Looking ahead to college football: Week 12′s five games to watch

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. Fun week, starting Tuesday night.

These games are played the weekend of November 16.

Oklahoma State at Texas (TBD) – This was a 41-36 shootout last year, with the Horns prevailing on a late touchdown run. The Texasdefense is stacked with blue-chip talent, but the last time they kept Mike Gundy’s offense below 33 points was 2009. Can Oklahoma State replace the production of departed tailback Joseph Randle (199 yards rushing in last year’s game)? Can Texas quarterback David Ash replicate last year’s effort (304 yards and 3 touchdowns)? Those will be two of the biggest questions in this year’s contest between two teams picked to finish at the top of the Big 12.

Stanford at USC (TBD) – The transition of this rivalry from the initial Pete Carroll/ Jim Harbaugh clashes to today has been staggering. In 2007, USC was a 41-point favorite when the Cardinal upset them. Two years later Stanford won 55-21 in the “What’s your deal?” beatdown, the start of their current four-game winning streak in the series. USC was the second-ranked team in the country last year when they fell at Stanford, their first loss in what turned into an ugly season. With the Cardinal an early national title favorite, can the Trojans return the favor?

Alabama at Mississippi State (TBD) – Mississippi State was a perfect 7-0 coming into last season's match up with the Tide, but found themselves absolutely suffocated in Tuscaloosa, falling behind 38-0 before a late score finally got them on the board. It started a death spiral for the Bulldogs, who lost four of their last five games to close out the year. The cowbells will be ringing in Starkville, but they’ll need more than a partisan crowd to take down the defending champs, whose three-headed monster of A.J. McCarron, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon are going to cause headaches for SEC defenses all season.

Michigan at Northwestern (TBD) – A tricky game for the Wolverines, who are concluding a rough three-game stretch that starts with Michigan State and Nebraska. They’re also facing a Northwestern team coming off a bye week who has to feel like they let last year's victory slip away, when a late circus catch by Roy Roundtree helped send the game to overtime, where the Wildcats lost 38-31. I expect a highly entertaining rematch here.

Florida at South Carolina (TBD) – Last year’s match up of top ten teams in Gainesville was very, very weird. The Gators scored 44 points but gained less than 200 yards of offense, capitalizing on a series Gamecock miscues (4 turnovers) and suffocating Steve Spurrier’s offense (3.9 yards per pass and 1.4 yards per rush). I could see both of these teams sitting in the top ten again when this game rolls around, and along with each squad’s battle with Georgia, this is one of the three clashes that will decide the SEC East. Schedule advantage to USC, who has a bye week to prepare, while Florida will be coming off consecutive division clashes with Georgia and Vanderbilt.

Other games considered:

Michigan State at Nebraska (TBD) – As we’ve talked about, there aren’t many losable games on Nebraska’s schedule. This is potentially one of them, as last year Michigan State – who had some of the worst luck imaginable in 2012 – lost to the Huskers on a last-second touchdown following a questionable pass interference call.

Washington at UCLA (9:00 p.m., ESPN2, Friday) – Enjoy a nice little west coast shootout as you celebrate the start of the weekend. UCLA will likely be in a tight race for the Pac-12 South, meaning they can’t afford to drop many home games like this.

Ohio at Bowling Green (7:30 p.m., ESPN, Tuesday) – Midweek MACtion between two of the East Division favorites. Points on points on points.

San Diego State at Hawaii (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – Late-night Mountain West to help you wind down after a long day.

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