The PAC-12, Big 10, and Big 12 conferences will further determine their pecking order this week as Michigan State vs. Ohio State, Baylor vs. Oklahoma State and TCU vs. Oklahoma will also play a role in shaping the college football playoff. Our experts John Bava, Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg and Mike Loveall are on hand for their picks for week 12.
#9 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State (Saturday 11/21/15 3:30 P.M. EST in Columbus, OH)
Line: Ohio State by 13.5
Two of the Big Ten’s most dominant programs of recent years will be facing off Saturday in Columbus. Perhaps the biggest example of said dominance is the fact that in the previous three seasons, the Buckeyes and Spartans are a combined 42-1 against the rest of the conference, with the lone loss being MSU’s controversial defeat to Nebraska this year. Not surprisingly, this year’s clash is full of conference as well as national title implications.
One major question mark heading into this game is the health of Spartan quarterback Connor Cook. Cook suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s 24-7 win over Maryland and sat out the entirety of the second half. Head coach Mark Dantonio has said he’ll play but will he be at 100 percent? He may need to be considering he will be facing a fearsome pass rush that includes plenty of future NFL talent including defensive end Joey Bosa.
The Ohio Stadium faithful will be seeing off a hugely successful senior class that has compiled an overall record of 48-3, been a part of winning streaks of 24 and 23 games, and will look to continue their current all-time record 30 game conference winning streak by upending MSU. They’ve also been part of both a Big Ten and national championship with the opportunity to repeat this year.
Despite their own offensive issues, I think the Buckeyes get it done behind another sensational effort on the ground from Ezekiel Elliott and the defense containing a fairly one-dimensional Spartan offense.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Michigan State 24
A road game with Connor Cook not 100% should have Ohio State smelling blood in this one. Both teams have been looking forward to this pivotal Big 10 clash all season with playoff and conference title implications. Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes haven’t maxed out their style points this season but with a solid defense, and Ezekiel Elliot to run the ball on offense, they have churned their way to an undefeated record. Michigan State is one play away from either having two losses, or being undefeated, and this is a tough team in their own right. With that said Ohio State should pull away and avoid trying their luck with Sparky.
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan State 21
The Buckeyes haven’t really shown their full potential yet this year. It was the Michigan State game last year that brought out the best in Ohio State. I expect the same thing to happen again now, especially with Michigan State not competing at an elite level.
Prediction: Ohio State 42, Michigan State 20
Finally, the first big test of the season for the defending champions. Ohio State is in the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 4 with a total of one Top 50 win on their resume. Michigan State’s season hasn’t been as predicted either. I’ve said this about five times this season, but I think this is really the week where Ohio State puts it all together and makes their statement for inclusion into the Playoffs. Look for this to follow the familiar Buckeye script: close in the first half, with the Buckeyes pulling away late. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they’ll continue to play second fiddle to Ohio State in their division.
Prediction: Ohio State 42, Michigan State 27
#24 USC at #23 Oregon (Saturday 11/21/15 3:30 P.M. EST in Eugene, OR)
Line: Oregon by 4.5
This forthcoming tussle in Autzen Stadium is one of two Pac-12 games we’re looking at this week. All four teams are still alive for a spot in the conference title game, including Oregon. Yes, despite everyone considering the Ducks dead and buried after losing two early conference games at home including getting blown out by Utah, they still have an outside shot at making it. Oregon now owns the tiebreaker over Stanford as a result of their 38-36 upset win last week. If they can run the table, plus get some help from Cal on Saturday, it will be the Ducks who come away with the Pac-12 North title once again.
USC is in much better shape. At 5-2 in conference play, they essentially control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South race having beaten Utah who has a similar record. The Trojans appear to have rallied around interim head coach Clay Helton as they’re undefeated in the Pac-12 since he took over for the departed Steve Sarkisian. In those four games, they’ve forced nine turnovers including two pick sixes.
If Oregon running back Royce Freeman can continue his torrid run to the season against a USC run defense that ranks third in the conference, the Ducks certainly have a shot to knock off the Trojans at home. If it happens, they can only watch the Cal-Stanford game on Saturday night and root for the Bears to do what they did and upset the Cardinal to keep their conference title hopes alive.
Prediction: Oregon 31, USC 27
Lots of talent on both of these rosters, but it’s fair to say both the Trojans and Ducks have been disappointments this season given expectations. After a 3-3 start USC knocked off Utah and has won four straight, though their last three games have all been tight. Oregon settled on dual threat Vernon Adams as QB and are also winners of four straight. RB Royce Freeman and the Ducks have been outpacing opponents, and the impact of beating a physical Stanford team last week and playing at home should give them the edge to win this one. USC is a streaky team, while Oregon seems to have found their identity.
Prediction: Oregon 38, USC 35
USC is one of the most talented teams in the country but can be wildly inconsistent. Oregon, on the other hand, is finally looking like the Top 10 team they were predicted to be preseason. This is shaping up to be a great game.
Prediction: USC 45, Oregon 41
The Ducks played a little role reversal last week by upsetting The Cardinal and ending their playoff hopes. It was the first real bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for Oregon. USC, like Oregon, is back in the Top 25 after four wins in a row. Look for the Trojans to continue their winning ways as their offense should be able to get into a rhythm against the Oregon defense. I tend to believe that Oregon’s win last week was more of a one-time performance than an indicator of a pattern. USC, on the other hand, I think is playing better football overall. USC makes a late run in the PAC 12 South.
Prediction: USC 38, Oregon 34
UCLA at #13 Utah (Saturday 11/21/15 3:30 P.M. EST in Salt Lake City, UT)
Line: Utah by 2
UCLA comes into this game having suffered a heartbreaking last-second defeat in the Rose Bowl at the hands of Washington State last week. That said, they still control their Pac-12 South Division destiny if they can close out the regular season with wins against both Utah and hated rival USC. Such a scenario would see them at 6-3 in the conference with the tiebreaker over both the Utes and Trojans assuming they both finish 6-3 too.
Despite the fact they’re currently tied with USC at 5-2 in the conference, the Trojans own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 42-24 win over the Utes in week eight. Utah will need to run the table, plus hope that USC drops at least one of its final two games to have any shot at making the conference title game.
The edge at the quarterback position certainly goes to UCLA with fabulous frosh Josh Rosen who’s currently third in the conference with just under 300 passing yards per game. He’ll have to contend with a Utah defensive front that’s proven it can put pressure on the quarterback. They’re currently in the top half of the league in sacks, with linemen Pita Taumoepenu and Kylie Fitts combining for 10.5 of them.
The Bruins have done very well on the road since Jim Mora, Jr. arrived and I think we’re going to see why on Saturday. Plus, I think running back Devontae Booker’s season ending injury will take away a huge weapon on offense for Utah.
Prediction: UCLA 34, Utah 20
Being at home should help Utah but without workhorse running back Devontae Booker the path to a victory is considerably narrower than it was before. The Utes have suffered two bad losses against USC and Arizona, and after being kicked in the teeth last week, I just don’t see them coming out inspired for this one. UCLA is an inconsistent team but doesn’t lack talent, with Josh Rosen improving we could well see the Bruins win out for the rest of the season. Their loss to Washington State last week was a loss to a team that is a step above Arizona.
Prediction: UCLA 38, Utah 31
Utah and UCLA are both coming off poor results. Both teams look headed in the wrong direction at this point in the season, which is unfortunate for the Pac 12 in general. Utah looks in better shape, though, and the game being at Rice-Eccles is what clinches it for me.
Prediction: Utah 31, UCLA 21
This is a game of two teams with downward trajectories. Utah, after a promising start to the season, has lost two of their last four and dropped out of the national title race. And they’ve lost their most dynamic offensive player, running back Devante Booker, to injury for the remainder of the season. UCLA came into the season with high hopes; they were crushed by Stanford a few weeks ago and are coming off a loss last week to a resurgent Washington State team. So which team gets back on track?
Utah is playing at home, and they are the more physical team. But UCLA has the potential to put up some big points, and their defense has been playing better in the last four weeks. The real test here will be to see who comes into the game more mentally prepared, as both teams are feeling pretty disappointed right now. I give the motivational edge to Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. Utah, in a close one.
Prediction: Utah 34, UCLA 31
#10 Baylor at #6 Oklahoma State (Saturday 11/21/15 7:30 P.M. EST in Stillwater, OK)
Line: Baylor by 1
Baylor was always going to struggle to put together a compelling case for CFP inclusion given their weak non-conference schedule among other things. So their 44-34 loss to Oklahoma last Saturday went a long way towards avoiding a controversy should they go undefeated once more and get left out. Are they still alive for the CFP with one loss? Possibly, but they would likely need chaos to reign for the remainder of the season to have any chance.
The Bears travel to Stillwater Wednesday to face an Oklahoma State team with playoff hopes of their own. If the Pokes can run the table they’re certainly in the mix. The backloaded nature of the Big 12 schedule will certainly improve their case, along with the fact that it might be difficult for the committee to leave an undefeated team from a Power Five league out. Still, does the lack of a conference title game hurt them?
The only thing the Cowboys can worry about at this point is taking care of business on the field. Quarterback Mason Rudolph figures to have a field day against a Baylor defense that’s ranked 71st in FBS in passing yards allowed. Bears quarterback Jarrett Stidham might also not be 100 percent for this one after getting injured against Oklahoma.
If both the Cowboys and rival Oklahoma win Saturday night, it sets up perhaps the biggest “Bedlam” game in the history of the series.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 48, Baylor 35
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys battled well into the fourth quarter with an upset minded Iowa State team, but they survived and remain undefeated this late in the season. If the Pokes win out they will be in the College Football Playoff, but their remaining tests Baylor and Oklahoma are formidable. Baylor should be somewhat deflated after being outplayed by OU in their own stadium. The Bears still have plenty of offensive talent with Shock Linwood and Corey Coleman, and I expect them to score on a OK State defense that is middling in points and yards allowed.
Oklahoma State should have too many options on offense including star WR James Washington, and enough crowd support to will them to a win in this one, I’m surprised the line is a push as I feel like the Cowboys have proven themselves at this point and will win this one.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Baylor 35
Even with their excellent performance against TCU, I am still far from sold on Oklahoma State. This team played way too many poor games against weak teams. Baylor might be on a third-string quarterback, but they still have a ton of talent at receiver.
Prediction: Baylor 41, Oklahoma State 24
People have been asking if Oklahoma State is for real all season. And after ten wins, people are still wondering if the Pokes have what it takes to get to the Playoffs. We know they can score. But can they keep Baylor from putting up more points? Baylor will be going with their backup quarterback for the third week. Have they had enough time to develop a rhythm on offense? Are the Bears over the disappointing loss to Oklahoma? There’s just too many questions in this game for me to be confident. So I’m going with the team with the least amount questions. Pokes in a back-and-forth battle. Whatever the over/under is, take the over.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 56, Baylor 45
#18 TCU at #7 Oklahoma (Saturday 11/21/15 8:00 P.M. EST in Norman, OK)
Line: Oklahoma by 11.5
TCU comes into this game a veritable walking wounded with quarterback Trevone Boykin questionable and one of his favorite targets Josh Doctson now out for the season. They travel to Norman and will be facing perhaps the nation’s hottest team in Oklahoma. The Sooners have won five in a row, have averaged 55.2 points in those wins while allowing just 16.8.
After being ranked 15th in the first CFP poll of the season, suddenly OU have vaulted up to seventh after their win against Baylor. The fact that there are so many opportunities for big conference wins late in the season could definitely be of help to their chances at making the semifinals. It seems as if the Sooners model for sneaking into the Playoff is in many ways similar to Ohio State’s from last year.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has suddenly become a trendy Heisman pick. The junior is one of five Big 12 signal callers averaging over 300 yards passing per game, has thrown for 31 touchdowns and has the second-highest passer rating in the nation. He faces a suspect TCU pass defense that has just five interceptions on the season, tied for 110th in FBS. If him and running back Samaje Perine get going, it could be a long day for the Horned Frogs.
Prediction: Oklahoma 40, TCU 17
With star WR Josh Doctson out, QB Trevone Boykin questionable and not 100%, and three major defensive starters already out for TCU, this road test looks grim for the formerly leaping Horned Frogs. The TCU defense has given up 40+ three times, and the offense was anemic for the first time in a while vs. an awful Kansas team last week.
Oklahoma has reeled off five straight wins scoring 40+ points and slipped past a high quality Baylor team on the road last week. Baker Mayfield, Eric Striker, Samaje Perine and the rest of the Sooners should have an easier time in friendly confines and send TCU out to pasture, giving them a winner take-all contest for the Big 12 title potentially against rival Oklahoma State.
Prediction: Oklahoma 52, TCU 24
TCU is in free-fall, almost losing to Kansas. The Jayhawks may very well be the worst team in all of FBS. I don’t see TCU winning another game this season and I don’t see this one being close.
Prediction: Oklahoma 45, TCU 10
Save for Alabama, the Sooners might be playing the best football in the nation. They are certainly a popular pick to win out the regular season and contend for a playoff spot. And while that earlier loss to Texas might haunt them, a loss to TCU would outright eliminate them from Playoff contention.
TCU is another team that’s wondering what happened to a dream season. And with their top receiver out, expect the Sooners to pressure Boykin up the middle and contain him on the ends and rely on their talent in the defensive backfield. The Oklahoma offense is finally getting into rhythm after an offseason overhaul. Oklahoma continues their positive momentum and march towards the Big 12 title (or at least a share of the one true champion title).
Prediction: Oklahoma 41, TCU 34