Like we’ve done in years past, every week throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.
The college football schedule has presented quite a comedown from last week’s thrilling slate. We were gifted seven games between ranked opponents in Week 11. In Week 12, that number drops down to one. That’s not to say there won’t be fun games. It’s college football; there are always fun games.
But the impact on the College Football Playoff picture, barring unforeseen upsets (there’s always at least one of those) could be minimal.
Starting with the five best games, we broke down this week’s slate for you:
5. Navy (6-3) at No. 8 Notre Dame (8-2) — 3:30 p.m., NBC: Following the blowout loss at Miami, Notre Dame was pretty much eliminated from College Football Playoff contention. But a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl is still very much on the table. Right now, we have the Irish pegged for the Fiesta Bowl against Washington State, but that includes projected wins over Navy and Stanford to finish out the season.
Navy is having a bit of a down year, but that option attack is always a handful to stop. In last week’s win over SMU, Navy rushed for 559 yards on 72 attempts with Malcolm Perry making a surprise start at quarterback. But with an injured ankle, Navy will go back to either Zach Abey or Garret Lewis. Both can run the option at a high level, but aren’t as fast as Perry.
4. Virginia (6-4, 3-3) at No. 3 Miami (9-0, 6-0) — Noon, ABC: Can Miami avoid a letdown? The Hurricanes are coming off consecutive wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in primetime. Those atmospheres were raucous. This one, though a big crowd is expected in support of an undefeated team, will be undoubtedly different.
Virginia is an improved team. The Cavaliers, in Bronco Mendenhall’s second season, have already locked up a bowl berth and are pretty good on offense led by senior QB Kurt Benkert. Benkert could have some success if the Canes aren’t locked in, but in the end, Miami just has too much talent for Virginia and just needs to keep winning.
3. Kentucky (7-3, 4-3) at No. 7 Georgia (9-1, 6-1) — 3:30 p.m., CBS: Georgia has no more margin for error. The Bulldogs were handed their first loss of the season, a 40-17 drubbing, last week against Auburn and dropped from No. 1 all the way to No. 7. UGA, which already wrapped up the SEC East, needs to bounce back against a Kentucky team that isn’t as good as its seven wins might indicate. Before last week’s 44-21 blowout over Vanderbilt, UK’s largest margin of victory was 11 points.
Georgia’s vaunted running game was shut down by the Tigers with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combining for just 48 yards on 20 carries. Kentucky has the 19th-best rush defense in the country, but it’d be a surprise if the Bulldogs didn’t get back on track.
2. No. 12 TCU (8-2, 5-2) at Texas Tech (5-5, 2-5) — Noon, FS1: TCU’s chance for another shot at Oklahoma is right there in front of it. To play the Sooners in the Big 12 title game, the Horned Frogs need to finish out their slate with wins over Texas Tech and Baylor. That starts Saturday in Lubbock where TCU will be without running back Darius Anderson and could be without QB Kenny Hill as well.
Hill is listed as questionable with an unspecified injury. If Hill can’t go, TCU coach Gary Patterson indicated freshman Shawn Robinson will start. Robinson has played in five games, completing 7-of-10 passes for 99 yards with two touchdowns. Texas Tech’s defense has forced 22 takeaways, so turnovers would definitely be a concern if Robinson is forced into the lineup.
1. No. 24 Michigan (8-2, 5-2) at No. 5 Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0) — Noon, FOX: This is it, folks. Michigan’s trip to Wisconsin is the only game between ranked teams Saturday, and it’s a noon kickoff.
No matter what anybody says, Wisconsin would make the College Football Playoff if it goes undefeated. All of the arguments about strength of schedule up to this point are valid, and it’s partly why UW is at No. 5 right now. The fact that Michigan is now ranked will give the Badgers a nice boost if they can come away with a win on Saturday.
Wisconsin destroyed Iowa 38-14 last week to pick up its first ranked win of the year. Michigan is more well-rounded on defense and should be a tougher challenge. UM, now with Brandon Peters at QB, has won three in a row since getting crushed up at Penn State. Peters hasn’t been asked to throw much and hasn’t faced a defense quite like the Badgers. We’ll see what he’s made of in Madison.
Keep an eye on…
No. 19 NC State (7-3, 5-1) at Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3) — 7:30 p.m., ESPNU: Wake Forest put up 734 yards of offense in its 64-43 win over Syracuse. Yes, Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won’t be able to move that easily against Bradley Chubb and the Wolfpack, but QB John Wolford is having an awesome senior season. This should be a really fun one.
UCLA (5-5, 3-4) at No. 11 USC (9-2, 7-1) — 8 p.m., ABC: This will probably be the last time quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold go head-to-head at the college level. Each have eligibility remaining, but it’s a pretty safe bet to say at least one (likely Rosen) will declare for the NFL Draft in the coming weeks. Before then, both teams have reasons to compete. For Rosen and UCLA, a win clinches a bowl berth after missing the postseason last year. Darnold and USC already clinched the Pac-12 South but can win 10 regular season games for the first time since 2011 by taking care of the Bruins.
Cal (5-5, 2-5) at No. 22 Stanford (7-3, 6-2) — 8 p.m., FOX: Stanford played its way back into the Pac-12 North race by upsetting Washington last week. Now, with a win over Cal and a Washington win over Washington State next week, the Cardinal will win the division crown and play USC in the conference title game. Cal is seeking out a bowl berth in Justin Wilcox’s first season. What better way to get back to the postseason than by upsetting your rivals?
Utah (5-5, 2-5) at No. 18 Washington (8-2, 5-2) — 10:30 p.m., ESPN: Speaking of Stanford-Cal, Washington now needs Cal to upset the Cardinal in order to have a chance to win the Pac-12 North. The Huskies would also have to take down rival WSU to complete the job, but they need to take care of the Utes on Saturday first. Utah gave WSU a battle in Salt Lake City last weekend, but turned the ball over seven times in a 33-25 loss. The Utes need to win one of their last two games to play in a bowl for the fourth straight season.
Channel surf through…
Texas (5-5, 4-3) at West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) — Noon, ESPN: West Virginia is on the outside looking in, but it still has a chance to reach the Big 12 title game. Texas has played everybody tough and needs one more win to get back to a bowl game after consecutive 5-7 seasons.
No. 15 UCF (9-0, 6-0) at Temple (5-5, 3-3) — Noon, ESPNU: A long trip, an early start and cold weather seem like ingredients for a letdown for UCF, don’t they? The Knights really can’t afford to take Temple lightly. The Owls really struggled early in the year, but have put together back-to-back wins with Frank Nutile settling in at quarterback and are one win away from a bowl berth.
SMU (6-4, 3-3) at No. 21 Memphis (8-1, 5-1) — Noon, ESPNN: UCF and Memphis are on track to face one another in the AAC title game with the winner representing the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Memphis has a game up on Houston in the AAC West but can’t afford a slip-up to a dangerous SMU team that averages 39.4 points per game if it wants to remain in the NY6 picture.
Florida International (6-3, 4-2) at Florida Atlantic (7-3, 6-0) — 7 p.m., Stadium: Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis have both done very well at their new schools, especially Kiffin. FAU is the only C-USA team without a loss in conference play and can clinch the C-USA East Division and its first-ever trip to the C-USA title game with a win over the rival Golden Panthers. A win would set up a matchup with North Texas for the C-USA crown.
Arizona (7-3, 5-2) at Oregon (5-5, 2-5) — 7 p.m., Pac-12: QB Justin Herbert is expected to return to the starting lineup for the Ducks, so if they can’t stop Khalil Tate and the Wildcats, maybe they can keep up with them on the scoreboard. If Oregon doesn’t win this one, it needs to handle rival Oregon State at home next week to reach a bowl.
Upset watch (Last week: 2-1-1; 21-18-4 overall):
Rutgers (+11) at Indiana — Noon, BTN: Rutgers (4-6, 3-4) is 8-2 against the spread and has covered five weeks in a row. Indiana (4-6, 1-6) finally got its first win in the Big Ten last week and still has a chance to go to a bowl, so I expect IU to win at home but Rutgers is going to cover again.
UMass (+4) at BYU — 3 p.m., ESPN3: After an 0-6 start, UMass (3-7) has won three of four with a close loss at Mississippi State sandwiched in between. The Minutemen have played tough on the road against Temple and Tennessee this year as well. I think they finally get that road win against BYU (3-8), especially with QB Andrew Ford back from injury.
UAB (+10.5) at Florida — 4 p.m., SECN: UAB (7-3), winners of five of its last six games, has the chance to reach the eight-win mark for the first time as an FBS program. That’s pretty special when you consider the program was shut down after the 2014 season and is in its first year back. To include a win over an SEC program, no matter how much Florida (3-6, five straight losses) is struggling, would make the UAB story even better, but covering the spread, for purposes of this column, works, too.
UConn (+21.5) vs Boston College — 7 p.m., CBSSN: UConn has covered the spread the last two weeks against USF and UCF and I expect the same against Boston College at Fenway Park. Boston College will be without QB Anthony Brown for the rest of the year and is coming off a tough loss to a physical NC State team. 21.5 is a big number I expect the Huskies to cover.
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