Upset Watch: Possible Week 12 Mid-Major and FCS Upsets

Six SEC schools and two ACC programs take on Group of Five or FCS opponents in Week 12. Which Power Five schools will be on upset watch?

Half of the SEC takes a break from league competition in Week 12, scheduling a group of FCS and Group of Five games in hopes that they can rest up and get a win ahead of rivalry games over Thanksgiving weekend. Usually these paycheck games pay off for the Power Five teams, but every so often we see a mid-major pull off the upset.

A defeat at this point would prove devastating for the slew of College Football Playoff contenders hoping for a virtual bye week. But not all upset opportunities are created equal, so let’s evaluate who actually has a chance to play Cinderella this week as we dive into the Mid-Major Upset Watch for Week 12. (All game times listed are Eastern.)

Oct 29, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars defensive end Nick Thurman (91) celebrates after a defensive play during the fourth quarter against the Central Florida Knights at TDECU Stadium. The Cougars won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 29, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars defensive end Nick Thurman (91) celebrates after a defensive play during the fourth quarter against the Central Florida Knights at TDECU Stadium. The Cougars won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville at Houston (Thursday/8:00 pm)

Week 12’s upset opportunities kick off with a bang on Thursday night when Louisville visits Houston. Just a few weeks ago, this looked like a potential clash between teams battling to make the College Football Playoff field. While the Cardinals still have a shot to play in the ACC title game and could even make the semifinals without winning their conference, Houston has fallen back to earth after a season-opening win over Big 12 frontrunner Oklahoma and a 5-0 start.

The hosts are dealing with lingering injuries to both starting quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and his backup Kyle Postma, but they have a defense ranked third nationally in rushing yards allowed and ninth in total yardage given up to opponents. They rank in the top 20 in opponent third-down conversion rate and tied for 10th in fourth-down allowance. Louisville counters with dynamic Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson, and something will have to give in Texas on Thursday night.

Sep 16, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; UTSA Roadrunners tight end Shaq Williams (81) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

UTSA at Texas A&M (Saturday/12:00 pm)

The Roadrunners have already come close to pulling off an upset against one Power Five team this season, taking Arizona State to the wire in the Alamodome in mid-September but eventually falling 32-28. The reality, though, is that UTSA is a middle-of-the-road Conference USA team that allows just as many points as the offense can score. To beat Texas A&M in College Station would require a Herculean effort.

That said, the Aggies have been in a tailspin, losing three of their past four games after starting the season 6-0. The one win over the past month has come against New Mexico State. While UTSA is a better team across the board than NMSU, the possibility of an upset is remote. Dalton Sturm will have to have a career day to keep the contest close, and a blowout win for the SEC hosts is a far more likely outcome on Saturday.

Sep 5, 2015; Lexington, KY, USA; Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns quarterback Jelen Nixon (6) celebrates in the end zone with running back Torrey Pierce (25) during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky defeated Louisiana Lafayette 40-33. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

UL-Lafayette at Georgia (Saturday/12:00 pm)

The Ragin’ Cajuns have fallen off the map this season, unable to gain any momentum either in conference or out of conference. UL-Lafayette finds itself in danger of missing out on the postseason for the second straight year after a string of four straight Sun Belt titles and bowl appearances. On average their defense gives up one more point per game than their offense manages to put on the scoreboard.

They’ll be playing between the hedges in Athens against a Georgia team that is wearing its blackout uniforms for the first time since 2008. The Bulldogs have also struggled in 2016 in their first season under new head coach Kirby Smart, and there is no chance for UGA to win the SEC East after going .500 in conference play. They have one of the worst-producing offenses in the country, and if they struggle to score against ULL an upset could be in the making.

Nov 4, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu (20) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver Ventell Bryant (1) in the second quarter at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Connecticut at Boston College (Saturday/1:00 pm)

Two northeastern schools square off on Saturday afternoon hoping to right the ship on their respective disappointing seasons. Connecticut has knocked off Virginia and nearly took down Syracuse back in September, but they have no chance of reaching a bowl game after losing their fourth straight to Temple last week. The Huskies give up nearly nine points more per game than they score, a big part of the reason they are mired in the cellar of the AAC East.

But they will be facing a school that has been nearly as bad in 2016. Boston College needs to win both of its last two games just to become bowl eligible. They are susceptible to an upset bid, as their offense is also among the ten worst at the FBS level and scores eight fewer points per game than the defense allows. The first team that manages to score a second touchdown is likely going to emerge victorious on Saturday.

Nov 21, 2015; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Jerell Adams (89) tries to stiff arm Citadel Bulldogs linebacker Dondray Copeland (22) during first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

FCS The Citadel at North Carolina (Saturday/3:30 pm)

North Carolina had the chance to take a lead in the ACC Coastal last week. Instead they lost 28-27 to rival Duke, and in the process they remained tied with the Virginia Tech team that beat them i October. The Tar Heels now have to take on a team from The Citadel that is one of two unbeaten teams at the FCS level. The stakes will be high in Chapel Hill for a team that harbors aspirations of an ACC championship, but they might be even higher for a team with FCS national championship dreams.

This is an especially dangerous matchup for North Carolina. The Tar Heels field a rushing defense ranked outside the top 100 in the FBS ranks, while the Bulldogs of The Citadel rank first nationally at the FCS level in rushing yards per game. And with a defense allowing fewer than 19 points per game, the visitors bring real upset potential to Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. This will be anything but a restful week for Larry Fedora’s crew.

Sep 3, 2016; Greenville, NC, USA; Western Carolina Catamounts running back Detrez Newsome (21) scores a touchdown on a run during the second quarter against the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

FCS Western Carolina at South Carolina (Saturday/4:00 pm)

South Carolina has little to fear this week in the way of an upset, as the 5-5 Gamecocks take on an FCS team that is just 2-8 so far on the season. The Catamounts field one of the weakest defenses at the I-AA level, allowing more than five touchdowns per game against largely lower-division opponents. Even an offense as abysmal as the one that South Carolina puts on the field (18.0 points per game) should be able to score against Western Carolina.

For the Catamounts to have any chance in Columbia on Saturday, they will need quarterback Tyrie Adams to be nearly perfect and the defense will need to find a resolve it has lacked all season. Western Carolina should at least be able to manage the field position battle thanks to punter Ian Berryman and return man Logan Howard. If they can flip the field for 60 minutes, the Catamounts’ chances of an upset will go from none to slim.

Sep 19, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Austin Peay Governors running back Julian Franklin (32) rushes against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt won 47-7. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

FCS Austin Peay at Kentucky (Saturday/4:30 pm)

Kentucky missed out on its chance to remain in the hunt for the SEC East when they lost to Georgia and Tennessee over the past two weeks, but it would take a miracle for a winless FCS team to knock off the Wildcats this weekend. Austin Peay has lost all but two of its games so far in 2016 by double digits, in large part due to a defense that gives up over 500 yards and 46 points per game.

So the Governors are unlikely to make Kentucky work very hard this weekend. Austin Peay ranks 118th in rushing defense, while the Wildcats field a top-20 rushing attack. Expect Mark Stoops’ team to keep the ball on the ground for the most part, controlling the time of possession and outmuscling their FCS counterparts along both lines. While they are out of the running for the division title, Kentucky would need to completely fall apart to suffer an upset this weekend.

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the Texas A&M Aggies during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

FCS Chattanooga at Alabama (Saturday/7:00 pm)

Only a bad illness sweeping through the entire roster would put Alabama in any danger of losing this weekend to Chattanooga. The defending national champions and top-ranked team in the country have been as dominant as any Crimson Tide team yet coached by Nick Saban, winning all but one game by double digits. Defense has been the mainstay for this team, as Bama has held seven of its ten opponents to date to 10 points or less.

While Chattanooga is an 8-2 team with a top-ten defense at the FCS level, the Mocs are facing a far greater challenge this weekend than anything they have encountered so far in 2016. Alejandro Bennifield would have to be perfect at quarterback for the visitors to have any chance at an upset against the Alabama juggernaut. More likely is another shutout for a Tide defense that already has two this season.

Sep 5, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Alabama A&M Bulldogs wide receiver DeVon Johnson (13) makes a catch while being defended by Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Adrian Witty (8) in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

FCS Alabama A&M at Auburn (Saturday/7:30 pm)

Auburn’s loss last weekend at Georgia eliminated any possibility of stealing away the SEC West from rival Alabama. The Tigers have nevertheless been one of the better teams in the country this year, with a top-ten rushing attack and a defense that gives up fewer than 16 points per outing. They will be missing several key parts, including leading running back Kamryn Pettway and defensive end Byron Cowart. But even with a depleted roster, there is nothing about Alabama A&M that is likely to cause any alarm on the Plains.

The Bulldogs from the FCS are already guaranteed a sub-.500 finish to their season. Alabama A&M has given up an average of 11 points more per game than they score, and after opening the season with a 55-0 loss at Middle Tennessee they could be looking at bookending their season with another shutout defeat. Merely keeping the score within two touchdowns would be an upset for this Bulldogs team.

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