Week 12 of the college football schedule has the potential to, once again, rewrite the narrative of a 2021 season that hasn’t disappointed in its twists and turns.
The situation is simple – if the top four teams in the CFP rankings can secure wins in their final two regular season games plus score a victory in their respective conference championship games – they’re in. If not, they open-up a slot for the one undefeated team and the five one-loss squads – which also must each keep winning – that wait below them in the rankings.
Side note: there is, of course, the caveat of the two SEC teams in the top four, which if they both win out would play each other in a league title game thereby producing an automatic loss for one of the two. History tells us that an additional loss in the SEC championship doesn’t necessarily disqualify a team for a bracket slot.
What Week 12 brings to the scenario is huge – three of the top four teams are playing an opponent ranked in the CFP Top 25. Of these, the matchup that Vegas has as the most likely upset is (3) Oregon at (23) Utah – the oddsmakers have the Utes as three-point favorites. The other two matchups both have the higher ranked team as a 19-plus point favorite.
But that doesn’t mean that the next biggest upset of the year isn’t upon us. And if 2021 keeps on being the 2021 we know and love, it will happen in the most unexpected of ways.
WHAT TO WATCH
Wednesday, Nov. 17
7pm EST – ESPN2 – Northern Illinois at Buffalo
7pm EST – ESPNU – Central Michigan at Ball State
Thursday, Nov. 18
7:30pm EST – ESPN – Louisville at Duke
Friday, Nov. 19
8pm EST – CBSSN – Southern Miss at Louisiana Tech
9pm EST – ESPN2 – Memphis at (24) Houston
9pm EST – FS1 – Air Force at Nevada
Though the Falcons have held opponents to an average of 184 air yards per game (the thirteenth lowest mark in the FBS) five of the offenses it’s faced thus far are ranked among the bottom ten passing teams in the entire nation. The only top 20 unit it’s squared off with is Utah State – currently No. 15 in the FBS – which it allowed a season high 448 air yards and five scores. Cue up Nevada, the owner and operator of the No. 4 passing attack in the Americas – and things could get interesting.
9pm EST – Pac-12 Network – Arizona at Washington State
11:30pm EST – CBSSN – (19) San Diego State at UNLV
This late-night selection features the No. 12 back in college football – UNLV senior RB Charles Williams (#8) – taking on a San Diego defense ranked No. 3 – in the entire nation – against the run. Where Williams has rushed for over 170 yards on three occasions this year (including hanging up 266 on Hawaii last week) the Aztecs have held opponents to under 70 rushing yards six times (including limiting Nevada to eight last Saturday). Also keep an eye on SDSU junior DL Cameron Thomas (#99), tied for the fifth most tackles for a loss in the nation.
Saturday, Nov. 20
Noon EST – ABC – (7) Michigan State at (4) Ohio State
Despite getting back on track with a win over Maryland last week, Michigan State is still ranked dead last in the entire nation vs. the pass. Over the past three weeks the Spartans have coughed up a whopping 1,292 total air yards for an average of 431 yards per game. This week it’s mighty Ohio State, which among other statistical marvels is ranked No. 6 in the FBS in passing offense. Yikes! On the flip side, it’s the No. 1 back in college ball, MSU junior RB Kenneth Walker (#9), taking on a Buckeye D ranked No. 14 in the nation vs. the run.
Noon EST – FOX – Iowa State at (13) Oklahoma
Noon EST – ESPN – (10) Wake Forest at Clemson
Despite a 9-1 record and its highest ranking in program history, Wake Forest is a 4.5-point underdog in this one. The Deacons have dropped ten-straight at Clemson, last winning there in 1998.
Noon EST – ESPN2 – Texas at West Virginia
It’s been 65 years since Texas lost six-straight games. The 1956 Longhorns opened with a 44-20 loss vs. (15) USC, edged Tulane 7-6 in Week 2 and then dropped eight straight to finish 1-9, the worst record in program history. Texas is 3-1 all-time in Morgantown but West Virginia is a three-point favorite.
Noon EST – Big Ten Network – Purdue vs. Northwestern (at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Ill.)
After scoring upset victories over (17) Iowa and (7) Michigan State (both of which were in the Top 5 at game time) and losing at (4) Ohio State last Saturday, this week it looks like Purdue gets a breather vs. a Northwestern team that has struggled to a 3-7 mark overall and a 1-6 record in Big Ten play. But wait a second – did you know that while Purdue is ranked a lofty No. 7 in the FBS in passing offense that Northwestern is No. 20 vs. the pass?
Noon EST – ACC Network – Florida State at Boston College
Noon EST – CBSSN – UMass at Army
Perhaps the most perfect “perfect storm” in Week 12, tune in to this one to see Army’s option-tastic running game – ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing yards per game – take on a UMass D ranked No. 123 vs. the run. Where only one team in the nation has averaged more ground yards per game than the Black Knights’ 302, only seven squads have allowed more than the Minutemen’s 225.
2:30pm EST – NBC – Georgia Tech at (8) Notre Dame
3:00pm EST – Pac-12 Network – Washington at Colorado
After the recent firing of second year head coach Jimmy Lake, Washington will be led on the sidelines by interim coach Bob Gregory. Gregory played linebacker and defensive back at Washington State in the 1980s and was formerly the DC at Boise State (2001) and Cal (2002-09) before being named to the same role at Washington this season.
3:30pm EST – CBS – (21) Arkansas at (2) Alabama
Tune in to this heavyweight battle to see Alabama’s passing attack – ranked No. 11 in the nation – take on an Arkansas D ranked No. 24 in the FBS vs. the pass. It amounts to the No. 2 pass offense in the SEC taking on the league’s No. 3 pass D. But wait…there’s more! It’s the Razorbacks’ running game – ranked a lofty No. 6 in the nation – taking on a Tide defense ranked No. 4 in the FBS vs. the run. In SEC terms, it’s the No. 2 ground game taking on the No. 2 rushing D. Could this be one of the best games of the season?
3:30pm EST – ESPN – SMU at (5) Cincinnati
This week the top-ranked Bearcats get what should be their biggest test in league play – a visit from an 8-2 SMU squad that spent five weeks ranked in the Top 25. It’s a big deal for a UC team that’s only faced two opponents who are currently above .500 – 9-1 (8) Notre Dame and 6-4 UCF. The key matchup is the Mustang’s potent passing attack – ranked No. 8 nationally – taking on a Bearcat D ranked an equally elite No. 5 vs. the pass. Keep in mind that the best air attack Cincy has faced thus far (and one of only three ranked in the top half of the nation in passing yards per game) is Miami – Ohio not Florida – currently at No. 25 nationally in pass O. Most recently, the Bearcats coughed up 245 air yards to a South Florida squad averaging 191 (No. 105).
3:30pm EST – Big Ten Network – (6) Michigan at Maryland
Only seven teams in the entire nation have been more successful vs. the pass than Michigan has this season. What the Wolverines haven’t done yet is face an elite air attack – and that’s exactly what Maryland (currently No. 13 in the nation in passing yards per game) brings to the table. Prior to this, Michigan’s biggest tests have been Penn State (No. 29 in passing O) and Nebraska (No. 24). The Wolverines gave up only 223 air yards to a Nittany Lion attack averaging 272 but coughed up a season-high 291 to a Husker offense averaging 264. The Terrapins are currently averaging 320.
3:30pm EST – ESPN2 – Virginia at (18) Pitt
This matchup features two of the most elite passing attacks in college football – Virginia is No. 2 in the nation in passing yards per game while Pitt is No. 5 – taking on two of the okay-est pass defenses – the Cavaliers are No. 84 vs. the pass while the Panthers are No. 86.
3:30pm EST – ABC – Nebraska at (15) Wisconsin
3:30pm EST – CBSSN – East Carolina at Navy
4pm EST – FOX – UCLA at USC
4pm EST – ACC Network – Syracuse at (20) NC State
Yet another delicious double dip of strength vs. strength matchups – it’s the No. 14 QB in college football – NC State sophomore Devin Leary (#13), fresh off a 408 yard, four score performance at (10) Wake Forest taking on an Orange D ranked No. 23 in the FBS vs. the pass – and – the No. 2 back in the nation – Syracuse freshman RB Sean Tucker (#34) – against a Wolfpack defense ranked No. 10 in the FBS vs. the run. Holy ACC Atlantic!
4pm EST – SEC Network – Florida at Missouri
While it’s impossible to know what to expect next from the 5-5 Gators, what we do know is that they have had success running the ball. Averaging 228 ground yards per game, they’re ranked No. 9 in the nation and No. 3 in the SEC. Cue up Missouri – ranked No. 129 nationally and dead last in the SEC vs. the run – and maybe, just maybe, this is Florida’s opportunity to make a statement…We aren’t done yet.
4pm EST – ESPNU – Louisiana at Liberty
This under-the-radar selection features two of the best Group of 5 teams in the nation – 9-1 Louisiana and 7-3 Liberty – with the Flames as a 4.5-point favorite.
5:30pm EST – FS1 – (11) Baylor at Kansas State
After hanging up 297 rushing yards on an Oklahoma defense giving up, on average, 130 (No. 36 in the FBS) last Saturday, this week Baylor gets K-State, the owner and operator of the No. 19 ranked rushing defense in the nation. Where the Bears are averaging 238 ground yards per game (the fourth most in North America) the Wildcats are allowing 113. This is a stellar matchup.
7pm EST – ESPN – Auburn at South Carolina
7pm EST – Pac-12 Network – Cal at Stanford
7:30pm EST – ABC – (3) Oregon at (23) Utah
7:30pm EST – ACC Network – Virginia Tech at Miami Fla.
After the release of Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech will be led on the sidelines by interim head coach J.C. Price. Price played defensive line for the Hokies in the mid-1990s and earned first-team Big East and third-team All-American honors in 1995. Before landing back at his alma mater as a defensive line coach in 2021, Price made stops at FCS James Madison and Marshall.
7:30pm EST – SEC Network – Vanderbilt at (12) Ole Miss
Ole Miss’ super-charged offense has been super-balanced this season – ranked No. 15 nationally in scoring, No. 3 in rushing and No. 22 in passing. It sets up for a potential explosion against a Vanderbilt defense that’s equally balanced in, well, ineffectiveness – the Commodores are No. 115 in the FBS in scoring D, No. 104 vs. the run and No. 115 vs. the pass.
7:30pm EST – ESPNU – South Alabama at Tennessee
Though the resource gap between the SEC and Sun Belt ought to decide this one, did you know that Tennessee’s defense is ranked No. 106 nationally and No. 13 in the SEC vs. the pass while South Alabama is the home of the No. 5 receiver in America in junior WR Jalen Tolbert (#8)?
8pm EST – FOX – (9) Oklahoma State at Texas Tech
8pm EST – CBSSN – Wyoming at Utah State
9pm EST – ESPN2 – ULM at LSU
10:30pm EST – ESPN – Arizona State at Oregon State
At 6-4 Oregon State is bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. Arizona State – a 7-3 squad – is a three-point favorite. If you’re up late, this one is worth watching.
OFF THIS WEEK (2)
- Mountain West: Fresno State, San Jose State
FIRST-EVER MEETINGS (1)
- (14) BYU at Georgia Southern
7: (17) Iowa has won 7-straight over Illinois (last loss in 2008)
7: (15) Wisconsin has won 7-straight over Nebraska (last loss in 2012)
12: Clemson has won 12-straight over (10) Wake Forest (last loss in 2008)
13: (2) Alabama has won 13-straight over (21) Arkansas (last loss in 2006)
14: Penn State has won 14-straight over Rutgers (last loss in 1988)
- Buffalo has NEVER beaten Northern Illinois at home (0-5)
- Duke has NEVER beaten Louisville (0-2)
- Kansas has NEVER won AT TCU in Big 12 play (0-4)
- Maryland has NEVER beaten (6) Michigan at home (0-3)
- Nebraska has NEVER won AT (15) Wisconsin in Big Ten play (0-4)
- New Mexico State has NEVER beaten a current SEC member (0-25)
- Old Dominion has NEVER beaten Middle Tennessee (0-4)
- Tulsa has NEVER beaten Temple in AAC play (0-3)
- ULM has NEVER beaten LSU (0-3)
- UMass has NEVER beaten Army (0-3)
HARDWARE UP FOR GRABS
THE BRIDGER RIFLE – Wyoming at Utah State – Saturday, 8pm EST, CBSSN – series started in 1903 – Utah State leads 40-26-4 but the two have split the last four.
An actual firearm, Bridger’s Rifle (a .50-caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle) honors Jim Bridger, the “foremost mountain man in the history of the American West.” One of the first Americans to visit the territory that became Yellow Stone National Park, Bridger also is credited with discovering the Great Salt Lake. “Bridger’s Battle” kicked off in 2013, the winner’s name inscribed on the maple stock of the rifle. Utah State has won the weapon five times vs. Wyoming’s two.
Also of note: The “Old Wagon Wheel” associated with the Utah State/BYU rivalry is believed to be from the same Jim Bridger’s chuck wagon, the first vehicle to enter the Utah Valley.
THE FREEDOM TROPHY – Nebraska at (15) Wisconsin – Saturday, 3:30pm EST, ABC – series started in 1901 – Wisconsin leads 10-4 and has won nine of the last ten.
The Freedom Trophy debuted in 2014, “paying tribute to the brave men and women who have fought in our nation’s wars.” The trophy itself depicts one half each of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium (built on a Civil War training ground) and Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium (dedicated to veterans). An American flag rises out of the conjoined arenas. The Badgers have won all five games where The Freedom Trophy was on the line.
THE MICHIGAN MAC TROPHY – Western Michigan at Eastern Michigan – Tuesday, 7:30pm EST, ESPN2 –series started in 1906 – Western Michigan leads 34-20-2 but Eastern Michigan has won two-straight.
The prize given to the victor of the three-way battle between Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan, the Michigan MAC was established in 2005 by the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and is awarded to both a football and basketball recipient. WMU – the current title holder, and the winner of three-straight titles – leads the way with seven football MAC’s, followed by CMU with five and EMU with four.
Given that CMU beat WMU 42-30 on Nov. 3, if EMU is victorious this week, the Eagles’ visit to play the Chippewas on Friday, Nov. 26 will decide this season’s grand prize winner. CMU hasn’t captured the Michigan MAC since 2017 and EMU hasn’t won since 2012.
THE STANFORD AXE – Cal at Stanford – Saturday, 7pm EST, Pac-12 Network – series started in 1892 – Stanford leads 60-44-10 and has won ten of the last 11.
Awarded to the winner of the Big Game, the story of the Axe dates to 1899 when the two schools met for a trio of baseball contests. That’s when the Axe was purchased, “probably from Sears” by Stanford fans and painted red. Cardinal enthusiasts used the Axe to chop up a variety of Cal related items, including beheading a scarecrow wearing school colors. After Stanford blew a late lead in the final game of the series, Cal fans stole the Axe.
After spiriting it back to Berkeley, Golden Bear enthusiasts held on to the prize for 30 years. That’s when, in 1930, a group of Stanford students referred to as the “Immortal 21” by their school and the “Immoral 21” by Cal, stole the Axe back. In 1933 the schools decided to award the Axe to the winner of the Big Game. To date, Stanford has won the implement 48 times vs. 34 for Cal. Three games (1950, 1953 and 1988) ended in ties.
THE VICTORY BELL – UCLA at USC – Saturday, 4pm EST, FOX – series started in 1929 – USC leads 49-32-7 and has won five of the last six.
One of nine bells associated with FBS rivalries, USC and UCLA’s Victory Bell dates to 1939 when the UCLA Alumni Association gave the bell, a massive 295-pounder off a locomotive, to its alma mater. The Bruins rang the bell after each football point for two seasons until 1941, when members of a USC fraternity disguised as UCLA fans, stole the bell during the season opener. After a series of shenanigans, the two schools signed an agreement before the 1942 game to award the bell to the winner of the cross-town rivalry. The recipient earns the privilege of painting the bell’s carriage its school colors, an honor the Trojan’s have earned 46 times vs. the Bruins’ 32. Four games (1944, 1958, 1971 and 1989) ended in ties.
THE WAGON WHEEL – Kent State at Akron – Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN+ – series started in 1923 – Akron leads 35-26-2 but Kent State has won the last two.
Not to be confused with BYU and Utah’s State’s Old Wagon Wheel, Kent State and Akron’s Wagon Wheel dates to 1946 when KSU Dean Raymond Manchester claimed he had possession of a buggy wheel that had belonged to the founder of the institution that eventually became the University of Akron. Though Manchester valued the Wheel, he stated he was “willing to put it up as a trophy,” because, if his school and its rival were to meet on the gridiron, “there’s no danger of losing it.” Though bold, he was correct, at least in the short term – Kent State won the first 10 Wheels, but since then the Zips have earned a 24-15 advantage. The two schools are located only 12 miles apart, south of Cleveland, Ohio.
Of the five FBS schools that are sited closest to another FBS campus, four play their nearest neighbor for a rivalry trophy (that doesn’t travel very far). Of these, two are squaring off this Saturday.
3.4 miles apart: Houston-Rice – The Bayou Bucket – met earlier this season, a 44-7 Week 2 victory for the Cougars at Rice Stadium. The two schools, the only non-conference combo on the list, are scheduled to meet again in 2022 and 2023.
10.7 miles apart: Duke-UNC – The Victory Bell – met earlier this season, a 38-7 Week 5 victory for UNC in Chapel Hill. The two meet annually as fellow members of the ACC-Coastal.
13 miles apart: Akron-Kent State – The Wagon Wheel – scheduled to clash this Saturday at Noon EST in Akron on ESPN+. The two meet annually as fellow members of the MAC-East.
14 miles apart: USC-UCLA – The Victory Bell – scheduled to clash this Saturday at 4pm EST in the LA Coliseum on FOX. The two meet annually as fellow members of the Pac-12 South.
That leaves Michigan and Eastern Michigan, with campuses located five miles apart but no rivalry trophy. The two haven’t met since 2011 and have no future dates booked. The Eagles, despite having ten tries, have never bested the Wolverines.