Even if you never liked the idea of a four-team College Football Playoff, you have to admit that things are getting more exciting as each week ticks off the 2014 season clock.
On national TV, things kickoff with a pair of Thursday night games on the ESPN/ESPN 2 that promise tons of yards and points—East Carolina-Cincinnati and Cal-USC—saving you and your family from The Vampire Diaries and The Biggest Loser.
The best early game on Saturday is Ohio State-Minnesota (ABC) and the cream of what may be the creamiest mid-afternoon time slot of 2014 is Mississippi State-Alabama (CBS) and Wisconsin-Nebraska (ABC). Both are huge games on the conference championship and playoff landscapes.
In primetime, Auburn-Georgia (ESPN) and LSU-Arkansas (ESPN 2) look tasty, but are only side dishes to one of the most intriguing matchups of the entire ACC slate: Florida State-Miami (Fla.) under the lights in Coral Gables.
Don’t forget to leave the light on for Arizona State-Oregon State (ESPN) late, an opportunity to see if the college football nation needs to fear the fork into Week 13.
Thursday, Nov. 13
7:00PM ET, ESPN2: EAST CAROLINA (6-2) at CINCINNATI (5-3): These two haven’t met since 2004, but played each other 17 times from 1986-2004, East Carolina holding the all-time advantage 12-5. This game ought to be highly entertaining, featuring plenty of offensive firepower vs. limited defensive resistance. East Carolina ranks No. 3 in passing yards, while Cincinnati is No. 15. On the other side of the ball, the Pirates rank No. 90 vs. the pass, while the Bearcats are No. 109. Both squads are 3-1 in league play, making this game a key contest in the race for the American Athletic championship.
9:00PM ET, ESPN: CAL (5-4) at USC (6-3): The second of two Thursday night games with big-time passing attacks taking on questionable defenses, tune in to see which of these two can rack up more passing yards. On one hand, its USC’s No. 25-ranked passing offense taking on Cal’s No. 128- ranked passing defense (the worst unit in the FBS), while on the other, it’s the Golden Bears’ No. 4-ranked passing attack vs. the Trojans’ No. 104-ranked pass defense. Check out USC quarterback Cody Kessler (#6), who ranks No. 4 in passer rating and has only thrown two interceptions in 297 attempts. The Trojans are on a 10-0 run vs. Cal, last losing in 2003 in Berkley and last dropping a home game to the Golden Bears in 2000.
Friday, Nov. 14
8:00PM ET, ESPN2: TULSA (2-7) at UCF (5-3): The last time these two squared off was in the 2012 Conference USA title game, a contest Tulsa won 33-27 in overtime. The Golden Hurricanes have struggled across the board this season, but do have the No. 20-ranked passing attack. This sets up well against a UCF defense that ranks in the top 25 in scoring and is No. 17 vs. the pass. Only two teams have posted 160-plus yards passing on the Knights this season: Penn State and Houston. Keep an eye on UCF sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn (#12) who has five interceptions this season, tying him for the fourth most in the FBS. UCF is 2-5 all-time vs. Tulsa, the only wins coming in 2007—a 44-23 regular-season victory in Orlando and a 44-25 Conference USA title game win, also at home.
Saturday, Nov. 15
12:00PM ET, ABC: No. 8 OHIO STATE (8-1) at No. 25 MINNESOTA (7-2): Minnesota hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 2000 and hasn’t won in Minneapolis since 1981. The key to beating the Buckeyes this season is shutting them down on third down: Virginia Tech held them to a season-low 25% in its 35-21 upset in Week 2 and Penn State kept them at 39 percent in its 31-24 near miss in Week 9d. Last week Ohio State posted a season-high 71% in its win over the No. 8 Spartans. Minnesota has held its foes to 38% on third down this season, if it can get close to this number on Saturday, it will have a chance to upset the Buckeyes. Check out Golden Gopher senior linebacker Damien Wilson (#5) who leads the team with 88 tackles and eight tackles for a loss and also has a pick, a forced fumble and two sacks. Ohio State can’t afford to have a hangover performance after last week’s blockbuster win, especially vs. a solid Golden Gopher team hiding behind the façade of being just good ole “Minnesota.”
12:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 19 CLEMSON (7-2) at No. 22 GEORGIA TECH (8-2): Clemson won its last two meetings with Georgia Tech by an average of 20 points, but hasn’t won at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 2003, dropping four straight. The compelling matchup here is Georgia Tech’s option-powered, No. 3-ranked rushing offense squaring off with a Clemson defense that ranks No. 4 vs. the run. The Tigers have held six of their nine opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing, including holding FCS South Carolina State to seven yards rushing, Florida State to 13, Louisville to 52 and Wake Forest to seven. Georgia Tech has posted 300-plus yards rushing six times this year, including hanging up 465 on Pitt and 478 on N.C. State last week. Check out Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley (#3), No. 8 in the nation in sacks (eight) and No. 10 in tackles for a loss (12.5).
12:00PM ET, ESPNU: VIRGINIA TECH (4-5) at No. 21 DUKE (8-1): In last year’s game between these two, unranked Duke beat No. 16 Virginia Tech 13-10 in Blacksburg, its first win over a ranked foe in 47 tries and its first win over the Hokies since 1981. This year, its Duke’s No. 11-ranked scoring defense trying to drive the Blue Devils one win closer to its second consecutive ACC title game appearance. The key to beating Duke is squelching its No. 38-ranked rush offense. The Blue Devils have only posted fewer than 100 yards rushing twice this season: First in its 22-10 loss at Miami (Fla.) and next in last weekend’s 27-10 win at Syracuse. Virginia Tech ranks No. 72 vs. the run, giving up 210, 364 and 258 ground yards respectively in its last three outings, losses to Pitt, Miami (Fla.) and Boston College.
12:00PM ET, SEC NETWORK: SOUTH CAROLINA (4-5) at FLORIDA (5-3): Tune in to see Florida head coach Will Muschamp can continue his quest to win out and save his job. This year’s edition of Cocks-Gators lines up to be a great strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness matchup. South Carolina ranks No. 24 in scoring and will square off with Florida’s No. 37-ranked scoring D. On the flip side, the Gators’ No. 62-ranked scoring offense might look like Baylor vs. the Gamecocks’ No. 106-ranked scoring defense. Anything could happen in this one, especially since South Carolina ranks No. 100 in turnover margin. Florida went 17-1 vs. South Carolina from 1964-2009, but since then has dropped three of its last four.
3:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 4 TCU (8-1) at KANSAS (3-6): Though an upset in this one seems completely unlikely, could TCU be hung over after man handling K-State last week? If the Jayhawks have a chance it will have to be ultra-careful with the ball, keeping it away from a Horned Frog defense that is tied for No. 2 in the nation in takeaways with 27. Other than that, Kansas will have to find a way to ignite a passing attack that hasn’t fired on all cylinders this season to torch a TCU secondary that ranks No. 92. After a slow start, the Jayhawks have posted 230-plus passing yards in each of its last four outings vs. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor and Iowa State. Check out Kansas senior linebacker Ben Heeney (#31), No. 11 in the FBS in tackles with 101. TCU is 2-0 vs. Kansas in Big 12 play, but before that dropped three straight to the Jayhawks from 1995-97. Kansas last beat a ranked team in 2010 when it knocked off No. 15 Georgia Tech 28-25 in Lawrence.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 1 MISSISSIPPI STATE (9-0) at No. 5 ALABAMA (8-1): Week 12’s version of the biggest game of the season in the SEC, tune in to CBS to see another mid-afternoon blockbuster. The key to Mississippi State living another week as an undefeated team is shoring up its No. 123-ranked pass defense vs. Alabama’s No. 29-ranked passing attack. The Bulldogs have coughed up 300-plus yards passing four times this season: 435 to UAB, 341 to LSU, 365 to Texas A&M and 401 to Kentucky. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Dak Prescott (#15) will be tasked with getting it done against the Tide’s No. 2-ranked scoring defense. Keep in mind that Alabama quarterback Blake Sims (#6) hasn’t thrown an interception since tossing the pick that sealed Ole Miss’ upset win in Week 6. Alabama has won six straight over Mississippi State by an average of 22 points. The Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Tide since 2007 (Nick Saban’s first season) and haven’t won in Tuscaloosa since 2006.
3:30PM ET, ABC: No. 16 NEBRASKA (8-1) at No. 20 WISCONSIN (7-2): This should be one of the best games of a jam-packed Week 12, likely deciding who represents the West division in the Big Ten title game and for Nebraska, if it lives another week as a playoff contender. These teams have eerily similar DNA: Formidable rushing attacks with solid defenses. Both rank in the top 10 in rushing yards per game, both have a Heisman-caliber running back and both rank in the top 20 in scoring defense. This will be a story of who can stop who the most. What may decide this one before it even starts is the questionable readiness of Cornhusker running back Ameer Abdullah (#8), the No. 6 back in college football in yards per game (138.89), five slots behind Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (#25) who sits at No. 1 (166.78). The last time Nebraska beat Wisconsin in Madison was in 1966, when Lyndon B. Johnson was president. That was also the only time the Huskers have ever won a game in Camp Randall stadium.
3:30PM ET, FOX: WASHINGTON (6-4) at No. 14 ARIZONA (7-2): The home team hasn’t lost in the last six games of this series, since 2007 when Washington fell 48-41 in Seattle. What’s worth watching in this one is the matchup between Arizona’s No. 13-ranked passing attack and Washington’s No. 113-ranked pass defense. The Wildcats are led by freshman-sensation, quarterback Anu Solomon (#12), tied for No. 8 in the nation in touchdown passes (25) and No. 9 in yards (2,816). He’ll be leading the way against a Huskie defense that given up 300-plus yards passing on five occasions this season: 475 to FCS Eastern Washington, 304 to Cal, 336 to Oregon, 314 to Colorado and 302 to UCLA. Look for a potential offensive explosion and a surge in Solomon’s dark-horse Heisman campaign.
3:30PM ET, NBC: NORTHWESTERN (3-6) at No. 18 NOTRE DAME (7-2): These two haven’t met since 1995, a game Northwestern won 17-15 in South Bend. Before that, the Irish had won 14 straight over the Wildcats and hold a 36-8-1 all-time advantage. Northwestern has dropped four straight, making them seem as dangerous as the Oakland Raiders, though they’ve been dismal on offense, the Wildcats play well on defense, ranking No. 31 in scoring. The Irish ought to be fired up after committing five turnovers in its ugly 55-31 loss to Arizona State last week, but don’t forget that this isn’t the first time Notre Dame has been sloppy with ball—it had five turnovers vs. Syracuse and three vs. North Carolina. This is Notre Dame’s first home game since Oct. 11, when the Irish outlasted the Tar Heels 50-43.
7:15PM ET, ESPN: No. 9 AUBURN (7-2) at No. 15 GEORGIA (7-2): Auburn has lost its last three games in Athens by an average of 23 points. Tune in to see Georgia’s No. 15-ranked rush offense, amped up with the return of Todd Gurley (#3), take on Auburn’s No. 29-ranked rush defense. On the other side of the ball, look for Auburn’s No. 8-ranked rushing offense to rebound against the Bulldogs’ No. 57-ranked rushing defense. All swirling numbers aside, this should be a battle between two well-coached, physical SEC teams who don’t need a third loss. After turning the ball over three times vs. Texas A&M last week, Auburn will need to take extra care vs. a Georgia team that ranks No. 4 in the FBS in turnover margin. The Tigers did edge Georgia 43-38 last season, but have only won four of their last 10.
7:30PM ET, FOX: TEXAS (5-5) at OKLAHOMA STATE (5-4): Though there is not a lot to like about this one on paper, Texas’ passing attack has had flashes of brilliance this season, making it an interesting playdate with Oklahoma State’s No. 115-ranked pass defense. The Longhorns hung up 334 passing yards in its narrow loss to Oklahoma and 321 in its win over Iowa State. Could the stage be set for Texas sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (#18) to have a breakout performance? Oklahoma State has won three of the last four meetings, but dropped the last game in Stillwater 41-36. The visitor is 5-0 in this series, the last home win coming in 2008 when the Longhorns beat the Cowboys 28-24 in Austin.
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 3 FLORIDA STATE (9-0) at MIAMI FLA. (6-3): Though this may not sound like a headliner, it may be the best game of the weekend. Even though Florida State ranks No. 10 in the nation in passing yards, it’s a dismal No. 104 in rushing, making it woefully one-dimensional. Enter in Miami’s No. 10-ranked pass defense, the best secondary the Seminoles will face this season other than Clemson’s No. 4-ranked unit. If the Hurricanes can force FSU to run the ball, anything could happen. Check out Miami’s quarterback, true freshman Brad Kaaya (#15) who has progressed nicely: After throwing nine interceptions in his first six starts he’s had three consecutive pick-less games. He ranks No. 11 in the FBS in passer rating and will up against a Seminole D that ranks No. 82 vs. the pass, coughing up 300-plus yards passing four times this season (to Clemson, N.C. State, Notre Dame and Louisville). Florida State has won four straight over Miami and seven of the last nine. The Hurricanes haven’t upended the ‘Noles in Coral Gables since 2004. Florida State has won 22 straight vs. unranked opponents, last losing 17-16 to N.C. State on Oct. 6, 2012.
8:00PM ET, ESPN2: No. 17 LSU (7-3) at ARKANSAS (4-5): LSU has won eight of the last 11 meetings, last falling to Arkansas 31-23 in Little Rock in 2010. Though the Tigers rank No. 5 in scoring defense, they are No. 60 vs. the run, setting up an interesting matchup with Arkansas’ fierce No. 17 rushing attack, fueled by running backs Jonathan Williams (#32) and Alex Collins (#3). If you don’t think the Razorbacks pose a serious threat, remember that their five losses are about as good as it gets: At then-No. 6 Auburn (45-21), vs. No. 6 Texas A&M (35-28 in overtime), vs. No. 7 Alabama (14-13), vs. No. 10 Georgia (45-32) and at No. 1 Mississippi State (17-10). There may be no such thing as the “best five-loss team in college football,” but if there was, it would be Arkansas. Other than the Tigers 41-17 win in 2011, the last nine games between these two have been decided by a touchdown or less.
10:15PM ET, ESPNU: SAN DIEGO STATE (5-4) at BOISE STATE (7-2): This is the game to start watching after the primetime action wraps up and before Arizona State-Oregon State kicks off, then it becomes your remote-swap game. Shockingly, Boise State has beaten San Diego State only once in three tries, a 52-35 road victory in 2011. The Aztecs won the other two contests, one at home and one away, by a total of five points. This matchup is a showdown between San Diego State’s No. 18-ranked scoring defense and Boise State’s No. 17-ranked scoring offense. Check out Bronco quarterback Grant Hedrick (#9) ,ranked No. 12 in the FBS in passer rating (156.77) and running back Jay Ajayi (#27), No. 11 in rushing yards per game (127.33). Don’t forget that SDSU has an offensive star of its own, sophomore running back Donnel Pumphrey (#19), the heir apparent to the Aztec rushing throne and No. 7 in yards per game (135.11).
10:45PM ET, ESPN: No. 6 ARIZONA STATE (8-1) at OREGON STATE (4-5): The last contender to be tested on national TV in Week 12, like TCU and Ohio State, Arizona State will have to work hard to avoid a letdown after a huge performance last week. The Sun Devils’ potent offense should have a big night against Oregon State’s No. 87-ranked scoring D, but ASU’s secondary—ranked No. 72 vs. the pass—will need to come up big against the Beavers’ No. 30-ranked passing attack. The Sun Devils coughed up 355 passing yards to UCLA in its only loss, the worst mark with the exception of giving up 446 yards through the air in last Saturday’s triumph vs. Notre Dame. That aerial explosion was rendered null and void by the Irish, who committed five turnovers in the loss. The home team has won each of the last four games in this series and Oregon State hasn’t lost to ASU in Corvallis since getting blasted 42-24 in 2005.