College Football Week 12 Preview — Can Michigan State End Ohio State’s Title Run?
It’s the next-to-last week of the season for most teams, and this weekend could do a lot to shake out the playoff race. Here are some of the big questions this week.
Can the Spartans End Ohio State’s Title Run?
The game we all expected to be the biggest of the year in the Big Ten has turned out to be just that. Ohio State is in a position for another national title run while the Spartans still have their eyes on a Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl bid and, just maybe, a backdoor into the playoffs.
We’re about to find out just how good the No. 3 Buckeyes really are: despite riding a 23-game winning streak, Ohio State has not really been tested (no ranked opponents yet this season) and faces several question marks. But that will change as the Buckeyes close the season against No. 9 Michigan State and at No. 12 Michigan. Running back Ezekiel Elliott continues to play at a Heisman level (15 straight 100+-yard games), but the offense has been inconsistent. Although it appears J.T. Barrett has regained the starting job after sitting out a one-game suspension following a DUI arrest, his 150 yard, one touchdown performance against Illinois last week has to make you wonder if he’s ready to dominate a game if called to.
Michigan State, however, is also facing its own quarterback questions. Senior Connor Cook suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win over Maryland. He says he’ll be ready to go and the Spartans will certainly need him to get past a Buckeye defense that is third in the Big Ten in total defense and second in scoring.
Two weeks ago, it looked like this game would be a de facto play-in game for the college football playoffs. While the Spartans’ controversial loss at Nebraska potentially knocked Michigan State out of playoff contention, the winner of this game will almost certainly go on to bigger things. The Buckeyes—who have won a conference record 30 straight regular season conference games—can clinch the Big Ten East title with a win this week. The Spartans can’t technically clinch, but would hold all the relevant tiebreakers and would just need a win over Penn State the following week.
Will Oklahoma State’s Luck Run Out?
Two years ago, undefeated Baylor came into Stillwater and had its national title hopes shot down in a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State. This year, the Bears are hoping to return the favor by ending No. 6 Oklahoma State’s undefeated season and national title aspirations.
Oklahoma State has lived up to its “cardiac Cowboys” moniker this year, needing five second half comebacks and one overtime this year to stay unbeaten. They are the only team in the nation with multiple 17-point comebacks this season (against Texas Tech and Iowa State). But the Cowboys’ offense has found its groove of late, averaging 550 yards and 53 points in its last four games. And while Oklahoma State’s defense has been solid (second in the conference in scoring), the offense will likely need to keep that pace going to win a shootout against the Bears.
Baylor boasts the nation’s top offense, averaging 638 yards and 55 points per game. However, the quarterback position could be a question mark—starter Seth Russell is out for the season with a neck injury and backup freshman Jarrett Stidham was hurt in the Bears’ first series last week against Oklahoma. Although Stidham says he is “bruised and sore,” he is expected to play against the Cowboys. Despite Baylor’s reputation for high-octane passing games, they’ve actually been getting it done on the ground this year, leading the conference in rushing yards per game and yards per carry. So while receiver Corey Coleman, who leads the nation with 20 receiving touchdowns, will be a focus, look for the Bears to move the ball with big plays in the run game.
Most observers think that an undefeated Oklahoma State team—with November wins over TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma—would get into the playoffs over Iowa or a one-loss Notre Dame team. But it’s certainly not a done deal and a Cowboys win this week could set up the most epic Bedlam rivalry game ever.
Can Oklahoma Crash the Party?
Just down the road from Stillwater, the Cowboy’s in-state rivals have a big game of their own against No. 18 TCU. Since an inexplicable loss to Texas in early October, Oklahoma has arguably been the hottest team in football and quarterback Baker Mayfield is suddenly a legitimate Heisman candidate.
But Bob Stoops’ crew certainly has its work cut out for it. If the final playoff spot comes down to OU and Notre Dame, Oklahoma will have to overcome a “Notre Dame beat Texas who beat Oklahoma” line of reasoning. The Sooners need some style points to show the Texas loss was a fluke and they’ll have a chance against the Horned Frogs, who will be without star receiver Josh Doctson (wrist) and possibly quarterback Trevone Boykin (game time decision with an ankle injury)
Can Virginia Tech Send Frank Beamer Out on Top?
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is a college football rarity, someone who came back to coach at his alma mater, made it successful and stuck with it. But all good things must come to an end and Beamer, the nation’s longest serving coach, will be coaching his final game in Blacksburg for the 5-5 Hokies.
A Virginia Tech win would not just to send Beamer out a winner, but secure his nation’s-best 23rd consecutive bowl game. To do so, the Hokies will have to get past North Carolina, one of the hottest teams in the country right now. The Tar Heels have rolled off nine straight wins to earn their highest ranking in 17 years (No. 12 in the AP, No. 17 in the CFP). They are sixth in the nation in turnover margin (+11) and set an ACC record with 125 total points in their last two games. A win this weekend would clinch a matchup against No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game.
Frank Beamer built Virginia Tech football from the ground up. Before he got there after the 1986 season, the Hokies had been to just six bowl games in history. Now, he leads the nation with 278 career wins (sixth-most in history) With the exception of Kansas State's Bill Snyder, no coach in football is more associated with single-handedly creating such a football legacy. No disrespect to North Carolina but any football fan not wearing Carolina Blue should be cheering for Coach Beamer when “Enter Sandman” starts up on Saturday.
Can Oregon Stop the USC Passing Attack?
In previous years, the USC-Oregon matchup carried a lot of significance in the national title and Heisman races. While the stakes may be lower this year, this is still a big game for both squads. Although neither school technically controls their own destiny, this is a must-win game for either team to keep their Pac-12 hopes alive.
No. 23 Oregon has been on fire since quarterback Vernon Adams returned from a finger injury, averaging 539 yards and 42 points per game during its current four-game winning streak. And Adams has been the major spark for the Ducks’ offense, accounting for 13 touchdowns in that span. However, while the Oregon offense has been humming, the Oregon defense is last in the conference against the pass, meaning USC’s quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster could have a big day. Smith-Schuster leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards (1,160) and three-fourths of his 63 receptions have gone for either a first down or a touchdown. He’s easily the most athletic receiver the Ducks have faced this year, so look for No. 24 USC to go deep early and often.