There isn’t much time left for the top college football teams to secure playoff spots, and Week 11 should provide some clarity in this regard.
Every win is treasured, and every loss weighs heavy.
There aren’t as many huge rivalry games on the schedule as we were treated to last weekend, but as we know the best games are often ones we never saw coming.
The following are the biggest storylines to follow for Week 11.
1. Florida’s quest for relevance forges on
Of the one-loss teams still in the hunt to make it into the playoff in January, perhaps the least respected nationally is Florida (No. 11). The Gators were highly competitive against LSU in their only loss of the season and still have the SEC Championship Game to potentially boost their stock significantly.
Of course, winning by just three, scoring a total of just nine points against Vanderbilt last weekend, wasn’t great for the whole perception thing.
Florida’s next test comes on the road against South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been dominated by the likes of Georgia and Missouri and should be easy prey for the Gators. That said, another closely contested game like the one against Vandy won’t impress the playoff committee at all.
2. J.T. Barrett back at the helm for Ohio State
After serving his one-week suspension, quarterback J.T. Barrett was reinstated as the starter by head coach Urban Meyer for Week 11’s contest against Illinois.
As most are likely aware, Ohio State (No. 3) hasn’t exactly been humming along smoothly on offense this year. But it has been much more explosive with Barrett under center, as opposed to when Cardale Jones was running things.
With just one game left to tune things up offensively before the final two against Michigan State and Michigan, Barrett must get things back on track starting now against the Fighting Illini.
If everyone is on the same page for the Buckeyes, then they should be fine. However, Illinois features a stout defense that won’t be pushed around easily. It’s going to take a sharp effort by Barrett and the offense to keep the voters impressed.
3. Trevone Boykin still in the Heisman race, even after TCU fell out of playoff
TCU (No. 15) is out of the running for a playoff spot after losing in Week 10. Baylor head coach Art Briles thinks the Big 12 champ should get in, even with one loss, and the Horned Frogs could still pull off that feat (technically). However, he couldn’t be more wrong.
Even though they are out of playoff contention, the Horned Frogs have a certain quarterback who could still win the Heisman Trophy with an outstanding finish, despite his four interceptions last weekend.
Trevone Boykin has racked up 3,970 total yards and 37 scores, and he still has three games left to play. He’s going to be well past 5,000 total yards and is on pace to score 49 touchdowns. Unless Derrick Henry and/or Leonard Fournette goes ham the rest of the way, Heisman voters will be drawn in by Boykin’s consistent, and gaudy, production.
After getting handled by Oklahoma State in a game in which superstar receiver Josh Doctson was forced to leave with an injured wrist, Boykin and his high-powered offense should get back on track to score at least 50 against the winless Kansas Jayhawks.
On a side note, there is a rumor floating out there about Boykin switching from quarterback to receiver at the end of the year as he prepares for the 2016 NFL Draft.
4. Will the Irish continue bullying their way into playoff?
Since losing by just two to No. 1 Clemson, Notre Dame (No. 4) has put down tough opponent after tough opponent on its way into the playoff picture. Win out, and they are in for sure, and the end-of-year clash with bitter rival Stanford (No. 7) looms large.
In between now and that highlighted date, the Irish should feast upon a couple of three-win teams, starting with Wake Forest on Saturday. The only win on the books for the Demon Deacons in the past five games was a 3-0 yawn-worthy effort against Boston College, which just so happens to be the other three-win team standing in Notre Dame’s path at the moment.
With teams like Iowa, Baylor, Stanford and Oklahoma State breathing down their necks, the Fighting Irish need to keep playing well the next two weeks and not fall into a lull against inferior opponents.
This is an important stretch for Brian Kelly’s team, which must win and win big to stay in the top four.
5. Clemson with a clear path to No. 1 finish
Clemson (9-0) should have no trouble staying undefeated and remaining the top-ranked team in the nation.
The next three games until the ACC Championship are against opponents with a total of nine wins between them. Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina should be nothing more than fodder for this juggernaut program.
The thing to watch going forward will be the continued development of sophomore sensation Deshaun Watson, who has been brilliant all year for the Tigers.
He showed off his entire repertoire against Florida State, passing for 297 yards with a touchdown and rushing for 107 yards. This came one week after he went bonkers for six total touchdowns against North Carolina State.
6. The Derrick Henry Heisman push continues
Alabama is No. 2 in the nation in large part because of the outstanding play of Henry, who is surging ahead of Fournette in the Heisman rankings. What he did against LSU last weekend was nothing short of magnificent, rushing for 210 yards and three touchdowns against one of the top run defenses in the nation.
The past three games have sparked Henry’s Heisman campaign in a colossal way. During this stretch, he has rushed for 589 yards and has scored seven times as head coach Nick Saban’s main offensive weapon.
Mississippi State (No. 17) is up next for Henry and the Crimson Tide. Featuring a middling run defense that has allowed 1,509 yards and nine rushing scores, the Bulldogs will likely offer little resistance to the man who sees holes before they open up.
As a side note, ‘Bama sure doesn’t have time to revel in the huge win over the Tigers in Week 10. Mississippi State is tough and smart offensively, and quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the most underrated players in the nation.
7. No time to mourn loss for LSU
After being humbled in a major way by SEC rival Alabama, LSU plummeted seven spots in the rankings, from No. 2 all the way down to No. 9.
Adding insult to injury, Heisman hopeful Fournette was almost completely shut down. He finished with just 31 yards on 19 carries but did manage a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Believe it or not, the upcoming game against Arkansas is far from a gimme, and Tigers have no time to feel sorry for themselves. Quarterback Brandon Allen and running back Alex Collins have sparked an offensive dynamo the past three games, during which time the Razorbacks have scored at least 53 points per contest.
Getting Fournette back on track will be at the top of the priority list for Les Miles and the Tigers. If he can get back to his dominant ways, then LSU should come out on top.
8. No time to let up for Stanford
Thanks to a consistently effective running game and swarming defense, the Cardinal is once again in the hunt for a national championship. Averaging almost 17 points more than opponents on average, Stanford has been rising every week in the polls after suffering a loss to Northwestern on the road in Week 1.
The outstanding play of Christian McCaffrey is the catalyst for Stanford’s chug-a-lug offense, which has been railroading defenses on a weekly basis. He has 1,532 total yards and eight touchdowns so far and has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven straight games.
In between now and Week 13 when Notre Dame comes calling, the Cardinal have two tricky opponents on the schedule in Oregon and Cal — both of which can produce points in bunches.
Head coach David Shaw won’t allow his players to let up.
— Road Dogs (@StanfordFball) November 8, 2015
He’s pushing hard towards the finish line, and Stanford appears poised to make a late-season run to the playoff.
9. Big 12 extravaganza in prime time
It’s going to be fun to watch Baylor (No. 6) take on Oklahoma (No. 12) on Saturday night. This is a prime time affair, being broadcast nationally at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, that should produce prolific offensive fireworks.
The Sooners would be undefeated if not for a lapse of focus against Texas, and the Bears are undefeated. For Baylor, it doesn’t get any bigger than this, because losing absolutely dooms their chances of winning a national championship.
According to ESPN’s Pickcenter, Baylor is favored to win by less than a field goal. Between them, the two schools average over 103 points per game.
Freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham looked great in his first start in place of Seth Russell last weekend, and it’s going to be fun watching him duel Oklahoma starter Baker Mayfield, who has thrown 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions all year long.
It should be a blast.
10. Tough test for undefeated Iowa
In a move that shocked many, the playoff committee moved Iowa up four spots — from No. 9 to No. 5 — following Week 10. With an undefeated finish, it’s quite clear the Hawkeyes would be considered strongly for one of the top spots.
“We’re doing something special,” Iowa center Austin Blythe said after the Hawkeyes’ 35-27 win at Indiana Saturday (h/t kcrg.com). “We’ve just got to remember what got us to this point.”
Standing in the way of that goal this week is Minnesota, which is always tough. Looking at the recent record of four losses out of the last five, one might assume the Golden Gophers would be an easy opponent. However, they were awfully tough against Michigan and gave Ohio State a nice challenge last weekend.
Iowa must stay vigilant and play with precision. Minnesota’s defense is feisty and almost always puts up a solid front. The game will be won and lost in the trenches, which favors the Hawkeyes, on paper.