2015 Week 12 NCAAF Weekend Preview

November 20, 2015

Three more teams from the College Football Playoff rankings’ top 10 fell last weekend, making it the second consecutive week that has occurred.

It would not be surprising if that number held steady for the rest of the regular season. It is November football, after all.

As the pressure continues to rise for the top ranked teams, the games they play in continue to become more difficult to predict. Tommy and I tied last weekend, but not without each suffering a couple of blows. The overall records now stand:

K. Becks: 32-23

Guests: 33-22

This week, the female perspective makes a return to Around The Corn. My friend Sarah, self proclaimed goddess of college football (journalistic license may be present, there), joins the blog for the second consecutive season in an attempt to widen the guests’ lead. Take note, all you other ladies out there. Not all women in sports are sideline correspondents.

Naturally, Sarah will lose this weekend. But she should still be commended for trying.

This weekend is chalk full of big games. Here is a list of Around The Corn’s top five to watch as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#9 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

College GameDay will be held on The Oval this weekend as opposed to right in front of St. John’s Arena, which isn’t the only good decision that Ohio State may make this weekend. A stretch of three potential Top 10 battles for the Buckeyes may prompt Urban Meyer to finally open up the playbook and show what his team is truly capable of doing. Michigan State isn’t out of the playoff conversation yet, but the Spartans need a victory here for more reasons than one.

It’s no secret that the Spartans have not looked all that strong for the better portion of this season, but Michigan State has been bailed out time and time again by its star quarterback. But this Saturday, even Connor Cook may not be at his best. The senior suffered a shoulder injury in the first half of Michigan State’s game against Maryland last weekend and his true status remains unknown. Despite his insistence that he will be ready to play, the Buckeyes know the score. If Joey Bosa and the rest of the vaunted defensive line can get to Cook and put him on his back, chances are the Spartans will have trouble moving the football. In order to win this game, Michigan State will need an extraordinary performance on that side of the ball, because the defense simply has not been getting it done this season and will likely have trouble against the Buckeyes.

I’ve been saying this for awhile now, but it just now seems to be resonating with others: Michigan State is not even the best team in its own state. Ohio State is a 13 point favorite over the Spartans and can make a statement in its first true test of this regular season. I expect that the Buckeyes will cover the spread and look good doing it, something that they haven’t been able to say after every game this season. Some of this, undoubtedly, will be a result of some new looks that Coach Meyer will unveil on offense. Ohio State will take no chances in this one.

My Pick: 34-17 Ohio State

Sarah’s Take: No need to explain this one.

Go Bucks! 37

Spartans: 27

#20 Northwestern at #25 Wisconsin (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Neither one of these teams is technically out of the Big Ten West Division race, but Northwestern stands to play spoiler in this one anyway. With Wisconsin only one game behind Iowa (the Hawkeyes still own the tiebreaker), the Badgers absolutely need to protect Camp Randall in order to keep the hope of a trip to Indy alive. The Wildcats can still reach double-digit victories this season, which is motivation in itself.

Near the middle of the season, momentum was beginning to build in Evanston as it appeared Pat Fitzgerald may have been overseeing something special. However, two straight blowouts at the hands of Michigan and Iowa proved two things: one is that Northwestern wasn’t quite a Top 15 football team. The second is that the Wildcats have lots of trouble moving the football on offense. Of the top five defenses in terms of yards allowed per game, Northwestern has only beaten one. That was Penn State, and the Nittany Lions have a similarly anemic offense. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has been holding its own offensively but in a way that most in Madison are not used to seeing. An injury to Corey Clement early in the season has resulted in Joel Stave taking control of the offense, something that probably would not have happened otherwise. The result is a tricky offense to prepare for; one that is built to jam it down your throat but has chosen to air it out a bit more than usual.

The Wildcats have had a good season, and there’s a small part of me that is still rooting for them after jokingly predicting that they’d end up No. 3 in the country at some point in 2015. But Wisconsin has been flying under the radar since it hasn’t played the toughest competition this season. This game represents a chance to validate its 8-2 record and Top 25 ranking, and I think that the Badgers are up to the challenge. Camp Randall is a tough place for visitors and Northwestern simply doesn’t score enough points.

My Pick: 27-21 Wisconsin

Sarah’s Take: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (aka Elaine Benes) went to Northwestern. I think the choice is obvious.

Wildcats: 31

Badgers: 14

#24 Southern Cal at #23 Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

In a matter of one week, the Oregon Ducks became relevant again. After dispatching of Stanford on the road (and potentially damning the Pac-12 with regards to a playoff spot), the Ducks are now back in the Pac-12 North hunt if they can keep winning and get some help. Southern Cal is in its own division battle, however, and a victory over the Trojans will be just as difficult, if not more so, than the game last weekend.

In reality, the Ducks didn’t really do anything particularly special in beating Stanford. The 436 yards on the Pac-12’s best defense was impressive, but not particularly surprising when you take into account that Oregon is far and away the Pac-12 leader in yards per game offensively. The Ducks still gave up over 500 yards defensively, including 304 yards through the air. When it comes down to it, the Ducks simply outscored the Cardinal. This is precisely why Southern Cal will be a more difficult test for Oregon. The Trojans don’t rack up yards like the Ducks, but they’re much better in the passing game than Stanford. Cody Kessler should be able to pick apart the Oregon defense and it wouldn’t be surprising if he broke the 400 yard mark in this game. The fear for Southern Cal is that its defense, which isn’t bad either, won’t be able to contain the Ducks well enough to win.

This game will almost surely be a shootout, just as it has been in prior years between these two schools. While both offenses will play a major role, the defense that is better able to contain the opposing passing attack will come away with the win. Oregon’s win last weekend was huge, but keep in mind that the defense still has its issues. Cody Kessler will be a nightmare for the Ducks’ secondary and keep the Trojans in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South Division.

My Pick: 45-41 Southern Cal

Sarah’s Take: Ducks fly together. Am I right or am I right?

Ducks: 34

Trojans: 23

#10 Baylor at #6 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

Most of the country outside of Waco was just waiting for the Bears to be exposed, and last weekend they were. Now Baylor must refocus or lose complete grip on any playoff hopes that may still linger with the team. Oklahoma State is one of those teams that many people have been waiting to falter as well, but thus far the Cowboys have stood tall. These last two weekends could not be any more difficult, though.

Until the Oklahoma game, Baylor had not yet faced a defense inside the top 80 nationally in yards allowed per game. And while the Bears were held to their lowest offensive output of the season (and just their second game with fewer than 500 total yards of offense), they still managed to post 34 points on the Sooners, which is 15 points above Oklahoma’s season average. In other words, the Sooners just proved to be slightly better on that particular night. Additionally, Baylor had no answer for Baker Mayfield, who has thrust himself into the Heisman talk after last weekend’s performance. Oklahoma State puts up a lot of points, but it’s really not known whether they have anyone who can take control of a game like Mayfield or Samaje Perine. Baylor’s defense is not bad and definitely capable of shutting down a group of good but not great athletes. Quite frankly, Oklahoma State has not shown itself to be anything other than a collective of just that.

The pressure to perform is now off of Baylor despite the fact that the Bears still haven’t truly proven anything. A thirst for validation and no pressure is a dangerous combination, especially for a team that averages nearly 200 yards per game more than the team that nearly knocked off the Cowboys last weekend. Boone Pickens Stadium will be as loud as it’s ever been on Saturday evening, but even the crowd won’t be able to tame a Baylor offense that is primed to go wild.

My Pick: 38-31 Baylor

Sarah’s Take: Pretty sure I’m obligated to pick the other OSU?

Cowboys: 41

Bears: 17

#18 TCU at #7 Oklahoma (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The Sooners are playing as well as anyone in the country right now and are coming off of a big victory over Baylor in Waco. The Horned Frogs are quite literally limping away from a close call against Kansas, just a week after being taken to school by Oklahoma State. This is a story of two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. We will find out in this one whether TCU has enough left in the tank to reach the finish line without completely falling apart.

TCU has been hampered by injuries for much of the season, but the most recent developments also happen to be the most significant. Trevone Boykin has been labeled as a “maybe” to play in this game after suffering an ankle injury against Kansas, and receiver Josh Doctson is out for the season with a wrist injury. Doctson is an important piece to the Horned Frogs offense and someone that could have stretched the Oklahoma defense. But the bigger loss is the dynamic feature of Boykin as a dual threat quarterback, something that was becoming less and less prevalent but still posed a major challenge for opposing defenses. Even if he plays in this game, he will be much easier to keep in the pocket. Oklahoma’s defense will be saved of a major challenge unless Boykin’s injury was not as serious as it appeared last Saturday.

Unless Boykin is back to at least 90 percent, we will likely see a shell of what the TCU offense can be in this game. This would not be good against an average defense, let alone Oklahoma’s, which is the best in the Big 12. In in the fact that the Sooners offense has been playing as well as anyone as of late and you’ve got a mismatch of both sides of the football. All signs point to a fairly comfortable Oklahoma victory in this one.

My Pick: 38-27 Oklahoma

Sarah’s Take: Sooner rhymes with Schooner sooo…

Sooners: 31

TCU: 21

5 Games to Flip To

#12 Michigan at Penn State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

If the Wolverines want The Game to have more meaning than the typical rivalry game, they need to take care of business against a tricky Penn State team first.

#21 Memphis at Temple (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The national buzz has died down for both of these squads, but Temple still leads the AAC East Division and can secure a New Year’s Six bid with some luck.

UCLA at #13 Utah (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Not meeting media expectations has sort of been UCLA’s calling card, but they are a good bet to give the Utes trouble in Salt Lake City.

#15 LSU at #22 Mississippi (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

An SEC battle between two ranked teams that isn’t on ATC’s 5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend? Looks like I just lost the support of the South.

Cal at #11 Stanford (Sat, 10:30 PM ET)

Cal is 1-4 in its last 5 games, which isn’t the way this team envisioned its second half of 2015 after starting so well. Slowly but surely, the Golden Bears are becoming one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12. Shocking.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Sarah did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

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