In most years, Week 12 in college football would be a time for teams to start making closing arguments on their seasons. But this is 2020, and there's lots more football left after the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The Big Ten has been completely unpredictable with expected contenders falling by the wayside and surprise teams emerging. There are four unbeatens left – two in the East and two in the West. Conveniently, the top two teams in each division are playing each other with No. 3 Ohio State hosting No. 10 Indiana and No. 12 Wisconsin traveling to No. 20 Northwestern. By Saturday night, there should be more certainty about which teams will be headed to the conference title game.
The same is true in the Big 12 with the annual Bedlam showdown between No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 17 Oklahoma. The Sooners have rebounded from their slow start but have ground to make up on the Cowboys and Iowa State. A Sooners loss would end their hopes of a sixth consecutive league championship.
There are compelling stories outside the Power Five as Cincinnati and Liberty hit the road with difficult games threatening their perfect seasons.
A look at the five biggest questions for Week 12:
Will there be a new Big 12 champion?
Should Oklahoma lose to Oklahoma State at home, the Sooners surely will see their run of conference titles end. However, Lincoln Riley's team looks to be peaking at the right time, having run off four consecutive wins, helped by the return of RB Rhamondre Stevenson and DL Ronnie Perkins from suspension. The last three wins have been by a combined 106 points. The sledding will be tougher this week as the Cowboys – co-leaders in the league with Iowa State – have a defense that can slow down Oklahoma's potent offense. That pushes the emphasis whether OSU can find enough consistent offense to keep the ball away from the Sooners and pull off a huge road upset.
Oklahoma State running back LD Brown (7) is tackled by Oklahoma safety Delarrin Turner-Yell during their 2019 game at Boone Pickens Stadium. (Photo: Rob Ferguson, USA TODAY Sports)
Does Indiana have any chance against Ohio State?
When the Big Ten season started, there was little anticipation for this game between the conference's overwhelming favorite and a plucky underdog that was going to face Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State in three of the first four weeks. Then a strange thing happened. The Hoosiers won all three games and beat Rutgers to become the lone threat to the Buckeyes in the East Division. The name Indiana might not strike fear into opponents. However, the players and coach Tom Allen have proved – especially in dominant wins against the Wolverines and Spartans – that this team is capable of an upset. If the defense gives QB Michael Penix Jr. enough opportunities, he will lead scoring drives and keep this game close.
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Just how good is Northwestern?
After blowing out Maryland in its opener, Northwestern has played it closer against Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue. One of four unbeaten teams left in the Big Ten, the Wildcats’ biggest test comes Saturday against Wisconsin. One thing we know: Northwestern’s defense is legitimately good. The Wildcats have allowed just 10 points in the second half all season and held opponents to 4.3 yards per play and 3.6 yards per carry. And the offense is much improved under Indiana transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who has 845 yards of total offense. In all, everything we’ve seen through four games says Northwestern has what it takes to win the Big Ten West and reach a New Year’s Six bowl. While external expectations weren’t very high after winning three games in 2019, don’t forget the Wildcats went 8-1 in the league and reached the conference championship game two years ago.
Will Cincinnati get tested by Central Florida?
Well, UCF is certain to provide the Bearcats’ stiffest challenge to date, if only by default. Cincinnati has run through every opponent easily, with only one game decided by fewer than 21 points. As with Northwestern, the Bearcats are defined by an outstanding defense while the offense, which ranks 13th nationally in yards per play, is overlooked. But the best offense in this matchup belongs to the Knights, who are averaging 619.1 yards per game to lead Football Bowl Subdivision teams. In that sense, this is a classic matchup: one of the best defenses in the country matching wits with quarterback Dillon Gabriel and this dynamic UCF offense.
Does Liberty stay unbeaten against N.C. State?
Is North Carolina State better than Virginia Tech? The Wolfpack certainly aren’t worse. And after just getting past the Hokies 38-35 on a late field goal two weeks ago, Liberty will likely need all 60 minutes to beat its third Atlantic Coast Conference opponent on the season. This is a potential statement game for the Flames, coach Hugh Freeze and quarterback Malik Willis, who has a shot at posting 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 yards on the ground during this shortened season. For Liberty, another win would greatly increase the likelihood of going undefeated, though Coastal Carolina is looming to end the regular season. Freeze might’ve rehabilitated his reputation enough to be in consideration for major job openings, including the recent opening at South Carolina. Don’t be surprised if Saturday’s game ends with both teams scoring 35 or more points.
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