College News & Analysis

College Football Week 12 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) drops back to pass against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

• Previewing the biggest Week 12 games in college football: IllinoisMichigan, TCUBaylor, GeorgiaKentucky, USCUCLA and UtahOregon.

• The spotlight is on the Pac-12: The only two matchups between ranked teams this week reside in the Pac-12, between No. 7 USC-No. 16 UCLA and No. 10 Utah-No. 12 Oregon.

• Can TCU continue its magical season?: The fourth-ranked Horned Frogs try to keep their undefeated season alive in a road game at Baylor. 

Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins

If you live on the East Coast, keep a pot of coffee brewing all day Saturday.

The Pac-12 after dark is in the limelight for Week 12 with the only two ranked matchups on the slate. No. 7 USC takes on No. 16 UCLA in the Battle of Los Angeles at 8 p.m. ET before No. 10 Utah travels to No. 12 Oregon. That game between the Utes and Ducks kicks off at 10:30 p.m. ET and will likely end around two in the morning, if not later.

Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for those late-night showdowns and the three other biggest games of Week 12.

Illinois Fighting Illini at No. 3 Michigan Wolverines

How to watch: 12 p.m. ET on ABC

Storyline to know: Can Michigan avoid looking ahead?

Next week, No. 3 Michigan travels to No. 2 Ohio State in what should be the biggest game of the year. The winner of that contest will all but lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff, making that matchup a pseudo-playoff game.

Before that colossal showdown, the Wolverines need to take care of business at home against Illinois. While the Fighting Illini have lost two straight, they’re still a top-30 team in PFF’s power rankings. Plus, Illinois is currently in a four-way tie atop the Big Ten West, making this game a must-win for the Illini. 

Matchup to watch: M̶a̶n̶ Team in the Mirror

It’s remarkable how similar Michigan and Illinois are. 

Offensively, both teams want to aggressively run the ball with star running backs. Illinois’ Chase Brown has the most rushing yards in the country, while Michigan’s Blake Corum is right behind him among Power Five runners. Corum is a legitimate Heisman candidate, with the fourth-best odds to win the trophy (+600), per BetMGM Sportsbook. The junior’s 95.5 grade is over two points higher than any other player in the nation. He’s also the most valuable non-quarterback in college football, according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

Each school pairs its dominant run game with a similarly elite defense. The Wolverines field the highest-graded defense in the country this season (94.7). Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini have allowed only -0.274 expected points added per play, the fourth-lowest figure in the FBS. Both Michigan and Illinois also have top-five run-defense grades, so it’ll be interesting to see how much success either team has toting the rock.

Prediction: Michigan 30, Illinois 13

The Fighting Illini keep it close early before Corum and the Wolverines pull away in the second half. 

Illinois (+17.5) vs. Michigan -105
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No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs at Baylor Bears

How to watch: 12 p.m. ET on FOX

Storyline to know: Trap game for TCU?

The Horned Frogs are coming off the euphoria of a 17-10 win on the road over then-No. 18 Texas, a game that TCU entered as a full touchdown underdog. The No. 4 Horned Frogs moved to 10-0 with the win and now need just three more wins to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Like Michigan, TCU will need to be careful this week. The Horned Frogs are only favored by 2.5 points on the road against a Baylor team that’s currently in the top 40 of PFF's power rankings. A loss all but eliminates TCU from College Football Playoff contention. 

Matchup to watch: Baylor’s run game vs. TCU’s run defense

The Bears have found a star in running back Richard Reese. The former three-star recruit has an 86.7 grade this season, which is the third-highest among all FBS true freshmen. He also has the advantage of running behind a people-moving offensive line that boasts an 85.2 run-blocking grade to rank ninth in college football.

TCU’s run-defense grade is only tied for 42nd in the country, but the team is coming off a stellar performance against Bijan Robinson and Texas. The Horned Frogs held the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley to just 29 yards on 12 carries. 

Whether the Bears can pull off the upset will likely come down to the success of their rushing attack — or lack thereof.

Prediction: TCU 31, Baylor 28

TCU pulls out yet another nail-biter, continuing a Cinderella run to the school’s first-ever playoff appearance.

No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs at Kentucky Wildcats

How to watch: 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Storyline to know: Can Kentucky catch Georgia sleeping at the wheel?

Georgia is undoubtedly the team to beat in college football this season. The top-ranked Bulldogs have a 47% chance to repeat as national champions, according to PFF’s power rankings. The next closest school is Ohio State at 26%.

However, Georgia hasn’t always looked unbeatable this season. There was a two-week stretch a month ago when the Bulldogs beat Kent State and Missouri by a combined 21 points despite being favored by a combined 76 points. Georgia needed to mount a 10-point comeback in under 10 minutes to avoid an upset to the Tigers.

Kentucky did just lose to Vanderbilt in the Commodores’ first conference win since 2019, but the Wildcats are still a quality team. They place 26th in PFF's power rankings, the third-best team the Bulldogs have faced all season — behind only Tennessee and Oregon.

Matchup to watch: Can Will Levis look like a franchise quarterback against Georgia?

PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner currently has Kentucky quarterback Will Levis as the third-best prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, trailing only Alabama’s Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. That ranking is mostly based on Levis’ tools, as the fifth-year senior has just the 97th-highest grade among FBS quarterbacks this season (67.1). 

Levis has an opportunity to prove that he belongs among the top quarterback prospects this week against Georgia. That’s a tall task, though. The Bulldogs have allowed the fifth-lowest expected points added per pass figure in the country this season. 

Prediction: Georgia 37, Kentucky 13

While Levis has sky-high potential, he won’t reach his ceiling on Saturday. The Bulldogs cruise to an easy victory and, thus, will just need to take care of Georgia Tech next week to likely secure a spot in the College Football Playoff, no matter what happens in the SEC championship game.

No. 7 USC Trojans at No. 16 UCLA Bruins

How to watch: 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Storyline to know: Time to finally prove it for USC

USC is still a legitimate playoff contender, but it hasn’t really had to prove it yet. The Trojans have played the 84th-hardest schedule in the country so far, per PFF’s power rankings. That’s the easiest among all schools currently ranked in the top 15. USC's only top-25 victory is over No. 23 Oregon State, and even that came down to the wire.

That will change starting this week, as the Trojans have the sixth-hardest schedule remaining, per PFF's power rankings. USC will play No. 16 UCLA and No. 18 Notre Dame to close out the season. If they make it to the Pac-12 championship game, they’ll likely face either No. 10 Utah or No. 12 Oregon

If the Trojans are able to win all three, it’d be very hard to keep them out of the College Football Playoff. If they lose even once, the Pac-12 will be excluded from the final four for the sixth straight season.

Matchup to watch: USC’s offensive line vs. UCLA’s pass rush

USC should be the favorite to win the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in college football. The Trojans' offensive line is the highest-graded such unit in the nation (91.5). Three of their five starters (center Brett Neilon, guard Andrew Vorhees and tackle Jonah Monheim) are among the five highest-graded at their position in the Power Five. With consistently clean pockets, quarterback Caleb Williams owns the highest average time-to-throw in the country at 3.31 seconds. 

UCLA’s pass rush will need to shorten that to have a chance. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have an 83.6 pass-rushing grade this season, which is the 11th-best mark in the Power Five. Three of UCLA’s edge defenders are among the 10 best in the Power Five in terms of pass-rush win rate: Laiatu Latu and brothers Grayson Murphy and Gabriel Murphy

Prediction: USC 38, UCLA 37

In what should be a shootout, USC keeps its playoff hopes alive with a close victory.

No. 10 Utah Utes at No. 12 Oregon Ducks

How to watch: 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Storyline to know: A trip to the Pac-12 championship is on the line

If USC takes down UCLA in the Battle for L.A., the Trojans will clinch a trip to the Pac-12 championship game. 

Their opponent will likely be the winner of this game. All that either Utah or Oregon has to do to make the title game is win both this week and next week. The Utes face Colorado next week, the worst Power Five team in PFF’s power rankings. The Ducks have a much tougher battle on the road at No. 23 Oregon State, but the Beavers still come in at just 38th in PFF's power rankings

More likely than not, whoever wins this Pac-12 after-dark showdown will compete for the conference championship.

Matchup to watch: Will Bo Nix be ready to go?

When Oregon was eliminated from playoff contention by then-No. 25 Washington last week, Ducks star quarterback Bo Nix suffered an injury to his right leg. He was forced to leave the game before returning for the final drive, but it’s unknown whether he’ll be able to suit up this week. Oregon head coach Dan Lanning said the senior is “preparing as if he’ll be ready to go” on Saturday but added that his backups are ready to play if needed.

Nix has had an incredible bounce-back season so far. In his first three years at Auburn, Nix posted a 69.7% adjusted completion percentage that ranked just 165th in the country. This year, he’s the best among all FBS quarterbacks at 84.9%.

If Nix isn’t able to go, the Ducks will turn to redshirt freshman Ty Thompson. The former five-star recruit has just a 55.1 passing grade on 23 dropbacks this season.

Prediction: Utah 31, Oregon 30

This prediction ultimately hinges on Nix’s health. Even if he plays, he probably won’t be at 100%. Because of that, the Utes pull out a close win.

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