We are down to the last three weeks of the regular season. Three weeks to sort out what has been an absurd playoff race that gets turned upside-down at every chance and — if things keep going this way — we’ll be arguing about a decade from now. We have two de-facto elimination games for the playoff this week: Notre Dame-Miami and TCU-Oklahoma.
With the possible but not probable exception of undefeated Miami, the loser of each of those games will be out of the running for the CFP. Not to mention the host of other tough games for playoff hopefuls scattered throughout Saturday. Take a deep breath. Here are college football’s studs and duds for Week 11.
Outside of a bizarre loss at Arizona State, the Huskies have quietly been chugging along as the lowest-key playoff contender in the country. This week is their toughest game for the rest of the regular season — at Stanford — and in typical Washington fashion, there’s basically no hype around it.
In any case, the Huskies should win this game. They boast one of the best run defenses in the country and lead the nation in limiting explosive plays on the ground, per Football Study Hall. If Washington stops Cardinal running back Bryce Love from getting in rhythm, they should dispose of Stanford fairly easily.
Dud: Michigan State
Mark Dantonio has given Urban Meyer’s Ohio State some trouble in the past. That won’t be the case this season. The Spartans will be on the road in a hostile environment, going against one of the country’s best defensive lines. They’re going to have a lot of trouble moving the football and with a special teams disadvantage, the defense will consistently be in a bad position. If the Buckeyes are at all motivated after getting embarrassed by Iowa last week, they’ll win this one.
Stud: Iowa State
Last week, Oklahoma State expended every bit of energy they had and fell short in an epic battle which knocked them out of the playoff race. The Cowboys are dazed, disappointed, and now have to go to Ames — one of the toughest venues in the country. Iowa State is looking to pull off the trifecta and win their third straight upset over a Big 12 heavyweight. A victory would also place them right back in the mix for the conference championship game, as they would hold head-to-head wins over every relevant team save West Virginia. That’s enough motivation for the Cyclones to take the W.
Dud: Georgia Tech
Ultimately, the Yellow Jackets’ success is going to come down to the opposing run defense as much as anything else. At home against Virginia Tech this weekend, it’s hard for things to look much worse from that perspective. The Hokies are 17th in run defense S&P+, 23rd in defensive adjusted line yards, third in power success rate, and ninth in stuff rate, per Football Study Hall. Outside of explosive plays, Virginia Tech has been reliable all year in terms of stopping the run. That could mean a slew of three-and-outs culminating in a third straight loss for Georgia Tech.
The Hoosiers are 3-6, winless in the Big Ten and one loss away from bowl extinction in Tom Allen’s first year on the sideline. But fear not. Indiana’s next three games: at Illinois, home for Rutgers, at Purdue. In other words, it’s all gonna be okay. Well, maybe. Winning in West Lafayette is no easy task this year and the Scarlet Knights have been feisty in recent weeks. But the grim reaper isn’t coming for Indiana this week. Lovie Smith’s Illini are absolutely pitiful. Their offense makes the Hoosiers look like Penn State. Even in Champaign, this will be a blowout.
The Hawkeyes are good for one big upset at home per year. We got that upset last week, as Iowa decimated Ohio State, all but ending the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes. That won’t be repeated this week, as the Hawkeyes go on the road to Wisconsin. Iowa simply won’t be able to move the ball against a Badger defense that ranks sixth in S&P+. These two teams are not dissimilar in style, however, Wisconsin is simply better in nearly every aspect of the game.
If the Bulldogs get past this week — at Auburn — they’re probably in the playoff no matter what. Of course, they still have to beat Kentucky and Georgia Tech, but the difficulty of those games pales in comparison to this one. Georgia, however, will be up to the challenge. With both teams boasting top-five defenses by S&P+, this game could well come down to special teams. And the Bulldogs rank second in special teams S&P+. If they can get running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel along with the field position advantage, Georgia should eke out a win at Jordan-Hare.
Dud: West Virginia
It’s a bit hard to judge the Mountaineers on the road since two of their four games away from home were at Baylor and Kansas. However, West Virginia fell short by a slim margin at TCU and on a neutral site against Virginia Tech back in Week 1. Defenses are what travel and the Mountaineers don’t have one. This game is close to a must-win for Kansas State. A victory would give the Wildcats bowl eligibility before two tough ones against Oklahoma State and Iowa State to close out the year. Their defense isn’t anything special and this will no-doubt be a high-scoring matchup. However, Kansas State can keep pace with West Virginia at home before pulling ahead for good in the fourth.
While every team in the country cannibalizes each other in the big, chaotic trash heap that is college football, the Crimson Tide are just sitting pretty and laughing at the top. The Mississippi State Bulldogs are college football’s sacrificial lamb this week. Despite being at home, despite a pretty successful season, a top-10 defense by S&P+, a solid run game, and a 10-win season looking ever-more likely, Mississippi State is going into the wood-chipper. The most points Alabama has given up in a game this year: 23. The least points Alabama has scored in a game this year: 24. Yup, the Tide are that good.
This scribe is done trying to guess when Butch Jones will finally get fired. But as long as he’s there, we may as well take advantage of it and pick against the Vols. Tennessee is a double-digit underdog at Missouri this week and that’s not a testament to the 4-5 Tigers. (Though it is worth noting that Barry Odom has strung together three wins in a row and may just get Mizzou bowling after a truly disastrous start). The Vols have just one win against a Power Five team all year, and that was all the way back in Week 1. They won’t notch their second this week against the red-hot Tigers.
Stud: Notre Dame
Much as we may dislike it, the Irish are for real. And they’re going to prove it (again) by beating the Hurricanes this week, assuming running back Josh Adams is ready to go by Saturday. Adams is averaging an absurd 8.7 yards per carry and will be the key to this game given that Miami ranks 82nd in run defense S&P+. He’ll allow Notre Dame to control possession and move the ball downfield, making things easy for quarterback Brandon Wimbush. If Adams is out, things will get dicey. But assuming he plays, the Irish will stay on track for the playoff.
The Sooners managed to beat Oklahoma State last week because the game was played on their terms: a rollicking shootout where neither defense could do anything. That won’t be the case against TCU this week. Gary Patterson’s squad ranks third in the country when it comes to defensive S&P+. This is not an easy team to move the ball against, even for Baker Mayfield, Trey Sermon and co. The Horned Frogs will do what the Cowboys couldn’t: get some stops and win the game.
Stud: Colorado State
The CSU-Boise State matchup this week is quietly pretty consequential in the Mountain West. With a win over the Broncos, the Rams will open the door for Wyoming to tie Boise State at the top of the Mountain division. At home, that win is probable. With a pass defense that ranks 79th in S&P+, the Broncos aren’t good enough to stop the Nick Stevens-Michael Gallup combination from rolling over them. A win here will put Colorado State on track for 8-4 (all they have to do is beat San Jose State next week) despite a non-conference schedule that featured three Power Five teams, one being Alabama. This game won’t be easy, but Mike Bobo’s squad will pull it out.
Even post-McElwain, the Gators seem beyond saving. Last week was Florida’s chance to turn it around with a winnable-on-paper game at Missouri. Instead, they crapped the bed and lost 45-16. It’s hard to watch this team and spot any sort of motivation at all. At this point, all that’s left to do is play out the string and hope for no more embarrassments. South Carolina will get a gift this week in facing the Gators at home.
The Boilermakers need to win two of their last three games to go bowling. With a trip to Iowa coming up next week, a victory at Northwestern on Saturday is a must. Purdue will be up to the task. Their defense is good enough to stifle the Wildcats’ run game. If Jeff Brohm can draw up some creative things on offense, as is his forte, the Boilermakers will win a close one in Evanston.
The Utes’ game against Washington State this week feels like a matchup of the Pac-12’s most underwhelming teams. But Utah is just a little bit more underwhelming. The Cougars found their defensive rhythm again last week, holding Bryce Love to just 69 yards in a win over Stanford. They should manage to limit the Utes, who rank 49th in offensive S&P+ as well. Unless Luke Falk reverts back to his struggles, Washington State will go to 9-2.
The Commodores are another team that needs to win two of its last three to reach bowl eligibility. This week — a home contest against Kentucky — will be one of the two. Vandy can throw the ball against a godawful Wildcat pass defense, then turn around and stifle Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson. Vanderbilt is barely outside the top-10 in pass defense S&P+. That will be the difference in this game.
The Trojans on the road are very far from a safe bet this year. Especially against a fairly decent team in Colorado. The Buffs are no title contender — they’re 5-5 right now — but they’re no pushover either. With UCLA next week, USC is very susceptible to overlooking this game and turning in a bad performance. Sam Darnold’s passer efficiency rating is nearly 25 points lower on the road than at home. If the Trojans don’t come out guns blazing, they’re going to have some problems in this one.
In a storyline we may not be paying quite enough attention, the Tigers are already done with all of their toughest games. Clemson finishes out the year with home games against Florida State and The Citadel before going to South Carolina. In other words, barring a major upset, the Tigers are guaranteed a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Given the absolute misery that has engulfed the Seminoles this year, they won’t be the team to pull that upset. Their offensive line is nowhere near good enough to even compete with Clemson’s front-seven. This should be a blowout from kickoff on.
We don’t think of Virginia at home being a tough game, but this year, it is. The Cavaliers are 6-3 after upsetting Georgia Tech last week and nobody should be surprised if they knock off the Cardinals on Saturday. Bronco Mendenhall’s squad is 35th in defensive S&P+. That should make Louisville — which depends almost exclusively on Lamar Jackson for yardage — very nervous. If the Cavaliers manage to slow him down at all, this is an upset waiting to happen.