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November 16, 2011

Viewer's guide: Calm before the storm

After last week's shakeup of the BCS standings, with losses by previously undefeated Stanford and Boise State, this week is the calm before the storm, relatively speaking.

Most rivalry games are a week away and conference championship games are two weeks away, leaving a handful of teams taking a relative breather.

[Expert picks: Week 12 predictions]

For starters, the SEC basically is taking a week off - four teams are playing FCS programs and division leaders Georgia and LSU are playing the worst teams in the league in Kentucky and Ole Miss, respectively.

Still, that doesn't mean the week is bereft of good games. Three games feature matchups between top-25 teams: No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 22 Baylor, No. 13 Kansas State at No. 23 Texas and No. 16 Nebraska at No. 18 Michigan.

The biggest game, though, may involve a team that's ineligible for the BCS standings. USC, ranked 18th in The Associated Press poll but ineligible for the coaches' and Harris polls and for the BCS, visits No. 5 Oregon, which won at Stanford last week.

Here's a look at those games and the other top televised matchups in Week 12.

All times Eastern.

WEEK 12 VIEWER'S GUIDE
FRIDAY

OKLAHOMA STATE AT IOWA STATE
When: 8 p.m., ESPN
Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst
The line: Oklahoma State by 26
Why you should watch: Oklahoma State's path is now crystal clear: With Stanford out of the mix, the Cowboys, ranked second in the BCS standings, will go to the national title game if they win out. The biggest hurdle is a home game against Oklahoma in two weeks, and on paper, Iowa State should be of limited concern. The Cyclones are 2-4 in the Big 12, with its wins coming against Kansas and slumping Texas Tech. They're averaging a Big 12-low 24 points per game. But an interesting storyline is this: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads was defensive coordinator of the 4-7 Pittsburgh team that stymied West Virginia's prolific offense in the last week of the 2007 season, ending the Mountaineers' bid for the national championship game.

SATURDAY

NEBRASKA AT MICHIGAN
When: Noon, ESPN
Broadcasters: Dave Pasch play-by-play, Chris Spielman and Urban Meyer analysts
The line: Michigan by 2.5
Why you should watch: These storied programs, now division rivals in the Big Ten, haven't met since Nebraska won the 2005 Alamo Bowl in a game marred by questionable officiating. Both teams are playing for bigger prizes this season. Each is 8-2 and can win 10 regular-season games, although both are behind Michigan State in the Legends Division. Both fan bases can swap stories about their up-and-down dual threat quarterbacks, Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez. Robinson is in his annual November swoon, but that hasn't hurt the Wolverines because TB Fitzgerald Toussaint has come on strong of late. At Nebraska, TB Rex Burkhead rebounded from a subpar performance in a loss to Northwestern to rush for 121 yards and a touchdown in last week's win at Penn State.

SMU AT HOUSTON
When: 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Broadcasters: Bill Land play-by-play, Gary Reasons analyst
The line: Houston by 19.5
Why you should watch: Welcome to the spotlight, Houston. Until this point, the Cougars have been something of a novelty, albeit a high-scoring novelty with a quarterback who has thrown for 17,537 yards and 144 touchdowns in his career. Boise State's loss means Houston has a shot at a BCS bid if its can remain unbeaten. Houston is entering the toughest portion of its schedule. The Cougars' first nine FBS opponents are a combined 35-56 overall and 13-25 in Conference USA. Houston's only win over an opponent with a winning record is over 6-4 Louisiana Tech - and the Cougars had to rally late to win. SMU's 6-4 record isn't overly impressive, but the Mustangs defeated TCU in overtime on Oct. 15. SMU coach June Jones once took Hawaii to the BCS on the arm of a prolific quarterback in 2007, but his offense this season is centered on RB Zach Line, who is sixth in the nation in rushing at 122.4 yards per game. If Houston beats SMU, the Cougars finish up the regular season next week at Tulsa (7-3). If Houston wins that, it almost certainly will face Southern Miss (9-1) in the C-USA championship game.

KANSAS STATE AT TEXAS
When: 8 p.m., FX
Broadcasters: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Charles Davis analyst
The line: Texas by 9.5
Why you should watch: The dream season continues for Kansas State after a four-overtime win over Texas A&M. Kansas State is 5-2 this season as an underdog, with the losses coming to national title contenders Oklahoma State (a close one) and Oklahoma (a rout). Kansas State QB Collin Klein has 24 rushing touchdowns this season; the FBS single-season record by a quarterback belongs to Navy's Ricky Dobbs with 27 in 2009. Klein already has more than Auburn's Cam Newton and Florida's Tim Tebow had in their Heisman-winning seasons. Texas' offense, meanwhile, has been beset by injuries. TB Fozzy Whittaker is out for the season with a torn ACL, while WR Jaxon Shipley and TBs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron missed last week's loss to Missouri with injuries. If you're keeping track: Texas' top three rushers and second-leading receiver are dealing with injury issues down the stretch.

OKLAHOMA AT BAYLOR
When: 8 p.m., ABC/ESPN Game Plan
Broadcasters: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst
The line: Oklahoma by 15.5
Why you should watch: Oklahoma is back in the national title picture, checking in at No. 5 in the latest BCS standings. That's a testament to the Sooners' play the past two weeks since the puzzling loss to Texas Tech. It's also a byproduct of Stanford's loss to Oregon and that Oklahoma has not faced No. 1 LSU, as Alabama and Oregon have. Record-breaking WR Ryan Broyles and starting TB Dominique Whaley are out for the season. The Sooners have been able to run the ball in the two games without Whaley, but how will the passing attack fare without Broyles? Sophomore Kenny Stills (41 receptions) has been bothered by nagging injuries all season, and Jaz Reynolds (32) seems more of a No. 2 or 3 guy than a go-to receiver. Baylor has squeezed past Missouri and Kansas in the past two weeks, and QB Robert Griffin was 49-of-70 for 718 yards with six touchdowns and an interception in those games. He also rushed for two touchdowns in that span.

USC AT OREGON
When: 8 p.m., ABC/ESPN Game Plan
Broadcasters: Brent Musburger play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit analyst
The line: Oregon by 15.5
Why you should watch: USC is ineligible for the postseason, but the Trojans are 8-2 and have won five of their past six; the only loss in that span was in three overtimes to Stanford. The Trojans' offense has had a renaissance in the past month because of the emergence of TB Curtis McNeal and freshman WR Marqise Lee. They've become complementary playmakers for QB Matt Barkley and WR db]Robert Woods[/db]. An intriguing question for USC's offense (and its long-term future): What would this team look like if RB De'Anthony Thomas had signed? Thomas, a five-star prospect from Los Angeles Crenshaw, was a long-time commitment to the Trojans but ended up signing with Oregon. Oregon's offense is highly productive, and the defense made a statement in last week's rout of Stanford by forcing five turnovers and sacking Andrew Luck three times.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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