After two massive weeks that featured seven top-25 matchups each Saturday, this week's college football schedule hits a lull before things pick back up again with rivalry week. The top two teams in the playoff rankings, Alabama and Clemson, face FCS opponents, and there is only one game between ranked teams: No. 24 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin.
There may not be many big games, but it's the second-to-last full weekend schedule of college football in 2017. We must enjoy it while we can, so let's break down all the key games to watch in Week 12.
All times are Eastern, and within each time slot games are previewed in order of importance and watchability.
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Saturday Early Afternoon
No. 24 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin
On a college football weekend that appears to be mostly uneventful, Wisconsin gets the spotlight almost to itself. Yes, it's possible that the Badgers could lose to Michigan, win the Big Ten championship game and still get into the playoff. They've already clinched the Big Ten West, and 12-1 with a Power Five conference title is a good way to get into the playoff. But the Badgers have just three wins over teams with winning records -- Florida Atlantic, Northwestern and Iowa -- and this is by far their most high-profile game of the season so far. They're trying to erase doubts after beating up on an easy regular-season schedule (which isn't their fault, after they dealt with a gauntlet last year), and the only way to be sure of their playoff standing is to go 13-0. A 12-1 champion Wisconsin, with the resume it has, could end up on the wrong side of the bubble.
As I wrote on Thursday, Wisconsin is only 1-7 in games against Michigan in which both teams were ranked in the AP poll. The Badgers have often had trouble scoring against the Wolverines, and we saw that last year when Michigan beat Wisconsin 14-7. The same could certainly be said about Michigan this week. New QB Brandon Peters hasn't been asked to do much since taking over, completing a total of 27 passes in three easy wins over Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland. What Peters and the Michigan offense face at Camp Randall Stadium is a far bigger challenge: Wisconsin ranks third in points allowed, third in yards per play allowed, fifth in yards per rush allowed and first in defensive passer rating. Only Northwestern (24) has scored more than 17 points against this defense. Michigan ranks a pedestrian 67th in yards per play on offense.
Of course, Wisconsin's offense, which has a breakout star tailback in Jonathan Taylor but is limited in the passing game (especially with WRs Quintez Cephus and Jazz Peavy out), will face its greatest test of the season in Michigan's defense. The Wolverines are especially loaded up front, as they rank third nationally in tackles for loss behind a group of stars that includes Maurice Hurst, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson. Taylor has had a brilliant freshman season, but he hasn't seen a run defense likes this. If he's contained, that'll put a lot of pressure on QB Alex Hornibrook, who has thrown 12 picks and has a shortage of weapons beyond TE Troy Fumagalli.
Ultimately, this game will come down to the typical cliché you'd expect in this series: whichever team makes fewer mistakes win. With a more proven offense and home-field advantage, the Badgers get the slight edge.
Pick: Wisconsin 16, Michigan 12
Virginia at No. 3 Miami
It's hard not to look at this matchup and see the word "trap." Or "letdown." After a run of successfully navigating close games, Miami spent the past two weeks earning blowout wins in high-profile prime-time home games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Last week's 41-8 demolition of Notre Dame was especially impressive, vaulting the unbeaten Hurricanes into the top four. Can they successfully turn their attention to an improved Virginia team? It'll be a noon ET kickoff in front of a Hard Rock Stadium atmosphere that won't be nearly as fun and loud as the past two weeks. Virginia is 6-4 and will go bowling for the first time since 2011. Then again, after a 5-1 start, the Cavaliers have lost three of their past four games by double digits to Boston College, Pittsburgh and Louisville. They may give Miami a scare, but the Canes are playing too well on both sides of the ball to fall into the trap and ruin their unbeaten season.
Pick: Miami 34, Virginia 17
No. 12 TCU at Texas Tech
Three years ago, TCU humiliated Texas Tech 82-27. The past two years have proved to be far more even: The Horned Frogs won 55-52 in 2015, and the Red Raiders won 27-24 in '16. TCU is 8-2 and ranked 12th, but it's only a seven-point favorite on the road in Lubbock against the 5-5 Red Raiders, whose only Big 12 wins have come against 1-9 Kansas and 1-9 Baylor. The question for TCU is whether it can avoid having Oklahoma beat it twice, essentially. The Frogs saw their playoff hopes likely ended in Norman last week, when their excellent defense gave up 38 first-half points to the Sooners. They have to go back on the road to face the potent-as-always Texas Tech offense, making this a potentially scary spot. It's made even scarier because of injuries: RB Darius Anderson is out, and QB Kenny Hill reportedly didn't make the trip and LB Travin Howard isn't guaranteed to play. Watch out for the upset.
Pick: Texas Tech 33, TCU 31
SMU at No. 21 Memphis
Noon, ESPN News
On a Saturday lacking big games, there's more room for quality Group of Five teams to get some attention. Memphis is 8-1 overall and leads the AAC West, and this game will feature two of the nation's top 10 scoring offenses. The Tigers have a potent passing duo with QB Riley Ferguson and WR Anthony Miller, and the Mustangs are loaded at receiver, including Trey Quinn and top NFL prospect Courtland Sutton. Expect a lot of points, and expect another Memphis win.
Pick: Memphis 49, SMU 35
No. 15 UCF at Temple
As Scott Frost coaching speculation heats up, UCF continues its march toward perfection. The Knights are 9-0, and one of the biggest keys here is avoiding any type of look-ahead problem: This trip to Philadelphia comes only six days before the Group of Five game of the year showdown with rival South Florida on Black Friday. UCF is a clear favorite over the 5-5 Owls, but Temple did upset Navy a few weeks ago. As unstoppable as UCF has looked, this is the type of trap road game that could cause some problems.
Pick: UCF 30, Temple 20
Texas at West Virginia
Tom Herman's debut season has featured plenty of heartbreak, as Texas has been unable to get over the hump. The Longhorns are 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12, and they need to beat either West Virginia or Texas Tech to avoid a third straight season without a bowl game. It's hard to imagine that the Longhorns won't at least split these two games, but the road trip to Morgantown will be the tougher of the two. Texas' defense gives it a chance against Will Grier and this potent West Virginia offense. The question is how Texas' struggling offensive line will improve thanks to the expected return from injury by All-America OT Connor Williams.
Pick: West Virginia 29, Texas 27
UL Monroe at No. 6 Auburn
Auburn thrust itself into the SEC title and playoff picture by blowing out then-No. 1 Georgia last Saturday. A win over Alabama in next week's Iron Bowl would allow Auburn to win the SEC West title. First, between rivalry games, there's a sandwich game against the Warhawks. UL Monroe actually has one of the nation's most improved offenses in the second season under coach Matt Viator, jumping from 112th to 15th in yards per play. But the Warhawks rank 128th in yards per play allowed on defense, and they haven't seen any team nearly as deep and talented as the Tigers.
Pick: Auburn 45, UL Monroe 17
No. 16 Mississippi State at Arkansas
The state of Arkansas football has reached a point at which it's hard to imagine Bret Bielema returning as head coach in 2018. Athletic director Jeff Long was ousted this week, and Bielema enters the final two games of his fifth season with a 4-6 record this year and an 11-27 record in SEC play since arriving. The Razorbacks barely beat Coastal Carolina by one point two weeks ago, then were blown out by LSU last week. Their best hope here is that Mississippi State struggles to rebound from a close loss to Alabama; otherwise, Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs shouldn't have much trouble moving the ball against this Arkansas defense. A Mississippi State win would ensure that Arkansas misses the postseason for the second time under Bielema.
Pick: Mississippi State 34, Arkansas 24
Minnesota at No. 23 Northwestern
Noon, Big Ten Network
Northwestern is hanging on as a "top-25 win" for Wisconsin and Penn State. The Wildcats are quietly 7-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten, having won five games in a row. Three of those wins required overtime. They welcome the 5-5 Golden Gophers, who need to beat either Northwestern or Wisconsin to go bowling in P.J. Fleck's debut season. Minnesota racked up 409 rushing yards in a 54-21 win over Nebraska last week, but it still ranks 110th in yards per play. The Gophers will encounter a more formidable defensive challenge on the road in Evanston.
Pick: Northwestern 24, Minnesota 17
Mercer at No. 1 Alabama
Noon, SEC Network
Everybody's favorite tradition of SEC-FCS showdowns in November continues. Mercer is 5-5 with a 4-4 record in Southern Conference play. It actually gave Auburn a game earlier this year, losing 24-10, but it's safe to say that the Bears stand no chance in Tuscaloosa.
Pick: Alabama 42, Mercer 0
The Citadel at No. 2 Clemson
12:20 p.m., ACC Network regional
Tuesday will be the second anniversary of The Citadel beating South Carolina late in the 2015 season. Circumstances are quite clearly different here, however. The Bulldogs, who are 3-5 in the Southern Conference, won't be able to move the ball anywhere against Clemson.
Pick: Clemson 45, The Citadel 7
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Saturday Late Afternoon
Kentucky at No. 7 Georgia
3:30 p.m., CBS
It's far from the most appealing SEC headline game of the week, but the Bulldogs (9-1) and Wildcats (7-3) do have a combined record of 16-4. In fact, if Kentucky can win two of its final three games, including the bowl, it would be the first time since 1984 that it lost fewer than five games in a season. That's a lot to ask, though: This is an improved Kentucky team, but it's played a relatively easy schedule and has had a somewhat misleading record. This is easily its most difficult game yet. Perhaps Georgia won't bounce back well from its loss to Auburn. It's more likely, however, that Georgia gets back to doing what it's done most of the season: physically impose its will on an inferior team on both sides of the ball. Despite its 7-3 record, Kentucky ranks only 76th in Football Outsiders' S&P+ ratings and 57th in Jeff Sagarin's ratings.
Pick: Georgia 38, Kentucky 13
Navy at No. 8 Notre Dame
3:30 p.m., NBC
From 1964-2006, Navy failed to beat Notre Dame once. The Midshipmen proceeded to win three of four from 2007-10, and, after a five-game losing streak, they topped the 4-8 Irish last year. That game featured just two Notre Dame possessions in the second half, as Navy controlled the game and aggressively converted fourth downs to win 28-27. With two run-heavy offenses, it's possible this ends up being another game with few possessions. Notre Dame's offensive line is likely to rebound from a rough game against Miami and take control of this game, opening the door for the big plays from RB Josh Adams that we came to expect most of this season.
Pick: Notre Dame 34, Navy 21
Nebraska at No. 10 Penn State
4 p.m., FS1
Nebraska is a perfect 3-0 against Penn State since joining the Big Ten, with three single-digit wins. They haven't met since 2013, though, and the Nittany Lions enter this game as 27 ½-point favorites. That's how much Penn State has improved, and that's how bad things have gotten in Lincoln. The Lions have had some issues lately, particularly in struggling to create any room for star tailback Saquon Barkley run, but Penn State is No. 10 for a reason. Its issues pale in comparison to anything Nebraska faces in Mike Riley's third season. The Huskers are 4-6 and are coming off a 54-21 loss at Minnesota. The Huskers' run defense has fallen apart in the second half of the season, making this a prime opportunity for Barkley to put up numbers again.
Pick: Penn State 42, Nebraska 14
Kansas State at No. 13 Oklahoma State
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma State needs some help -- a TCU loss -- but it remains in the race for the Big 12 title at 5-2 in conference play. The Cowboys escaped Iowa State with a 49-42 win last week, and they end their regular season with home dates against Kansas State and Kansas. Kansas State has not been nearly as dangerous as expected in the preseason, dropping from 20th in the AP poll to just 5-5. Four of those five losses have been by a touchdown or less, but this is a difficult road matchup against a Cowboys team that the Wildcats will struggle to keep pace with. Oklahoma State is too explosive.
Pick: Oklahoma State 38, Kansas State 20
Syracuse at Louisville
3:30 p.m., ESPNU
The legend of Lamar Jackson took off on a Friday night at the Carrier Dome early last season. That's the night that Jackson had 411 passing yards, 199 rushing yards and five total TDs in a 62-28 win over Syracuse. That's the night that launched his Heisman campaign. Now, Jackson is having a season that is in the ballpark of that Heisman run, but Louisville's 6-4 record has pushed the star quarterback out of the spotlight. Louisville is finally coming off a relatively complete effort, having beaten Virginia 38-21, and Syracuse, despite improving on defense this season, is coming off a 64-43 loss to Wake Forest. Jackson averages 418 yards of total offense per game, and he's going to put on a show again.
Pick: Louisville 49, Syracuse 34
Illinois at No. 9 Ohio State
3:30 p.m., ABC
It's been a strange few weeks for Ohio State: It came back from down 15 in the fourth quarter to beat Penn State. It lost 55-24 at Iowa. Then it beat Michigan State 48-3 to give itself an actual chance of being a two-loss playoff team. Doing so will require beating Michigan and Wisconsin the next two weeks. First, Ohio State has to do what's expected of it against Illinois. The Fighting Illini are 0-7 in the Big Ten and haven't won since Sept. 9. They're a young team that hasn't scored more than 24 points in a game. Ohio State losing by 31 at Iowa showed that surprises are possible with this Buckeyes team … but losing the Illibuck would be several steps beyond a surprise.
Pick: Ohio State 52, Illinois 3
No. 4 Oklahoma at Kansas
3:30 p.m., ESPN
Oklahoma hasn't lost to Kansas in 20 years. It has won four of the past five meetings by at least 37 points. Last year, the Sooners won 56-3 at home. In 2015, the Sooners won 62-7 in Lawrence. In 2014, Samaje Perine rushed for an FBS-record 427 yards. This year, it's a battle of Baker Mayfield's Heisman campaign against a Kansas team that is 1-9 and ranks 128th in points allowed.
Pick: Oklahoma 52, Kansas 3
Maryland at No. 17 Michigan State
4 p.m., Fox
In the past three games, Michigan State lost in three overtimes to Northwestern, upset Penn State on a last-second field goal and lost to Ohio State by 45. Two of the Spartans' three losses have been by at least 20 points and all five of their Big Ten wins have been by one possession. For as disappointing as last week was, Saturday offers an opportunity to rebound. Quarterback injuries have been an issue for Maryland all season, and the Terps have been blown out by every FBS team they've played that currently has a winning record.
Pick: Michigan State 27, Maryland 13
UAB at Florida
4 p.m., SEC Network
Florida is a 10 ½-point favorite over a team that didn't play football the past two seasons, and that number somehow feels too high. Bill Clark has done a phenomenal job rebuilding the Blazers, who are 7-3 and in line for their second bowl bid ever. On the other side, Florida has lost five in a row, can't go bowling, fired its coach a few weeks ago and has three wins by an average of seven points. The Gators' sizable talent advantage will win out at The Swamp on Saturday, but the memories of the November 2013 loss to Georgia Southern are still relatively fresh.
Pick: Florida 30, UAB 23
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Saturday Prime Time
UCLA at No. 11 USC
8 p.m., ABC
USC already locked up the Pac-12 South championship, and playoff hopes are slim, even if the Trojans are still technically alive in that race. So, the reasons for watching this have little to do with championship chases and have everything to do with the quarterback battle. The seasons have not gone entirely as planned for USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen, but both are 3,000-yard passers, and both are still battling to potentially be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft (Rosen seems to be a lock to turn pro, but Darnold is more of a unknown). In other words, if you are a fan of an NFL team that's going to be picking in the top 10 next spring, tune into this game on Saturday night.
Rosen missed last year's 36-14 USC win with his should injury, so this is the first time that Rosen and Darnold will take the field in the same game. But although all the attention is on the quarterbacks, don't be shocked if Trojans tailback Ronald Jones II (552 rushing yards in the past three games) steals the show against the nation's worst run defense.
Pick: USC 38, UCLA 27
Arizona at Oregon
7 p.m., Pac-12 Network
The streak of four straight Oregon games with fewer than 100 passing yards is likely about to end: QB Justin Herbert is expected to return on Saturday from his broken collarbone. The Ducks need him, because they'll need a more balanced attack to keep pace with Arizona, which continues to be potent on offense behind the electrifying play of QB Khalil Tate. Despite barely playing before October, Tate ranks seventh nationally in rushing with 1,293 yards and 11 TDs. He averages 11.7 yards per carry. Oregon's defense has made significant strides under coordinator Jim Leavitt, but it gave up 247 yards on the ground in a 38-3 loss to Washington in its last game, a troubling sign going into a matchup with Tate.
Pick: Arizona 42, Oregon 34
No. 19 N.C. State at Wake Forest
7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Quietly, Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford has put together an excellent season statistically. The senior had a passer rating of 113.4 with 30 TDs and 35 INTs in his first three seasons. This year, Wolford has a passer rating of 162.8 with 20 TDs and three picks. He has passed for 2,354 yards, and he has also rushed for 536 yards and 10 touchdowns. After finishing last in the ACC in passer rating in 2016, Wolford has been the best ACC quarterback not named Lamar Jackson this season. Against Bradley Chubb and N.C. State, don't expect anything close to what Wolford and the Demon Deacons did in a 64-43 win over Syracuse last week, but this has become a tricky road test for the Wolfpack.
Pick: Wake Forest 28, N.C. State 27
No. 20 LSU at Tennessee
7 p.m., ESPN
Just what everyone would have predicted a few years ago: an Ed Orgeron-Brady Hoke SEC matchup. Hoke is Tennessee's interim coach after Butch Jones was fired following the Volunteers' 50-17 loss at Missouri. Although LSU has had some rough patches in Orgeron's first full season, it has won four of five since losing to Troy and is on far sturdier ground than Tennessee. The Vols are 0-6 in the SEC, and they rank 123rd in yards per play on offense and 91st on defense. Stopping Derrius Guice and moving the ball against the LSU defense are both going to be enormous problems.
Pick: LSU 34, Tennessee 13
California at No. 22 Stanford
8 p.m., Fox
Bryce Love has a good chance to finish second in the Heisman Trophy race behind Baker Mayfield. He needs 378 rushing yards against California and Notre Dame to hit 2,000 yards before the Heisman vote. Although he's been dealing with an ankle injury, it's doable. After all, even on that injured ankle, Love had 166 yards in last Friday's upset win over Washington's top-ranked defense. Cal's defense has improved under new coach Justin Wilcox, but the Golden Bears are beatable, as they allowed over 300 rushing yards to Oregon and Arizona. Expect big numbers from the Heisman candidate, again.
Pick: Stanford 31, California 20
Florida International at Florida Atlantic
7 p.m., Stadium
Butch Davis has improved FIU from 4-8 to 6-3 in his first season, and yet his strong performance has been totally overshadowed by the nearby rivals who also hired a big-name coach. FAU is 7-3 under Lane Kiffin with a perfect 6-0 record in Conference USA play. The Owls have scored at least 30 points in all six conference wins, and Devin Singletary leads the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns.
Pick: Florida Atlantic 41, Florida International 27
Texas A&M at Ole Miss
7 p.m., ESPN2
As the SEC coaching carousel circus heats up, Kevin Sumlin takes a 6-4 record into the Aggies' final two games: road trips to Ole Miss and LSU. Texas A&M crushed New Mexico last week, but it was routed by Auburn and Mississippi State the previous two games. Despite losing QB Shea Patterson, Ole Miss' offense is still producing at a high level behind QB Jordan Ta'amu and an excellent receiving corps, making this a dangerous spot as Sumlin's hot seat situation plays out.
Pick: Ole Miss 37, Texas A&M 34
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Saturday Late Night
Utah at No. 18 Washington
10:15 p.m., ESPN2
Washington's playoff push came to an end last week in a 30-22 loss to Stanford. It is one of three teams in the Pac-12 North with two conference losses, along with the Cardinal and Washington State, making this a pivotal cross-division game before next week's Apple Cup. Despite last week's disappointment, this matchup clearly leans in the Huskies' favor: They still have one of the nation's best defenses, and Utah has lost five of its past six games with what's been an inconsistent offense all season. The Huskies should get back on track before their big rivalry showdown with Wazzu.
Pick: Washington 28, Utah 14
Air Force at No. 25 Boise State
10:15 p.m., ESPN2
Options are slim at the bottom of the top 25 right now, and Boise State moved into the 25th spot in the selection committee's rankings after a 59-52 comeback win in overtime against Colorado State. The Broncos trailed by as many as 25 but rallied to win and stay undefeated in Mountain West play at 6-0. They haven't lost since a disheartening home blowout defeat at the hands of Virginia, and they can clinch a spot in the conference title game with a win over the 4-6 Falcons.
Pick: Boise State 31, Air Force 16