At this point matchups are rarely easy.
It’s crunch time in college football. Margins for error are slim to none, so teams cannot afford to have a poor performance from their quarterbacks. But at this point of the season, matchups are rarely easy.
Notre Dame will be without the signal-caller who elevated the offense, and Clemson’s prized freshman must overcome a challenging road environment. Yes, even undefeated programs have tough outlooks. National title contenders need a win, and conference hopefuls are looking to strengthen tiebreaker cases.
Who will handle the pressure?
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Ohio State is the lowest-ranked one-loss power-conference team in the latest College Football Playoff poll. Although it would be foolish to give up on the Buckeyes, they’re searching for answers on both sides of the ball. Dwayne Haskins posted 9.7 yards per attempt during the first half of the year, but that number has dipped to 7.6 since then. Despite the running game’s superb showing against Nebraska, a repeat performance opposite MSU’s stout front seven is improbable. Ohio State is depending on Haskins to keep the program alive for both the Big Ten and CFP.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
The middle portion of the season was tremendously unkind to Nick Fitzgerald. During a four-game stretch against Kentucky, Florida, Auburn and LSU, the senior had a miserable time. On pass and rush attempts combined, he lumbered to 3.8 yards per play. However, Fitzgerald has since recovered nicely with 679 yards and eight total touchdowns while leading a couple of wins. Encouraging, right? His reward is Alabama on the road. Mississippi State has a tremendous defense, but the SEC meeting won’t be competitive if Fitzgerald is ineffective.
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Given that Oklahoma State is 5-4, the Sooners are healthy favorites in this rivalry tilt. The visiting Cowboys have an inconsistent offense, yet you never quite know what to expect from Oklahoma’s point-stopping unit. After limiting TCU and Kansas State, the Sooners gave up 46 points at Texas Tech. On the bright side for OU, the Kyler Murray-led big-play attack has tallied 51 or 52 in three straight games. Especially now that the Big 12 is Oklahoma’s to lose, the Sooners need the Heisman Trophy candidate to ensure no defensive issues will ultimately cost them.
Gardner Minshew, Washington State
Fair or not, Washington State’s playoff hopes are small even with a 12-1 record. But for that conversation to matter anyway, Gardner Minshew needs to guide the Cougs past a couple pesky opponents. The first one is Colorado, which opened the season 5-0 but has dropped four straight games. In each of the last two weeks, though, Colorado put up 34 points. Washington State’s defense has been considerably less effective on the road in Pac-12 play, so Minshew must be prepared for another high-scoring game. Otherwise, those fleeting CFP aspirations will be gone.
Nate Stanley, Iowa
Two weeks ago, Nate Stanley and the Hawkeyes had an opportunity to take control of the Big Ten West. This weekend’s clash with Northwestern could’ve been the division-sealing win. Instead, they lost to Penn State and Purdue by a combined eight points and are on life support within the West. Since throwing for 10 touchdowns in wins at Minnesota and Indiana, Stanley only has three scores with three interceptions. Iowa’s chances are slim, but a bounce-back showing from the junior would help Iowa put pressure on Northwestern to avoid another loss in future weeks.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Georgia’s preference is to rely on Elijah Holyfield, D’Andre Swift and the running game. That’ll be a tough task against Auburn, which has ceded only 3.5 yards per rushing attempt this season. And the pass defense is pretty good, too. Auburn ranks eighth in the country with 29 sacks and has more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. Jake Fromm has encountered a fair share of struggles as a sophomore, and Georgia — despite its secure place in the SEC Championship Game — cannot afford a loss. If the Dawgs fall, their thin national title hopes will vanish.
Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
Since switching to Ian Book at quarterback, the Fighting Irish have averaged 491 yards and 38.8 points. That followed a three-game stretch when Brandon Wimbush led the offense, and Notre Dame mustered only 365.3 yards and 23.3 points per game. But in Week 11, a rib injury will sideline Book and force Wimbush into the lineup. Fortunately for the Irish, they’ll likely shut down Florida State’s middling attack. As poorly as FSU has defended the pass, though, it’s the sixth-best run-stopping unit. Wimbush must complete a few big throws to thwart the Seminoles’ upset dreams.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Falling to West Virginia didn’t eliminate Texas from the Big 12 race, but the last-second loss put a major dent in the Longhorns’ hopes. A third blemish in conference play would bounce Tom Herman’s club. At this point, Texas can’t trust its defense — even if Texas Tech starts Jett Duffey due to Alan Bowman’s injury. The Longhorns will lean heavily on Ehlinger, who collected 410 yards of total offense and four touchdowns despite the loss to West Virginia. If he’s unable to pick apart the Red Raiders, Texas will drop a fourth game for the ninth consecutive season.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Trevor Lawrence’s final road contest of the season is full of unfavorable elements. Boston College has surrendered only 6.1 yards per pass and intercepted 14 passes compared to just 12 touchdowns. The Eagles also rank 11th nationally with 28 sacks. Oh, and it’ll be chilly in Chestnut Hill. The potential effects of the weather should not be underestimated. Yes, Clemson has a clear talent advantage on both sides of the football. But if the Tigers have any letdown defensively, a low-scoring game would give BC a real chance to spring the upset. Lawrence needs to get Clemson ahead early.
JT Daniels, USC
Utah currently holds the tiebreaker in the Pac-12 South but lost quarterback Tyler Huntley to a broken collarbone. If the Utes cannot hold off Oregon this weekend, USC is suddenly the front-runner in the division. Well, as long as the Trojans navigate a tricky Cal defense, that is. During the last two weekends, Cal limited Washington and Washington State to a combined 6.5 yards per attempt and 29 total points. Daniels has elite potential, but he’s still an inexperienced player adapting to the college level. This is a pivotal moment for Daniels in his freshman season.