Week 12 college football picks, games, odds: West Virginia, Washington State on upset alert

Week 12 is an easy one to ignore. The College Football Playoff rankings hardly changed and there are only three games on Saturday between ranked teams. Everything seems to be pointing to Thanksgiving weekend as the do-or-die weekend. 

But what weeks like this one lack in overall interest can sometimes make up for in seismic upsets. Notre Dame gets one of its tougher tests of the season in New York against Syracuse while UCF tries to keep its 22-game winning streak alive against the best defense its faced all year. 

Each week, I'll give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. Disclaimer: "upset" is defined first and foremost by the point spread, not perception or rankings, though they are both taken into consideration. I generally avoid games whose lines are within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them (there are a couple of those cases this week). I'm also going on the record with the picks and keeping tabs. The scoring system is exactly the same as it is for our weekly expert picks with season-long tallies against the spread (ATS) and straight-up (SU). 

Week 11 results

Upset alert picks: 2-3
ATS: 2-3
SU: 2-3

Picks to date: 32-23
ATS to date: 27-28
SU to date: 25-30

On to this week's picks ... 

No. 12 Syracuse vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET | Where: New York, New York | Line: Notre Dame -9.5

Why it's listed: Northwestern was the trendy upset pick over Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago, but Syracuse is more of a threat to actually score on the Fighting Irish's stifling defense. On a dull slate, this one has palpable excitement to it. 

Syracuse's key to the game: Notre Dame's passing defense is lights out, but the combination of Eric Dungey to Jamal Custis is a matchup the Irish haven't seen the likes of yet. Custis doesn't have other worldly stats (748 receiving yards, five TDs), but he's a big-bodied, go up and get it guy who becomes a bigger threat once 'Cuse gets to the red zone, where he has two scores on seven grabs.

Notre Dame's key to the game: The Irish's defensive line does as good a job as any unit getting into the backfield. Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery leads the team with seven sacks (as an interior lineman, no less) and is probably this team's most-improved player.

Pick: Getting quarterback Ian Book back helps and ultimately that's the difference. He doesn't just raise the ceiling of the offense's potential, he makes the key plays when his team absolutely needs them. ATS: Syracuse, SU: Notre Dame

No. 9 West Virginia at Oklahoma State

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Stillwater, Oklahoma | Line: West Virginia -5.5

Why it's listed: West Virginia has responded well since losing to Iowa State by soundly beating teams it should while getting a key victory at Texas. But this is the game before the game against Oklahoma. And while Oklahoma State isn't a great team, it is dangerous enough offensively to challenge the Big 12's top brass. 

Oklahoma State's key to the game: The Cowboys don't do much well defensively, but they have speedy edge rushers and rank first in the Big 12 in sacks. West Virginia, for all its firepower, does not have a particularly strong third-down offense (44.12 percent conversion rate). 

West Virginia's key to the game: Getting to Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius will be high risk-high reward, but likely the difference in this game. The Pokes have plenty of skilled wideouts and running backs to give the Mountaineers trouble, but Cornelius' accuracy is a question mark. Disrupting him early -- and West Virginia loves to bring pressure -- will be a focal point. 

Pick: This seems like a ripe upset opportunity if the Mountaineers play stiff. Oklahoma State has been a good underdog in three games, but does Mike Gundy's team have it in 'em to put it together for 60 minutes all over again after losing to Oklahoma? ATS: Oklahoma State, SU: West Virginia

UAB at Texas A&M 

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET | Where: College Station, Texas | Line: Texas A&M -17

Why it's listed: The Blazers are 9-1 and have already locked up the Conference USA West division. Bill Clark should be the unanimous Coach of the Year, full stop. Plus, UAB also leads the nation in sacks thanks to a disruptive defensive front. This is its Super Bowl and I reckon they'll play like it. 

UAB's key to the game: Having the more disruptive defense on Standard Downs will go a long way in determining whether UAB has a real chance to win. The Blazers rank 18th in that category, per S&P+, and getting A&M behind the chains will be critical. The point total is at 47, and combined with the spread, UAB will have to shorten its field to put points on the board. Defense is the first step to doing that. 

Texas A&M's key to the game: The Aggies allow more sacks than anyone in the SEC and they've had their struggles against dominant defensive fronts like Kentucky, Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama. Trayveon Williams, the SEC's leading rusher, will need to break 100 yards and probably score twice for A&M to win comfortably. 

Pick: The Blazers' rushing offense goes against one of the stiffest defensive fronts in the country. While UAB will be up for this game, I wonder if they'll have the big plays necessary to put stress on A&M for 60 minutes. ATS: UAB, SU: Texas A&M

No. 24 Cincinnati at No. 11 UCF

When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Where: Orlando, Florida | Line: UCF -7.5

Why it's listed: Memphis and Temple played UCF tough, with the former nearly pulling off the unthinkable, but this is the toughest test the unbeaten Knights will have faced this season. The Bearcats' defense is for real. 

Cincinnati's key to the game: The point differentials between UCF (+23) and Cincy (+20) are similar, so I like the Bearcats' odds of dictating this game. Cincy will lean hard on the defense, which is fifth in the nation in points per drive, and work running back Michael Warren II. And UCF's defense is more susceptible to giving up yards vs. the run. 

UCF's key to the game: If you have quarterback McKenzie Milton, you have a shot to win. While the Knights aren't quite as good offensively as they were a year ago, Milton probably needs to make three or four huge plays in the second half to win. 

Pick: Lost within all the chatter about the "national champions" and getting no love from the playoff committee is the accomplishment of having won 22 straight games. That is unthinkably hard and a streak that will eventually end. UCF has flirted with it a couple of times already and it's just a more vulnerable team than a year ago. ATS: Cincinnati, SU: Cincinnati

Arizona at No. 8 Washington State

When: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET | Where: Pullman, Washington | Line: Washington State -9.5

Why it's listed: This is the third straight week Wazzu's been on Upset Alerts and I don't like it any more than Cougars fans do. It's not personal, promise. The Colorado pick a week ago was flat-out wrong and the result of an oddly low point spread (roll the tape!). Besides, if I'm Wazzu, I'm far more concerned about having to face a suddenly Khalil Tate-looking Khalil Tate with Arizona coming off an open week. 

Arizona's key to the game: You guessed it. Tate is a difference-maker now that he's healthy and able to use his feet to either keep plays alive or burn defenses in the open field. While he's not putting up the huge rushing numbers he was a season ago, his more well-timed runs can give the Wildcats a key first down or touchdown. 

Washington State's key to the game: Keeping contain on a player of Tate's athletic caliber isn't easy and requires a lot of discipline by the first two levels of the defense. But Washington State's defense has been so well-coached that it's probably better off putting Tate in passing situations (the Cougars have one of the better passing defenses in the Pac-12).

Pick: As much as I like Tate to give defenses fits -- he had 421 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Cougars last year -- he needs to open it up more with his legs if the Wildcats are going to complete the upset. ATS: Arizona, SU: Washington State

So which teams should you back in Week 12 of the college football season? And what playoff contender will get its title hopes crushed? Visit SportsLine now to see the projected score for every single FBS matchup, all from the model that has returned over $4,000 in profit to $100 bettors over the last three seasons.

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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