The endless debate about the possible permutations of the College Football Playoff race will get narrowed after Week 12. Five of the biggest contenders for the semifinals face difficult opponents that are capable of knocking them out of consideration.
The biggest showdown comes in the Big Ten as No. 4 Ohio State hosts No. 8 Michigan State. The Buckeyes have already lost once at home to Oregon. The Spartans will be looking to make it two defeats against playoff contenders after a previous defeat of Michigan. The winner would just need one more victory to lock up the Big Ten East title.
No. 2 Alabama is expected to reach the SEC title game and face No. 1 Georgia, however a couple significant opponents are in front of the Crimson Tide. No. 22 Arkansas pays a visit Saturday, looking to extend its three-game win streak and earn its first victory in the series since 2006.
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There's also a challenge for No. 3 Cincinnati this weekend with SMU coming to town. The Mustangs rose as high as No. 17 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll before consecutive losses, but have an offense capable of scoring on the unbeaten Bearcats and making this a difficult game.
No. 5 Oregon heads to No. 25 Utah in a challenging matchup that likely will be the first of two games between the schools. Each needs one more win to lock up their respective division titles. The Utes are 6-1 since switching to Cam Rising at quarterback and the elements and environment will be difficult to overcome.
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Some of our experts offer their forecasts on what we will be shocked by this weekend.
A team that could ruin some Big Ten hopefuls' title aspirations is Wisconsin. The Badgers lost three of their first four games, looking absolutely pathetic in the process, to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan. They have turned it on lately. In their last six games, all victories, the defense hasn’t allowed more than 14 points. Of course, those wins came against offensive juggernauts such as Illinois, Army, Iowa and Rutgers. Next up is hard luck loser Nebraska and another chance for the defense to shine.
This is the week the College Football Playoff says goodbye to the Pac-12. Oregon has been sitting in the top four since the first edition of the rankings, but the Ducks have been living almost exclusively off their road upset of Ohio State. They have not been especially impressive in the month of November, and their loss to Stanford, even if it came in overtime, is the worst defeat any one-loss Power Five playoff contender has on its resume this season. Simply put: Oregon has no margin for error. So of course it has to play Utah, the most consistent and physical program in the league, this week -- in the Utes’ house. Utah, winners of six of its last seven with five double-digit victories in that span, pulls the upset to ensure the Pac-12 misses the playoff for the fifth consecutive season.
Iowa State hands Oklahoma a second straight loss and knocks the Sooners completely out of College Football Playoff contention. The loss even puts OU on the outside of the Big 12 championship game depending on the results of Oklahoma State against Texas Tech and Baylor against Kansas State. The Cyclones have had an uneven season after being picked to contend for the playoff but can finish in the Top 25 with three wins in a row to end the year.
Following an emotional home victory with a tough trip is always a tricky proposition. The scenario played out earlier this season with Baylor beating Texas and then following up with a loss at TCU. Now the Bears face the same challenge after their defeat of Oklahoma. A trip to face Kansas State looms this weekend and Baylor's emotional state will be critical to leaving with a win that will keep it in the Big 12 title race. The Wildcats have been surging lately with four consecutive wins and seem poised to make the Bears repeat history. Look for Skylar Thompson and Deuce Vaughn to provide the offense as Kansas State pulls off an upset.
Sorry, Pac-12, but, to borrow a phrase from the Sundays, here’s where the story ends. Oregon’s Week 2 win at Ohio State has apparently earned the team the benefit of a lot of doubts from the playoff committee, even to the point of forgiving what is becoming an increasingly bad loss to Stanford. But while one loss can be overcome, a second can’t be, and that second loss for the Ducks will arrive Saturday night at Utah. Oregon might very well win the rematch with the Utes in a couple of weeks and claim the Pac-12 title, but the damage will be done. The conference’s playoff drought will last another year.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 12