Can Baylor keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive against Oklahoma State? How will Ohio State fare against its first ranked opponent, Michigan State? Here’s our roadmap for Saturday’s college football action.
1. No. 21 Memphis at Temple, Noon ET, ESPNU
These two teams once had New Year’s Six aspirations, but they now must bounce back from recent disappointments in the American Athletic Conference. Temple suffered a stunning 44-23 loss to South Florida last week, while Memphis gave up a 35-14 lead in the fourth quarter in an eventual 35-34 loss at Houston. This matchup in Philly sets up as a fascinating clash on paper: The Owls rank second in the AAC in total defense (5.13 yards per play) and must try to stop the Tigers’ league-leading offense (43.7 points per game) led by quarterback Paxton Lynch.
2. No. 17 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, Noon ET, ESPN
The Tar Heels have emerged as perhaps the most surprising team in college football. Now, with a win at Virginia Tech on Saturday, North Carolina can clinch a spot opposite Clemson in the ACC title game. In the last two games, coach Larry Fedora’s offense set an ACC record by scoring 125 points. But defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has worked wonders for his unit, which ranks 20th nationally in allowing 18.8 points per game. But Saturday is Frank Beamer’s last home game after 29 seasons at Virginia Tech. Expect the Hokies to come out inspired.
3. No. 12 Michigan at Penn State, Noon ET, ABC
Given the fanfare surrounding James Franklin’s arrival at Penn State before the 2014 season, it’s almost hard to believe the coach has yet to beat a ranked team in Happy Valley. Perhaps that streak ends Saturday in Beaver Stadium, where Michigan has lost three straight games. This year, however, Franklin’s offense at Penn State manages just 5.57 yards per play, eighth in the Big Ten, and faces a Wolverines’ defense that’s the league’s best (4.18 yards per play allowed). But Michigan’s last two road trips against unranked opponents—Minnesota and Indiana—were both tight one-score wins for the Wolverines.
1. No. 9 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Ohio State is undefeated but has yet to claim a win over a ranked team. Michigan State, meanwhile, boasts two wins over teams in the playoff’s current top 25 (No. 12 Michigan and No. 23 Oregon). Banged-up quarterback Conner Cook (shoulder) is expected to play and should be tested against Ohio State’s defensive front. But Sparty’s own defense has been very un-Sparty-like, sitting at ninth in Big Ten in total defense. That group must contain running back Ezekiel Elliott to snap Ohio State’s record 30 straight regular season wins over Big Ten foes.
2. No. 24 USC at No. 23 Oregon, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Don’t look now, but Oregon looks like Oregon again. Quarterback Vernon Adams and the Ducks upset rival Stanford 38-36 last week behind an efficient offense (9.1 yards per play). Adams, in particular, looked like the difference-maker Oregon fans had hoped for when he threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 attempts. But USC is on an equally hot run, having won four straight after its 3-3 start. If quarterback Cody Kessler can pick apart a poor Oregon secondary, the Trojans could move a step closer to reaching the Pac-12 title game.
3. No. 15 LSU at No. 22 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
LSU’s 7-0 start seems like a distant memory after Les Miles’s program dropped two straight against Alabama and Arkansas. This week Scott Rabalais of The Advocate reported Miles might be coaching for his job over the next two weeks. Miles had better hope Leonard Fournette returns to Heisman form this week; he managed just 122 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries (3.2 yards per carry) in the Tigers’ last two games. But Ole Miss sits tied for third in the SEC in rushing defense (3.19 yards per carry allowed) and still holds a glimmer of hope in the West Division.
1. No. 10 Baylor at No. 6 Oklahoma State, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Baylor’s 20-game home win streak came to a halt last weekend in a 44-34 loss to Oklahoma. This week the Bears’ defense hopes to bounce back on the road after allowing 5.9 yards per play to the Sooners. But the Cowboys look like the Big 12’s most viable playoff threat after topping TCU, 49-29, two weeks ago. This Saturday the matchup to watch will be Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (11 sacks in 2015) against Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who is dealing with a back injury, and his offensive line. History doesn’t bode well for Art Briles’s team, however: The home team has won the past four meetings between these two teams.
2. No. 18 TCU at No. 7 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
This week TCU coach Gary Patterson wouldn’t rule out the return of quarterback Trevone Boykin against Oklahoma after the star passer sprained his ankle against Kansas. But one of Boykin’s biggest downfield threats, receiver Josh Doctson, will miss the rest of the regular season with a wrist injury. That’s bad news for the Horned Frogs, who travel to face an Oklahoma team playing better than anybody in the Big 12. The Sooners boast the league’s best defense, allowing 4.42 yards per play, but their last three meetings with TCU have each been decided by seven points or fewer. One of these teams will end Week 12 with its playoff hopes dashed.
3. Mississippi State at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arkansas is starting to resemble its 2014 team, which rebounded from a 3-4 start to win four of its last six games. By the end of that season, no one wanted to play the seven-win Hogs. Last week Bret Bielema’s squad upset LSU 31-14 in Baton Rouge, the third win over an SEC West foe in Arkansas’ current four-game win streak. But quarterback Dak Prescott and Mississippi State venture to Fayetteville having won three straight in this series. The key for the Bulldogs this time around? Stopping a Razorbacks’ run game that’s eclipsed 200 rushing yards in five of its six SEC games in 2015.