College Football 2012 — Week 12 Preview
We’re down to the home stretch of the regular season, with most teams having just two games remaining. There aren’t many big games this week, with only two top 25 matchups and five ranked SEC schools dropping down to play FCS teams. But there is still some action this week that could shake up conference-title races. #1 Oregon faces a ranked team and #2 Kansas State hits the road against one of the nation’s top offenses. Hey, after last week, anything’s possible.
Here is what to watch for this week in the top 25:
[All times Eastern]
#14 STANFORD (8-2) AT #1 OREGON (10-0)
[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]
The Ducks are riding a school-record 14-game winning streak and can clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game with a win this weekend. Oregon’s high-powered offense leads the nation in scoring and has become a case of “pick your poison”—running back Kenjon Barner is fourth in the nation in rushing, but when he was knocked out of last week’s game, quarterback Marcus Mariota responded with 377 passing yards and a school-record six touchdowns. They’ll be tested, however, by a Stanford defense that leads the nation in rush defense and is giving up a conference-low 320.7 total yards per game. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan will be making his second career start for the Cardinal after throwing for 254 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over then-#13 Oregon State. Oregon has won nine of the last 10 over the Cardinal.
#2 KANSAS STATE (10-0) AT BAYLOR (4-5)
[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ESPN]
Both teams can put up big numbers, as Baylor and Kansas State rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in scoring offense. But Baylor brings in the nation’s worst defense that is giving up almost 520 yards and 40 points per game while the Wildcats boast a defense that ranks 14th nationally in scoring. Baylor has just one conference win (over 1-9 Kansas) and has lost five of its last six. They need to win two of their final three games to have a shot at going to a bowl for the third consecutive year, which would be a first in school history. The Wildcats are just two wins away from a spot in the national championship game, but need a big win in Waco, a place they have not won since 2002.
WAKE FOREST (5-5) AT #3 NOTRE DAME
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on NBC]
Notre Dame has won seven straight home games, although they’ve had to work for it this season with two overtime wins and the other three coming by a total of 13 points. This week, they may have an easier time against a Demon Deacons squad that has already struggled to move the ball (113th nationally in total offense and 98th in scoring) and will now face one of the nation’s top defenses. Alabama and the Fighting Irish currently lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 11.1 points per game. Only seven teams in the last 11 years have allowed fewer points per game. Of the seven previous Notre Dame teams that opened 10-0, five went on to win the national championship. Manti Te’o is second in the nation in interceptions—and he’s a linebacker. This is Wake Forest’s first-ever trip to South Bend.
WESTERN CAROLINA (1-9) AT #4 ALABAMA (9-1)
[Saturday, 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network]
Alabama suddenly finds itself on the outside of the national title hunt, and will have a chance to take out their wrath on a woeful Western Carolina team that has lost nine straight games by an average of 19 points a game. And that was to teams like Furman and Elon, not to the Crimson Tide, which features the nation’s second-best defense and an offense that is averaging 37 points per game. The Catamounts rank 120th out of 122 FCS schools in total defense, so A.J. McCarron and the Tide offense should be able to name the score in this one. Notre Dame and the Crimson Tide currently lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 11.1 points per game. Only seven teams in the last 11 years have allowed fewer points per game.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN (8-2) AT #5 GEORGIA (9-1)
[Saturday, 1:30 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]
The Bulldogs have wrapped up a spot in the SEC title game. They now take a step down to the FCS level before next week’s finale with rival Georgia Tech. In wins over Ole Miss and Auburn, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown for 592 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Georgia Southern won the Southern Conference this year, but has not played any FBS teams this season. Their triple-option attack is coming off a 526-yard rushing day against Howard, but will face a Georgia defense that is giving up less than 136 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles have attempted just 65 passes all season. Georgia is on a four-game winning streak and is 4-0 all-time against the Eagles.
#6 OHIO STATE (10-0) AT WISCONSIN (7-3)
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC]
Two years ago, Ohio State came into this game undefeated and ranked #1 and was then handed its first loss by the Badgers. This year, while the stakes may not be as high (Ohio State is ineligible to play in a postseason game), the Buckeyes are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself as they continue their quest for an undefeated season. Look for Wisconsin, which racked up a school-record 564 rushing yards last week at Indiana, to continue to pound the ball behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball who, after a slow start to the season, has rushed for 866 yards and 13 touchdowns in his last six games. The Buckeyes continue to ride the hot play of quarterback Braxton Miller, who has run coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense to perfection. The sophomore has accounted for over 2,900 total yards this year and has scored three or more touchdowns in a game six times this season. He’ll be tested this week by a Badgers defense that is ranked 12th nationally in scoring defense.
JACKSONVILLE STATE (6-4) AT #7 FLORIDA (9-1)
[Saturday, 1 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]
Jacoby Brissett, the Week One starter for the Gators, will be back under center this week with Jeff Driskel out with an ankle injury. But while Florida ranks 104th in total offense, they should be able to find some success against an FCS Jacksonville State squad that has given up an average of 33.4 points per game and is 1-4 on the road. Florida has won 50 straight games against non-BCS conference opponents and has never lost to an FCS opponent.
MISSISSIPPI (5-5) AT #8 LOUISIANA STATE (8-2)
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]
Ole Miss has lost two in a row and now finds itself of needing a win at LSU or against Mississippi State to gain bowl eligibility. That will be a tough task on the road against a Tigers team that is very much in the mix for a BCS bid and still holds (admittedly slim) hopes for an SEC championship. LSU ranks third nationally in total defense and, in recent weeks, the offense that struggled early in the season has shown signs of life. After combining for just 403 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the month of October, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has had his two best games of the season against Alabama and Mississippi State, throwing for 571 yards and three touchdowns the last two weeks.
SAM HOUSTON STATE (8-2) AT #9 TEXAS A&M (8-2)
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]
After pulling off one of the biggest upsets in school history, A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will look to bolster his Heisman candidacy against an overmatched FCS opponent. “Johnny Football” is averaging over 379 total yards per game (second in the nation in total offense and leads the SEC in rushing) and has scored 33 touchdowns this season. A&M is currently on a pace to break the 1995 “fun and gun” Florida Gators conference record of 534.4 yards per game. Sam Houston State was last year’s runner up in the FCS and is ranked #3 this year. But they have obviously not played anyone of the Aggies’ caliber this season. The Bearkats are 0-3 all-time against ranked opponents and just 3-25 versus FBS schools.
#10 FLORIDA STATE (9-1) AT MARYLAND (4-6)
[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPNU]
After losing their top four quarterbacks, Maryland is now starting a converted linebacker at quarterback. So it’s not likely the Terrapins will be much more than a speed bump on Florida State’s road to a spot in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles have proven to be potent on both sides of the ball, ranking fourth nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Maryland, which has lost four in a row, gave up 261 yards and three touchdowns to Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and should be equally tested by the Seminoles E.J. Manuel, who has thrown for 1,276 yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games. Florida State is 9-1 for the first time since 2000, the year they ultimately lost to Oklahoma in the national championship game.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE (6-4) AT #11 CLEMSON (9-1)
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]
Clemson’s offense has proven it can move the ball on almost anybody, putting up at least 38 points in all but one game this season. The Tigers rank seventh nationally in total offense and sixth in scoring. But after a shaky start, the defense has been a pleasant surprise over the last month, holding Clemson’s last three opponents to an average of just 271 yards and 14.3 points per game. This week they’ll be tested by NC State’s Mike Glennon, who is behind only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd in passing among ACC quarterbacks. The Wolfpack, which has lost two of its last three, ranks 110th nationally in rushing but 27th in passing and 30th in scoring. A win this week would give the Tigers a seventh ACC win for the first time in school history and their first 10-win regular season since winning the national championship in 1981.
WOFFORD (8-2) AT #12 SOUTH CAROLINA (8-2)
[Saturday, 1 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]
South Carolina may be out of the SEC race, but they still have a lot to play for as they step down to an FCS opponent and look ahead to next week’s matchup with archrival #11 Clemson. In the absence of star running back Marcus Lattimore, quarterback Connor Shaw stepped up last week, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. He should again be able to put up good numbers against an outmanned FCS opponent. Wofford has put up just 18.2 points per game in the last five weeks and now must face the FBS’ 13th-ranked defense. South Carolina has won the last 15 matchups with Wofford, but the last two meetings have both been close (27-20 in 2006 and 23-13 in 2008).
#13 OKLAHOMA (7-2) AT WEST VIRGINIA (5-4)
[Saturday, 7 p.m. on FOX]
Six weeks ago, this game looked like it could decide the Big 12 Championship. Now, Oklahoma is likely on the outside looking in at the BCS while West Virginia is desperately trying to snap a four-game losing streak. West Virginia’s defense ranks 110th in total defense and 117th in scoring. But the problem is that the offense, which won so many shootout games early on, has struggled in recent weeks. After averaging 52 points per game during its first five games of the season, the Mountaineers have averaged just 25 in their last four. Things likely won’t get easier this week against a Sooners squad that can go toe-to-toe with West Virginia on the scoreboard (ranked 13th nationally in scoring offense) but has also held six opponents this season to 21 or fewer points. After a slow start to the season, OU quarterback Landry Jones has passed for 1,659 yards and 11 touchdowns in his last five games. He’ll match up with Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith, who has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns to just three interceptions this season.
CALIFORNIA (3-8) AT #15 OREGON STATE (7-2)
[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network]
Oregon State jumped out to its first 6-0 start since 1907, but has since lost two of three to fall out of Pac-12 title contention. Quarterback Cody Vaz suffered an ankle injury in last week’s loss to Stanford and his status for this week is unknown. If he can’t go, Sean Mannion, who has started five games this season, averaging 315 yards per game with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, will get the call. Whoever is under center should be able to find success against a Cal defense that has given up an average of 450.8 yards and 37.5 points per game during its current four-game losing skid, their longest such streak in 11 years.
MINNESOTA (6-4) AT #16 NEBRASKA (8-2)
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network]
After winning its fourth double-digit comeback game of the season, Nebraska is hoping for an easier time against a Minnesota team that is improved from last year but has still lost four of its last six games. Nebraska is averaging 482.4 yards per game, the most through ten games since their national championship season of 1997. Minnesota ranks 73rd in rushing defense and could struggle to stop a Nebraska offense that ranks seventh nationally (269 yards per game) in rushing offense. Quarterback Taylor Martinez has rushed for 309 yards in his last two games and running back Ameer Abdullah has had four consecutive 100-yard games. Nebraska, which has won 15 straight in this series, is seeking its first undefeated season at home since 2001. Minnesota has not beaten a ranked team on the road in seven years.
#21 SOUTHERN CAL (7-3) AT #17 UCLA (8-2)
[Saturday, 3:05 p.m. on FOX]
Last year, Matt Barkley threw for 423 yards and six touchdowns as the Trojans routed UCLA 50-0. This year, however, promises to be a much closer game as the 2012 Bruins bring in a pretty stout offense of their own. Running back Johnathan Franklin is sixth in the nation in rushing and UCLA ranks 13th nationally in total offense. However, they rank 103rd in pass defense with Barkley, Marquise Lee and the Trojans’ aerial attack coming to town. Lee leads the nation in receiving yards and is third in touchdown receptions. As if there wasn’t already enough on the line in this cross-town rivalry, the winner clinches the Pac-12 South title. This is the first time in seven years that these two teams are meeting when both of them are ranked.
#18 TEXAS, BYE
After dropping back-to-back games to West Virginia and Oklahoma, Texas has won four straight and can still play spoiler in the Big 12. The Longhorns get a bye this week before hosting TCU on Thanksgiving Day. They’ll close the season at #2 Kansas State as the only thing standing between the Wildcats and a possible national championship bid.
UTAH STATE (8-2) AT #19 LOUISIANA TECH (9-1)
[Saturday, 4 p.m.; no television]
Utah State boasts the nation’s 12th-rated defense, but they’ll face their toughest test of the season against a Bulldogs offense that leads the nation in total offense and is second only to Oregon in scoring. Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron is fifth in the nation in passing and is riding an NCAA-record string of 419 passes without an interception. It will be interesting to see if he can continue his hot start against an Aggies defense that is one of just two teams in the country that has not given up a first-quarter touchdown this season.
#20 LOUISVILLE, BYE
The Cardinals saw their chance for an undefeated season disappear with a loss at Syracuse. But the Cardinals still have a lot to play for, with a potential Big East title and a BCS bid on the line. They get a bye this week to regroup and prepare for their final two games against Connecticut and at #22 Rutgers.
#22 RUTGERS (8-1) AT CINCINNATI (7-2)
[Saturday, 12 p.m. on SportsNet New York/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network]
As the only undefeated team in Big East play, Rutgers is in the driver’s seat for the conference crown. But they’ll face a tough challenge this week at Cincinnati, a place where they have not won since 1987 (1-6-1) in that stretch). This will be a true strength vs. strength matchup with a Scarlet Knights defense that ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense going against the Big East’s top rushing and scoring offense. The wild card could be the play of Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay, who is making just his second career start. Last week against Temple, he threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 71 yards. But he’ll face a much tougher defense this week.
IOWA (4-6) AT #23 MICHIGAN (7-3)
[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN]
With archrival Ohio State up next, this is a must-win game if the Wolverines want to keep pace with Nebraska in the Big Ten Legends division. Fortunately for the maize and blue, they’re taking on a struggling Iowa squad that has lost four straight and has not put up more than 24 points in a game since September. Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson has missed the last 2 ½ games with an elbow injury. His status for Saturday is unknown, but backup Devin Gardner has played well in his absence, throwing for 520 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for three more scores in his two starts. Michigan gave up 431 yards to Indiana last week, their most since a season-opening loss to Alabama. But they should be able to get back on track against the Big Ten’s second-worst offense. Iowa has won three straight in this series.
#23 TEXAS TECH (7-3) AT OKLAHOMA STATE (6-3)
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Net]
Texas Tech and Oklahoma State could be poised for another Big 12 shootout, as the two schools rank first and fourth, respectively, in passing offense. Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback Wes Lunt suffered a concussion in a loss to Kansas State two weeks ago, but backup Clint Chelf has played well in his absence (38/58 for 525 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions). At press time, Coach Mike Gundy has not yet announced who will be under center for the Cowboys. Look for a heavy dose of running back Joseph Randle (1,008 yards and nine touchdowns this season) against a Red Raider defense that ranks 11th nationally in pass defense but gave up 390 yards on the ground to Kansas last week. Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege leads the nation in passing touchdowns and is second in passing yards. Texas Tech has lost four straight in this series and has not won in Stillwater since 2001.
#25 KENT STATE (9-1) AT BOWLING GREEN (7-3)
[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]
Kent State is ranked for the first time in 39 years, but will face a tough task this week against a Bowling Green squad riding a six-game winning streak. Kent State ranks 15th nationally in rushing offense, with two running backs (Trayion Durham and Dri Archer) that have already topped the 1,000-yard mark this season. However, they’ll be tested by a Bowling Green defense that leads the conference in rush defense and scoring defense. The Golden Flashes are looking for their first seven-game winning streak in eight years while Bowling Green is hoping to snap a five-game losing skid against ranked opponents. Two other Mid-Atlantic Conference teams (Ohio and Toledo) have both entered the Top 25 this year, but both lost the following week.