SportsPulse: What did the committee get right and wrong in the latest playoff ranking? One thing is for sure, LSU’s ranking is head scratching.
College football’s Week 12 lineup features a number of games that could register high on the fun meter, though with one possible exception the schedule’s effect on the College Football Playoff picture will almost certainly be negligible.
Beyond a certain surprisingly crucial clash in the Bronx, the rest of the slate consists of contenders currently on the outside looking in trying to at least hold their place in line should chaos arrive over Thanksgiving weekend.
Here are Saturday’s top five impact games, a list that stunningly does not include No. 1 Alabama’s home date with The Citadel. But they’re still worthy of acknowledgment.
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Syracuse
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The Fighting Irish need a win on each coast to submit a 12-0 resume to the College Football Playoff committee, one that would almost certainly be accepted. But before they conclude their regular season at struggling Southern California, they must contend with the surging Orange who are enjoying a season that is among, if not the, best in the program’s recent history. The Yankee Stadium crowd will probably lean toward Notre Dame, but Syracuse should have a few fans in attendance as well.
Notre Dame made short work of beleaguered Florida State last time out despite the absence of QB Ian Book. He is expected to be back in action, but Brandon Wimbush has the experience to run the show if needed. The Orange pass defense does give up its share of yards, 261 a game, but FS Andre Cisco helps make up for it with five of the team’s 14 interceptions. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey is a dangerous dual threat, though he’s been known to take big hits when he tucks the ball and takes off. Fortunately, freshman Tommy DeVito has been a capable substitute when needed, but Dungey would still be wise to avoid Fighting Irish LB Te’von Coney.
Duke at No. 2 Clemson
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Tigers have clinched the ACC Atlantic and will play for the league title. Before that they have a date with in-state rival South Carolina, but for the most part they have seemingly cleared the highest hurdles on their path to the playoff. The Blue Devils, however, can be scrappy, and the tremendous job coach David Cutcliffe has done keeping a competitive lineup on the field despite a slew of injuries cannot be overstated.
Duke QB Daniel Jones is as tough as they come, averaging 284.4 yards of total offense a game despite missing time earlier in the season with a collarbone injury. He must try to avoid contact as much as possible, but guys like DT Christian Wilkins and LB Kendall Joseph on the Clemson defense make that extremely difficult. The Tigers didn’t exactly move the ball with ease against Boston College, so QB Trevor Lawrence will want to set the tone quickly against the short-handed Blue Devils defense. LB Joe Giles-Harris is an excellent anchor for the unit, but S Dylan Singleton became the latest casualty when he went down with an ankle fracture in last week’s win against North Carolina.
Arizona at No. 9 Washington State
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
On the eve of the Apple Cup showdown with Washington that will determine the Pac-12 North champ, the Cougars must avoid looking ahead. The rested Wildcats ride into Pullman on a two-game winning streak and are a victory away from bowl eligibility despite a miserable start to the campaign.
Cougars QB Gardner Minshew remains the nation’s most productive passer, averaging 385.2 yards a game. He figures to have another big night against the Wildcats, whose air defense isn’t exactly rock solid. Arizona QB Khalil Tate will try to keep pace. He’s been slowed all season by a bad ankle that has taken away a big part of his game. But his throwing has improved dramatically, as shown by his career-high five TD passes in his most recent outing against Colorado two weeks ago.
No. 20 Cincinnati at No. 11 Central Florida
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
It’s become a coaching cliché, but like all such aphorisms it is rooted in truth. UCF can only control what it can control. That is to say, all the Knights can do about their prospects of getting into the playoff is keep winning. UCF’s aspirations are of no concern to the Bearcats, who have designs on the American Athletic Conference title themselves. But whether you have allegiance to either school, this promises to be the most fun game of the weekend, hence its primetime placement.
QB McKenzie Milton has helped the Knights maintain their winning ways after the perfect 2017 campaign. This season, he has accounted for 29 total TDs, 21 by air, as the team averages a hefty 44.2 points a game. His array of speedy weapons includes RB Adrian Killins and WR Gabe Davis. Cincinnati, however, is putting up 35 points per contest while giving up just a shade under 15. RB Michael Warren is a constant home run threat, and QB Desmond Ridder isn’t afraid to take off himself.
No. 18 Iowa State at No. 14 Texas
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network
This is an elimination game between two teams still in the Big 12 title hunt, but its impact on the playoff might best be described as indirect. Nevertheless, there will be interested observers in Oklahoma and West Virginia, as the Longhorns and Cyclones will determine which of those current Big 12 leaders must win next weekend’s head-to-head meeting to guarantee a spot in the conference championship game — assuming the Mountaineers handle their own business this week at Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). In short, because of head-to-head tiebreakers an Iowa State win in Austin would require WVU to beat the Sooners, while a Texas victory means Oklahoma must win in Morgantown. Got all that? Good, now to the game itself.
Texas QB Sam Ehlinger needed everything in his bag to get the Longhorns past Texas Tech, evoking memories of his late-game heroics in the Red River shootout win against the Sooners earlier. But Iowa State has something most other Big 12 teams lack, a competent defense. The backbone of the unit is the secondary, featuring CB Brian Peavy and S Greg Eisworth. The Cyclones are the only team in the conference holding opponents to fewer than 21 points a game, which has allowed freshman QB Brock Purdy to develop since being pressed into service. LB Gary Johnson and the Longhorns’ front seven must keep Purdy as well as Cyclones’ RB David Montgomery bottled up. Montgomery will miss the first half due to an ejection against Baylor.