College football is the greatest sport in the world.
Blink, and you might miss it. Just a handful of Saturdays every year. And then, we anticipate for what seems like forever, like a kid on an interminable Christmas Eve. The shortness of its season is its unique beauty.
Sports fandom is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe, like the Solid Fiancée, you’re a bigger fan of baseball. (Though she still loved college football enough to read my silly articles for years before we started dating.) Or maybe you watch the NBA every evening during the season, like my cousin.
For my money, though, college football is unmatched. The ups and downs and complexity and grit and terror and triumph all 893 college squads go through on a yearly basis is worth the price of admission. We can only cover a sliver of them in this space.
Here’s to the weeks that lack obvious headliners on paper, but will inevitably be filled with the combination of raw emotions and ramifications that will keep us coming back for more.
Enjoy this weekend. Savor it. And let me help you out below.
I struggled with this, but it’s not for the reason you think. A bunch of games this week are good, or fine, but not gobsmackingly amazing. Still, the least amount of games worth putting your eyes on are in the early window. So go see a movie or a play or a musical or something. Maybe rake the leaves piling up in your front yard. Dive in the pile of fall foliage. Go crazy. It’s your fall. Take it by the horns.
Illinois at Michigan
It’s NovemBERT, so the Fighting Illini are loaded for bear. Except not really, as they’re on a two-game losing streak. They’re what Dan and Ty might call a “half-team,” iffy on offense but overwhelmingly dominant on defense. And I mean dominant: top-10 in points allowed, total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and rushing yards allowed. Terrifying. Or at least it would be if Michigan wasn’t the best in the country in three out of four of those categories. This one’s in the Big House, and you should expect a defensive slogfest in clear, chilly weather.
TCU at Baylor
TCU remains on a hot streak, undefeated, resting on a powerful rushing game anchored by Kendre Miller and a pretty solid passing attack. Max Duggan’s rounded into his own. They just handled Texas in Austin. Nothing can go wrong…right? Well, here come the Bears. It’s a rivalry game, so we throw out the records. Baylor’s looking to bounce back after an abysmal showing last week against Kansas State. Richard Reese still anchors this offense on the ground, and they hold onto the ball well, giving a middling defense a chance to rest. There are plenty of variables that could break into the open here.
Texas at Kansas
It used to be a point of mockery when Texas lost to Kansas. If the Horns fall to the Jayhawks this year, it won’t be, but Austin’s one true team is determined to stave off that fate. Last week, they took one on the chin from TCU in a hard-fought defeat. It was frankly their best defensive performance all year. They have a history of playing up or down to their opponents. That could redound to their favor as they try to halt a skidding Jayhawk squad that’s lost four of its last five. Kansas has no defense to speak of and wins by converting half of their third-down plays and running the ball out of a fast-paced spread. The Big 12’s full of wackiness this year. Could be fun.
Miami at Clemson
This might get fun. Emphasis on might. The Canes are gunning for bowl eligibility. They haven’t done anything especially consistently or well this year, but they’re not awful in any statistical category, and they defend the run better than most. That’s why I think they might hang around with Clemson, which relies on its run game to maintain offensive efficiency and game control. Good news: if this gets out of hand, the other afternoon matchups are interesting, too.
Watch The Score
Georgia at Kentucky (3:30p/2:30p, CBS)
NC State at Louisville (3:30p/2:30p, ACCN)
Ohio State at Maryland (3:30p/2:30p, ABC)
Listen to our Week 12 Picks podcast
USC at UCLA
The rare late-season Pac-12 game with Playoff implications! Lincoln Riley has the Trojans on top of the conference, and with just a single loss, if things break their way, they could slot into the CFP. First, though, they need to beat rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. This whole year, USC’s remained dominant, with a one-point loss to Utah the only blot on their resume, with a pass-heavy offense that racks up enough points to compensate for a lackluster defense, especially in the secondary. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has a chance to unleash here, but that isn’t even what the Bruins do best on offense. Zach Charbonnet has been lethal on the ground. Yet UCLA has also struggled on defense as evidenced by last week’s loss to Arizona. This should be a fantastic matchup.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
BEDLAM!!! It always requires exclamation points, even when the two teams playing aren’t top tier, or even playing for a conference championship slot. Oklahoma State is what they’ve been for most of the last decade: a zoomy offense that does nothing but score and exhaust their opponents, coupled with a nonexistent defense. This year, Oklahoma could be their mirror image. Well, aside from Oklahoma’s love of the run game… and their two-game losing streak… and their chance to become bowl eligible. Oh, and the game’s in Norman. Let’s get nuts!
Watch The Score
Ole Miss at Arkansas (7:30p/6:30p, SECN)
Tennessee at South Carolina (7p/6p, ESPN)
Late Night Games
Utah at Oregon
We’ve got our first blockbuster #Pac12AfterDark game of the year here! These teams have both played brutal schedules. A trip to Levi’s Stadium or a New Year’s Six Bowl is not be out of the question. So, this one has stakes. Both the Ducks and the Utes boast elite offenses that can kill you on the ground or through the air. The glaring difference is on defense, where the Utes have a clear upper hand. Oregon has proven itself unable to defend the pass, so Cam Rising, now’s your time to shine.