Week 12 preview: Defensive struggle, trying to go bowling
By RALPH D. RUSSO
Nov. 18, 2017
Maybe a few upsets will liven up a weekend college football schedule that looks as if it will be full of blowouts.
Most of the top teams are big favorites this weekend and some are even playing FCS teams to get healthy and prepared for huge games next weekend.
But there is bowl eligibility on the line in many places and maybe some of the non-Baker Mayfield Heisman Trophy contenders can make a move in that race. Week 12 has a chance to be dominated more by coaching news than significant results on the field.
Five things to know about college football Saturday, when the most important game is kicking off at noon eastern.
No. 19 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin.
Like defense and don't like to stay up late? Well, have we got a game for you.
The only game on the schedule this weekend matching ranked teams features two of the best defenses in the country. The unbeaten Badgers have already wrapped up a spot in the Big Ten championship game representing the west, but they have their eyes on the College Football Playoff.
Michigan figures to be the toughest test for Wisconsin before it gets to Indianapolis for the conference title game. The Wolverines are fourth in the nation in total defense (4.25 yards per play allowed) and have maybe the best defensive lineman in the country in tackle Maurice Hurst.
The Badgers are third in the nation in defense (4.15 yards per play). Both teams have wonky passing games and lean heavily on the run. Freshman Jonathan Taylor is fourth in the nation in rushing for Wisconsin at 152 yards per game.
Taylor has a chance to push himself into the Heisman discussion, but otherwise with so many teams playing light competition it will be hard to gain any ground on front-runner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.
One player to keep an eye on, though: Penn State's Saquon Barkley's Heisman campaign has sputtered in recent weeks, but the Nittany Lions play Nebraska on Saturday and the Cornhuskers have been awful stopping the run. Barkley won't win the Heisman against Nebraska, but he can at least firm up his status is a possible finalist.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
4 for 4 — No. 2 Miami has gotten four takeaways in each of its last four games, getting plenty of air time for the turnover chain. Virginia visits the Hurricanes on Saturday.
3— Margin of victory in each of the last two games between No. 11 TCU and Texas Tech. The Frogs won a wild 55-52 game in Lubbock in 2015, then lost at home to the Red Raiders 27-24 last year. The Frogs host Tech on Saturday with a chance to put a firm grasp on a spot in the Big 12 title game, but without some key injured players, including QB Kenny Hill.
10.61 — Yards per play for Arizona quarterback Kahlil Tate, who has surged into the Heisman conversation after not even being a starter for the first month. Tate plays at Oregon on Saturday.
45 — Combined touchdown passes for UCLA's Josh Rosen (21) and USC's Sam Darnold (24) entering their first — and maybe only — college meeting. The 12th-ranked Trojans have won the last two meetings with their crosstown rival 76-35.
UNDER THE RADAR
Bowl eligibility is going to be a hot topic the next couple of weeks. There are 78 bowl spots available this season for FBS teams, and 59 teams are already are eligible.
Among the teams still scrambling that can lock it up this weekend is Texas, which travels to No. 24 West Virginia. The Longhorns finish the season at home against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders also need one more victory for six. They host No. 11 TCU. Staying in the Big 12, Kansas State is at No. 10 Oklahoma State looking for win No. 6.
In the Pac-12; Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona State and UCLA all have two more shots to get one more victory.
Others that can lock up a postseason spot: Boston College, which faces UConn at Fenway Park; Minnesota at Northwestern.
UMass at BYU
It is probably a stretch to think second-year Cougars coach Kalani Sitake is in deep trouble at his alma mater, but it has been a really bad season for BYU (3-8). The Cougars are managing to salvage some pride by beating some weaker competition, such as San Jose State and UNLV. The Minutemen (3-7) are probably a little better than their record. They have won three of four and played a competitive game against Mississippi State. Still, losing to UMass at home would probably be the bottom for a proud program with fans not accustomed to their Cougars being terrible.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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