College football storylines, Week 12: An Indiana vs. Northwestern Big Ten title game? It could happen.

The spotlight on the Big Ten this weekend, as two crucial matchups could help decide who meets in the conference title game in December.

Here’s what to watch in college football for Week 12:


Hope for the Hoosiers? (No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State, Saturday, noon, Fox)

No matter what happens next, this is already one of the best Indiana football seasons ever. There was Michael Penix Jr.’s unforgettable stretch across the goal line to topple No. 8 Penn State in overtime. A 17-point beatdown of Michigan to end a 24-game losing streak to the Wolverines. A shutout of Michigan State to move to 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1987.


Now, with its highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since 1967, the No. 9 Hoosiers have a chance to do something nobody ever thought was possible at the basketball school in Bloomington: Win a Big Ten title.

Don’t laugh. Sure, No. 3 Ohio State looms on Saturday, with the Buckeyes looking like one of the best teams in the country behind future top draft pick Justin Fields. And sure, those wins over Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State don’t look so great now that those teams a combined 2-10. But by virtue of his recruiting connections at his old high school coaching days in Florida, Tom Allen has built a program that at the very least proved it can hang in one of the nation’s toughest divisions.

Indiana doesn’t need to win Saturday to show just how far it has come. Playing Ohio State close into the fourth quarter might be all it’s capable of as a three-touchdown underdog against one of the nation’s most talented teams. But that should be enough to convince the rest of the conference and players around the nation that the Hoosiers can no longer be taken lightly.

Big Ten bonafides (No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 19 Northwestern, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC)

Ohio State’s recent dominance in the Big Ten East is rivaled only by Wisconsin’s in the West. Both schools have won four division titles since the league moved to its current division format in 2014 and have met in the conference title game two of the past three seasons. That just might change this season.

If it does, it’s going to take a heroic effort from Northwestern. Wisconsin has played just two games this season, but it has outscored those opponents 94-18. The Badgers rank third nationally in efficiency, according to ESPN’s SP+, with a crushing defense and a powerful rushing attack. Quarterback Graham Mertz wasn’t asked to do much against Michigan, but he showed in a nearly perfect debut against Illinois that he’s capable of handling plenty.

So what chance do the Wildcats have? It starts with the defense, which ranks fifth nationally in efficiency after holding its first four opponents to 20 points or fewer and forcing 10 turnovers, including eight interceptions. Then there’s quarterback Peyton Ramsey, the Indiana transfer who hasn’t been perfect, but has done enough to keep the offense on schedule with his arm and his legs.

This weekend could end with Northwestern and Indiana on track to meet for the Big Ten title in December. There isn’t a more fitting way for 2020 to end.

Can anyone stop Cincinnati? (No. 7 Cincinnati at Central Florida, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)

Cincinnati’s quest for an undefeated season and a spot in the College Football Playoff fittingly faces its toughest test against the Group of Five program that has come the closest to cracking the field.

The Knights went 12-0 in 2017, but that wasn’t enough to sway the committee. So why do the Bearcats have a chance? Not only have they been winning, but are doing so in dominant fashion. The average score of their seven straight victories has been 42-12. Style points matter for potential playoff teams, and even more so for a Group of Five team trying to prove it belongs with the blue bloods.

That dominance needs to continue Saturday. UCF is 5-2, and boasts one of the nation’s best offenses led by one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, Dillon Gabriel. The lefty from Hawaii has thrown for 2,774 yards and 23 touchdowns, both second best in the country, with just three interceptions. If quarterback Desmond Ridder and Co. can beat a solid Knights team as soundly as they’ve handled the rest of the American Athletic Conference, the committee will have no choice but to take notice.


Bedlam bragging rights (No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 18 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m., ABC)

There’s a running joke among the college football community that there are only three possible results for the annual rivalry game called “Bedlam”: Oklahoma wins close, Oklahoma wins in a rout or Oklahoma wins by a medium amount.

The 81-18-7 series lead for Oklahoma speaks to that dominance, especially recently. The Cowboys have won just two meetings since 2003.

This year might be different. Oklahoma State has a legitimate top-10 defense, allowing just 13.2 points per game in its five wins. If star running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace are healthy and the good version of Spencer Sanders shows up, they should have the firepower to keep up, especially if the defense bends a little too close to breaking.

Stopping Oklahoma’s offense will be the key. Quarterback Spencer Rattler stumbled a bit early in the season, but the former blue-chip recruit has been outstanding of late, throwing eight touchdown passes compared to just two picks during the Sooners’ current four-game winning streak.

Other things to watch

Trevor’s back (No. 4 Clemson at Florida State, Saturday, noon, ABC): Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence makes his return after a two-game absence following a positive COVID-19 test. The presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the draft should have no trouble with a Florida State defense that ranks 88th nationally in efficiency, allowing 8.36 yards per pass.

Sun Belt showdown (Appalachian State at No. 15 Coastal Carolina, Saturday, noon, ESPN2): The Chanticleers have made quick work of their Sun Belt rivals so far, but the Mountaineers have won four straight conference titles and two in a row outright. App State has quietly gone 6-1 after a 13-win season, but will likely need a healthy Zach Thomas at quarterback to spring the upset.

Mountain West spotlight (San Diego State at Nevada, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): In a rare MWC game on broadcast television, the 3-1 Aztecs meet the 4-0 Wolfpack. Former Michigan coach Brady Hoke has SDSU rolling, while Jay Norvell seeks a third straight winning season with Nevada. Both are looking to end Boise State’s recent dominance.

New QB for UGA (Mississippi State at Georgia, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SECN): The Bulldogs will reportedly give the starting quarterback job to USC transfer JT Daniels, who hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury early last season. With Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis struggling, Georgia needs a spark to get its 44th-ranked offense back into gear to have any hope of competing for the SEC East title.

Wolverines need a win (Michigan at Rutgers, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network): What’s going to happen if coach Jim Harbaugh’s team falls to 1-4 with a loss to Rutgers? The Wolverines are only 10-point favorites against the Scarlet Knights, who are shockingly competent in coach Greg Schiano’s first season back in New Jersey. The anxiety will be palpable.


Can USC keep it up? (No. 20 USC at Utah, Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN): The Trojans have won two straight by a combined five points, sneaking past Arizona State and Arizona. Now they face a Utah team making its season debut in late November, having had its first two games canceled because of COVID-19 issues, and starting a new quarterback to boot. If USC can play enough games and stay undefeated, it has an outside chance at a playoff berth.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun