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Most compelling matchups in college football Week 11

Jesse Reed

November is here, and with it comes the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season ahead of Week 11. Those rankings won’t stand for long, though, thanks to some outstanding matchups this weekend.

The biggest game of the college football season so far is taking place in Tuscaloosa this Saturday, but that’s not the only big-time matchup on the Week 11 slate. With that in mind, we’re breaking down the most compelling, biggest games of the week.

No. 4 Penn State vs. No. 17 Minnesota

Before LSU and ‘Bama clash, a couple of undefeated Big Ten teams will battle in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers have been one of the nation’s most pleasant surprises all season and have a shot to keep that going with one of the biggest games in modern program history. Head coach P.J. Fleck has this team rowing the boat toward a potential Big Ten title. But it has to beat a Penn State squad that features incredible balance and one of the best defenses in the nation.

Minnesota has been dominating opposing defenses with a punishing run game, led by senior running back Rodney Smith, who’s well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. However, the Nittany Lions feature the nation’s second-best run defense — allowing just 68.4 yards per game on the ground. With that in mind, Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan needs to have the best game of his season on Saturday, and the Golden Gophers must slow down Sean Clifford and Co., to have a shot at keeping the dream alive.

No. 12 Baylor vs. TCU

Nobody saw this coming. Baylor enters college football Week 11 atop the Big 12 standings (over Oklahoma) with an undefeated 8-0 record. Matt Rhule’s Bears are coming off a narrow win over West Virginia last Friday night and also survived a double-overtime thriller against Texas Tech a few weeks back. So, they haven’t been blowing teams out like some of the other teams among the elites in the nation.

Now Baylor is on the road this Saturday for a game against a TCU squad with its back against the wall. At 4-4 on the season, the Horned Frogs are desperate to win a couple more games and qualify for a bowl game. TCU’s defense was sharp early in the year but has been susceptible to the big play of late. Both teams put points on the board on a regular basis, and this game could get wild.

No. 18 Iowa vs. No. 13 Wisconsin

Iowa and Wisconsin are each looking up at Minnesota entering Week 11. Both programs sport 3-2 records in the Big Ten and are two games back of the Golden Gophers with four games left to play, including a matchup against Minnesota. So, the Big Ten West is still very much up for grabs, especially if Penn State beats Minnesota on Saturday.

That being said, one more loss for either team likely means this goal is dead in 2019.

The blueprint for Iowa and Wisconsin is eerily similar, not only in terms of what each team needs to do the rest of the season, but how they are built to play every Saturday. Defense and running lead the way. Given that Wisconsin has the electric Johnathan Taylor, and that it’s at home, we’re leaning toward the Badgers winning this one.

Iowa State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma

The last time we saw either of these teams play, they lost. Oklahoma was stunned by Kansas State as its defense fell apart in a big way, and Iowa State fell to Oklahoma State thanks to a monster game from Chuba Hubbard.

The Sooners are still technically in the playoff chase, despite the one loss. If they win out and take the Big 12 title game, that may be enough, especially if Jalen Hurts keeps on playing like he has all year and the offense is putting up nearly 50 points per game.

But that dream will die if the Sooners can’t slow down the Cyclones’ offense on Saturday. Win or lose, if Oklahoma’s defense continues to regress like we saw two weeks ago, the playoff committee is going to favor a more balanced team. Period.

No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Alabama

It’s a shame that the schedule makers didn’t save the best for last and feature LSU and Alabama in prime time. Instead, we’re going to be watching the two best teams in the nation battle it out in Tuscaloosa in the afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS).

Undefeated juggernauts going head-to-head. Some of the best offensive talent in the nation on one field. It’s going to be epic.

The big question everyone has on their mind is whether Tua Tagovailoa (ankle surgery) will start for the Crimson Tide, or if it’s going to be Mac Jones. Reportedly, he’s expected to play. But if Tagovailoa is held out, then the ‘Bama defense will have to step up and play its best game of the season to slow down Heisman favorite Joe Burrow and his electric LSU offense.