College football's Week 12 schedule is highlighted by two huge battles in the Pac-12. Stanford visits Oregon in a game that likely will decide the South Division champion, while USC makes the short trip to UCLA for the game of the year in the South.
Stanford (+20.5) at Oregon
It’s a testament to Oregon’s dominance that the Ducks are favored by nearly three touchdowns against the second-best team in the Pac-12 North — and maybe the second-best team in the entire league. Stanford has been solid in 2012, with an overall mark of 8–2 and a 6–1 record in the league. Oregon, however, has been completely dominant. Consider the following: The Ducks have won their seven Pac-12 games by an average margin of 33.7 points and are outgaining their opponents by 161.8 yards per game. USC is the only team that has made Oregon sweat, but the Ducks still led by 10 points or more for all but six minutes in their 62–51 win at the L.A. Coliseum. Stanford will have to run the ball effectively against Oregon’s ordinary rush defense (fifth in the league) and hope to force some turnovers.
Ohio State (+3) at Wisconsin
Wisconsin wrapped up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game with an emphatic 62–14 win at Indiana on Saturday. The Badgers rushed for an astounding 564 yards and seven touchdowns, led by Montee Ball (198 yards) and James White (161). UW’s dominance on the ground allowed the coaching staff to protect quarterback Curt Phillips, an oft-injured fifth-year senior who was making his first career start. Phillips only attempted seven passes for the entire game. The Badgers figure to need some semblance of offensive balance against Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes rank 16th nationally in rushing defense, though they did give up 223 yards on the ground to Nebraska and 224 to California. Ohio State has a two-game lead on Wisconsin in the Leaders Division but is not eligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions.
Ohio State 24–20
USC (-4) at UCLA
USC has been arguably the most disappointing team in the nation in 2012. UCLA has been one of the biggest surprises. The result: UCLA is one-half game up on its cross-town rival in the Pac-12 South and controls its own destiny to play in the league title game. The Bruins’ roster isn’t stocked with elite players but does have star power at two crucial positions — quarterback (Brett Hundley) and tailback (Johnathan Franklin). Hundley, a redshirt freshman, ranks second in the Pac-12 in total offense (301.1 ypg), and Franklin, a senior, ranks sixth nationally in rushing (127.0 ypg). The key for UCLA, however, will be on defense, where the Bruins must find a way to slow down the USC passing attack. UCLA ranks 103rd in the nation in pass defense and has given up 22 pass plays of 30 yards or more, the most in the Pac-12. That number figures to increase after Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are done with the UCLA secondary.
Rutgers (+6.5) at Cincinnati
Rutgers is the only unbeaten team in Big East play after Louisville’s loss on Saturday at Syracuse. The Scarlet Knights, though, have the toughest remaining schedule of the contenders, with trips to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and a home game with Louisville. A bigger concern for coach Kyle Flood has to be his team’s performance of late. The Knights lost at home to Kent State two weeks ago and then struggled with Army this past weekend. Rutgers was outgained 337-to-252 and didn’t hold its first lead until midway through the fourth quarter. Cincinnati rolled past Temple 34–10 in Brendon Kay’s first start at quarterback. Kay, a senior who beat out Munchie Legaux, completed 13-of-21 for 244 yards and two touchdowns and added 71 yards on the ground. The Bearcats are playing good football and are the better team.
Duke (+12.5) at Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech has played its way into the ACC Coastal Division race with consecutive wins at Maryland and North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets, 4–3 in the league, need to beat Duke this Saturday and then for Duke to beat Miami the following week. That would leave Tech all alone in first place with a 5–3 record. Duke controls its own destiny but needs to win at Georgia Tech and beat Miami at home to claim its first-ever division crown. Duke’s first order of business is finding a way to slow down Georgia Tech’s powerful offense. The Jackets rushed for 380 yards and seven touchdowns and threw for 208 yards and one score (on only seven completions) in a 68–50 win at North Carolina on Saturday. This is not a good matchup for a Duke team that ranks 85th in the nation in rushing defense and has given up an average of 43.8 points in its last four games.
Georgia Tech 44–30
Northwestern (+6.5) at Michigan State
Northwestern is 7–3 overall and has had double-digit leads in the second half of all three losses — at Penn State, vs. Nebraska and at Michigan. This team could easily be in thick of the Legends Division race. Michigan State, a preseason top-20 team, has been a big disappointment in 2012. The Spartans are 5–5 overall and tied for last place in the Legends with a 2–4 record. The culprit has been an offense that is averaging only 19.7 points per game. Running back Le’Veon Ball has done his part, averaging 106.5 yards in Big Ten games, but Andrew Maxwell simply hasn’t been good enough at the quarterback position. The stout Spartan defense will pose some problems for Northwestern’s run-based offense, but Michigan State will have trouble scoring enough points to win this game — even at home.
Oklahoma (-10.5) at West Virginia
This was expected to be one of the marquee games in the Big 12 this season. But that was before we knew just how bad West Virginia would be at preventing their opponents from gaining yards and scoring points. In league play, the Mountaineers are giving up an average of 517.8 yards and 51.0 points per game. Last weekend, Oklahoma State became the third team this season to score at least 55 points against WVU. Oklahoma could be the fourth. The Sooners have scored 35 points or more in all but one league game, a 24–19 loss to Kansas State in September. Landry Jones isn’t having a Heisman-worthy season, but the senior quarterback is averaging just under 300 yards passing per game and has 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. It will be a shock if he doesn’t have at least 20 touchdowns after Saturday’s trip to Morgantown.
UCF (+3) at Tulsa
These two teams likely will meet again in the Conference USA title game in a few weeks, with the winner serving as the host. Tulsa hasn’t missed a beat since Todd Graham bolted for Pittsburgh two years ago. Bill Blankenship, who coached in the high school ranks until 2005, is 13–1 in C-USA since taking over at his alma mater. The Golden Hurricane have two losses in 2012, at Iowa State by 15 and at Arkansas by four. UCF, too, has only lost to AQ conference teams, by 15 at Ohio State and by five at home to Missouri. The Knights struggled at home against a bad Southern Miss team in mid-October, but have been very impressive against the rest of the league.
Ole Miss (+18.5) at LSU
Ole Miss is now 0-for-2 in its attempts to become bowl-eligible. The Rebels appeared to be in control Saturday night against Vanderbilt after taking a 23–6 lead early in the third quarter, but the Commodores stormed back to claim a 27–26 win on a touchdown with just over one minute to play. Ole Miss has played well in recent trips to Baton Rouge: The Rebels are 4–4 in their last eight at Tiger Stadium with three of the losses coming by three points or fewer and the other by seven points. LSU has played well offensively the past two weeks, due in large part to the improved play of quarterback Zach Mettenberger. In his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed 46.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and two interceptions; in his last two games, he has completed 66.2 percent with three touchdowns and no picks.
Syracuse (+4) at Missouri
This is a strange late-season non-conference game between two 5–5 teams searching for a sixth win to become bowl-eligible. There is far more pressure on Missouri, who still has to play at Texas A&M, to win this game. Syracuse, on the other hand, ends the season with Temple, which has lost four straight. This team will still get its sixth win at some point. Syracuse is coming off its best performance of the season, a surprisingly easy 45–26 victory at home against previously undefeated Louisville. The Orange ran for 278 yards and threw for 246, and have now had at least 475 yards in each of their last five games. Missouri won its first SEC road game last week — 51–48 in four overtimes at Tennessee — despite giving up 432 passing yards. That has to be a concern for Gary Pinkel and his staff. Syracuse, as mentioned, as been on a roll offensively, and quarterback Ryan Nassib has been productive all season.
Last week: 9–1 overall (8–2 against the spread)
Season: 75–35 overall (59–51 against the spread)