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College football Week 12 primer: Heisman Watch, upset picks, predictions and more

Week 12 of the college football season is here, and there are just four weeks left in the regular season.  

The first set of College Football Playoff rankings are set to be unveiled on Nov. 24, and there have been fewer postponements this week because of COVID-19.  

This week features three matchups between ranked teams. The Big Ten has a pair of fantastic matchups between unbeaten teams. No. 9 Indiana travels to No. 3 Ohio State, and No. 10 Wisconsin faces No. 19 Northwestern. The prime-time matchup features Bedlam in the Big 12 with No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Oklahoma.  

Every week, Sporting News surveys the landscape looking for Heisman contenders, coaches on the spot, upset alerts and other trends. With that in mind, get ready for Week 12.  

Heisman watch  

The Heisman Trophy is a quarterback’s award — and a statistical award. We’re not saying that’s right, but it is a reality when you look at nine of the past 10 winners. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow set a high standard by throwing for 60 touchdowns with a 70.3 completion percentage and 202.0 passer rating last season.  

Six quarterbacks in the FBS average three or more TD passes per game with a 70 percent complete percentage and a passer rating over 175.0.  

That list tells you that the race right now is between Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Florida’s Kyle Trask, who has piled up four or more TD passes in every game this season.  

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence — who has 17 TDs, a 70.7 completion percentage and a 178.6 passer rating in six starts — could make a late run, too. He returns to action this week against Florida State after missing two games because of a positive COVID-19 test.  

Coach on the spot  

Jim Harbaugh isn’t the only coach who has lost five straight games to his rival.  

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy is trying to break a five-game losing streak to the Sooners on Saturday. The Cowboys have a chance to take control of the Big 12. Considering the self-inflicted controversial offseason Gundy endured, that would be an accomplishment. 

Now, about the Sooners. Four of the past five meetings in Bedlam have been decided by double-digits, and Oklahoma State had its last shot in a 48-47 thriller in Norman two years ago.  

Gundy is 2-13 against Oklahoma. A loss here might lead to some big-picture questions about how much longer that is acceptable in Stillwater.  

Upset alert  

South Carolina fired Will Muschamp on Sunday, and two of the leading candidates to replace him are Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell and Liberty’s Hugh Freeze.  

How will that affect their undefeated teams heading into the weekend?  

The Chanticleers are up against Appalachian State, which has either won or shared the past four Sun Belt championships. The Mountaineers have won five in a row and have a dangerous running game.  

Liberty is an underdog at N.C. State — and it’s a chance for the Flames to go 3-0 against ACC opponents.  

If either Coastal Carolina or Liberty loses, then that speculation will ramp up. That’s always a test for undefeated Group of 5 and independent teams in November.  

Over/under 

Is the Big Ten good? That’s the question gaining traction because of the unexpected flops of Michigan (1-3) and Penn State (0-4).  

The conference has six teams with winning records entering Week 12, and two of those teams will take their first losses in the Ohio State-Indiana and Wisconsin-Northwestern matchups. Purdue (2-1) and Maryland (2-1) are the other remaining teams with winning records.  

The truth? Unless the Hoosiers or Wildcats pull the upset, the Big Ten remains Ohio State, maybe Wisconsin and everybody else. Is that strength of schedule better than the ACC?  

Put that top four against No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 4 Clemson, No. 12 Miami and North Carolina. Which conference wins more if they play those four teams (in any order) 

The ACC might have that argument now, and at the end of the season.  

Think about it …  

One of the initial headaches for the College Football Playoff committee will be sorting out the unbeaten teams. We talked about the difference between Power 5 and Group of 5 teams last week, but it’s more than that.  

The staggered seasons among the 10 FBS conferences have to make it tough to judge because of the number of games. Utah is the only FBS team that hasn’t played a game yet — and the Utes make their debut against No. 20 USC on Saturday.  

Western Michigan beat Central Michigan 52-44 on Wednesday, and that means there are 21 unbeaten teams left in the FBS.  

That includes 13 ranked teams — a number that will drop by at least two after the Big Ten showdowns this weekend.  

The rest of the list includes unranked unbeaten teams Colorado (2-0) and Washington (1-0) in the Power 5, and Buffalo (3-0), Kent State (3-0), Nevada (4-0) and San Jose State (4-0) in the Group of 5.  

Buffalo and Kent State play on Nov. 28, and Nevada and San Jose State play on Dec. 12. Those could be interesting games in sorting out the New Year’s Day Six puzzle.

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