed an average of under nine points per game.

Meanwhile, as my colleague David Kenyon pointed out recently, Duke has allowed 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns of rushing offense over the last three games. That portends disaster against a Clemson offense that’s been dominating on the ground.

This one might get ugly.

 

Bearcats and Knights in primetime

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The ESPN “College GameDay” crew is going to be in Orlando this Saturday to hype up the Cincinnati-UCF game, which should be a good one. The game will be nationally broadcasted on ABC, starting at 8 p.m. ET. So, clearly it’s being touted as one of the biggest games this week.

Cincinnati has a chance to not only put a halt to UCF’s 22-game winning streak, but also to stake a claim for the AAC East crown heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The Bearcats have only lost once this year — an overtime stunner against Temple — and feature one of the nation’s best defenses.

McKenzie Milton was razor sharp last weekend against Navy, but he’s had some rough outings this year as he struggles with accuracy. If he’s not on top of his game Saturday night in Orlando, the streak could certainly come to an end.

 

Cyclones looking for another upset 

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Following up on their exploits from a season ago, the Iowa State Cyclones already have two big upsets under their belt in 2018. They knocked off Oklahoma State and stunned then-No. 6 West Virginia (the only loss the Mountaineers have suffered this year), and are once gain poised to make another statement on Saturday night in Austin against the Longhorns.

Iowa State is also on quite a roll, having won five straight games heading into college football Week 12. So, while the Longhorns are favored to win by a field goal at home, nobody should be surprised if they end up as the latest victim of the Cyclones’ fury.

A huge storyline within this game is that Iowa State star running back David Montgomery won’t play the first half due to a fight last weekend against Baylor. Without him in the lineup to soften up Texas’ front seven, the Cyclones could struggle offensively in the first two quarters. If the Longhorns can jump out to an early lead at home, the game should be theirs for the taking.

 

Will Wazzu continue to roll?

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If the Pac-12 has even an outside shot of having one of its teams represented in the College Football Playoff, Washington State must win out the rest of the way. The conference has cannibalized itself to the point where strength of schedule is not great. However, with some outside help, and a Pac-12 title, there’s a chance Wazzu could get in.

It starts with quarterback Gardner Minshew, who’s racked up quite the impressive late-game resume this year. He leads the nation in passing by a wide margin, too, and the Cougars are among the most entertaining teams to watch on a weekly basis.

Wazzu is hosting Arizona this Saturday night. The Wildcats recently annihilated Oregon, so they cannot be taken lightly. But Washington State’s defense is an underrated unit and should hold serve at home, allowing Minshew and Co. to come out on top.

 

The Heisman race is heating up

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Tua Tagovailoa is still the leader, but after last weekend’s rocky performance against Mississippi State, his lead isn’t what it used to be.

Kyler Murray continues to put up huge numbers, both through the air and on the ground. He leads the nation in passer rating, and his Sooners continue to win games — an important aspect of this race.

Minshew, as mentioned before, leads the nation in passing yardage, and his lead is massive. That, plus his late-game heroics, has him firmly in the conversation to get to New York in December.

Will Grier continues to put up prolific passing numbers. He has completed 69 percent of his passes, and he averages 329 yards per game with 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

An outlier but a guy who deserves to be in this conversation is Houston’s D’Eriq King. This young man has put up 3,492 yards from scrimmage and has scored a staggering 48 touchdowns this season.