College football picks, Week 12: Syracuse looks like last real hurdle for Notre Dame

It’s Week 12 of the college football season, which more often than not serves as the calm before the storm for College Football Playoff contenders as they head into Rivalry Week and their respective conference championship games.

Not so for No. 3 Notre Dame. The Irish are set to take on No. 12 Syracuse in a neutral-site matchup in Yankee Stadium. It’s a game that, on paper at least, looks like their last roadblock to an undefeated regular season.

MORE: Week 12 picks against the spread

Apart from that, we also have two games between ranked opponents in No. 18 Iowa State at No. 13 Texas, a game that could very well have Big 12 championship game implications. The last game between ranked teams is No. 19 Cincinnati at No. 11 UCF, which could not only affect the AAC, but also which Group of 5 team gets a bid to a New Year’s Day Six bowl.

Sporting News is 64-24 in our picks this year after going 7-1 in Week 11. That said, here are our picks for this week’s slate of games (all lines reflect Consensus picks from as of Monday): 

No. 24 Northwestern (-2.5) at Minnesota

The Wildcats have already won the Big Ten West, so this amounts to not much more than a tune up for Northwestern as it gets ready for the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game in Indianapolis. Northwestern has played well since starting the season 1-3, winning five of its last six games (the lone loss to Notre Dame). Minnesota is on the opposite track, losing two of its last seven. Look for the Wildcats to take advantage of the Gophers’ porous defense. Northwestern 31, Minnesota 14

No. 9 Ohio State (-17) at Maryland

Ohio State should come in and take care of business, though nothing is guaranteed after the Buckeyes put together less than complete efforts against Nebraska and Michigan State in each of the last two weeks. Urban Meyer will most likely try to get running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins going after the Buckeyes’ relative struggles rushing the ball the last two weeks (averaging 174.5 yards per game the last two weeks). Maryland, with its 64th-ranked rush defense (161.4 yards surrendered per game), is the team to do it against. Ohio State 38, Maryland 20

MORE: SN’s latest bowl projections

Arizona at No. 8 Washington State (-10)

Can Wazzu keep its Playoff hopes — and the Pac-12’s — alive? The next test is Arizona, winner of its last two against Oregon and Colorado. That starts with Khalil Tate, who put up 539 passing yards and eight touchdowns to just two interceptions against the Ducks and Buffaloes — and who last season led an upset against No. 15 Washington State by passing for 275 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 146 yards and another score. As long as he’s on the field, the Wildcats will have a chance — but the Cougars have more to play for this time around, and will find a way to win behind the arm of Gardner Minshew. Washington State 35, Arizona 30

No. 22 Boston College (-2) at Florida State

Florida State’s 36-year bowl is in serious dangerous heading into a matchup against Boston College. The Seminoles need to win both this and the next game against rival Florida to extend the streak to 37 years. Boston College could be without starting quarterback Anthony Brown, who was hurt against Clemson on Saturday, but the Eagles still have the ACC’s third-leading rusher to lean on in AJ Dillon. That’s a relative strength for the Seminoles, who rank in the top 40 in rush defense this season. It’ll be close, but we’ll pick FSU to keep its bowl hopes alive for one more week. Florida State 21, Boston College 17

MORE: Week 12 Playoff picture

No. 7 West Virginia (-5.5) at Oklahoma State

Another Big 12 game that promises to feature offensive prowess and not much in the way of defense. The Mountaineers just glassed TCU in a 47-10 beatdown, while Oklahoma State lost a heartbreaker in Bedlam off a botched 2-point conversion. We know both teams can score, and we know both are led by talented quarterbacks in WVU’s Will Grier and Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius. But we think Grier is better, and we think the Cowboys will have an emotional letdown game after losing to rival Oklahoma. West Virginia 48, Oklahoma State 38

No. 19 Cincinnati at No. 11 UCF (-7.5)

Cincinnati represents what should be the Knight’s biggest test to date this season. The 9-1 Bearcats still have a shot to win the AAC East Division, but they would need to beat UCF and hope Temple loses to South Florida or UConn in the last two weeks of the regular season. Luke Fickell has this team playing great football in just his second season, but will that be enough to overcome McKenzie Milton, UCF and their 22-game win streak? The Bearcats come close, but not barely miss in the end. UCF 31, Cincinnati 28

MORE: SN’s updated Power Rankings

No. 18 Iowa State at No. 13 Texas (-3)

A must-win Big 12 elimination game for both teams, who can still make the Big 12 championship game depending on the last two weeks of the regular season (seriously). The Longhorns have shown they can score with the best of the Big 12 but have struggled on the defensive side of the ball, giving up an average of 34.7 points per game in its last three outings. Iowa State, coming off a four-game win streak that includes Oklahoma State and West Virginia, isn’t quite as explosive other Big 12 teams, and will be without running back David Montgomery for the first half after he brawled with a Baylor player. It might be too much to ask Iowa State to get the upset without him playing a full game. Texas 34, Iowa State 27

No. 3 Notre Dame (-9) vs. No. 12 Syracuse

This game, on paper, looks like Notre Dame’s last real roadblock to an undefeated regular season. Irish quarterback Ian Book (ribs) is likely to play, but Notre Dame saw Brandon Wimbush was more than capable of coming on to start against Florida State. Whoever starts at quarterback, plus running back Dexter Williams, should have no problem gashing an Orange defense that ranks 98th nationally by giving up 430 yards a game. But how will Notre Dame handle an offense led by quarterback Eric Dungey that has averaged 46.5 points per game in its last three outings, all wins? The Irish rank 15th nationally in points allowed per game, with 18.7. This one has the makings of a great game, but we think Notre Dame’s talent helps the Irish pull away in the second half. Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 21

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