Every Friday throughout the season we’ll highlight the five best games of the coming weekend. This year, we’ll pick those games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
No. 3 Notre Dame’s trip to New York City to battle No. 12 Syracuse will have the eyes of the nation. But barring an out-of-nowhere upset (like No. 2 Clemson losing to Duke or No. 4 Michigan losing to Indiana), any potential CFP chaos wont show its face until next week.
Still, there’s plenty on the line — especially from a divisional perspective (hello, Pac-12). While the SEC title matchup is set, every other FBS conference — from the ACC to the Sun Belt — has games of importance. Beyond that, there are teams fighting for bowl berths, including Florida State and Virginia Tech — schools that haven’t missed the postseason in decades (1981 for FSU, 1993 for VT). On top of that, coaches like USC’s Clay Helton and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora are fighting to hold on to their jobs.
The games we’ve highlighted below are as much from the lens of entertainment value as potential impact on the CFP rankings. Let’s get to it.
(Games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, all times ET)
5. Arizona at No. 8 Washington State
Time: 10:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: WSU -10
Washington State can’t afford to look ahead to Washington. The Apple Cup will almost certainly decide the Pac-12 North title (as long as UW beats Oregon State). But the 9-1 Cougars are still in the CFP conversation. To stay in the mix, WSU, winners of six straight behind Heisman candidate QB Gardner Minshew, has to take care of Arizona at home.
After a miserable start to Kevin Sumlin’s first season, Arizona has been playing much better lately. The Wildcats have won two in a row over Oregon and Colorado. Against CU, Khalil Tate had his best performance of the season (350 yards, 5 TDs). Coming off a bye, Tate, who has dealt with an ankle injury, should be as healthy as he’s been all year. He and the Wildcats could play the role of spoiler.
Picks: Sam Cooper: WSU -10, Nick Bromberg: Arizona +10
4. No. 9 West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: WVU -4.5
West Virginia is in a similar spot. Like WSU, WVU is still in the CFP picture but has no margin for error, especially with No. 6 Oklahoma visiting Morgantown next week. That could end up being a CFP elimination game (also with serious New Year’s Six implications), and potentially the first of back-to-back matchups between WVU and OU, with the second being the Big 12 title game.
But before we get to all of that, WVU visits Stillwater to play a pesky Oklahoma State team in the hunt for a bowl berth. At 5-5, the Cowboys have to beat either WVU or TCU next week in Fort Worth to reach a bowl for the 13th straight season. Oklahoma State has already pulled off an upset of Texas earlier in the year in Stillwater. Last week, OSU was a two-point conversion away from knocking off rival Oklahoma. West Virginia is in for a challenge.
Picks: Sam: WVU -4.5, Nick: WVU -4.5
3. No. 24 Cincinnati at No. 11 Central Florida
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: UCF -7
UCF is finally getting its big moment. College GameDay is in town and the Knights’ game against 9-1 Cincinnati is slated for a primetime kickoff on ABC. That’s a big deal for UCF, winners of 22 straight games (including last year’s Peach Bowl over Auburn), and the AAC as a whole. With only a few quality wins (Pitt, Temple) on its resume, UCF can give its faint CFP chances a boost and clinch the AAC East title by beating the Bearcats in front of a national audience.
In just its second season under Luke Fickell, Cincy is 9-1, with its lone loss coming on the road to a good Temple team in overtime. UC’s turnaround has been awfully impressive, especially after going just 4-8 last year. Now, the Bearcats have a chance to break UCF’s winning streak while gaining control in the East. Wins over UCF and East Carolina next week would clinch the division for the Bearcats.
Picks: Sam: UCF -7, Nick: UCF -7
2. No. 16 Iowa State at No. 15 Texas
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: LHN (How to watch) | Line: Texas -3
With both Texas and Iowa State holding 5-2 records in league play, the loser of this game would be eliminated from Big 12 title game contention. Here’s the full conference breakdown:
Oklahoma lost to Texas and West Virginia lost to Iowa State. With Oklahoma and West Virginia playing each other on the final week of the season the scenarios are pretty straightforward. Assuming final week wins by ISU (Kansas State) and UT (Kansas), a Texas win and a West Virginia win means the Longhorns and Mountaineers are playing in the conference title game. An Iowa State win at Texas and an Oklahoma win at West Virginia means the Sooners and Cyclones are playing each other in the title game. Any other scenario means Oklahoma and West Virginia are playing each other in back-to-back weeks.
Got all that? Earlier in the year, Texas was in a much more favorable position until back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and WVU by four points combined. Meanwhile, Iowa State has won five straight to possibly put itself in position for its first-ever Big 12 title.
Picks: Sam: ISU +3, Nick: Texas -3
1. No. 12 Syracuse at No. 3 Notre Dame
Time: 2:30 p.m. | TV: NBC | Line: Notre Dame -10
Notre Dame is two wins away from reaching the playoff. With a win over Syracuse at Yankee Stadium and a win over USC next week at the Coliseum, the Irish will prove why they don’t need a conference en route to a CFP berth. Even without QB Ian Book, the Irish improved to 10-0 by trouncing Florida State. The Irish put up 42 points without Book, riding the hot hand of running back Dexter Williams. Even with Book back, Williams could be relied upon on a cold day in the Bronx.
With two losses, Syracuse is out of the CFP picture. However, the Orange would be in very good shape to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game with an upset over the Irish. It’d be a signature win for Dino Babers, whose teams were 8-16 (4-12 ACC) in his first two seasons leading the Orange. A Syracuse win could also throw the CFP picture into some serious flux, with ripple effects felt across the country.
Picks: Sam: ND -10, Nick: Syracuse +10
Record ATS to date: Sam: 32-22-1, Nick: 22-32-1
Week 12’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 18-15)
Northwestern at Minnesota (-2): Yes, Northwestern — the Big Ten West champion — is a road underdog at a team that lost to Illinois two weeks ago. Catch the West fever. Minnesota looked good last week against Purdue, so maybe the Gophers’ true colors are somewhere in the middle. I’m going with the champs. Pick: Northwestern +2
Boston College at Florida State (+2): The Seminoles burned me last week at Notre Dame. Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown will likely miss the game because of the injury he suffered early against Clemson. That means E.J. Perry will start. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Boston College’s defense should keep FSU’s offense in check and A.J. Dillon will have a big day. Pick: Boston College -2
UAB at Texas A&M (-17): The Blazers are the feel-good story of the 2018 season. UAB is 9-1 overall and 7-0 in Conference USA. It’s already clinched a spot in the CUSA title game. The Blazers should be able to hang around with Texas A&M and a backdoor cover could be in the cards here. I don’t expect a blowout. Pick: UAB +17
Sam Cooper (Last week: 0-2-1, Overall: 14-18-1)
Tulsa at Navy (-5.5): Navy has had a massively disappointing season and really needs a win. The Midshipmen will still be motivated with the Army game coming in two weeks. Tulsa has one of the worst rush defenses in the country. That seems like a good recipe a Navy. Pick: Navy -5.5
Texas Tech at Kansas State (+6.5): Kansas State needs to win its last two games to make a bowl game, but I don’t think KSU can keep up with the Texas Tech offense, even without Alan Bowman. Pick: Texas Tech -6.5
Nevada at San Jose State (+14.5): Jay Norvell is doing a really good job at Nevada. Barring any upsets, the Wolf Pack look destined for an 8-4 record in Norvell’s second season. Nevada has won three in a row and should make it four with a trip to SJSU. Pick: Nevada -14.5
For Pat Forde and Pete Thamel’s Week 12 picks, check out Race for the Case: