College Football Week 12 Preview — Are More Upsets On the Way?
It’s a relatively calm week, with only three games between ranked teams. But, after last weekend, would more big upsets surprise you? Here are some of the big questions going into this week in college football.
Is Colorado a Legit Pac-12 Contender?
Over the last decade, No. 10 Colorado has had the lowest winning percentage (.285) of any school in a Power 5 conference. But suddenly, the Buffs find themselves at the top of the Pac-12 South standings and in striking distance of their first conference title since winning the Big 12 in 2001.
Surprisingly, the CU resurgence has been led by defense. Between 2011 and 2015, the Buffs gave up an average of 41.2 points per game in conference. This year, however, that number has dropped to just 17.1 per game. The key matchup to watch will be the Buffs’ pass defense, which ranks second-best nationally in yards per pass (5.5) against No. 22 Washington State’s Luke Falk, who leads the nation in completion rate (74 percent) and is second in passing yards per game (361).
The Buffs will likely need to win their remaining two games against the Cougars and No. 12 Utah to advance to the conference title game. But for a team that was picked last in the division and which had won five conference games in the previous five years, just the fact they’re even in contention in late November speaks volumes.
Is Another Alabama Championship Inevitable?
Barring an upset of biblical proportions by FCS Chattanooga this week, it looks all but certain that Alabama will be in the playoffs. The Crimson Tide has already clinched the SEC West and would likely have to lose twice to get knocked out of contention. And while strange things can happen in the Iron Bowl (kick-six, anyone?), Alabama will be a heavy favorite against either Florida or Tennessee in the SEC Championship.
Looking ahead, Ohio State, Clemson and other potential playoff opponents are all solid teams, but all have question marks and at least one loss. Meanwhile, Alabama is riding a 22-game winning streak, the longest of Nick Saban’s career and the third-best in school history. Does anybody want to bet on that streak ending anytime soon?
How Far Has the SEC East Fallen?
On a related note, No. 23 Florida takes on No. 16 LSU this weekend in one of just three games between ranked teams. This was a game that was supposed to have been played in Gainesville six weeks ago, but was delayed and moved to Baton Rouge in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. And a lot has happened since then.
Had the game been played when scheduled, the Gators would be playing at home and not facing star LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who was nursing an ankle injury at the time. Fournette is still hobbled, but is expected to play this weekend. LSU’s offense — which has averaged 8 yards per carry and over 325 rushing yards per game in its last four wins — could be poised for a big day against a Florida defense that will be without its three leading tacklers, due to injury. The Gators can clinch their second consecutive SEC East crown with a victory this weekend but find themselves a two-touchdown underdog against the West’s third-best team.
This game is a microcosm of just how wide the gap between East and West has gotten. Teams from the West have won the conference title game for seven straight years and by an average score of 42-18. And, let’s be honest, there’s no reason to think this year’s championship game will be any different. For proud fan bases in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, etc. it has to be disheartening knowing they’re all playing for runner-up.
Does the Big 12 Have a Shot?
Okay, I’m not saying it’s likely that a Big 12 champion will make the playoff. I’m just saying that, after last week’s anarchy, it’s no longer out of the realm of possibility. So this week’s matchup between No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 14 West Virginia could have bigger ramifications than just a Big 12 title on the line.
With just one loss, a win over Oklahoma could give the Mountaineers a marquee win they would need to get into the playoff discussion. They should be solid favorites in remaining games against Iowa State and Baylor, so a win in Morgantown Saturday night could cement their first-ever Big 12 title.
For Oklahoma, the “quality loss” (if you can call a three-touchdown drubbing that) to Ohio State gets further in the rearview mirror each week as the Sooners have been one of the nation’s hottest teams during their current seven-game winning streak. Yes, they would need some help in the form of a one-loss teams going down the next two weeks. But if Oklahoma were to run the table against West Virginia and No. 11 Oklahoma State, the Sooners could make a strong argument to be the first two-loss team to make the playoff.
But let me throw a real wild-card at you: Let’s say Oklahoma and No. 11 Oklahoma State both win this week, but then the Cowboys upset OU in Norman on December 3. Not only would the Cowboys be a conference champion with wins over both West Virginia and Oklahoma, but the playoff committee would have to seriously consider the officiating blunder that handed OSU its second loss.
With as crazy as this season has been, a botched call in a non-conference game the second week of the season seems like an entirely appropriate way to determine a playoff spot.
Can Louisville Make a Statement?
Clemson’s upset loss to Pitt has given No. 5 Louisville’s playoff chances new life. They’ll have another chance for a statement win on Thursday night at 8–2 Houston. Lamar Jackson has all but locked up the Heisman with highlight-reel plays and monster numbers.
But he can’t get the Cardinals to the playoffs by himself. Louisville will have to win out against Houston and Kentucky and then likely hope for at least one more upset at the top. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Clemson still controls its own destiny and would advance to the ACC title game with a win this week at Wake Forest. So, with this being the only game in town Thursday night, look for Jackson and Louisville to pull out all the stops as they try to impress the playoff committee.