College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 12
Amid a 2022 season stacked with surprising surges and atypical falls, the college football landscape is calm.
For a moment, all is quiet on the College Football Playoff front. The most recent rankings included zero changes to the Top Five of Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, TCU and Tennessee.
But will that remain true after Week 12?
If anything does, it'll be a massive story. The penultimate weekend of the regular season features only two matchups of ranked teams, and both showdowns are in the Pac-12. The rest of the nation is basically trying to avoid a season-altering upset.
Will there be surprises? Bleacher Report's expert panel—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—convened to address that question, along with several more key topics in Week 12.
Who's the Biggest Potential Late-Season Spoiler?
It's Notre Dame, and in more ways than one.
The obvious way is that the Fighting Irish could spoil USC's path to the CFP. (If the Trojans even survive this weekend's game at UCLA.) That nonconference game wouldn't do anything to impact USC's ability to play in the Pac-12 championship or Rose Bowl. However, Notre Dame—already responsible for handing Clemson and North Carolina their only losses of the season—could just about officially eliminate the Pac-12 from the CFP conversation.
And if the Fighting Irish beat USC, they might also shake up the other end of the New Year's Six mix by storming into the running for the "wild-card" spot in the Cotton Bowl.
Right now, the Fighting Irish are ranked 18th, but they'd make a big leap toward the Top 10 with a win over the Trojans.
Would it be enough to finish ahead of, say, an 11-2 North Carolina, a 10-2 Penn State and a 10-3 Oregon/Utah? To be determined! But the Irish could be a big-time spoiler.
Same here. Although the 0-2 start with a home loss to Marshall was pretty concerning at the start of the season, ND has rebounded well. The Irish are currently on a four-game winning streak, including the home upset of Clemson 35-14 earlier in November.
That's why I think Notre Dame's home game against USC on Nov. 26 is the perfect opportunity to play spoiler for the Trojans' playoff hopes. USC's only loss of the season came on the road against Utah, and Notre Dame has three wins at home over the last four weeks.
The Trojans' offense can obviously put up points, but I think Notre Dame's defense will play well against USC even on the road. Notre Dame ranks 26th nationally in total defense and 22nd in opponent third-down conversion, allowing teams to convert just 33 percent of the time.
How fitting would it be for Marcus Freeman's first season to end with an upset that ruins USC's year?
What's the Best Matchup Outside the Top 25?
I’m going to apologize in advance for my answer. This is not the "best" game on the card in terms of watchability. That honor could go to Texas and Kansas, which may produce an interesting matchup after generating some drama over the past five years.
I’m taking Iowa-Minnesota instead.
No, I’m not proud of it. The total for this football game is one of the lowest in recent memory, and it will likely not provide us with a lot of points, touchdowns or meaningful moments.
But it is important; there is no getting past that. Whether you are interested in these two teams or not, the outcome of this game could very well decide the Big Ten West. (I’m not saying this is a good thing. Please don’t shoot the messenger.)
Not only is it important, but it’s also likely to be a tight football game. These two teams seem somewhat evenly matched, and it should be "fascinating" to see how it transpires.
Interested yet? No? Fair enough.
I'm hooked, Adam. Give me all the Big Ten West ridiculousness.
However, the Mountain West also has a critical game between Boise State and Wyoming to basically determine the Mountain division. While the former is 6-0 in conference play, the latter is 5-1 and has home-field advantage.
Boise State has recovered from a rocky start that included the firing of offensive coordinator Tim Plough in September. After that change, quarterback Hank Bachmeier entered the transfer portal. Since then, though, Taylen Green has been a steady dual-threat presence.
The visiting Broncos could seal the division crown with a win, but the hosts need a victory to set up that opportunity next week. Although the offense is unspectacular, U-Dub has surrendered more than 14 points only once during a four-game winning streak.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET, so this MWC showdown slides into a nice spot as a precursor to the prime-time window.
Which Top 25 Team Is on the Highest Upset Alert?
From an odds standpoint, it wouldn’t be a huge upset. But from a rankings perspective, a TCU loss would completely jostle the College Football Playoff.
Baylor didn’t exactly dazzle a week when it was blown out by Kansas State at home. The fact that the Bears are only a small underdog to TCU, however, is a telling piece of evidence.
Lost in the Horned Frogs’ thrilling win against Texas was the reality that the offense really struggled. The defense stepped up in a huge way, and the unit deserves credit for that. But the performance at Texas left a lot to be desired.
A Baylor win, and the CFP undergoes a makeover of sorts. Tennessee, the Michigan/Ohio State loser and the Pac-12 would all shift playoff expectations at that moment.
While it wouldn’t be a huge upset in the eyes of the oddsmakers, it would send shockwaves through the sport.
The ranked team most likely to lose to an unranked opponent is a toss-up between No. 24 NC State (at Louisville) and No. 22 Oklahoma State (at Oklahoma). They're both going to be road dogs, and it would be shocking if neither one lost.
But the highest-ranked team on upset alert is, without question, TCU.
There has been a ton of "if TCU loses", which it shouldn't, given how awful Baylor has looked lately conjecture over the past few days, but goodness, that isn't very fair to the Bears, is it? Yes, they got smoked at home by Kansas State this past week, but they entered that game on a three-game winning streak and had scored at least 35 points in four consecutive contests. They controlled their own destiny for a spot in the Big 12 title game heading into Week 11, but we're just chalking that up as a likely win for the Horned Frogs?
And, you know, TCU hasn't exactly boat-raced its way to this 10-0 record. Each of the Horned Frogs' last six wins have come by 10 points or fewer, including last week's 17-10 win over Texas in which they were held below 300 total yards.
I'm officially picking TCU to win, but there's no question that will be the game everyone is glued to in the early slate on Saturday.
Will the CFP Top 4 Stay Perfect in Week 12?
Yes, I am not too worried about the Top Four this week. Saturday's game between Georgia and Kentucky looked a lot more intriguing earlier this year. Instead, the Wildcats have dropped four out of their last six games, including an upset loss to Vanderbilt that gave the Commodores their first conference win since 2019.
Ohio State is a 27.5-point favorite over Maryland, and the Terps have lost seven straight against the Buckeyes. OSU will have no problems taking care of business.
Michigan's game against Illinois also looked more interesting before the Fighting Illini dropped two straight to Michigan State and Purdue. This will likely be one of the toughest defenses the Wolverines have faced, but they threw up 41 points against Penn State, a top-10 unit in scoring defense, earlier this season.
TCU having to go on the road twice in two weeks is tough, but I think the Horned Frogs can handle the task. TCU is averaging 486.1 yards per game, and Baylor has allowed 30-plus points in four of the last six games. This one might be close, but TCU should get another important win.
Yes, they will. There’s no way an inept Kentucky offense is going to score enough to keep things respectable with Georgia, Maryland has proved the past two weeks it isn’t a match for Ohio State and while Illinois has a great defense, the Illini can’t score enough to keep up with Michigan.
That leaves TCU traveling to Baylor, where the Horned Frogs are in for a tough matchup once again. The Bears are playing much better recently, despite a lopsided loss to Kansas State a week ago. But can they do enough to upset a team of destiny?
I don’t think so. Last weekend, TCU showed up against Texas and it was because of—gasp!—defense. If the Frogs can keep doing that, they'll solidify their spot in the Top Four until the Big 12 Championship Game. This will be a tough game, but TCU wins. The CFP rankings will remain intact.
Will Bedlam Put Oklahoma on the Brink of Missing a Bowl?
This prime-time matchup was definitely more exciting prior to the season. The Sooners have been nothing but disappointing, and the Cowboys have been a difficult team to predict since a hot start. Each team has dropped two of their last three games, too.
Oklahoma desperately needs the victory, sitting at 5-5 on the season and just 2-5 in the Big 12. First-year head coach Brent Venables hasn’t matched the yearly expectation in Norman, but a bowl game is extremely important for the team's progression into next season.
The Cowboys, though, have a more experienced team that had success earlier in the season. Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders continues to be the biggest question mark because of his health. But he's set to start, and OSU will leave victorious.
I certainly expect Oklahoma State to win. Listen, this Oklahoma team is in shambles. All year, the Sooners have had massive defensive issues, but even though they’ve underachieved, part of the blame was placed on the health of quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
That excuse doesn’t exist for last weekend’s 23-20 loss at a West Virginia team that may fire coach Neal Brown. Running back Eric Gray scampered for 211 yards, but it was Gabriel and the passing offense that couldn’t get it going.
From week to week, you don’t know which area is going to let first-year coach Brent Venables down. They just don’t look disciplined or well-coached.
Oklahoma State has endured its share of struggles, too. Last weekend’s narrow win over Iowa State didn’t inspire much confidence following the Cowboys essentially failing to make the trip to the state of Kansas the previous two weeks in losses to the Wildcats and Jayhawks. But you can throw all that out in Bedlam.
I’ll roll with Mike Gundy over Venables, whose seat temperature is going to elevate.
No. 7 USC at No. 16 UCLA: Who You Got?
First and foremost, I've got the over. It opened at 73.5. It's up to 75.5. And that's still nowhere near enough. Both of these teams are extremely potent on offense and, uh, less than elite on defense. A repeat of the 52-49 Tennessee-Alabama game wouldn't be surprising in the least.
As far as a victor is concerned, I like the Bruins, who were clearly already thinking about this showdown when they should have been focused on beating Arizona.
But it's less because of how UCLA looked and more about what USC lost in Week 11.
With Trojans RB Travis Dye suffering a season-ending leg injury, they are probably going to be much more one-dimensional in this game than they have been thus far this season. Granted, that one dimension is outstanding. It makes no sense that Caleb Williams only has the fifth-best Heisman odds in the country, because he has been incredible at QB and should be able to do a good amount of damage against the Bruins secondary.
However, USC's inability to establish the run will inevitably result in a three-and-out possession or two, which should open the door for UCLA to get the upset win.
This should be a very good matchup between two great offenses. Although this contest has lost a bit of its luster because of UCLA's loss, there's no question the Bruins will be up for this matchup.
UCLA beat USC last season, but the Trojans took the previous two meetings. UCLA can put up a lot of points, averaging 42.4 per game. But USC's offense is the more explosive unit, as the Trojans are sixth in the nation in long scrimmage plays.
This should be an intriguing quarterback battle between Williams and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, too. Williams might have an edge here, having played in big-time games with CFP implications at Oklahoma last season.
This game has the potential to be an offensive shootout, and if that's the case I think USC's defense will hold up better than UCLA's. The Trojans defense ranks 19th nationally with a 76.2 red-zone scoring rate allowed compared to 91.9 for the Bruins.
USC winning on the road against a very good UCLA team should put the Trojans even more into the playoff conversation. But it's not the last big road game USC will have to win to make it into the postseason.
If you’re trying to predict Pac-12 games or betting on them this year, well, you’re smarter than me. The conference has been much, much better this season, but they are smack-dab in the midst of the annual beat-up-on-ourselves-and-knock-everybody-out-of-the-playoff-picture dance.
Last week, it was Washington upending Oregon and Arizona shocking UCLA to knock the Ducks and Bruins from Top Four contention. This weekend, it’s the Bruins’ turn to do the same to Lincoln Riley's Trojans.
UCLA is an imperfect team, but the Bruins are leaps and bounds better than they played against 'Zona, and that young, exciting team was bound to pull an upset at some point for coach Jedd Fisch. It's just unfortunate for Chip Kelly's team that it happened to them. Were the Bruins looking ahead to this rivalry showdown? It’s hard to say, but don't expect another letdown.
The Trojans have defensive issues of their own, so this one is going to be wild, wacky and high-scoring. It’s about as evenly matched as you could imagine. Anybody can win, but I’m riding with Kelly’s team continuing the Pac-12 shenanigans in a three-point, 44-41 victory.
No. 10 Utah or No. 12 Oregon in Key Pac-12 Nightcap?
After falling to Washington last week, Oregon's level of competition is only rising. The Ducks have played a handful of ranked opponents, and Utah’s consistency on both sides will cause trouble again for Oregon.
The Utes are allowing just 20 points per game. Oregon’s electric offense has to overcome that stingy unit, but the Ducks can put up points with almost any team in the country. They’re averaging 42.2 points and 527.7 yards.
Coaching will play a huge role in a game and one of the main contributors should be Oregon’s offensive coordinator, Kenny Dillingham. If he’s able to draw up a game plan to successfully attack Utah’s offense with Bo Nix’s arm, then the Ducks should carry a lead throughout the game and the home-field crowd will do the rest.
This showdown has a funky juxtaposition.
While the Utah defense is statistically solid overall, the unit's red-zone effectiveness is lacking. In the last five games, opponents have reached Utah's 20-yard line 18 times and turned those opportunities into 15 touchdowns. Oregon converts such chances at a solid 71.9 percent clip.
On the other hand, the Utes are 4-1 in those contests. The offense's ability to excel on third downs—one that is elite on third down—has minimized that problematic red-zone trend. The bad news for Oregon is the defense has ceded the nation's fourth-worst third-down conversion rate.
Which strength wins out?
I'll say Utah, thanks to the relative superiority of its defense. But this should be a highly competitive game to the end.