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Tunney: Top five games of College Football Week 12

5. Montana @ Montana State (-1.5), 2 p.m.

College Gameday goes to Bozeman, Montana, in the heart of Big Sky country for the Brawl of the Wild. The college football slate doesn’t have as many big games this week, so the ESPN crew chose to highlight a game that is one of the most unique in college football. Both of these teams are not in contention for the College Football Playoff, since they play in the FCS, a division below the power programs of college football.

However, Montana State is ranked third in the FCS, and Montana is ranked 16th. Both teams are on track to make the 24-team FCS playoff, but this game will be pivotal for seeding and a conference championship. In Montana State’s last game, the Bobcats broke records in a 72-28 demolition of Cal Poly. Running back Marqui Johnson scored five touchdowns as the Bobcats rushed for 554 yards. After losing three straight games, Montana got back on track. Last week, the Grizzlies routed Eastern Washington 63-7. Montana leads the rivalry with 73 wins compared to just 41 for the Bobcats, but the rivalry has been much more even the past 10 years as each team has five wins. 

4. Illinois @ No. 3 Michigan (-17.5), noon

Since Michigan’s win over a top-10 Penn State team three weeks ago, the Wolverines have played a brand of football that some would consider boring. The Wolverines have focused heavily on the run and leaned on their defense to beat three inferior teams. The Wolverines may have lost their second-string running back, Donavan Edwards, due to injury in their last game.

An absence of Edwards turns a position of strength for the Wolverines into one with a concerning lack of depth behind Heisman contender Blake Corum. While Corum has shown that he can carry the ball over 20 times a game, the Wolverines’ rarely-used backups will also need to be ready in the event that they are called upon. Illinois rose meteorically through the Big Ten West but two straight losses to Michigan State and Purdue dampened their spirits. With four teams now tied for first in the Big Ten West, the race to the Big Ten Championship game is truly wide open. Running back Chase Brown has the most rushing yards in the country, and he is trending in the right direction after an injury last game. 

3. No. 4 TCU @ Baylor (+3), noon

At first glance, this line may look like insanity, but it makes more sense when you realize how TCU has played this season. Predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12, the Horned Frogs shocked everyone en route to a 10-0 start. TCU’s strength is their high-flying offense headed by quarterback Max Duggan. Their offensive talent has allowed them to get out of some big holes, such as an 18-point deficit against Kansas State.

Last week, however, their offense was largely shut down by Texas. Give credit to TCU for being able to come out with a 17-10 win, but the tape of this game should serve as a blueprint for how coach Dave Aranda and his Baylor Bears can craft a winning game plan. After three straight wins heading into last week, Baylor lost 31-3, humbled by Kansas State. Quarterback Blake Shapen threw two interceptions in the Bears’ worst offensive performance of the season. The Horned Frogs have won six of the last seven games in the series. This is the most pivotal game in the series since 2014, and a win for the Horned Frogs puts them that much closer to a College Football Playoff berth. 

2. No. 10 Utah @ No. 12 Oregon (-3), 10:30 p.m.

After spending time off of the field due to personal issues, Utah running back Tavion Thomas came back with a bang last week with 180 rushing yards against Stanford. The Utes started off slow against Stanford, but behind the legs of Thomas and the arm of Cameron Rising the Utes roared to a 42-7 victory. Utah’s defense also held Stanford to just 22 rushing yards through utter domination of the line of scrimmage. The Utes did not allow a Stanford first down in the entire second quarter. They also had seven sacks.

Oregon is coming off of an extremely disappointing loss to their rivals to the north, Washington. Their chances in this game largely depend on if quarterback Bo Nix can get healthy after suffering an ankle injury last game. After Nix left, the Ducks couldn’t move the ball against Washington, ultimately leading to a gut-wrenching loss. Both teams have two losses, so the playoff is out of the question. However, the winner of this game will get into the top 10 and be in a strong position to play in the PAC-12 Championship and a New Years’ Six Bowl game.

1. No. 7 USC @ No. 16 UCLA (+2.5), 8 p.m.

The number one spot is another key PAC-12 contest. USC represents the PAC-12’s last hopes for a playoff team, as they go across town to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl in a ranked matchup. USC has responded to their one-point loss to Utah earlier in the season with one-score wins over Arizona and California and a rout of Colorado. Caleb Williams had another amazing game for the Trojans against Colorado, accounting for five touchdowns on the day. After trailing 3-2 after the first quarter, the Trojans locked the Buffaloes down on the way to a 55-17 win.

The win was significantly soured, however, due to the loss of running back Travis Dye for the rest of the season to a leg injury. “There’s no way we would be sitting here… if it wasn’t for him,” head coach Lincoln Riley told media after the game.

UCLA is coming off of a surprise loss to Arizona, where the defense was unable to generate key stops. Running back Zach Charbonnet rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns, but UCLA’s defense was unable to handle Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura. If UCLA wants to beat USC, they’ll have to stop a much better quarterback surrounded by potent weapons. UCLA’s chances for a conference championship largely hinge on this game.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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