The Week 12 college football schedule features an underrated Sun Belt tilt as well as one of the Pac-12’s fabled rivalries.
Nah, the Big 12 lead won’t be on the line, like it will when Oklahoma travels to Morgantown to face West Virginia. And there are no skirmishes of divisional leaders, such as the Pac-12 showdown between Colorado and Washington State. Still, the following beneath-the-radar gems are packed with juicy storylines and compelling subplots, and they warrant your time and attention in Week 12.
6. Tulsa (7-3) at UCF (6-4)
Two of this year’s upstarts in the American meet in Orlando, both looking to improve their postseason outlook.
The Knights and the Golden Hurricane have already exceeded preseason expectations out of the East and West Divisions, respectively. But especially the Knights, which lost every game in 2015, yet are shockingly bowl-eligible under first-year head coach Scott Frost. On one side of this study in contrasts is a Tulsa offense averaging 42 points per game and featuring a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, James Flanders and D’Angelo Brewer. On the other is UCF, which leads the league in sacks and takeaways, and has not allowed a touchdown in more than seven quarters.
5. Miami (6-4) at NC State (5-5)
No impact on the ACC standings. But a very big game for both coaching staffs.
Now that Mark Richt has ridden out the choppy waters of his first season at Miami, he really wants to carry momentum into the bowl game. The Canes have battled back from a four-game losing streak to easily handle Pitt and Virginia behind a balanced offense and an opportunistic D. Week 12 is even more important to NC State coach Dave Doeren, who can ill-afford a bowl-less December. The Pack got to 5-5 at Syracuse last Saturday, but with a trip to Chapel Hill still left Doeren must hold serve this week or else a losing season is likely.
4. Arkansas State (5-4) at Troy (8-1)
Earlier this week, Troy became the first Sun Belt team to ever enter the Top 25. On Thursday, the Trojans have a chance to move another giant step closer to a league championship.
Neal Brown’s Trojans cleared an enormous hurdle a week ago, beating Appalachian State in the final minute. However, they’ll have to get right back up this week, while tuning out the Top 25 noise, because Arkansas State has come out of nowhere to join the race. The Red Wolves were once 0-4, including a loss to FCS Central Arkansas. But they’ve won five straight, with linemen Chris Odom and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones wreaking havoc off the edge. If Troy takes ASU lightly this week, it’ll be at its own peril.
3. Ole Miss (5-5) at Vanderbilt (4-6)
For a game involving two teams at or below .500, there’ll be some compelling storylines in Nashville on Saturday night.
Of course, everyone wants to qualify for a bonus game, but it’s of particular interest to the Rebels and the Commodores. Yeah, Ole Miss has disappointed after starting the year just outside the top 10. But 2017 is already here in the form of true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson, and the staff in Oxford really wants the extra 15 practices and four quarters with its franchise-in-waiting. Vanderbilt hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013, also known as James Franklin’s finale with the program. And at a minimum, a third consecutive losing is going to heap enormous pressure on Franklin’s successor, Derek Mason, to get over the hump next fall.
2. Stanford (4-6) at Cal (7-3)
The Big Game is one of college football’s most storied rivalries, with 118th prior chapters already in the history books, though the 119th edition has less at stake than usual outside of Northern California.
This is usually the time of year that Stanford is closing in on another Pac-12 title, but not this season. It’s been an off year for the Cardinal, despite the recent three-game winning streak to tidy up the overall record. On the flip side, the Bears have dropped three straight against the toughest portion of their schedule. But in a weird way, the lack of ancillary storylines might actually benefit the climate around the matchup, with both teams focusing on the singular goal of capturing the Axe.
1. San Diego State (9-1) at Wyoming (7-3)
Now that the Cowboys have used up their mulligan, their margin for error for winning the Mountain West’s Mountain Division is all gone.
Wyoming lost a triple-overtime shootout with UNLV a week ago, 69-66, as well as its one-game cushion on Boise State, which it defeated two weeks earlier. The Cowboys are still in the divisional driver’s seat, but they have a pair of tough upcoming games, beginning with Saturday’s visit from San Diego State. The Aztecs have their own head-scratching loss, to South Alabama back on Oct. 1. But they haven’t fallen since and they haven’t lost a league game. The feature matchups involve the Mountain West’s leading rushers, San Diego State Donnel Pumphrey and Wyoming’s Brian Hill.