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Week 12 College Football Picks: Challenge Athlon Sports Experts

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The College Football Playoff race isn't close to being determined. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, teams are playing themselves in and out of contention. This has been a season of crazy finishes and heated competition on and off the field.

The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.

Think you’re up for taking on our experts every week? Think you can beat the writers and editors each week? Join our weekly pick ‘em game and compete for tons of cool prizes.

Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:

Michigan at Penn State

The Wolverines’ stifling defense has been ordinary in recent weeks. By a wide margin, Michigan has allowed more rushing yards in the last three games (579) than it did in the first seven (453). Opponents in those last three games have averaged 4.75 yards per carry against the Michigan defense. The Wolverines’ slump coincides with a Penn State offense that is slowly becoming more consistent. The Nittany Lions are averaging 6 yards per play in conference games this season, compared to 3.72 a year ago. This may come down to which quarterback — Jake Rudock for Michigan or Christian Hackenberg for Penn State — can crack the opposing defense.

Fox’s Pick: Michigan 28–20

Cal at Stanford

The implications of the Big Game have been dampened by Stanford’s loss to Oregon, likely knocking the Cardinal out of the playoff picture. The Pac-12 North title, though, is still in play as Oregon and Washington State have new life in the race. Cal ended its four-game losing streak with a rout of Oregon State and 453 passing yards and six touchdowns from Jared Goff. Cal may be able to pick up yards against the Stanford defense, but the Bears have showed little indication they’ll be able to contain a player like Christian McCaffrey.

Fox’s Pick: Stanford 42–28

Louisville at Pittsburgh

Louisville has quietly put together a four-game winning streak after a 2–4 start. A road trip to Pitt, however, figures to be the toughest test for the Cardinals in the second half of the regular season. Quarterback Kyle Bolin and running back Brandon Radcliff have taken charge of an improved Louisville backfield in the last two weeks. The most dynamic player on the field, though, will be Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd, who added a new dimension to the Panthers’ offense with his production in the run game.

Fox’s Pick: Louisville 31–24

UCLA at Utah

Few teams are more confounding than UCLA. Nevertheless, the Bruins control their own path to the Pac-12 Championship Game by virtue of playing Utah and USC to finish the season. UCLA’s defense had major lapses in losses to Washington State and Stanford, but the real question is if the Bruins’ offense can get efficient production against the Utah defense. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in rush defense while freshman quarterback Josh Rosen will try to avoid turnovers against a team that leads Pac-12 in interceptions.

Fox’s Pick: Utah 27–20

North Carolina at Virginia Tech

North Carolina finally has our attention just in time to go to Blacksburg for Frank Beamer’s final home game as the Hokies’ head coach. In other words, this will be an intriguing game if only for the intangibles involved. On the field, North Carolina has been clobbering teams on the way to an ACC Atlantic title. Despite Virginia Tech’s pedigree in the secondary, the Hokies may have trouble slowing an offense averaging 8 yards per play in the last two games.

Fox’s Pick: North Carolina 38–21

Mississippi State at Arkansas

Since a 2–4 start including losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, the Hogs have won four in a row and could finish second in the SEC West. This year’s Arkansas team, though, has a more well-rounded offense compared to last year’s squad that also got hot in November. Both quarterback Brandon Allen and running back Alex Collins have played the role of hero. After Alabama overwhelmed Mississippi State for nine sacks,  quarterback Dak Prescott will try to regroup against a lackluster Arkansas defense. The Hogs are last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and have allowed a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns.

Fox’s Pick: Arkansas 31–27

Georgia Tech at Miami

Despite this season’s dual embarrassments of a 58-point loss to Clemson and a 38-loss to North Carolina, Miami can still play for a decent bowl with a chance to get to eight regular season wins and a 5–3 ACC record. That’s more than Georgia Tech can say, as the Yellow Jackets will miss the postseason for the first time since 1996. There’s little reason to put trust in either of these teams, but at least Georgia Tech isn’t losing in blowouts. Five the Jackets’ losses have been by one score.

Fox’s Pick: Georgia Tech 28–20

Purdue at Iowa

The Hawkeyes are coming off their worst defensive performance of the season, allowing 434 total yards and 7.6 yards per play to Minnesota. That’s a week after another pedestrian defensive game, by Iowa’s standards, against Indiana. In its last three games, Purdue beat Nebraska and played a one-score game with Northwestern. For the sake of keeping quarterback C.J. Beathard and others healthy, Iowa will hope this turns out like other routs against Purdue this season.

Fox’s Pick: Iowa 41–21

TCU at Oklahoma

Oklahoma seems to get stronger by the week while TCU’s season is hanging by a thread. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is starting to get Heisman attention, but the Sooners’ defense was just as impressive against Baylor. OU neutralized Corey Coleman and intercepted Jarrett Stidham twice. TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson could be the most dangerous run-pass-catch duo in the country when healthy, but they’ve been hobbled. The stars are aligning for the Sooners.

Fox’s Pick: Oklahoma 44–35

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Northwestern at Wisconsin

The race to keep up with Iowa in the Big Ten West is a matchup between two top-notch defenses and offenses that are still, in Week 12, trying to find identities. Wisconsin’s problem is easy to pinpoint. The Badgers have a young offensive line and have had limited contributions from running back Corey Clement. The Badgers expect Clement, who rushed for 949 yards last season, to play despite injuring his hand in an off-campus altercation last week. Northwestern would like to rely on running back Justin Jackson, but the passing game has struggled. The Wildcats pulled quarterback Clayton Thorson last week after two interceptions against Purdue. Yards will be tough to come by, though. Wisconsin is third in the Big Ten at 4.5 yards allowed per play. Northwestern’s defensive pace has slowed since the first month of the season, but the Wildcats are allowing only 291.5 yards per game and 4.2 per play when not facing Michigan and Iowa.

Fox’s Pick: Wisconsin 21–14

USC at Oregon

Oregon is heating up just as the window has opened for USC to win the Pac-12 South. Since the return of Vernon Adams, the Ducks have been progressively more efficient on offense — from 5.82 yards per play against Washington four weeks ago to 9.1 against Stanford. No question USC has been better under interim coach Clay Helton but the three close wins against the weaker teams in the Pac-12 — by 6 over Cal, by 8 over Arizona and by 3 over Colorado — are cause for concern.

Fox’s Pick: Oregon 42–31

Baylor at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State will try to replicate what led to a 49–29 win over TCU two weeks ago by pressuring Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham and forcing turnovers. Meanwhile, Stidham will look to adjust after throwing two picks and getting sacked twice against Oklahoma. Baylor’s defense won’t face as dangerous and offense as it did last week against OU, but Stidham may be facing a better defense — and on the road.

Fox’s Pick: Oklahoma State 41–38

Arizona at Arizona State

From the “where has this been all season” department, both Territorial Cup teams ended three-game losing streaks last week: Arizona in an overtime upset of Utah and Arizona State with a fourth-quarter comeback against Washington. Combine Arizona’s inconsistent offense with Arizona State’s pressure defense, and the Sun Devils may come out on top.

Fox’s Pick: Arizona State 31–24

LSU at Ole Miss

LSU was No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings two weeks ago, but the Tigers have lost to Alabama and Arkansas by a combined 31 points, the latter at home. Most staggering has been the results in the run game on both sides of the ball for LSU. The Tigers have been outrushed 599–114 in two losses, effectively pushing Leonard Fournette aside in the Heisman race. The Rebels’ 43–37 win at Alabama in Week 3 now seems like a distant memory after Ole Miss lost to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas in the last games. Ole Miss’ defense has rarely been at full strength all season, so the Rebels are hoping the off week will allow them to regroup.

Fox’s Pick: Ole Miss 35–28

Michigan State at Ohio State

Both teams have work to do in order to make this the true heavyweight bout fans have been seeking all season. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was critical of his offensive line after a 28–3 win over Illinois. The timing for calling out the pass protection makes perfect sense. The Spartans aren’t as strong defensively as they’ve been, but they are 13th in sacks per game (2.9). Michigan State has its own problems protecting the passer in part because of season-long injuries on the line. The result has been a bum shoulder for quarterback Connor Cook, who was 6-of-20 with an interception against Maryland last week before he was finally pulled to preserve him for this week. Michigan State needs Cook healthy if the Spartans are going to atone for a loss to Nebraska to weeks ago and make a run at the Big Ten East.

Fox’s Pick: Ohio State 35–24

Texas A&M at Vanderbilt

The Aggies and Commodores have both made the switch to freshman quarterbacks in recent weeks and the results, predictably, have been mixed. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur is the hotter hand right now, completing 13-of-26 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Kentucky. The goal for the Commodores will be to rely on their defense to make this an ugly game for Aggies freshman quarterback Kyler Murray. Vanderbilt has been tough on top-tier opposing quarterbacks this season, much less signal-callers who are struggling. Despite his recruiting profile, Murray falls into he latter category. He threw two interceptions against Western Carolina, giving him five picks and 4.8 yards per attempt in his last two starts.

Fox’s Pick: Texas A&M 21–14

Tennessee at Missouri

Missouri’s defense has been elite for most of the season, and the Tigers’ run game had their best two games of the year in the last two weeks. The difference, though, was the passing game. Drew Lock completed 19-of-28 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception, the first time in four games Mizzou quarterbacks completed half of their passes. Now, the question is if Missouri can keep that momentum in what will be coach Gary Pinkel’s final home game. Tennessee sleepwalked through a 24–0 win over North Texas. The game was never in doubt, but the Volunteers amassed only 409 yards against one of the worst defenses in college football. Tennessee is under pressure for a strong finish this season and will face two of the SEC’s best defenses in Mizzou and Vanderbilt.

Fox’s Pick: Tennessee 27–27

Colorado at Washington State

Let’s go ahead and put Washington State on upset alert. Colorado is still struggling to win in the Pac-12, but the Buffaloes are getting better. Colorado is fifth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. If the Buffs can get after Luke Falk, they’ll have a chance.

Fox’s Pick: Washington State 42–28

Wake Forest at Clemson

The Tigers haven’t been sharp against overmatched teams from NC State and Syracuse, which isn’t uncommon for heavy favorites at this stage of the season. Wake hasn’t scored 20 points in a conference game all season, so one can guess how this is going to go.

Fox’s Pick: Clemson 41–10

Boston College vs. Notre Dame (Fenway Park)

Boston College’s season may be notable for just one thing — an astounding lack of balance. The Eagles lead the nation in total defense and rank last in total offense. Perhaps BC’s defense will do enough to give Notre Dame trouble, but as the Eagles’ 3–7 record indicates, they can’t score enough to make it matter.

Fox’s Pick: Notre Dame 24–7

Last week: 15–5

Season to date: 166–54