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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
The first installment of the 2020 College Football Playoff rankings will finally happen this coming Tuesday, but there’s a semi-full slate of Week 12 games that need to be decided first.
Though it feels like a different game is getting postponed/canceled every other hour, the best games on the docket have been unaffected thus far. There’s a top-10 clash in the Big Ten East, an effective College Football Playoff elimination game in the Big Ten West, Bedlam in the Big 12 and a colossal showdown in the AAC. Yes, the AAC; not the ACC.
What should we expect in each of those four marquee matchups?
Will Kyle Trask further bolster his case for the Heisman against Vanderbilt?
Do Liberty and Coastal Carolina keep hope alive for an undefeated showdown in December?
And—a question we love to ask but seldom get right—which game will put the most points on the scoreboard?
Bleacher Report’s college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepard—have predictions for each of those questions and more in advance of a huge weekend of collegiate pigskin.
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Corey Sipkin/Associated Press
I’m a believer in the Hoosiers, who are more than just a flash in the pan or a nice little half-season Big Ten story.
Are they good enough to actually upset the Buckeyes? No, they aren’t. But this is not your traditional slug-and-slog Big Ten team. They are fast, they have a dynamic playmaker at quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. and they have quality receivers.
To pull off the monumental upset, the Hoosiers will need to exploit the green-but-growing Ohio State secondary, jump out ahead early and produce a couple of game-changing turnovers. Even then, it’s still going to be a tall order, considering how quickly Justin Fields and Co. can put up points.
While I expect the Buckeyes to win the game—likely by double digits with a late pull-away score—three touchdowns is far too many.
This Buckeyes team is explosive and talented, and that will ultimately prove the difference. But Tom Allen’s IU team is gritty and tough and can make some plays of its own. I think Ohio State will win something like 38-23, but the game will be even closer than that margin suggests.
For three consecutive weeks in these predictions, I have expressed my doubts about Indiana’s validity. I did pick the Hoosiers to beat Rutgers, though I thought it would be a close game. And then I had the Hoosiers losing close games to both Michigan and Michigan State, both of which they won in blowout fashion.
At this point, it’s almost a tradition that I pick against Indiana, so give me Ohio State to win by at least three touchdowns.
So much of what Indiana has accomplished this season has been predicated upon turning turnovers into points.
Through just four games, the Hoosiers have forced nine turnovers (eight of them interceptions) that set their offense up at the 50-yard line or better. Those subsequent possessions resulted in six touchdowns and two field goals. The lone exception came in the fourth quarter against MSU when they already had a 24-0 lead and were unable to convert on 4th-and-goal from the 1.
That has been one heck of a perk provided by the defense, but Justin Fields doesn’t throw interceptions. He has a career TD-INT ratio of 56-3. He has 11 touchdowns with no interceptions and just 11 incompletions in 2020. He won’t be handing out any gifts, and I suspect the Hoosiers offense—with its woeful 2.66 yards-per-carry rushing “attack”—will struggle to get anything going. Ohio State wins 38-14.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
I feel like, compared to most other weeks, I’m getting off easy with this question. No, Ohio State isn’t losing to Indiana. Alabama and Clemson are going to win collectively by 60 points or more. Florida losing to Vanderbilt? Well, no. BYU to North Alabama? Let’s be serious.
The only place that feels remotely “upset-y” is Cincinnati-Central Florida. (Indiana fans, I’m sorry. If you pull it off against the Buckeyes, let my social mentions turn to rubble.)
But I don’t see it. In fact, while this is the most realistic opportunity, I think the seventh-ranked Bearcats should win comfortably. This looks and feels like a potential a College Football Playoff team. I don’t just say that to deflect from my lack of intriguing picks. I mean it. This looks like, at least thus far, one of the top four teams in college football.
A convincing win here would go a long way in validating that opinion. But, no matter how lopsided, I like Cincinnati and the rest of the top eight to stay unbeaten. I apologize for the lack of intrigue.
I already picked No. 3 (Ohio State) to win. No. 2 (Notre Dame) wasn’t scheduled to play this week. No. 5 (Texas A&M) had its game postponed. And No. 8 (BYU) is favored by, like, literally seven touchdowns against North Alabama. So there’s half the list without any losses.
There’s no way I’m picking against No. 1 Alabama at home against Kentucky. That’s going to be a bloodbath.
No. 4 (Clemson) and No. 6 (Florida) both play on the road, though they should both blow out their pitiful competition. Maybe Florida State could make things interesting against Clemson, considering the Seminoles did beat North Carolina and put up a decent fight at Notre Dame when both of those teams were ranked in the AP Top Five in mid-October. But they also lost their last home game against Clemson by a 49-point margin, and they’re even worse now than they were two years ago.
So this question really boils down to No. 7 Cincinnati at UCF, and I cannot in good faith pick against the Bearcats after four consecutive wins by at least a 28-point margin.
Last Friday’s win over East Carolina was an expected blowout, but the way they dismantled SMU, Memphis and Houston—completely shutting down potent offenses while running all over their defenses—was incredible. I don’t know if they’ll get a chance to compete for the College Football Playoff, but I’ve had the Bearcats at No. 4 on my Top 25 ballot for a few weeks now.
The only way I could see this game going sideways is if UCF dominates the turnover battle, which is a realistic scenario. The Knights lead the nation with 19 forced turnovers, and Cincinnati has been a little careless at times, giving the ball away 12 times. But I suspect Desmond Ridder will extend his four-week streak of games with at least four touchdowns in a Cincinnati win.
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Tony Ding/Associated Press
The Badgers have looked dominant in a 2-0 start that was interrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak, but those wins have come against an overmatched Illinois team and a floundering Michigan squad.
That said, Wisconsin was expected to be quite good. Given the early returns from redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz and a defense that leads the nation with 218.5 yards allowed per game, it’s hard not to like the Badgers.
Still, they haven’t been tested.
Likewise, Northwestern is off to a 4-0 start against four teams that are currently unranked. Since demolishing Maryland by a 43-3 margin in their opener, the Wildcats’ last three wins have come by a combined 16 points—and their offense has been mediocre at best.
Has their climb to No. 19 in the AP poll been smoke and mirrors? I wouldn’t go that far. The Northwestern defense is stout, as one would expect from a Pat Fitzgerald-led team. That alone should be enough to keep things close in what will likely be a grind-it-out game.
These are two good teams, but Wisconsin is just a little better. Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 20.
If you’re a fan of high-scoring football, you may want to avert your eyes from this one.
Northwestern has been great on defense, holding opponents to 301.8 total yards per game. No one has scored more than 20 against the Wildcats, and they have allowed just 10 second-half points through four games.
But then there’s Wisconsin, allowing 218.5 total yards and 9.0 points per game, and doing it with a much better offense than Northwestern’s. It was no surprise when the Badgers blew out Illinois, but smashing Michigan in the Big House was quite the statement, regardless of how disappointing the Wolverines have been this season.
Redshirt freshman Graham Mertz was sensational at quarterback against the Illini, and then true freshman Jalen Berger was the star of the backfield against the Wolverines. The amount of inexperience at those critical positions made it tough to know what to make of Wisconsin in the preseason. With those two young Badgers thriving, the sky’s the limit. They’ll prove it with a dominant road win over a ranked opponent. Wisconsin will be in seemingly constant control of field position in a 31-10 victory.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Oklahoma State’s defense is far superior overall, but Oklahoma’s one strength on defense is potentially a nightmare.
The Sooners have collected 57 tackles for loss, including at least nine in four consecutive games. Only two teams—UNLV and Kansas—allow more tackles for loss per game than Oklahoma State (9.17). Those teams are a combined 0-11, by the way.
Oklahoma State’s offensive line is the key to this outcome, which I believe is headed in Oklahoma’s favor.
The return of running back Rhamondre Stevenson has bolstered the offense. Consider the competition, sure, but he has rushed for 191 yards and five touchdowns in two appearances. Oklahoma hadn’t cracked four yards per attempt in any of the previous five games.
Oklahoma State has been incredibly stingy on third down, allowing a nation-low 23.3 percent conversion rate. But if the Sooners run effectively to create short third downs, that’s a huge advantage to pair with overpowering OSU’s offensive line. Sooners win.
If Oklahoma State wins this game, it will very likely reach the Big 12 championship game, considering its three remaining opponents (TCU, Texas Tech and Baylor) each has a sub-.500 record.
Conversely, if Oklahoma wins this game and if Kansas State beats Iowa State, there would be a five-way tie in the loss column atop the Big 12 standings. The league may not have a playoff pulse at this point, but it could be a fun final few weeks.
But I like Oklahoma State to win a close, high-scoring game.
Oklahoma is just 1-2 this season against teams that presently have a .500 record or better, and the Sooners defense allowed at least 37 points in each of those contests. And while Oklahoma State’s offense looked dreadful in its most recent game against Kansas State two weeks ago, that’s because star WR Tylan Wallace didn’t play and both RBs (Chuba Hubbard and LD Brown) were banged up. Assuming those guys are considerably healthier after a bye week, I’m expecting something much closer to the 530 yards the Cowboys put up against Texas.
I’m also expecting the OK State defense to keep the Sooners from running wild. Texas was the only opponent to score more than 21 against the Pokes thus far, and the Longhorns only managed 287 total yards in that game. They just capitalized on OSU’s four turnovers. Spencer Rattler and Co. will do a fair amount of scoring, but this is the type of game when the first team to get two defensive stops will be at a huge advantage. Give me the Cowboys, 38-35.
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MATT GENTRY/Associated Press
I’m all-in on Malik Willis and Liberty.
The NC State defense was undressed by Miami quarterback D’Eriq King a few weeks ago when he threw for 430 yards and five touchdowns and added another 105 yards rushing. Willis has similarly dynamic dual-threat ability, and he’ll take full advantage on Saturday.
Liberty 31, NC State 28
In the other pursuit of an undefeated season, Coastal Carolina faces off against a 6-1 Appalachian State team in a matchup of offenses that are both averaging over 40 carries and over 200 rushing yards per game.
It makes sense to say that whoever controls the running game will come out on top, and the Chanticleers have limited opponents to under 100 yards on the ground in back-to-back games. That’s enough for me to give them the edge in one of the biggest Group of Five games of the season.
Coastal Carolina 32, Appalachian State 24
Can we just take a step back and marvel at the thought of Coastal Carolina being favored against 6-1 Appalachian State?
I know everyone has been saying South Carolina should be going after CCU’s Jamey Chadwell to fill its head coaching vacancy, but he might be in line for some even better offers after the job he has done with the Chanticleers in just their fourth season at the FBS level.
And I do think they’re going to win this game. App State has an excellent rushing attack, but Coastal Carolina’s defense has been just plain awesome lately. The Chanticleers held Georgia State to five first downs in a 51-0 road win on Halloween—the same Georgia State team that darn near won at Appalachian State last Saturday. I’ll take Coastal by a 31-21 final score.
I like Liberty to remain undefeated as well. The Flames already won at Syracuse and at Virginia Tech, so why not at North Carolina State? The Wolfpack can move the ball well, but their defense is a mess. They allowed North Carolina to rush for 326 yards and five touchdowns. One game later, they let Miami throw for 431 yards and five scores. Malik Willis (16 touchdowns in his last three games) is going to light them up in a 42-34 victory.
If I’m correct on both of these, buckle up for the rare must-watch Group of Five showdown on Dec. 5. After easy wins over Thanksgiving weekend (CCU faces 1-9 Texas State; Liberty hosts winless Massachusetts), it would be 10-0 Liberty traveling to Conway, South Carolina, to face 9-0 Coastal Carolina.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
I would love to end this response with just that one word. That’s how much I like Kyle Trask this week against Vanderbilt. However, my editor and others would probably be mad if I did that. So, let’s elaborate a bit.
Thus far, Trask has yet to throw for fewer than four touchdowns in a single game this season. He’s thrown for six touchdowns in a game twice and four touchdowns in a game four times. His season is essentially a video-game setting on the easiest level. I don’t understand why there aren’t more people as excited about this as I am.
Is it possible that Florida finds a few rushing touchdowns against Vanderbilt and ruins the over? Maybe. Just maybe that would keep Trask from throwing for five or more scores. Maybe he’ll be replaced early in the second half when the Gators are up big. Or maybe he’ll just be human for a few hours.
However, I don’t see it. I think Trask will remain as one of the Heisman favorites and that the Florida offense will stay explosive.
My prediction: 389 passing yards, five touchdowns.
Reminiscent of Kyler Murray’s journey to the stiff-armed trophy two years ago, the awesome thing about Kyle Trask’s Heisman campaign is Florida’s defense is so terrible that he usually has to stay in the game into the fourth quarter.
Dude had five passing touchdowns in the first half against Arkansas last week, yet he was still out there pushing the Gators ahead by a 49-21 score with 13 minutes remaining.
And while Vanderbilt has now lost 10 consecutive games against SEC foes, the Commodores have at least discovered some offense in recent weeks, averaging 435.3 total yards and 24.3 points in their last three games. Two of those games were on the road against two of the league’s defenses (Mississippi State and Kentucky). Playing at home against this D, they might put up 35 points for a second straight week.
If that happens, Trask is going over 4.5 passing touchdowns. Because while Vanderbilt’s offense has improved, its secondary has devolved into a disaster. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky had a combined completion percentage of 80.6 against Vandy with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Trask may well have a carbon copy of Matt Corral’s performance on Halloween for Ole Miss: 31-of-34, 412 yards, six touchdowns.
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John Locher/Associated Press
There will be a couple of exciting Mountain West matchups between teams not named Boise State, and those are fun if you like points. 4-0 San Jose State at 3-1 Fresno State could produce a lot of action, but the game that gets my vote is 3-1 San Diego State at 4-0 Nevada.
Over the past few years, the Aztecs have been known for their strong defense. Well, this year is no different. They have held three of their first four opponents to 10 points or fewer, and the outlier was a loss to former Arkansas QB Nick Starkel and SJSU. Now, they have to play one of the most potent passing attacks in the country with the Wolfpack and freshman quarterback Carson Strong.
If you’ve not seen Strong and his stable of playmakers led by star receiver Romeo Doubs, do yourself a favor this weekend. Nevada is undefeated behind its explosive offense. But the Aztecs have proven they can put up some points this year, too, so it should be a gem.
While we certainly aren’t celebrating the postponement of Texas A&M-Ole Miss due to COVID-19, it is kind of cool that the Aztecs and Wolf Pack will be televised on CBS because that SEC game got nixed. That makes this a huge national exposure game for the MWC. Couldn’t pick a much more entertaining matchup for that.
Let me start by agreeing with Brad that there are two great games in the Mountain West Conference. And after this week, Nevada still has to play both Fresno State and San Jose State in hopes of setting up a conference championship matchup with Boise State. Should the Wolf Pack run the table, they’ll be a late but legitimate arriver to the New Year’s Six conversation.
Let me also point out that 1-3 Michigan at 1-3 Rutgers could be entertaining in the same, sad way as last week’s Winless War between Nebraska and Penn State.
But the pick here is LSU at Arkansas, as it highlights just how drastically things have changed for both of these teams in the span of one year.
On Nov. 23, 2019, LSU stomped Arkansas 56-20, yet didn’t quite cover the 41-point spread. But on Nov. 21, 2020, this game is a coin flip. Take out the game against Vanderbilt and LSU’s defense is allowing 532 total yards and 40.3 points per game—this despite having its games against both Alabama and Florida postponed. But the Tigers can score and the Arkansas defense hasn’t exactly been a brick wall, either. I think LSU will win a close game, but, frankly, no outcome would be all that surprising.
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Ethan Hyman/Associated Press
I fully expect Liberty’s clash with North Carolina State to break the scoreboard. I would be rather disappointed if it doesn’t.
Liberty scored 38 points on both Syracuse and Virginia Tech, knocking off those ACC schools. The Flames lean heavily on Auburn transfer Malik Willis, who has racked up 1,645 yards and 15 touchdowns with a single interception as a passer while also running for a team-high 700 yards and nine touchdowns.
NC State has faced four top-50 scoring offenses this season—Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami—and surrendered no fewer than 42 points to each one.
Conversely, the Wolfpack have rallied nicely after losing quarterback Devin Leary to a leg injury. They’ve scored 41 and 38 points in Bailey Hockman’s two starts. And while the running game is ineffective, this is a favorable matchup for a couple of talented running backs (Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr.).
I believe Liberty wins a close one, but NC State scores 35-plus points along the way.
The actual answer was very likely Kent State’s 69-35 win over Akron on Tuesday night, but we’re just focused on the Friday and Saturday games.
The pick here would have been Ole Miss at Texas A&M. After that game got postponed, I would’ve said Houston at SMU. COVID-19 had other plans for that one, too.
However, I have thoroughly talked myself into Florida and Vanderbilt scoring many much points.
Each of those teams both scored and allowed at least 35 points last weekend against Arkansas and Kentucky—two teams that are not exactly offensive juggernauts. Moreover, each of the last three games in this series featured at least 56 total points, and neither of these teams was anywhere near as capable on offense then as it is now. I have Florida winning 56-31.
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