- On paper, Week 12 looks pretty open-and-shut, but our experts forecast some surprises in store for the penultimate full week of regular season action.
With most of the SEC occupied by tune-up games against Group of Five or FCS teams and other contenders facing manageable conference matchups ahead of rivalry week, neutral fans have to look a little harder to find the drama of Week 12’s schedule. There is plenty of drama if you know what to look for, though: Texas hosting Iowa State in a Big 12 title game eliminator; USC heading across town to play UCLA with anxiety swirling around the Clay Helton era; UCF getting the College GameDay treatment for its toughest test of the year in Cincinnati; Syracuse and Notre Dame meeting in the Bronx for the weekend’s highest-ranked matchup. After Saturday, even if all the leading College Football Playoff contenders take another steady step toward the final four, we’ll know more about who’s locked in for championship weekend and the postseason.
Below, our writers and editors take turns defending their straight-up picks for the biggest games of the Week 12 slate.
Scooby Axson: 93–38 (71.0%)
Ross Dellenger: 91–40 (69.5%)
Molly Geary: 88–43 (67.2%)
Max Meyer: 88–43 (67.2%)
Joan Niesen: 87–44 (66.4%)
Andy Staples: 85–46 (64.9%)
Laken Litman: 80–51 (61.1%)
Eric Single: 76–55 (58.0%)
Michigan State at Nebraska (Noon ET, FOX)
Molly Geary picks Michigan State: The Cornhuskers have played much better of late, winning three of four, and are rolling on offense, but it's been a while since they've faced a defense as strong as the Spartans, which boast the nation's lowest rushing yards allowed per game. Michigan State made a mess of last weekend against Ohio State and still seems unsettled on a QB, but it did a good job defensively against a Buckeyes team with one of the nation's top offenses. This game should be a close one, but I'm giving the slight edge to the visitors.
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest (Noon ET, ACC Network)
Eric Single picks Pitt: Given the opportunity to clinch the ACC Coastal with a week to spare, the Panthers won’t misjudge a noon kickoff in sleepy Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons’ defense has been a disaster against every quality opponent they’ve faced with the exception of NC State, which steered itself into whatever Bermuda Triangle made last Thursday's Wake win in Raleigh possible. Against all preseason odds, Pitt has become a quality opponent.
Utah at Colorado (1:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)
Max Meyer picks Utah: Colorado is in a tailspin. The playcalling on offense and Mike MacIntyre’s game management have been curiously conservative in recent weeks. Utah, meanwhile, has won five of its last six and didn’t appear to skip a beat with backup QB Jason Shelley and backup RB Armand Shyne being thrown into the fold in last weekend's win over Oregon. As much as the Pac-12 South has been a tire fire this season, this is clearly the division's best team facing off against its worst team, so expect the Utes to take care of business.
Syracuse at Notre Dame (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Laken Litman picks Notre Dame: Notre Dame is hitting its peak in November, which hasn’t always been the case for Brian Kelly’s program. The Fighting Irish must win their final two games on opposite coasts to make the College Football Playoff, and this first one won’t be easy against a Syracuse team looking to make a New Year’s Six bowl. Quarterback Ian Book returns after missing last week’s blowout win over Florida State with a rib injury, which means Notre Dame’s offense will be back to full strength (Book leads the nation with a 74.5% completion rate) against a defense that ranks No. 70 nationally in defending the run and No. 107 against the pass.
West Virginia at Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Eric Single picks West Virginia: Having already stumbled during one trip west, the Mountaineers won't make the same mistake Texas did and let Taylor Cornelius get cooking in Stillwater. Oklahoma State took its foot off the gas pedal too early after upsetting the Longhorns and paid for it with a last-second loss to Baylor; after pushing Oklahoma to the limit, the Cowboys might be in for a similar letdown against a focused team that can see its way through to a conference title.
Miami at Virginia Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Andy Staples picks Miami: The good news about this game is that someone is breaking a losing streak. (Miami has lost four in a row and Virginia Tech has lost three in a row.) The bad news is it won't help either team win the ACC Coastal. Neither team has had much offensive success lately, but Miami's defense has kept trying despite getting no help from the other side of the ball. Perhaps that gives the Hurricanes an edge.
USC at UCLA (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
Max Meyer picks UCLA: USC and UCLA have a combined 13 losses heading into this matchup, the most the two have combined for in the 88-year history of this rivalry. So it's fair to call this year's edition the battle for Loss Angeles. At one end, you have a USC team that has dropped three of its past four games, a most recently a loss to Cal that ended a 14-game winning streak over the Golden Bears. UCLA has lost three in a row, though the Bruins are coming off a very competitive game against Arizona State. This will be a sloppy game—the Trojans are tied for 118th in the country in turnover margin and are 121st in penalty yardage per game—so give me Chip Kelly, looking for a signature win in his first season as UCLA's head coach and putting a nail in the coffin for Clay Helton's USC tenure in the process.
UAB at Texas A&M (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Ross Dellenger picks Texas A&M: Bill Clark’s revival of the UAB program is one of the better stories in college football this year. The Blazers are 9–1, ranked in the coaches’ poll for the first time in program history and riding an eight-game winning streak. But they have yet to play a Power 5 program. Jimbo Fisher has the Aggies playing tough, physical football.
Duke at Clemson (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Joan Niesen picks Clemson: There’s no picking against the Tigers and Trevor Lawrence at this point, especially not at home against an inconsistent Duke team. Expect Clemson to keep putting up big points and pounding opponents on defense as a reminder that Alabama isn't already guaranteed a title.
Stanford at Cal (7:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)
[Editor's note: This game has since been postponed until Dec. 1]
Scooby Axson picks Stanford: This has been a rollercoaster season for Stanford. After winning the first four games, the Cardinal lost four of their next five. Cal seems like it is in the mood to continue snapping streaks; the Golden Bears broke a 14-game drought against USC last week and currently have a eight-game slide against the Cardinal to set ride. Still, running back Bryce Love and quarterback K.J. Costello should have enough offense to push Stanford’s Big Game run to nine.
Cincinnati at UCF (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Joan Niesen picks UCF: Cincinnati will be UCF’s toughest test so far this season—who expected that in August?—and although the Knights have made a few recent games closer than they should have been, they’ve only bent and never broken. That’ll be the case again this week against a stingy Bearcats defense, and McKenzie Milton will need to establish himself in the run game to keep the offense churning.
Iowa State at Texas (8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network)
Laken Litman picks Texas: Texas’s defense is giving up 420.1 yards per game—not quite the worst in the Big 12, but close—and will only have to deal with Iowa State running back David Montgomery for one half. Montgomery, one of the conference’s best backs who averages 95.6 rushing yards per game, was ejected in last Saturday’s win over Baylor for his role in an on-field fight. Can the Longhorns score early and take advantage of his brief absence, while still containing quarterback, Brock Purdy in order to stay alive in the Big 12 title race?