Bleacher Report Expert Predictions for Week 12 in College Football
As tends to be the case in most college football seasons, Week 12 figures to be the calm before the storm.
Clemson, Michigan and Oklahoma should each blow out their conference foes this week. And with Alabama, Georgia and LSU hosting the likes of The Citadel, Massachusetts and Rice, there doesn't figure to be much drama on the College Football Playoff front.
But our college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—do see at least a bit more chaos than last week.
For starters, the experts are split on the big Notre Dame vs. Syracuse showdown as well as the less-big-but-still-huge AAC battle between Cincinnati and undefeated UCF. Four of the five experts are forecasting at least one loss by a CFP Top 10 team, even though all 10 are favored to win—most of them by a double-digit margin.
We talk about all that and more in this week's experts panel.
Who Wins the No-Doubter Game of the Week: No. 12 Syracuse or No. 3 Notre Dame?
David Kenyon (Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR)
The Irish are expected to have Ian Book under center, and he's been outstanding since replacing Brandon Wimbush. Syracuse will probably give up 30 points in this contest at Yankee Stadium. But—yes, we're going here—the 'Cuse defense has at least one interception in every game, and Notre Dame hasn't faced an offense this productive. If the Orange continue their season-long streak of not losing the turnover margin—and I think they will—they'll pull off the upset (the Irish are favored by 10.5 points).
Adam Kramer (Twitter: @KegsnEggs)
Notre Dame wins. And while we all hope for a competitive game given this gross lineup of football matchups, I'm not sure it will be all that close.
Book's health is crucial. Assuming he's close to 100 percent, I think Notre Dame should be able to handle a fun, talented Syracuse team. That, by the way, is by no means an indictment. Syracuse has had a nice year and any quality team looking for or soon-to-be-looking-for a head coach should give Dino Babers a call. But this week, Notre Dame wins by two touchdowns.
Kerry Miller (Twitter: @kerrancejames)
I have a love/hate relationship with Syracuse, in which I love the offense and loathe the defense. Six consecutive opponents have put up at least 400 yards and 23 points against the Orange. And when they desperately needed one stop against Clemson for what would've been possibly the greatest win in program history, they let Chase Brice march 94 yards down the field to win the game. 'Cuse can't be trusted. And if Book is anything close to 100 percent, Notre Dame should win by multiple touchdowns.
Brad Shepard (Twitter: @Brad_Shepard)
I still don't believe in Notre Dame. Sure, I think this is a good team, and I know that Book is a difference-maker.
But I don't believe the Fighting Irish have played a great schedule since Michigan, and this is when it's going to bite them. Babers is one of the most underrated coaches in the country, and he will have 'Cuse ready in a huge game in the Bronx. We know about Babers' offensive acumen from his days at Bowling Green, and the Orange already have five games of 50-plus points this year. But they're also in the nation's top five in turnover differential.
This is going to be a great game, but I believe Syracuse is going to make one more play and pull a big upset with a 31-27 win over the Irish. Then, the question will be "have the Irish done enough to get into the College Football Playoff?"
Ian Wharton (Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy)
It sure feels like we're overdue for another loss by a Top Five team. I'm buying into the Irish as a legitimate playoff team, though, especially because of Book's ability to make this offense dynamic. I'm going to take the Irish in a close game because of their star power on both sides of the ball, but Syracuse will make it difficult as Eric Dungey continues to have a stellar season.
Excluding Cuse-ND, Who Will Be the Highest-Ranked Team to Lose This Week?
West Virginia's defense has not traveled well this year. In three true road games, the Mountaineers have surrendered 105 points. That's more than their opponents scored in the other six games combined. Will Grier has put together a sensational year outside of his porous stretch against Kansas and Iowa State, and he should post huge numbers against a shaky Oklahoma State secondary. However, a couple of interceptions will doom West Virginia in a high-scoring game.
Here's what we know: At least one other ranked team will have to lose this week thanks to No. 15 Texas and No. 16 Iowa State duking it out. But it seems lame to pick a team from that game—despite a short list of realistic options.
I'll take Oklahoma State to upset West Virginia at home in a game that should rival Bedlam in terms of points and offense. Stillwater is a difficult environment to play in, and I wonder if there's a look-ahead situation in play with West Virginia-Oklahoma looming in the distance. No. 9 goes down.
There's just no way we're going back-to-back weeks without a Top 10 team going down, right? Because of that completely meaningless rationale, give me Arizona stunning No. 8 Washington State in Pullman.
The Wildcats have quietly turned a corner, scoring more than 40 in consecutive wins over Oregon and Colorado. Khalil Tate is still banged up and isn't running much at all, but he's dropping dimes from the pocket. Meanwhile, J.J. Taylor has gone into beast mode in the backfield, rushing for at least 150 yards in three straight games. Hope you're ready for a 52-49 type of late-night Pac-12 bonanza.
Texas looked strong at times last weekend against Texas Tech, then the Longhorns collapsed in the fourth quarter and nearly blew the game. Now, the 'Horns have to play one of the best-coached teams in the Big 12 in the form of Iowa State. It helps that the game is in Austin, but I'll take Matt Campbell over Tom Herman in this one. This just feels like one of those out-of-nowhere Cyclones victories. They'll knock off the Longhorns and send them tumbling nearly out of the rankings.
There will be a few Top 25 teams that fall this week, but there's a guaranteed Top 16 team to lose in the Texas-Iowa State matchup. I think the Cyclones continue their surge and put the Longhorns down, making Texas the top-ranked team to lose. Campbell is a hot coaching candidate because he continues to find solutions for issues that come with having a limited talent pool at Iowa State. This year, it has been the emergence of Brock Purdy at quarterback, and he's completely changed this team's outlook and performance.
I also like Minnesota to beat No. 22 Northwestern as a sleeper candidate.
Will No. 24 Cincinnati Snap No. 11 UCF's 22-Game Winning Streak?
No. Cincinnati's terrific secondary has shown a few cracks lately, allowing 328 yards to SMU and 232 to South Florida. The Bearcats should run successfully on a maligned UCF defense, but this is a special offense—again. Unfortunately for the Knights, they're no longer a novelty because of their excellence in 2017. This prime-time matchup will offer a much-needed reminder of how talented this roster actually is.
No, but it will be close. And if there's one benefit to this week being light on quality games involving Power Five teams, it's that this fantastic matchup will get some extra eyeballs.
I don't think this UCF team is nearly as good as last year's. But even this watered-down version is a top-eight football team in the nation that could hang with just about anyone not named Alabama, Clemson or Michigan.
Cincinnati might be having the best season no one is talking about, and it'll be up for this game. But the Bearcats will fall just short of ending UCF's superb undefeated run.
I want to believe in Cincinnati, but competent teams have given the Bearcats some trouble. And UCF is considerably more than competent. McKenzie Milton remains a lethal dual-threat option, and second-string RB Greg McCrae has emerged in a huge way over the past three weeks to give the Knights yet another option on offense. Were this game in Ohio, I'd maybe be able to talk myself into the upset (UCF is favored by seven). But I can't see the Knights ruining the streak in their home finale.
Nope. Central Florida will continue to play "paper good" teams, and it will continue to do just enough to keep its "national championship" season intact. Listen: I love the Knights. I like watching them play, and I enjoy it when they win. But they are not a team that belongs in the College Football Playoff, and they'll prove it again this weekend with an imperfect defensive effort against the Bearcats.
The Bearcats won't be able to keep up with McKenzie Milton, though. While the Knights have obvious defensive deficiencies, this is not a Cincinnati team that can get into high-scoring slugfests and expect to come out on top. UCF will win, so get ready for more grumbling about their ranking, which is about where it needs to be.
Yes. I think UCF has been unfairly treated by voters as they continue to be on the outside of the Top 10 despite winning 22 straight games. But Luke Fickell and Co. have an opportunity to prove themselves against a very good Knights team. UCF is just a little bit less efficient and explosive than it was last year, and that's going to hurt them against a stout Bearcats defense. If UCF does win and Milton has a big game again, we should start hearing much more Heisman buzz around his name.
Of the 11 SEC Teams Playing Home Games, How Many Suffer a Loss?
I'm going with two, and it's probably who you expect in Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
I want to chat about UAB's trip to Texas A&M, though. This is a fascinating clash of strengths since both teams rely on the running game and also excel at stopping it. A&M's talent advantage should win out, but I fully anticipate UAB sticking around into the fourth quarter. How fun would that upset be?
Give me two teams overall, although this total could very well be zero. I loved what I saw out of Tennessee last week, but I think Missouri—which has a couple of nice wins in back-to-back weeks—will go on the road and handle the Vols in a letdown spot.
The other game I like—and this would be only a mild upset—is Ole Miss beating Vanderbilt (which is favored by three points). I know the Rebels have lost three in a row, but I've actually been impressed by their performances in defeat. I think their offense and passing game should play well here.
One other game to keep an eye on: Kentucky-Middle Tennessee. The Wildcats should win by double digits, but this isn't a typical pushover.
Put me down for a goose egg. There's just no way Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU or South Carolina will lose their games, and I highly doubt Kentucky, Mississippi State or Texas A&M is in any real danger.
That just leaves Tennessee (vs. Missouri) and Vanderbilt (vs. Ole Miss) as the question marks. The Vols were mighty impressive in upsetting Kentucky last week, and that defense will do enough to get the job done against Drew Lock and Co. And Ole Miss has lost three straight and doesn't have a bowl game to play for, so I'll take the Commodores in a close one over the Rebels.
Only one. Ole Miss is going to go into Nashville and beat Vanderbilt to put Derek Mason's job security into question leading up to the Tennessee game.
The only other SEC team that really could (and perhaps should) get beat at home is the Volunteers, who are hosting a Missouri team that is playing well. But Jeremy Pruitt's team is playing better than it has all year and is coming off a dismantling of Kentucky at Neyland Stadium. Yes, Missouri's offense will present the Vols with a much stiffer test in the passing game, but Albert Okwuegbunam and Nate Brown being out with injuries help Tennessee. UT will win a close one in Neyland, leaving the Commodores as the only home team to suffer a setback on home soil.
Three. Tennessee will lose to Missouri, Texas A&M will lose to UAB, and Vanderbilt will lose to Ole Miss. The Volunteers and Tigers have each played better over the last two games, so that will be more interesting of a matchup than expected a few weeks ago. However, I favor the Tigers' explosive offense a little more, even on the road.
UAB has been so good but has been under the radar. The Blazers can reach 10-1 with a road win. The Aggies offense has broken down as the season has progressed, so UAB can steal one in a tough environment.
And watch for Ole Miss to get back on track after dropping three straight games. There's too much talent on offense for the Rebels to continue this slide.
Which Playoff Hopeful Wins by Widest Margin: Clemson, Michigan or Oklahoma?
In what is probably the least surprising comment of the day, I have all three winning by 28-plus points. Kansas might actually score a few touchdowns on Oklahoma, so I'm down to Clemson and Michigan, I'll take Clemson because of an injury-filled Duke defense. Indiana won't provide much of a fight for Michigan, but I assume Jim Harbaugh will yank the rotational players as soon as possible to get ready for Ohio State.
I'll take Oklahoma largely because a) Kansas, but also b) Kansas.
Indiana has given Big Ten teams fits over the past few years, and while I don't envision this game being close, I could see Michigan looking ahead to next weekend's game at Ohio State and sort of coasting. It won't be a close call; it just might not be a 40-point win. Michigan is in if it just keeps winning. No sense in doing anything more.
Clemson, meanwhile, is coming off its most meaningful win of the year and will take on a Duke team that can be feisty at times. Again, it won't be close. But it probably won't be by a monster margin of victory either. Like Michigan, Clemson just needs to keep winning.
Oklahoma, however, is in the position to make a much-needed good impression. Blowing out Kansas won’t exactly do that, but it couldn't hurt, either. Kyler Murray is going to go bonkers in this game. Oklahoma 65, Kansas 21.
For both Oklahoma and Michigan, this week has "trap game" written all over it. By no means am I saying the Sooners or Wolverines will lose, but they might be a little less potent than usual while peeking ahead to those gargantuan road games against West Virginia and Ohio State next week.
Meanwhile, the next legitimate challenge on Clemson's radar isn't until it faces "TBD Playoff Opponent" on Dec. 29, so the Tigers will be fully invested in obliterating a Duke defense that has allowed at least 300 rushing yards in three consecutive weeks.
This one's easy: Oklahoma.
The Sooners play a Kansas team that has improved drastically this year because of its opportunistic defense. The Oklahoma offense is so good that it will neutralize that Jayhawks strength. After that, there's no way KU can post enough points to stay with Murray and the Sooners. This game may be close for a quarter or perhaps even a half, but OU is going to ultimately win by 30 or more.
The safest bet is Oklahoma because of its offensive firepower. Kansas somewhat slowed down Baker Mayfield and the OU offense last year with the wind in Lawrence whipping around, but that won't be an issue in Norman. The Sooners' willingness to continue scoring also helps.
The biggest X-factor is whether or not Oklahoma can get stops against Kansas RB Pooka Williams Jr., but that shouldn't be a problem. Meanwhile, both Clemson and Michigan play more respectable, well-rounded teams, even if they're still mediocre.
Will 5-5 Miami (at VT) or 5-5 USC (at UCLA) Become Bowl-Eligible This Week?
Both Miami and USC win, though I feel confident about neither.
Despite Miami's conservative approach with quarterback N'Kosi Perry, he's fully capable of picking apart Va Tech's aggressive man coverage. Yet I certainly don't trust Miami's hot mess of an offensive line, so VT will keep it close. As for USC, consider it a vote against UCLA's inability to pressure up front. The Trojans sure aren't inspiring much faith, though.
The losing streak ends this week for Miami. A season that started with a rough loss against LSU and was followed by five wins and then by four losses (ew) gets temporarily on track against Virginia Tech. It will be close, but Miami will get it done. Because for as bad as the Hurricanes have been, the Hokies aren't exactly thriving.
USC, however, is in trouble. I know UCLA's 2-8 record is hard to look at, but I actually think the Bruins are making progress compared to where they were to start the season. I'm not sure I can say the same thing about USC. In fact, I know I can't. This feels like a team in need of new leadership. And regardless of the outcome here, that is probably coming next.
It's more entertaining (from a distance) if they don't win. Mark Richt led the 'Canes to a 10-0 start last year and Clay Helton was 21-6 over the last two seasons entering this year, and yet both fanbases are ready to run those coaches out of town. That "what have you done for me lately?" mentality is outrageous in college football, and it's going to get even worse if those coaches aren't able to win this week against sub-.500 opponents.
I believe they'll both get that sixth win, though. Virginia Tech is one of the biggest dumpster fires in the country right now, and UCLA's defense has been some kind of awful for the past month.
It's unbelievable just how bad the Hokies run defense is. Thus, even though Miami is reeling thanks to poor quarterback play, I believe the Hurricanes will find a way to beat VT.
The Trojans are effectively playing for Clay Helton's job this week. With all the turmoil surrounding this season, there's almost no way that he will survive a loss to hated rival UCLA in a rebuilding year for Chip Kelly. Though that game will be closer than most expect, the Trojans will win a close one there, too, and become bowl-eligible. So, in short, I think both of those teams win, but it'll be ugly.
Miami is in a bad place offensively, and Mark Richt must find answers on the recruiting trail. He doesn't have the personnel he needs to create an effective offensive threat, and Miami will lose again. But USC has the raw talent to win against an undermanned UCLA team. Chip Kelly has been finding more success in recent games, though, so this may be a closer contest than expected.
Which Prime-Time Game Are We Actually Going to Watch as a CFB Nation?
Given that Iowa State at Texas is on the Longhorn Network, the obvious answer is Cincinnati vs. UCF. How many people even know whether they have access to the Longhorn Network?
Look, this week stinks. We're all in agreement, yes? But I actually am semi-intrigued for the prime-time games. No, we won't have a major College Football Playoff shake-up come from this nighttime lineup. But I am fascinated to see if UCF can keep its win streak going. I'll also have an eye on Texas and Iowa State, because the Big 12 implications here are potentially significant.
But I am for sure going to watch these games merely as preparation for Washington State-Arizona. You just know that game will be weird. Not necessarily close, but super weird. Plus, we only have a few weeks left. We should be consuming as much football as we can.
Here's how the evening will play out: We'll all start on the 7 p.m. ET Duke-Clemson game. But after Travis Etienne racks up 150 yards and three touchdowns by midway through the second quarter, we'll start flipping through the other blowouts. LSU, Oklahoma and Texas A&M will also already be ahead by multiple touchdowns, so we'll settle in for the 8 p.m. kickoff in the Cincinnati-UCF game. We'll hang out there for the entire first half, but when UCF pulls ahead by two scores early in the second half, we will collectively become infuriated about our inability to watch the Iowa State-Texas game on the Longhorn Network.
This is pathetic. Really? We can't do better than this? The only real options for the prime-time slate are Clemson-Duke, Stanford-California, Cincinnati-UCF and Iowa State-Texas. Woof.
I'm going with the Longhorns and the Cyclones. That's actually going to be a competitive team with two good coaches going against one another with important things on the line. For the Cyclones, it's about salvaging as good a season as can be expected when you lose two quarterbacks. For the Longhorns, it's about taking a major step forward in becoming a Big 12 power again. I've previously stated I'm rolling with Campbell's bunch on the road, but it can go either way.
Clemson-Duke may grab some early attention. Duke has a potential NFL quarterback in Daniel Jones, and the Blue Devils have shown signs they might be able to score on Clemson because Jones can create with his legs. Both Cincinnati-UCF and Iowa State-Texas look like good matchups as well. I could see all three of those games being closer than expected, if not outright upsets.
Over/Under: 777 Combined Passing Yards in West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State?
Though it applied to point totals, I heard this recently and would like to share: Why would you ever bet the under? Why would you actively root against offense? Now, please don't take this as gambling advice. There are plenty of reasons to take the under. But in a game that could feature a million points and a billion yards, I want the over—for entertainment purposes.
Under, but not by much. I hope I am wrong here, by the way. Nothing would give me more pleasure than watching these two teams throw for 900 yards, which is certainly feasible. But I expect this to be more in the 700 range—still an incredible output of yards and points.
Taylor Cornelius just threw for 501 yards last week. I'll say he follows that up by throwing for 345. Will Grier will throw for 371. (I am excited for this football game.)
This is probably a horrendous idea, but I'm going with the under. West Virginia has only allowed 300 passing yards in a game once this season, performing much better on defense than anyone was expecting. And while Grier has thrown for at least 330 yards in eight of nine games, he hasn't gone over 370 since the season opener. He'll end up right around 350, per usual, and the Mountaineers secondary will limit Cornelius to the same.
Running back Justice Hill isn't winning this game for the Cowboys—not against Dana Holgorsen, Grier and the high-flying Mountaineers. It's going to take a shootout, and Cornelius is up to the challenge. He'll get to 400 passing yards, and Grier will do his part, too. This will go over. I think it stays around 810 yards combined.
Over. Both teams have effective running games, but these games get wild in Stillwater. The Mountaineers will rely heavily on Grier to stay in the playoff hunt, as they need a massive day from him. The Cowboys are more of a threat to establish the run with Hill, but his presence should also open more passing lanes on run-pass options and play action. The real question is whether this game will go over or under 4.5 hours.