College Football Week 12 preview: USC tries to keep Pac-12 CFP hopes alive
The college football regular season is rapidly approaching its conclusion, and there is still much to be decided.
While the top of the College Football Playoff rankings barely changed after Week 11, a shakeup is on the horizon as the final two weeks of the regular season are played out.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Michigan and Ohio State will square off to decide the winner of the Big Ten East and a clear path to the CFP.
For that matchup to be a must-see, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes both must win in Week 12.
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TCU also looks to remain unbeaten after locking up a spot in the Big 12 championship game, and USC will try to keep the Pac-12 from being shut out of the CFP a sixth straight year with a visit across town to the Rose Bowl.
Let’s look at a few games to be aware of Saturday as the college football season kicks off Week 12.
No. 3 Michigan vs. Illinois – 12 p.m. ET, ABC
The matchup at the Big House in Ann Arbor between Illinois and Michigan has lost some of its luster after the Fighting Illini lost back-to-back games against unranked opponents, but there’s still a lot on the line for both teams.
For the Wolverines and head coach Jim Harbaugh, a win will allow Michigan to face Ohio State Nov. 26 undefeated with a berth in the Big Ten championship game on the line.
“A lot on the line for them, for us,” Harbaugh said. “And the way we always approach a game, every day matters, but the games count. … We're really going to have to be on point.”
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It’s a matchup between the two top defenses in the country, and the Michigan front will be looking to slow Illinois running back Chase Brown, assuming Brown plays after suffering a leg injury in Week 11.
Head coach Brett Bielema said earlier in the week that Brown is “trending in the right direction.”
“(I’m) very positive and excited but don’t know where we’ll be by Friday for the trip and Saturday for the game,” Bielema said.
Brown leads the country in rushing yards with 1,442, while the Wolverines head into Week 12 with the top rushing defense in the country, allowing just 72.7 yards per game on the ground.
The Michigan defense leads the country in total yards allowed per game (232.8) and points per game (11.2).
“Our run wall has been very good,” Harbaugh said Monday, according to MLive. “It’s going to be tested this week probably like none other up to this point. Illinois is very strong at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.” Harbaugh cited Illinois’ “outstanding running back.”
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The Michigan offense brings its own stud running back to the party, with Blake Corum fourth in the country in yards (1,349) and 17 touchdowns.
Illinois counters with a defense allowing just 85.9 yards per game on the ground, sixth in the country.
“They have an offensive line that is very talented — big, long, athletic and moves extremely well,” Bielema said. “Behind them is a running back that I think can be as good as anybody in the country; strong, powerful, has the ability to run through you, has the ability to run around you, has some shiftiness to him. “
Baylor vs. No. 4 TCU – 12 p.m. ET, FOX
TCU needs to win out to make the College Football Playoff, and Baylor won’t be a team that can be overlooked.
The Horned Frogs will head to Waco, Texas, fresh off a dominant defensive performance against the Texas Longhorns.
“I knew we had the potential,” TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie told ESPN. “I just didn't know where it was going to happen, or if it was going to happen. That was as complete a four-quarter defensive [performance] that we've played up until this point. And it's good timing.
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“Now the deal is, you've got to keep doing it. You've got a big target on your chest, and that's a good thing.”
The TCU defense allowed just 199 total yards to the Longhorns, shutting down running back Bijan Robinson and the Texas rushing attack (28 rushing yards).
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And while Baylor is coming off a disastrous performance against Kansas State, it’s an offense that averages 34.8 points per game, good for fourth in the Big 12.
Against the Wildcats, Baylor’s rushing attack stalled, gaining just 103 yards on the ground. But in its three previous games — all wins — Baylor rushed for 273 (Kansas), 231 (Texas Tech) and 281 yards (Oklahoma).
Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen struggled against Kansas State, throwing two interceptions in the loss.
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“Yeah, full confidence in him. I think there was probably some pressing by him (against K-State). I think his footwork probably illustrated some of that,” Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said, according to The Dallas Morning News.
“To get back to where there’s a really strong confidence and command in all of it — like he’s done for us a lot this year — I think gives us the best chance to be the best offense we can be.”
TCU running back Kendre Miller is second in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (114.7) and will be going up against a Baylor defense ranked third in the conference in rush defense (132.8 yards allowed per game).
Kentucky vs. No. 1 Georgia – 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
What looked like Georgia’s final hurdle before the SEC Championship Game just a few weeks ago is now a matchup between teams going in opposite directions.
The Bulldogs secured their spot in Atlanta last weekend after beating Mississippi State one week after knocking off Tennessee.
Georgia’s defense has once again led the way, allowing just 11.6 points per game, the second-fewest in the country.
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They’ll be going against a Kentucky offense that has struggled to put the ball in the end zone against SEC opponents, scoring at least 20 points just four times against teams from the SEC.
Against Vanderbilt in Week 11, the Wildcats managed just two offensive touchdowns, allowing the Commodores to snap a 26-game SEC losing streak.
“We're moving the ball and doing good things, but we're not getting into the end zone,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said, according to ESPN. “One of the downsides is that we've had explosive [plays], but they're not scoring all the time. Chunk plays are great, but when chunk plays get tackled on the 25 instead of scoring, it's hard.”
Kentucky won’t just be facing a stifling defense.
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Georgia’s offense has lit up the scoreboard in 2022, averaging 509.6 yards and 40.6 points per game.
“They are awfully impressive in every way, shape or form,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. “They deserve to be where they're at, and we have a great challenge ahead for us.”
Georgia has won the last 12 matchups with Kentucky, and a win Saturday will put them one step closer to a matchup with LSU and a trip to the CFP on the line.
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“We really haven’t talked about the SEC championship game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “This is not our conversation. We keep our conversation relative to what’s one foot in front of us, and it’s never been mentioned as a goal, nobody talks about that. We talk about Kentucky.”
No. 16 UCLA vs. No. 7 USC – 8 p.m. ET, FOX
It’s the Pac-12’s last gasp at being represented in the College Football Playoff.
The conference has not had a team in the playoff for five straight years and has become an afterthought among the Power 5.
Then Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for the West Coast, and the Trojans returned to the main stage.
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But the school across town will have something to say about USC's return to the top.
“When both teams are good and there are a lot of opportunities ahead for both teams, it makes it way, way better,” Riley said this week, according to ESPN.
The Trojans sit at 9-1, their only loss coming to a very good Utah team in October. USC will have a good case for the College Football Playoff if it defeats Notre Dame and likely a highly ranked Oregon or Utah team in the Pac-12 Championship Game to finish 12-1.
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A loss and it’s almost certainly lights out for Riley, USC and the Conference of Champions.
It’s a matchup between two of the best quarterbacks in the country as Caleb Williams leads his Trojans into the Rose Bowl to take on Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins.
It’s the 92nd time the crosstown rivals will face off, and there’s no love lost.
“Obviously, we hate those guys across town. It’s a bitter feeling with those guys,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We want to be even better (than last year). We want to break 60 and all that stuff. We’re trying to improve on everything we’ve done this year and maximize our game that way.”
Thompson-Robinson leads an offense that has done its damage on the ground, eighth in college football with 240.1 yards per game rushing.
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UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet leads the Pac-12 in rushing (1,145) and is tied for the most touchdowns on the ground (13).
A win for UCLA keeps its slim Pac-12 championship hopes alive.
USC is led by its passing attack (316.9 yards per game), with quarterback Caleb Williams throwing for 31 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his first year in LA.
“Caleb has played not only in rivalry games but big games with title implications. I like where our guy has been and the battles he has been in,” Riley said.
USC will need even more from Williams after losing running back Travis Dye to a season-ending ankle injury against Colorado in Week 11.
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Williams’ top target, Pittsburgh transfer Jordan Addison, is second in the Pac-12 with seven receiving touchdowns.
“It's definitely something I've been thinking about, coming to a new town,” said Addison. “I know it's a big game for this city, and people have been talking about it, so I'm starting to get the feeling.”
It should be a high-scoring affair at a sold–out Rose Bowl.
Other games of note:
No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 10 Utah – 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Maryland vs. No. 2 Ohio State – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
No. 9 Clemson vs. Miami – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Associated Press contributed to this report