College football Week 11 could be considered a trap-game extravaganza for many of the top programs around the nation. There are also a few key battles between conference foes that will rock the rankings, one way or another.
A couple of this year’s biggest surprise teams are facing tricky opponents that could trip them up. A couple of the top powerhouse schools in the nation are getting some reprieve after enduring grueling opponents of late.
Will any huge upsets occur this week? Last weekend featured the No. 4 team in the nation going down hard.
We’re exploring these angles and more in our preview of college football Week 11.
1. Can Iowa knock off Michigan at home?
If you’ve been keeping track of Michigan’s continuous show of dominance this year, then you’re probably convinced the Hawkeyes have no chance to hang with Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines. The only team that has legitimately come close to giving them a run for their money is Wisconsin. And even in that brutal slugfest, the Badgers hardly generated any offense to speak of.
Furthermore, Iowa has dropped two straight. It first lost a close game to Wisconsin and then got blown out by the surging Penn State Nittany Lions last weekend.
Even at home this weekend, the Hawkeyes are likely looking at a blowout loss. At least that’s what we should expect, based on the trajectories of both teams.
Harbaugh’s diverse offense has been running over ever defense it comes up against. Featuring one of the most potent rushing attacks in the nation, the Wolverines have far too many weapons for opposing defenses keep track of.
And now quarterback Wilton Speight is starting to really blossom, exceeding the expectations of his hard-nosed head coach.
“He’s superseded the hopes, he’s gone past what we were hoping he’d be — in a big way,” Harbaugh said, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. “He’s been outstanding. Outstanding. I’d be lying if I said he hasn’t done more than what we hoped he’d be this season.”
Speights’ development, and the offense as a whole, is a joy to watch if you’re a fan of beautiful offense, or just the Wolverines in general.
That said, Michigan’s defense is really the biggest reason to assume Iowa won’t stand a chance of winning, though. A unit that ranks No. 1 in college football in points allowed (10.7), this defense should smother C.J. Beathard and Co. on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.
2. Is there any chance Mississippi State can one-up itself against ‘Bama?
The Bulldogs shocked Texas A&M last Saturday, winning 35-28. In the process, they handed the Aggies their second loss of the year and knocked them off their tenuous perch as the No. 4 team in the newly released College Football Playoff rankings.
There was plenty of elation emanating from Starkville afterwards, and rightfully so. Mississippi State had been trudging through a difficult season before that glorious upset.
But the time for celebrating is now at an end. This Saturday the Bulldogs will be visiting the No. 1 team in the nation, and the Crimson Tide are coming off a grueling 10-0 win on the road against LSU.
Last season when these two teams met up it was a one-sided battle in which the Bulldogs managed just six points against ‘Bama’s defense. Based on the way the Crimson Tide are playing on that side of the ball this year, Mississippi State will be lucky to even match that score.
Even in victory last weekend, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw two interceptions. He’s thrown seven in the last four games and nine on the year. That’s got to be something the ball-hawking Alabama defensive secondary is keying in on for this game.
On the other side of the same coin, Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarborough, Damien Harris and Co. should have a field day against a Bulldogs defense that gives up nearly 30 points per game.
We’re expecting a blowout win for the home team in this one.
3. Baylor in danger of losing three straight
It was just a few weeks ago that Baylor was riding high with an undefeated record of 6-0. The Bears were considered to be the heavy favorite to emerge as the top team of the weak Big 12 with an outside chance of making it into the College Football Playoff.
Fast forward two games later, and suddenly the Bears are not only out of the running for the national championship but are two games behind Oklahoma in the Big 12.
And based on the way Baylor has played the past two weekends against Texas and TCU, a third straight loss isn’t out of the question. The Bears are taking their two-game skid into Memorial Stadium early Saturday to play against Oklahoma.
The Sooners are on a roll. After losing two of their first three games, Oklahoma has ripped off six straight wins.
In particular, quarterback Baker Mayfield has been on tear that’s only been minimized because of how amazing Lamar Jackson has been this year. The past four games, Oklahoma’s offensive leader has passed for 1,455 yards with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Conversely, Baylor’s Seth Russell is coming off a couple of rough outings. In the past two games, he’s thrown just three touchdowns and has turned the ball over twice.
Obviously, trends are meant to be broken. We can’t just assume these two quarterbacks and these two teams will stay on their current paths. Baylor very well could rebound with a huge offensive day.
At the same time, while Baylor’s offense has been inconsistent this year, its defense has not. Even if Russell and his offense get back to their high-flying ways, we’re expecting Mayfield to match him big play for big play. With that in mind, we’re picking Oklahoma to win at home, extending its lead in the Big 12 and handing Baylor its third straight loss.
4. Penn State with a chance to make it six wins in a row
Heading into the 2016 season, nobody thought Penn State would be among the top-10 teams in the nation heading into the home stretch. The narrative surrounding this program was that it was broken. That head coach James Franklin was absolutely not the right guy to lead the Nittany Lions back to national prevalence.
That appeared to be a justified opinion when Penn State lost two of its first four games. Though it must be noted that those two losses came against a tough Pitt team and the juggernaut Michigan Wolverines.
Since losing in blowout fashion to Michigan, the Nittany Lions have won five straight games and now carry a 7-2 record into Week 11. In the process, they knocked off Ohio State in thrilling fashion to the delight of the home crowd at Happy Valley.
Now ranked No. 10 in the nation, Franklin’s program has a good opportunity to run the table and finish with a 10-2 record.
The next three games are all winnable but are still frought with pitfalls. The oddysey continues on the road this weekend against an Indiana team with a mediocre 5-4 record. But it’s not going to be an easy win. The Hoosiers gave Ohio State and Nebraska a nice challenge earlier this year.
Look for Franklin to lean heavily on sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, who’s been unstoppable the past four games with 789 total yards and five touchdowns.
Should Penn State continue winning and finish with just two losses, it’s likely it will finish among the top six or seven teams in the nation. It would also mark the first time in seven years that this program finished with double-digit wins.
5. Can Georgia play spoiler at home against Auburn?
Just like the surprise emergence of Penn State, Auburn’s turnaround has been one of the biggest stories of the season. The Tigers lost two of their first three games. At that point, it sure seemed like it would be another season in which they would be competitive but not quite live up to their potential.
Coming into Week 11 with a 7-2 record and winners of six straight, Auburn is clearly living up to its potential now. In particular, the emergence of sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway and sophomore quarterback Sean White has propelled the Tigers into the national spotlight.
Also, don’t discount just how good this defense has been. Shutting down the likes of Arkansas and Ole Miss is no easy task, yet the Tigers were up to the challenge.
Up next for Gus Malzahn’s squad is a road trip to face the up-and-down Georgia Bulldogs. It’s been more down than up of late for this program, which has lost four of its last six games. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has great potential but tends to make critical mistakes, and running back Nick Chubb hasn’t exactly had a magical return following his knee injury last year.
There just isn’t anything Georgia does really well right now. That said, this is a deep-rooted rivalry in which anything can happen. It’s also a rivaly game Georgia has won the last two years, four out of five times and eight of the last 10 times these teams have met.
It’s going to be fascinating to see if this trend continues Saturday in Athens, Georgia.
6. James Conner and the Panthers look to upset Clemson
Despite the fact that Clemson is heavily favored to win at home against Pitt Saturday, we shouldn’t discount the Panthers’ ability to put points on the board and make it quite a competitive game.
The potent combination of cancer survivor James Conner and his quarterback Nathan Peterman has helped Pittsburgh average 37 points per game. Conner has scored 11 times on the ground and Peterman has been careful not to turn the ball over, throwing 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
If Deshaun Watson, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, isn’t sharp, we shouldn’t be blindsided if Pitt makes it very interesting or even pulls off the improbable upset.
The offense really should run through Wayne Gallman this week, at least to start the game. He’s a key to the offense anyway, and going run-first ensures Watson will remain safe from the clutches of Ejuan Price, one of the top pass rushers in the nation.
That said, given the fact that Pitt’s defense tends to give up as much as its offense puts up, the Tigers should win at home even if Watson isn’t at his best.
7. Badgers can’t fall into trap against Illinois
Wisconsin is now in control of its own destiny as it relates to winning the Big Ten West. Win out and the Badgers will win the division, setting up a Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State (we’re giving the edge to the Wolverines in that battle).
The road to get to this point has been perilous, indeed. Wisconsin came within just 14 combined points of beating Michigan and Ohio State in two consecutive games. Since then the team has won three straight hard-fought games against Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern.
This weekend the Badgers get a bit of a reprieve when they host the Fighting Illini, winners of just three games this year.
But this is no time to let up. Should Minnesota beat Nebraska on Saturday, it will still hold a technical lead over Wisconsin should the Badgers also take care of business. These two teams are set up to face off in the final weekend of the regular season.
Needless to say, there is no room for error right now. The Badgers have been strong all year long, so we’re not suggesting it will happen. Riding the coattails of the team’s dominant defense, we expect a heavy dose of running back Corey Clement as the offense grinds out another win.
8. Louisville needs another statement game to impress Playoff committee
It was a pretty big shock when the Cardinals were ranked No. 7 by the College Football Playoff Committee last week. After all, their only loss was a very tightly contested battle on the road against Clemson.
They answered that disappointing ranking with a dominant 52-7 win over Boston College. Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson dropped 416 total yards and seven touchdowns it this one to boost his stats to otherworldly levels.
Still, despite all that, the Cardinals might need to continue blowing teams out the rest of the season to get serious consideration as a top-four team at the end of the year. They were bumped up just one spot when the new rankings came out on Tuesday evening.
Of course, this will continue to rankle head coach Bobby Petrino, who lamented the fact that he didn’t let his team drop 80 points on Florida State instead of the measley 63 they finished with.
Unfortunately for Petrino and his team, the CFP Committee doesn’t seem to respect what the Cardinals have accomplished as much as they’d like.
This means Petrino needs to unleash Jackson and the offense for a full four quarters this weekend against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have won six games this year but don’t have the offensive firepower to hang with Louisville. We’re expecting another blowout win for Jackson and Co. in this one.
9. Can red-hot Trojans upset undefeated Huskies?
To this point, the Pac 12 has belonged to Washington. The only team to come close to beating the Huskies was Utah in Salt Lake City. Two special teams plays were the difference in that game (watch here), but there’s no doubt the Utes gave somewhat of a blueprint for success.
Duplicating what Utah did — forcing Jake Browning into an uncharacteristic turnover and limiting the dynamic aerial assault he authors by putting pressure on him up the middle — is easier said than done.
However, based on what we’ve seen from the USC Trojans the past five games, perhaps they actually have what it takes.
Young quarterback Sam Darnold still has plenty to work on in terms of mechanics, but he’s been nothing short of magnificent for USC since he replaced redshirt junior Max Browne. The freshman has completed 67.9 percent of his passes, throwing 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
While Darnold has caught fire offensively, USC’s defense has been doing solid work, allowing just 19 points per game during its winning streak.
Of course, while all this is wonderful for the Trojans and their fans, Washington has been making pretty much every team it faces (minus Utah) look like a JV squad. It’s going to be fascinating to see if USC can hang with its Pac 12 rival Saturday night.
10. Huge Big Ten clash when Minnesota visits Nebraska
As we mentioned when discussing Wisconsin, both Minnesota and Nebraska are tied record wise with the Badgers atop the Big Ten West.
If the season ended today, Minnesota would actually be the first-place team. But the season doesn’t end today. The Golden Gophers are heading into enemy territory to battle the Cornhuskers Saturday in what will be a key battle for the divisional lead.
Minnesota hasn’t gotten any real national recognition to this point. That doesn’t mean this team isn’t capable of hanging tough with some of the top teams in the nation, however.
One of the keys to this game is Tommy Armstrong, who suffered a scary concussion, had to be carted off the field and left in an ambulance during Saturday night’s game against Ohio State (watch here). Thankfully he was cleared of any serious bodily injury and returned to the sideline later in the game.
He’s currently day-to-day as he recovers from the brutal incident and could certainly have to remain out of the lineup this weekend.
Even if Armstrong plays, the Huskers could fall for the third time in a row. Minnesota features a defense that actually compares favorably to the unit Nebraska trots out every week. The Golden Gophers shut down the passing game as well as some of the top teams in the nation.
The biggest key to the game from this scribe’s point of view is whether Nebraska’s front seven can corral the running game of Minnesota. Featuring multiple dangerous backs, led by sophomore Rodney Smith, the Golden Gophers can tunnel through most defensive fronts for big gains and have rushed for 28 touchdowns this year.
Despite being the road team here, we’re expecting Minnesota to hand Nebraska its third straight loss. With the win, it will continue to keep the pressure on Wisconsin until the final week of the season when the two top teams meet for a chance to play for the Big Ten title.