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What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:15
AM ET
Some storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsKevin Hogan and Stanford control their North Division fate and play a dangerous USC team on Saturday.
North race: Stanford is in the driver's seat. If it wins this week against USC and next week against Cal, the Cardinal will lock up the North Division and advance to the Pac-12 championship game for the second straight year. Oregon's best chance is for Stanford to lose one of those two games and the Ducks win out to finish with an 8-1 conference record.

South race: Arizona State and UCLA are in the same position as Stanford. If either team wins out, they will be the South Division champ. We have to wait one more week for these teams to meet, and both need to keep focus this week with a pair of dangerous North Division teams coming to town. Arizona State hosts Oregon State and UCLA hosts Washington. This is one of those "you have to earn it weeks" because of the league's nine-game schedule. USC is still in the hunt but must beat Stanford.

Bowl checkup: Right now the Pac-12 has eight bowl-eligible teams: Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Arizona. This week could provide some jockeying for bowl position and prestige. Colorado and California are officially out of bowl contention, and Washington State and Utah are still in the hunt with four wins each. Both have tough road draws this week -- Utah at Oregon and Washington State at Arizona -- and the stage is set for some good drama in Pullman, Wash., next week when Utah and Washington State square off in a game that could determine the postseason fates of both teams. Each needs to win two of their last three to become eligible.

North vs. South: This is a big weekend for determining which division is truly the strongest from top to bottom. Right now the North holds a slight edge, going 8-7 against teams from the South. But all six games this week feature North vs. South teams -- Washington is at UCLA, Washington State is at Arizona, Oregon State is at ASU, Stanford is at USC, Cal is at Colorado and Utah is at Oregon. The South is home for five of the six games.

All eyes on L.A.: Two huge games in the City of Angels this week with Stanford heading to USC and Washington coming down to UCLA. Both games have huge implications on the divisional standings. If USC wins, it keeps pace with UCLA and Arizona State. If the Cardinal win, they move one step closer to a second straight North title. Stanford has won the last four matchups and five of the last six. The last three have come down to a touchdown or less. Washington, meanwhile, looks to break its road blues. The Bruins are coming off a confidence-boosting road win at Arizona. We're also curious to see what Myles Jack brings, if anything, for an offensive encore.

All eyes (also) on Arizona: Speaking of huge games. Oregon State heads to Tempe to take on an Arizona State team looking to steal the South Division crown from UCLA. ASU still has a one-game advantage in Pac-12 play, so a loss wouldn't be devastating (losing to Washington would hurt UCLA's chances more). But the trip to Pasadena next week is obviously going to be very telling. In Tucson, the Wildcats are looking to better their bowl standing while the Cougars are hoping to take another step toward bowl eligibility. It's 12-straight 100-yard rushing games and counting for Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.

Someone has to win, right? California and Colorado are the only two teams still seeking a conference victory. Both teams have true freshmen starters at quarterback with Jared Goff at Cal and Sefo Liufau at Colorado. Speaking of true freshmen, keep an eye on Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam, who already holds the school's record for tackles by a freshman with 86. Cal hasn't won a conference game since topping Washington State on Oct. 13, 2012. Colorado hasn't won a league game since topping, well, Washington State on Sept. 22, 2012.

Bounce back: This is the first time we've had to include Oregon in a bounce-back category. But the Ducks were pretty much manhandled in the loss to Stanford last week. It was a low-output performance from the offense, and the defense couldn't get off the field. But the Ducks are still in contention for the North, though Oregon fans should be USC fans this weekend, and their shot at a BCS at-large game is still very much in play. Utah needs to find a way to snap its three-game slide. The Utes are winless since the victory over Stanford, and haven't won on the road this year. Like Stanford, Utah has a very physical front. But rehabbing at Autzen, especially with Oregon coming off of a loss, is going to be a tall order.

No more breathers: The bye weeks are done. All 12 teams are in action this week and next week. In Week 14, only California has an open date, but that's because its season will be over.

Giving back: ASU is known for embracing its military ties, and here's a head's up on something cool it is doing: As part of Sun Devil Athletics' annual Salute to Service football game against Oregon State, fans can purchase a ticket to donate to an active military member or veteran, and SDA will match every donated ticket with a second ticket.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:15
AM ET
OSUJohn Weast/Getty ImagesClint Chelf and Oklahoma State have to beat Texas in Austin if they hope to keep their conference title hopes alive, as the Cowboys are a game behind the Longhorns and Baylor in the loss column.
Let's take a look at the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 12:

1. Can Oklahoma State make this a race? The stakes for Oklahoma State this weekend are obvious: Beat Texas and we're looking at a three-team Big 12 title race. Lose, and the Cowboys join Oklahoma on the outside looking in, making the Dec. 7 Bedlam game irrelevant to the conference-title picture. We haven't said that in a long time, have we? The Cowboys have won five straight and face a Texas team missing several key cogs. They've won their last two games in Austin. Do it again and they just might sneak into the top 10.

2. Texas Tech goes for the big upset: The Red Raiders have plenty of motivation this week as the 27-point David to the conference's undefeated green-and-gold Goliath. The team that was once as hyped as any in college football at 7-0 is now staring down the real possibility of ending the season 7-5. Maybe being backed into a corner and underestimated is just what coach Kliff Kingsbury's squad needs this week to end a three-game slide and stun Baylor.

3. Texas offense without Johnathan Gray: One of the best running backs in the Big 12 is done for the season. How will the Longhorns' offense regroup? Expect a heavy workload for the junior duo of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and perhaps a few more creative ways to put the ball in the hands of the speedy Daje Johnson. If OSU loads the box to stop the Gray-less run game, can Case McCoy make the throws to beat the Pokes' talented secondary?

4. Baylor's defense tries to do it again: Shutting down Oklahoma in a 41-12 victory last Thursday might've done wonders for the national perception of Baylor's much-improved defense. But there will always be detractors who say Oklahoma was flat-out inept in Waco and that the Bears' performance wasn't conclusive enough. Maybe shutting down Jace Amaro and the rest of the Tech attack in front of a national primetime audience at AT&T Stadium would quiet a few of those remaining doubters.

5. K-State goes for four in a row: Winners of three straight, all by convincing or impressive margins, the Wildcats are enjoying the fruits of their weekly improvement after a tough 2-4 start to the season. A win over TCU makes Kansas State bowl eligible, a feat that seemed unlikely one month ago. Don't sleep on this KSU team -- it might be the Big 12's fourth- or fifth-best squad by year's end.

6. Does West Virginia have gas left in the tank? The Mountaineers have gone to overtime in each of the past two weeks, one a win at TCU and the other a shootout home loss to Texas in which they came up just short. This West Virginia defense is as beat up from an injury standpoint as any in the league. Can the Mountaineers get up for a road game against a Kansas team that plays most foes close? Knowing they need to win out to reach a bowl should be sufficient motivation.

7. Oklahoma offense must answer criticism: As usual, Bob Stoops faced another week full of criticism and second-guessing following a Sooners loss. This time, the public's focus was on quarterback Blake Bell, play-caller Josh Heupel and the sputtering offense that duo is held responsible for, fair or not. This might be a good week to pound the rock and rediscover the run game that was less than impactful against Baylor.

8. TCU trying to keep its bowl hopes alive: If there are two teams nobody in this conference wants to play right now, it might be Kansas State and Baylor. That's all the Horned Frogs have left in 2013, and all they have to play for right now at 4-6 is a puncher's chance at bowl eligibility. The only time Gary Patterson hasn't taken his team bowling was 2004.

9. Is this the week Kansas finally wins? You might've noticed my colleague Jake Trotter boldly went out on a limb and predicted Kansas would pull off a victory over West Virginia on Saturday. The Jayhawks, you might have heard, have lost 27 consecutive Big 12 games and are 0-15 in conference games under Charlie Weis. Will KU reward the bravery of Trotter and its remaining fans and finally notch that elusive victory? If this isn't the week, don't worry, there’s still a game against Iowa State left.

10. Bring it on, Grant Rohach: We're trying to find reason to get excited about an Iowa State offense that just hasn't been able to figure things out this season. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson is still dealing with a thumb injury, so Rohach will get a chance to shake off the jitters from his first career start and give it a go on the road against Oklahoma. Not an ideal situation by any means, but perhaps he can give ISU a spark.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:15
AM ET
We've already reached Week 12 of the season, with just two regular-season weekends left. Thankfully we have a Thursday night game to help kick things off. Here's what to watch in that contest and more in this weekend's ACC lineup.

1. Georgia Tech D looks to keep it going. The Yellow Jackets had an extra week to prepare for Clemson, though they have regained their edge defensively in a three-game winning streak. They held a Pitt team that ended up beating Notre Dame to just 10 points, and they shut out Syracuse back on Oct. 19 to kick-start this little run. A win would put Georgia Tech right in the middle of things in this wild Coastal Division race.

[+] EnlargeRoderick McDowell
MCT via Getty ImagesClemson RB Roderick McDowell is a little under the radar, but he's averaging nearly 100 yards a game over the Tigers' last four contests.
2. Clemson run game. Remember the Tigers? Everyone seemingly forgot about these guys after the Florida State game, but they, too, are back after a bye for a Thursday night home game against Georgia Tech. Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins have been their normal selves, but Roderick McDowell's play in recent weeks could prove helpful against an option offense. McDowell has three touchdowns over his last two games, and he is averaging 95.75 yards per contest in his last four outings.

3. BC goes for bowl-eligibility. Boston College's turnaround in Year 1 under Steve Addazio has been among the nation's biggest surprises. Andre Williams carried the Eagles to their first road win of the season last week, and he will likely be relied upon again as BC goes for win No. 6 and tries to keep NC State winless in ACC play.

4. Marquise Williams. The North Carolina offense is his, and he did not disappoint last week in throwing, rushing and catching touchdowns for a win over Virginia. The Tar Heels are riding a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh, where the Panthers ended Notre Dame's BCS bowl hopes last week.

5. Pitt's D looks for another strong outing. The Panthers played respectable defense against option offense in consecutive weeks -- good enough to win -- before finally breaking through in the win last week over the Irish. They forced three turnovers and now find themselves also a win away from a second-straight bowl berth under Paul Chryst if they can fend off UNC at Heinz Field.

6. Logan Thomas tries to finish out strong. Thomas answered his critics emphatically last week in a big win at Miami, as he connected on 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. He will look for another strong outing against Maryland on Senior Day, as he can help change the narrative around his career with the Hokies, who are also right in the middle of the cluttered Coastal Division race.

7. Syracuse D tries to slow down FSU. The Orange shut out Wake Forest and held Maryland to a field goal in last week's 20-3 road win. Now they, too, are -- tell me if you've heard this before -- a win away from bowl-eligibility, though the challenge will be just a bit more difficult Saturday against the No. 2 Seminoles.

8. Winston bouncing back. The first real test Jameis Winston faced all season? A negative off-field headline, which came Wednesday. There is no use speculating at this point, and Syracuse isn't Clemson or Miami. But how Winston responds to his first real dose of controversy will be a storyline that follows him for as long as the ongoing investigation lasts.

9. Can Miami ground game recover? One game without Duke Johnson yielded unfavorable results for the Hurricanes, who gained just 28 rushing yards as a team in the 42-24 home loss to Virginia Tech. Dallas Crawford led Miami with 37 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, but he and the rest of the backfield will need to do more if the Canes hope to escape Durham with a win.

10. Duke's D looks to continue hot streak. The Blue Devils cannot stop turning the ball over on offense. Fortunately for them, their defense has turned a corner during this five-game winning streak, forcing eight turnovers themselves in their last two outings and giving up just 14.75 points per contest over their last four. Duke is 7-2 but wants more in a matchup with Miami that has major division implications, something that probably would have sounded laughable as far as a month back when looking ahead on the schedule.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:15
AM ET
Storylines to watch in the Big Ten this weekend:

[+] EnlargePelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsNebraska is 7-0 against Michigan State, and Bo Pelini hopes to make that 8-0 and take a big step towards winning the Legends Division on Saturday.
1. The challenge at the top of the Legends Division: It’s going down in Lincoln, Neb. Michigan State travels south to try to close out the Legends race, while the Cornhuskers hope to crash that party. The Spartans are coming off a bye with an extra week to prep, but Nebraska has been the thorn in their side that they’ve just never been able to get out (Nebraska holds a 7-0 advantage over MSU). And expect the Huskers faithful to come out for this one, as a win could prove to be huge. If both teams win out, and it comes down to the head-to-head winner, the nod to face Ohio State would be given to Nebraska.

2. The challenge at the bottom of the Legends Division: And on the opposite end of that spectrum there’s the Northwestern-Michigan game. Two teams that were once thought of as top-25 teams are now fighting to find any kind of an identity while dwelling near the bottom/lower half of the Big Ten. The Wolverines have dropped three of their past four and the Wildcats have yet to win a conference game. This is a game for pride. This is a game featuring two teams desperate for a win. And the good news is -- one of these teams has to win. Northwestern had a week to heal its bodies (which it needed badly) and the Wolverines haven’t traveled well under Brady Hoke, which creates an interesting matchup.

3. Northwestern making a final push: Even with their Big Ten breakdown, the Wildcats are still just two wins away from being bowl eligible. They face Michigan and Michigan State at home and Illinois on the road. If there’s a time for Northwestern, it is now. Pulling wins out over Michigan and Illinois wouldn’t be too far-fetched in the Big Ten reality, and if Pat Fitzgerald can rally his troops, it could happen. Look for the possibility of a rejuvenated Wildcats team fighting for their postseason life -- that’s dangerous.

4. Teams running wild: Several games this weekend feature intriguing matchups in the run game. There are two games that have lopsided advantages for the run game. Penn State’s Bill Belton will have the chance to find holes in Purdue’s (very holey) defense. The Boilermakers have the second-worst rushing defense in the Big Ten, allowing 224 yards per game. Their rushing defense is only better than Illinois’. Which, speaking of that, the Illini’s conference-worst run defense will face the conference-best rushing attack in Ohio State, which averages 301 yards per game.

Also keep an eye on the running backs in Nebraska-Michigan State. The Spartans will attempt to keep Ameer Abdullah quiet, but the Big Ten’s leading rusher -- 135 yards per game -- will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. And on the opposite side, MSU running back Jeremy Langford will try to keep his breakout season on the upswing against a Cornhuskers defense that allowed minus-21 rushing yards to Michigan last weekend. And finally, Wisconsin and its exciting run game will face Indiana -- the No. 10 rushing defense in the conference.

5. Ohio State looks to make statements: The Buckeyes don’t have the best strength of schedule from here on out, so if they want to find themselves in the national title game, they need to make big statements in their remaining games. And the players have finally begun acknowledging that publicly. Ohio State has won its past three games by a combined score of 153-38. And with Illinois, Indiana and Michigan as its last three opponents, they could look to repeat those kind of performances.

6. Defenses maintaining momentum: Obviously, the Michigan State-Nebraska game will be one to watch (notice a trend here?). The Spartans’ top-ranked defense will look to contain the Cornhuskers, while Nebraska -- fresh off an impressive showing in which they delivered Hoke his first loss as head coach in Michigan Stadium -- will look to do the same. Ohio State will continue its rally cry that it’s not just an offensive team and the Badgers, the Big Ten’s No. 2 defense, will have the chance to face Indiana, which features an impressive offense of its own (at times).

7. Teams looking for crucial wins heading into dangerous territory: Road wins are key for every team. However, there are a few Big Ten teams hitting the road this weekend that need to find those road wins in volatile opposing stadiums. Indiana, which is two wins away from bowl eligibility with three games remaining, travels to Madison to play Wisconsin, which is never a friendly atmosphere. The Wolverines, who’ve struggled mightily on the road and haven’t looked like a complete team for more than a month, travel to Northwestern. Generally, NU features a heavy Michigan feel during that game but with the Wildcats’ recent push to be Chicago’s Big Ten team, this year could feature a different atmosphere. And the Spartans will attempt to seal up the Legends race in front of the “Sea of Red” in Memorial Stadium.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
10:15
AM ET
The season is winding down, but the drama is ratcheting up. Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:

1. Auburn's revenge tour: It's not Alabama-LSU, but this week's marquee matchup does have one of those cool SEC nicknames -- "The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" -- and a boatload of history. No. 25 Georgia pays a visit to No. 7 Auburn, "The Loveliest Village On The Plains" (there's another one of those nicknames). The rivalry dates back to 1892 with 116 meetings, and it couldn't be more hotly contested. The series is tied 54-54-8. This season, both teams have plenty to play for, as Auburn (9-1, 5-1 in the SEC) controls its destiny in the SEC West, and Georgia (6-3, 4-2) is still alive in the East. But the surprising Tigers clearly have momentum and something to prove to themselves, the SEC and rivals such as Georgia. That's right, this one is personal. Auburn's winless SEC season in 2012 was sealed by embarrassing losses to Georgia (38-0) and Alabama (49-0). The Bulldogs also have won six of the past seven games against Auburn.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIConnor Shaw and the Gamecocks hope to keep their SEC East dreams alive with a win over Florida on Saturday.
2. Precursor to the SEC East conclusion: Missouri (9-1, 5-1) is in the driver's seat and is resting up this weekend before a fascinating final stretch that features two of its tougher challenges on the schedule -- at Ole Miss and versus Texas A&M. The Tigers are not to be taken lightly, but those matchups leave open the possibility of South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) or Georgia sneaking into Atlanta if Mizzou slips up. With a win in their final SEC game Saturday night against Florida, the Gamecocks could sit back and root against Missouri. The Bulldogs would be doing much of the same if they upset Auburn on the road and then close out their SEC slate with a win against Kentucky.

3. Style points for Saban? Somehow Alabama's win against LSU last weekend didn't resonate with the college football-viewing public, even though the Tide scored more points (38) than any game in the series since a 41-12 victory in 1947. Oh well, Nick Saban's perpetual pursuit of perfection persists. Perhaps he can convince the the nation's No. 1 team to be on guard for a letdown against Mississippi State, a team Bama has dominated during a five-game winning streak with a combined score of 155-34.

4. Nick Marshall vs. Georgia: Auburn's quarterback stood on the other sideline two seasons ago, as a defensive back, when his Georgia Bulldogs dismantled the Tigers 45-7. That game was in Athens, Ga., about three hours north of Marshall's hometown of Pineview, Ga. After he was dismissed by the Bulldogs for a violation of team rules in February 2012, Marshall went the juco route, became a QB and resurfaced at Auburn. It has been a pretty good move, as Marshall leads SEC quarterbacks with 734 rushing yards and ran for a career-high 214 yards last week, the highest individual rushing total in the conference this season and third all time among Auburn QBs. While Georgia's run defense has improved to fourth in the conference (giving up 126 yards a game), UGA has surrendered 17 rushing touchdowns. The Tigers have to be salivating at the thought of Marshall and the third-best rushing attack in the nation facing his old mates.

5. Sleeping giant could awaken: Speculate all you want about why South Carolina's all-everything defensive end Jadeveon Clowney isn't producing his usual havoc and statistics consistently this season -- teams are running away from him, he's facing double- and triple-teams, he's trying not to get hurt and risk the payday everyone expects in May. Whatever. Clowney doesn't have to worry about any of that against the wounded Florida offensive line Saturday. The Gators have lost three starting offensive tackles this fall and have moved 6-foot-4, 307-pound left guard Max Garcia into Clowney's line of fire at left tackle.

6. Streakin' Dores: Not much can top what Vanderbilt has already achieved this season, beating traditional East powers Georgia and Florida in two of its past three games. But a win against lowly Kentucky on Saturday would qualify the 5-4 Commodores for their third consecutive bowl game. Let's put that into perspective: Before back-to-back bowl appearances in the past two seasons, Vanderbilt had been to four bowl games in 120 years of football. Winning out -- which is certainly possible for a confident team that finishes with UK, Tennessee and Wake Forest -- would give Vandy 23 wins (with a bowl game still to play) in the past three seasons. That would be the best three-year stretch in VU history since Hall of Fame coach Dan McGugin went 24-4-2 from 1926-28.

7. Under-the-radar Rebels: Last week, Ole Miss became the latest team to handle a foundering Arkansas program that is winless in the SEC. It was the Rebels' third straight win, a streak that started with a signature upset of LSU and has given Hugh Freeze's upstart bunch a ton of momentum. The Rebs have been able to shake off the disappointment of three straight losses to three of this fall's SEC West heavyweights -- Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. Now Mississippi has a solid chance to finish the season with six straight wins and 9-3 overall record. The task is not implausible, as Ole Miss plays host to Troy on Saturday, welcomes Missouri on Nov. 23 and wraps up its season with the Egg Bowl at Mississippi State on Nov. 28.

8. More pain for MSU? A difficult season could get tougher Saturday, as Mississippi State hosts No. 1 Alabama. The Tide will be the Bulldogs' sixth opponent currently among the top 18 in the AP poll, and the first five meetings didn't go so well. They gave up 85 points in the past two losses to two of the SEC's best offenses in South Carolina and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs did put up a good fight against the Aggies with 21 points in the fourth quarter of a 51-41 loss, but inspirational quarterback Dak Prescott (elbow) is questionable this week.

9. Whither James Franklin? Vanderbilt is no doubt relishing a breakthrough season, but might the Commodores be flying just a bit too close to the sun? Head coach James Franklin already has done what few could envision -- winning and recruiting at a school previously known for raising the collective GPA of the conference. But there could very well be a price for that success, as his name is popping up in early coaching searches. Franklin already has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the USC Trojans job. If you live in Nashville, Tenn., keep an eye on the silly season this December.

10. It's almost over: Five teams have their final bye of the season this weekend. Missouri is resting up to make its final push for an SEC East crown. LSU and Texas A&M are licking various wounds and lamenting the end of their West division hopes. Tennessee is looking to regroup after three straight losses, win its last two games and go to a bowl for the first time since 2010. And Arkansas is simply trying to find a way back into the win column after seven straight losses.

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