Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
We’re entering the home stretch of the season, friends. LSU’s win over Alabama and Minnesota’s win over Penn State brought some significant movement in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Week 12 should bring quite a bit more — once you get past the top three teams, that is.
While the nation’s top teams — LSU, Ohio State and Clemson — are all significant favorites this weekend, many of the teams scratching and clawing for that fourth spot will be challenged.
In all, there are four ranked vs. ranked matchups (It should be five; I see you, Indiana!) spread out nicely over the course of the day. Let’s go.
(Note: All times ET, point spreads from betMGM)
5. Indiana at No. 9 Penn State
Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: Penn State -14.5
The noon window will give you an opportunity to watch a team having a historic season that you probably haven’t seen much this season. That team is the Indiana Hoosiers. IU, coming off a bye, has won four straight Big Ten games for the first time since 1993 and is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1994. The 1993 season is the last time IU reached eight wins in a season. The program record for wins in a season is nine, which happened in 1945 and 1967. The remainder of IU’s schedule isn’t easy, beginning with Saturday’s trip to Penn State — a place the Hoosiers have never won. But Tom Allen already has the Hoosiers achieving at a level they haven’t reached in decades.
Meanwhile, Penn State faces the task of turning the page on its first loss of the season, a 31-26 defeat at the hands of Minnesota. PSU was ranked No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, but was outplayed by the Gophers from the jump. PSU had a chance to go ahead in the final minute, but was ultimately doomed by Sean Clifford’s third interception of the afternoon. Will the miscues in Minneapolis linger? With a trip to No. 2 Ohio State coming next weekend, PSU cannot afford to overlook Indiana. A win on Saturday followed by an upset of the Buckeyes is the only way back into the College Football Playoff race for the Nittany Lions.
Picks: Sam Cooper: Indiana +14.5, Nick Bromberg: Penn State -14.5
4. No. 23 Navy at No. 16 Notre Dame
Time: 2:30 p.m. | TV: NBC | Line: Notre Dame -7.5
After two shaky seasons, Navy football is back on steady footing. The Midshipmen closed out the 2017 regular season by losing six of seven games, a downward trend that carried over to a 3-10 2018 campaign, by far the worst under Ken Niumatalolo. But in 2019, Niumatalolo has his group playing inspired football with Malcolm Perry leading the way at quarterback. Perry leads Navy’s option attack with 1,042 yards and 16 TDs rushing. Meanwhile, the Navy defense is much-improved under new coordinator Brian Newberry, allowing just 18.1 points per game. At 7-1 overall, 5-1 in AAC play and No. 23 in the CFP rankings, the Midshipmen have an opportunity for an AAC West title and to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year’s Six bowl. A road win over a ranked Notre Dame would do wonders for the New Year’s Six effort.
With no chance of a return trip to the College Football Playoff, you wonder about the motivation for a team like Notre Dame in a spot like this. The Irish are three weeks removed from a blowout loss at Michigan that was followed by a one-point win over a mediocre Virginia Tech team. The Irish improved to 7-2 last week by beating up on Duke, 38-7. Irish quarterback Ian Book has not been as good as he was a year ago when he completed 68.2 percent of his passes. This year, he is down to 58 percent — but he is coming off one of his best performances of the year against Duke when threw four TD passes and rushed for a career-high 139 yards. If he keeps that up, the Irish should reach double-digit wins for the third straight season.
Picks: Sam: Notre Dame -7.5, Nick: Navy +7.5
3. No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa
Time: 4 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Iowa -3
Minnesota proved the doubters wrong last weekend by outplaying Penn State from start to finish, and now it has the chance to put itself in position to clinch its first Big Ten West title. With last week’s triumph, the Gophers reached the 9-0 mark for the first time since 1904 and made a massive climb from No. 17 to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings. And if PSU was Minnesota’s first legitimate test of the year, its trip to Iowa will be the toughest road environment of the year by far. Minnesota has played just three road games thus far: Fresno State, Purdue and Rutgers. A trip to Kinnick Stadium (where Minnesota hasn’t won since 1999) will present an environment unlike anything the Gophers have seen in 2019. Will the Gophers be able to turn the page and refocus?
For Iowa, this game is an opportunity to play spoiler for a team with College Football Playoff aspirations. Kirk Ferentz’s program is no stranger to that — especially in Iowa City. In 2016, Iowa upset No. 3 Michigan at Kinnick. In 2017, it was No. 6 Ohio State. Will it be the Gophers in 2019? Iowa has won four straight over Minnesota with three of those games decided by a touchdown or less. Last year was an uncharacteristic 48-31 shootout. A game of that tenor would be surprising this time around. Iowa is averaging just 18.8 points per game in Big Ten play and has lost to all three ranked conference foes it has faced: Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Picks: Sam: Minnesota +3, Nick: Iowa -3
2. No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Georgia -2.5
One team that benefited nicely from LSU’s win over Alabama was Georgia (8-1, 5-1 SEC). The Bulldogs, only a month removed from an embarrassing home loss to South Carolina, moved up two spots to No. 4. Since its only loss of the year, UGA has won three straight games, including a pivotal 24-17 victory over Florida. That win put the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat in the SEC East (a win here will clinch the division), and now they have a real shot to make it back to the College Football Playoff. Of course, there is no room for error. And the biggest regular season test remaining for UGA is Saturday’s trip to Auburn. Georgia’s offense hasn’t exactly been explosive this year, but its defense is allowing only 10.1 points per game.
On the other side, Auburn enters this game at 7-2 (4-2 SEC) and coming off a bye. The Tigers opened the season by beating Oregon on a big stage but have come up short in their two other big games, falling on the road to both Florida and LSU. But Gus Malzahn’s group gets both Georgia and Alabama on The Plains in the coming weeks, giving it the chance to have a significant impact on the remainder of the season. Both games will essentially be CFP elimination games for UGA and Bama, but are big opportunities for the Tigers to close the regular season out with a bang (while also significantly boosting the way the committee looks at Oregon). Or it could lead to another round of speculation about Malzahn’s job — especially with Arkansas open once again.
Picks: Sam: Georgia -2.5, Nick: Georgia -2.5
1. No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Oklahoma -10
While the games above will keep you plenty occupied throughout the afternoon, the biggest game of the year in the Big 12 is the clear choice in the prime-time window. With Jalen Hurts transferring in from Alabama, Oklahoma entered the season as the heavy favorite in the conference, but that all changed on Oct. 26, when the mighty Sooners were upset by Kansas State. All of a sudden, the Sooners found themselves on the outside looking in for the CFP picture and chasing Baylor in the conference. OU again looked shaky last week, but was able to eke out a one-point win over Iowa State. Now the Sooners can reclaim the top spot in the Big 12 with a win in Waco.
Baylor has had a remarkable turnaround under Matt Rhule and now finds itself 9-0 entering the final stretch of the season. But there’s a reason the Bears are ranked down at No. 13. Baylor’s non-conference slate was a cakewalk and three of its last four wins have come by six points or fewer. The Bears needed double-overtime to get past Texas Tech (4-5), barely squeaked past West Virginia (3-6), a team that hasn’t won since September, 17-14, and then went to triple-overtime against TCU (4-5) last week. But now they’ll have College GameDay in town for a matchup against the four-time defending conference champions. A win Saturday night would go a long way toward proving Baylor’s legitimacy to the College Football Playoff committee.
Picks: Sam: Baylor +10, Nick: Oklahoma -10
Records ATS to date: Sam: 29-28, Nick: 26-32
Week 12’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 0-3, Overall: 13-20)
UMass at Northwestern (-40.5): I should really start picking against myself in this section after three-straight winless weeks. Fade my picks. Make some money. The recipe is pretty simple. I don’t have faith at all that Northwestern can score more than 40 points and shut out UMass. But the Minutemen also failed to cover for me last week. Pick: UMass +40.5
Florida at Missouri (+7): The Tigers are freefalling. A loss puts Mizzou at 5-5 in a season where the Tigers had it all set up to be either 8-0 or 7-1 heading into games against Georgia and Florida. Well, Mizzou was shut out last week against the Bulldogs for its fourth loss of the season. I’m going with the Gators here. Pick: Florida -7
Texas at Iowa State (-7): Yes, the Longhorns are touchdown underdogs in a Big 12 game. That doesn’t happen all that often. I’m confident that Texas can keep it close in Ames on Saturday. ISU could win straight up, but the Longhorns only lose by a field goal or so. Pick: Texas +7
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 16-16-1)
Alabama at Mississippi State (+17.5): It won’t be the easiest thing to get off the mat and play some energized 11 a.m. football in Starkville after losing to LSU. But over the course of four quarters, I’d be shocked if the Crimson Tide did not win comfortably, even with a hobbled Tua Tagovailoa. Pick: Alabama -17.5
Wyoming at Utah State (-6): I like the recipe for Wyoming here. The Cowboys have a run-heavy offense and a strong defense that matches up well with what Utah State wants to do. Utah State, with Gary Andersen back as head coach, hasn’t impressed me at all this year. Pick: Wyoming +6
Louisville at NC State (+4): NC State is really banged up and hasn’t covered the spread since that ugly night game vs. Syracuse last month. Since then, the Wolfpack have lost three straight by 21, 34 and 45 points. Louisville didn’t play well last week vs. Miami. I think the Cardinals bounce back and clinch bowl eligibility. Pick: Louisville -4
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