The BYU fan’s guide to Week 12 of college football
Of course, the most important game of the week for BYU is its own matchup with the Georgia Southern Eagles out of the Sun Belt Conference.
Before and after you’ve cheered on the Cougars, keep an eye on the following contests as they may impact BYU’s spot in next week’s College Football Playoff rankings.
No. 7 Michigan State (9-1, 6-1) at No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 7-0)
10 a.m. ABC | Favorite: Ohio State (-19)
- Last week: The Spartans got back on track with a 40-21 pummeling of Maryland while the Buckeyes dominated upstart Purdue 59-31.
- Key matchup: Ohio State’s explosive offense versus Michigan State’s struggling defense – The Buckeyes lead the nation in total and scoring offense, putting up 550 yards and 46 points per game. Sparty ranks 111th nationally in total defense and is dead last in the country in pass defense, allowing 329 yards per game through the air.
- Player to watch: Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud – the “air” apparent to current Chicago Bears’ quarterback Justin Fields, Stroud has kept things rolling for the Buckeye offense as if Fields never left. The redshirt freshman signal caller ranks top-5 nationally with 30 passing touchdowns to just five interceptions.
- Root for: Ohio State – A Buckeye victory pushes the Spartans down the rankings and, for the moment, keeps the New Year’s Six bowls from getting too crowded with Big Ten teams.
Iowa State (6-4, 4-3) at No. 13 Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1)
10 a.m. FOX | Favorite: Oklahoma (-4)
- Last week: Iowa State’s comeback fell short in a 41-38 loss at Texas Tech. Baylor handed Oklahoma its first November loss since 2014 with a 27-14 upset of the Sooners.
- Key matchup: An angry Oklahoma offense versus a quietly solid Iowa State defense – The normally potent Sooner attack was for the most part silenced as they were held to a season-low 14 points in Waco last week. Oklahoma still ranks top-10 nationally in scoring offense at 40 points per game. The Cyclones will come ready to play with a defense that’s only allowing 307 yards of total offense each week.
- Player to watch: Iowa State defensive end Will McDonald IV – The Cyclone pass rush is anchored by one of the nation’s top sack specialists. McDonald has 10 sacks to his name on the season.
- Root for: Iowa State – A loss to unranked Iowa State drops the Sooners in the rankings and gives BYU the opportunity to climb.
No. 10 Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0) at Clemson (7-3, 5-2)
10 a.m. ESPN | Favorite: Clemson (-4)
- Last week: Wake Forest is on the cusp of an ACC Championship game appearance after pulling out a 45-42 win over NC State. Clemson rolled past hapless UConn 44-7.
- Key matchup: Wake Forest’s offensive firepower versus Brent Venables’ classic Clemson defense – At 7-3, Clemson’s enduring a “down” year. The Tiger defense certainly isn’t. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables has once again orchestrated a staunch unit that’s No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, only allowing 15 points per contest. The Demon Deacons on the other hand, are putting up 45 points per game.
- Player to watch: Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman – Despite playing an unranked Clemson team, Hartman could bolster his case for the Heisman Trophy with an impressive showing on the road beneath Howard’s Rock. The sophomore quarterback is tied for fifth in the FBS with 30 passing touchdowns to eight picks.
- Root for: Clemson – A second Wake Forest loss loosens things up above BYU, giving the Cougars the chance to rise.
Illinois (4-6, 3-4) at No. 17 Iowa (8-2, 5-2)
12 p.m. FS1 | Favorite: Iowa (-12)
- Last week: Both teams beat Minnesota in their last outings. Iowa did so a week ago while Illinois refreshed with a bye.
- Key matchup: A stagnant Illinois offense versus a lockdown Iowa defense – The Hawkeyes are only allowing 16 points per game and lead the nation with 19 interceptions forced this season. While Illinois is oddly adept at ball security, having only thrown three interceptions all season, the offense continues to struggle to score, only averaging 17 per game.
- Player to watch: Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell – the Hawkeyes’ leading tackler is also one of the best in the land when it comes to taking guys to the turf. Campbell’s recorded nearly 100 tackles through 10 games.
- Root for: Illinois – this one’s a long shot, but Illinois has proven to be capable of showing up for the shocking upset with wins over Penn State and Minnesota. An Iowa loss would keep the Hawkeyes off BYU’s tail in the top-25. Unfortunately for the Illini, Head Coach Bret Bielema will miss the game with COVID-19.
SMU (8-2, 4-2) at No. 5 Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0)
1:30 p.m. ESPN | Favorite: Cincinnati (-11.5)
- Last week: SMU cruised to a 55-28 win over UCF. Cincinnati remained undefeated after putting away South Florida 45-28.
- Key matchup: The Potent Pony Express versus the stingy Cincy defense – SMU’s offense creates the most difficult test Cincinnati’s defense has faced all season. The Mustangs are scoring 42 points per game behind quarterback Tanner Mordecai’s 37 touchdowns on an average of 326 passing yards per game. Meanwhile, the Bearcats allow only 16 points per game and boast the nation’s No. 5 pass defense.
- Player to watch: Cincinnati corner back Coby Bryant – With 11 pass break-ups on the season, Bryant will be critical in keeping the ball out of the hands of SMU’s receivers.
- Root for: Cincinnati – If the Bearcats not only win, but do so with dominance, they have a shot at moving into the top-four with an Oregon loss. This keeps SMU clear of the rankings and prevents clutter in the New Year’s Six.
Nebraska (3-7, 1-6) at No. 15 Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2)
1:30 p.m. ABC | Favorite: Wisconsin (-9.5)
- Last week: The Huskers recovered from four straight losses with a bye while the Badgers won their sixth straight with a 35-7 bludgeoning of Northwestern.
- Key matchup: A Wisconsin defense that can slam the door versus a Nebraska offense that’s stuck on the doorstep – During the Badgers’ six-game winning streak, they’re winning by an average margin of victory of 24 points. Wisconsin gets a lead and its defense keeps it that way, allowing only 61 rush yards and 15 points per game. Each of Nebraska’s seven losses have come by an average of six points. The Huskers are hanging with tough competition but thus far haven’t found a way to win. Eight interceptions to just 13 touchdowns from quarterback Adrian Martinez doesn’t help.
- Player to watch: Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen – The freshman back is averaging 143 yards per game and over eight per carry in the Badgers’ past five games.
- Root for: Nebraska – If the Huskers can not only play it close, but pull out a win, then the Badgers drop from the rankings and give BYU some breathing room. Unfortunately for the Huskers, this one’s at Camp Randall and Wisconsin is on a roll.
Virginia (6-4, 4-2) at No. 18 Pitt (8-2, 5-1)
1:30 p.m. ESPN2 | Favorite: Pitt (-14)
- Last week: Virginia was dealt its second straight loss in a 28-3 blowout to Notre Dame. Pitt held-off North Carolina in a 30-23 overtime win.
- Key matchup: A battle of two high-octane offenses (maybe) – This all hinges on the health of Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Without Armstrong a week ago, the Cavaliers, wandered away from the end zone – finding the bench instead. A healthy Armstrong has directed the Virginia attack in churning up an average of 519 yards. Pitt can play too. The Panthers lead the nation in first downs and average 44 points per game.
- Player to watch: Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett – The senior quarterback is in the thick of the Heisman conversation with over 3,500 passing yards and 32 touchdowns to just four giveaways.
- Root for: Virginia – The winner here has the inside track to the ACC Championship game. A Virginia win strengthens BYU’s schedule and keeps the Panthers out of BYU’s way in the rankings.
Syracuse (5-5, 2-4) at No. 20 NC State (7-3, 4-2)
2 p.m. ACC Network | Favorite: NC State (-11)
- Last week: The Orange were squeezed by Louisville in a 41-3 defeat. NC State lost by three in a shootout with Wake Forest.
- Key matchup: NC State’s rush defense versus Syracuse running back Sean Tucker – The Wolfpack are top-10 nationally when it comes to stopping the run. While the Orange have struggled this season, Tucker has become one of the nation’s best ball carriers, averaging 6.2 yards per attempt and totaling over 1,300 for the season.
- Player to watch: NC State quarterback Devin Leary – The Wolfpack quarterback has been overshadowed by ACC counterparts Pickett and Hartman yet has posted 2,900 yards through the air and 29 touchdowns with five interceptions. The Syracuse defensive backfield is one of the worst in the country at forcing quarterback miscues with only three interceptions.
- Root for: Syracuse – A win for the Orange is a big stretch, but it would knock the Wolfpack from the rankings and give BYU more breathing room.
No. 11 Baylor (8-2, 5-2) at Kansas State (7-3, 4-3)
3:30 p.m. FS1 | Favorite: Baylor (-1)
- Last week: Baylor flipped the script after an upset loss to TCU with a 27-14 upset of Oklahoma. Kansas State won its fourth-straight with a 34-17 handling of West Virginia.
- Key matchup: The Kansas State pass rush versus the Baylor offensive line – Forget about Kansas State? They were ranked earlier in the season and could return to the poll by knocking off Baylor. The Wildcats’ upset bid starts with a pass rush led by defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The sophomore edge rusher is the nation’s second-leading sack master with 11 on the season. Baylor protects the quarterback better than almost anyone with just eight sacks allowed through ten games.
- Player to watch: Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson – During the Wildcats’ four-game win streak, Thompson has completed 74% of his passes, and is ranked No. 6 in the FBS for completion percentage this season.
- Root for: Baylor – With the committee respecting BYU’s strength of schedule, that strength only grows as the Bears continue to win.
No. 3 Oregon (9-1, 6-1) at No. 23 Utah (7-3, 6-1)
5:30 p.m. ABC | Favorite: Utah (-3)
- Last week: Both teams kept to their recent winning ways as the Ducks beat Washington State 38-24 and Utah overcame a feisty Arizona team 38-29.
- Key matchup: A battle of two offenses that stay on schedule – Both teams have excelled at extending drives and staying ahead of the sticks in recent weeks. Utah steers clear of long down and distance with an offensive line that’s top-10 in the country at protecting the quarterback. The Ducks move the chains on third down better than almost anyone with a 52% conversion mark.
- Player to watch: Utah running back Tavion Thomas – The Utah offense may have torn apart Arizona much like it did Stanford had Thomas been available. Thomas is averaging 6.1 yards per carry and has found the end zone 14 times this season. His health is critical to Utah’s success.
- Root for: Utah – Yes. You read that correctly. A Utah win over Oregon would be monumental for BYU’s resume. Oregon would likely drop below the Cougars and give BYU room to rise come Tuesday night.