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2014 season preview: Five games to watch in week 12

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted.

These games take place the weekend of November 15.

Previously: Week One (August 30) ~ Week Two (September 6) ~ Week Three (September 13) ~ Week Four (September 20) ~ Week Five (September 27) ~ Week Six (October 4) ~ Week Seven (October 11) ~ Week Eight (October 18) ~ Week Nine (October 25) ~ Week Ten (November 1) ~ Week Eleven (November 8)

Auburn at Georgia (TBD)

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry had perhaps its most dramatic edition in 117 meetings last year, when Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray overcame a 37-17 fourth quarter deficit and gave the Bulldogs the lead on a five-yard run with just under two minutes remaining. Those would not be the final heroics of the day, as Nick Marshall (a transfer from Georgia) found Ricardo Louis on a 73-yard 4th-and-18 tipped Hail Mary to steal one from Dawgs and set Auburn on its path to the SEC title. (Tray Matthews, the Georgia safety who originally tipped the ball, has since transferred to Auburn after being dismissed by Mark Richt.) Georgia’s schedule is not particularly trying after their first two games (Clemson, at South Carolina) and it’s easy to see them coming into this game with an 8-1 or 9-0 record. The Bulldogs return the bulk of their front seven, which gave up 323 rushing yards to Gus Malzahn’s spread and shred last year, and they’ll need new QB1 Hutson Mason to perform at Murray-like levels in what will almost certainly be a shootout.

Florida State at Miami (FL) (TBD)

Like most of the Seminoles’ regular season opponents last year, the Hurricanes were little more than a speed bump. Miami (7-0 at the time) made it to halftime down only one score, but Florida State dominated the second half 20-0 on the way to a 41-14 win. Al Golden’s defense had no answer for Jameis Winston and friends (517 yards, 11-for-15 on third downs), but they return seven starters and with an infusion of young talent in the front seven they might have enough juice to slow down the Seminoles and their veteran line. As we continue to highlight in this series, the big issue for Miami is settling on a quarterback, a position that was thrown into turmoil after presumptive starter Ryan Williams’ spring ACL injury. Williams should be back for this game, or we could see someone like redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen or transfer Jake Heaps established in the backfield with the uber-talented Duke Johnson. Whoever gets the start will be contending with a Florida State defense that looks to reload after losing five starters off of last year’s title team, but has plenty of blue-chip recruits to plug into the top of the depth chart.

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Nebraska defensive lineman Randy Gregory. (Doug McSchooler/AP)

Nebraska defensive lineman Randy Gregory. (Doug McSchooler/AP)

Nebraska at Wisconsin (TBD)

Depending on how Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern do in the first two months of the season, this could be a Big Ten West championship game. These two didn’t play last year but met twice in 2012, the first game a 30-27 Nebraska win that was swiftly avenged in the Big Ten title game where the Badgers won 70-31, embarrassing the Huskers with 539 rushing yards. (They’re now in the same division following the reorganization of Leaders and Legends to East and West.) Both of these teams have holes (Wisconsin is only returning three defensive starters, Nebraska just one starter from their offensive line) but both should also be in contention for the Big Ten title, scrapping to get a crack at Ohio State or one of the Michigan schools in Indianapolis. Match up of the game will likely be Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory against the gargantuan Badger line, including 6’8” Rob Havenstein at tackle.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech (TBD)

If a game is so clearly a trap game that everyone knows it, is it still a trap game? The Sooners will be coming off a potential conference-deciding game against Baylor and then have to travel to Lubbock, a place where weird things occur (like in 2007, when No. 3 Oklahoma fell to a four-loss Red Raiders team 34-27) in a series where weird things occur (2011, the 28-point underdog Red Raiders end Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak in a game delayed by lightning). If this is anything like last year’s version, we’re in for some fine theater and a lot of points, as Oklahoma prevailed 38-30 at home, handing Texas Tech their first loss of the season. Tech freshman Davis Webb played well on the road (33-for-53, 385 yards, two touchdowns) but had two costly picks, but he was exceptional in the bowl game following a late-season fade and basically is Kliff Kingsbury’s QB depth chart after an offseason of attrition. With nine starters back on defense, both offensive tackles and the emergence of Trevor Knight at quarterback, the Sooners are your conference favorites, but this is likely their toughest road test of the year.

South Carolina at Florida (TBD)

One of the very few occasions where a coach can go on the road and play a school that has a statue of him in front of their stadium. Steve Spurrier won a Heisman as a player and a national title as a coach in Gainesville, but his last trip there was a sloppy 44-11 loss in 2012. The Gamecocks won ugly at home last year (19-14) and get the Gators coming off a bye, but Will Muschamp has a few young defensive playmakers that could help swing the game the Gators’ way. Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was a five-star prospect that played like one the moment he hit the field, with 11 pass breakups and three picks as a freshman. Five-star junior Dante Fowler will handle the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position after amassing three and a half sacks and seven tackles for loss last year.

Other games to consider:

East Carolina at Cincinnati (7:00 p.m., Thursday)

Should Central Florida falter in a post-Bortle world, these two teams have the talent to step up and take the American title. Pirate quarterback Shane Carden is the best in the league, while Cincinnati returns seven players who notched at least 400 yards from scrimmage in addition to senior left tackle Eric Lefeld.

Pittsburgh at North Carolina (TBD)

Clemson at Georgia Tech (TBD)

Virginia Tech at Duke (TBD)

Three big games in the Coastal Division round robin (Clemson is in the Atlantic, but could severely hurt the Yellow Jackets’ chances with a cross-division road win). North Carolina won 34-27 in Heinz Field last year while Clemson routed Georgia Tech 55-31. Duke won in Blacksburg as 12-point underdogs last year en route to the division title, dropping the Hokies 16-10.

Arizona State at Oregon State (TBD)

The quality of quarterbacks out west is pretty staggering, and these are two of the good ones. Taylor Kelly and Sean Mannion combined to throw for 65 touchdowns in 2013 (along with 27 interceptions, so there were just a few mistakes). The Sun Devils won 30-17 at home last season, but will be dealing with a talented and experience Beaver back seven on the road this time around.

Northwestern at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m.)

Two talented offenses vying for Wrigleyville bar bragging rights. This will be the first time Northwestern has played Notre Dame since Pat Fizgerald implied the Wildcats were more consistent winners than the Irish and Stanford Cardinal.

Michigan State at Maryland (8:00 p.m.)

Ohio State at Minnesota (TBD)

Two teams on the road coming off what should be a physical encounter the prior week. The Terps and Gophers should both be solid in 2014, meaning this is a double trap/letdown game for the Big Ten East favorites.

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