Top storylines for college football Week 11

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Don’t be fooled by the lack of ranked-versus-ranked showdowns.

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

After what transpired around the nation last weekend, the college football Week 11 schedule may seem like somewhat of a let down. But don’t be fooled by the lack of ranked-versus-ranked showdowns — there’s a ton at stake.

Starting with a big-time Mountain West battle on Friday night and running through an ACC clash that could tilt playoff rankings, this weekend’s slate of games has plenty of entertainment value.

These are the biggest storylines we’ll be watching unfold around college football in Week 11.


Friday night Mountain West showdown

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Fresno State has been flying largely under the radar because it plays in the Mountain West and hasn’t gotten much air time, but these Bulldogs have plenty of bite.

Featuring the nation’s second-best scoring defense and a potent offense led by quarterback Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State has rocketed up the rankings on the back of seven straight wins. A trip to Boise is the last huge test for the Bulldogs before the end of the regular season. Many a team has struggled to conquer the blue field at Albertsons Stadium, and of course the Broncos are pretty good, too.

It’s going to be a ton of fun to watch McMaryion duke it out with Brett Rypien on Friday night as ESPN2 broadcasts this Mountain West showdown starting at 10:15 p.m. ET.


Vulnerable Buckeyes head to East Lansing

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The Ohio State football program has suffered just one loss this season. But that one loss was an embarrassment to Purdue, and then the Buckeyes followed up the upset loss with a nail-biter of a win at home over Nebraska last Saturday.

Of late, the team’s defense has struggled to put the clamps down on opposing offenses. Even worse, we’ve seen Heisman hopeful Dwayne Haskins take a significant step back as he struggles with accuracy.

A trip to East Lansing is going to test this team to the max. The Spartans beat Penn State a month back and limited Michigan to 21 points despite a horrible day on offense, and they’ve handily won their last two. If Brian Lewerke can bounce back and have a strong game at home, then Sparty can definitely pull off another upset this year.


Can Florida stop the bleeding?

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The Gators are reeling. After getting stomped in the second half by Georgia two weekends ago, they were trounced by Missouri at home last Saturday. Feleipe Franks imploded and was benched for Kyle Trask. Florida’s vaunted defense gave up 471 yards.

Some have suggested that Florida has simply regressed back to the mean. That may very well be the case, as the Gators were exceeding expectations. But this weekend’s home game against South Carolina is one they should win.

Can the offense rediscover its identity? Will the defense get back to shutting down the passing game? These questions will determine whether the Gators rebound or suffer their third straight loss.


What will Grier do for an encore?

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Will Grier had his Heisman moment last Saturday night leading the Mountaineers to a thrilling one-point win over Texas. His touchdown throw to Gary Jennings was one of the prettiest passes we’ve seen all year, and the QB draw to convert the two-point conversion was stunning.

Now with 2,618 yards and 28 touchdowns passing while leading the Mountaineers to a 7-1 record, Grier is firmly in the Heisman conversation heading into the final weeks of the season. Up next for the senior quarterback and his teammates is a home game against TCU, which has been struggling of late.

Given what we saw Kyler Murray do a few weeks ago, the stage is ripe for Grier to have another huge game en route to a West Virginia win Saturday.


PSU looking to bounce back from miserable loss to Michigan

MIchael Hill Ohio State Buckeyes

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It seems like forever ago that Penn State was eyeing the Big Ten crown and a playoff berth. The Nittany Lions have disappointed in a big way this season, losing three games so far, including last weekend’s embarrassing loss to Michigan.

At home this Saturday for a conference game against Wisconsin, Penn State needs to get back to the basics. Run the ball effectively. Stop the run. Don’t put it all on the shoulders of Trace McSorley, who’s been getting hammered of late.

In particular, shutting down the run will be important. The Badgers feature the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing attack, averaging 273 yards per game with 23 total rushing scores on the season.


Jimbo’s Aggies on the verge of implosion

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Back when Texas A&M had two losses on record, everyone talked about how those two losses were pretty unavoidable, having come against Alabama and Clemson. Well, that talk is now a thing of the past now that the Aggies have been been beaten twice in a row by the likes of Mississippi State (in a blowout) and Auburn.

Last weekend’s loss to the Tigers was brutal. Texas A&M’s defense fell apart in the fourth quarter, and Jimbo Fisher’s offense was unable to do anything in that final stanza.

The upcoming home game against Ole Miss should present an ideal chance at a bounce-back performance for both units. The Rebels can put points on the board, but their defense is an abomination. If the Aggies can’t win this game, then something went seriously wrong.


Another ranked team attempts to dethrone ‘Bama

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith is one of the best college football players in the nation

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Given what we witnessed last Saturday night in Baton Rouge as the Crimson Tide chewed up one of the best teams in the nation in a brutal 29-0 blowout, it seems laughable to think Mississippi State has a shot on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

‘Bama has one single weakness (placekicker), and to this point that weakness hasn’t come close to being a real problem. The offense is an unstoppable force, and LSU can attest to the potency of the Crimson Tide defense when it really has to step up and show out.

Nick Fitzgerald isn’t the type of quarterback who thrives in a shootout environment. And while the Bulldogs do bring the No. 2 scoring defense into this game (12.3 points allowed per game), one gets the sense that number will inflate heading into Week 12.


Send good vibes to Rutgers, folks

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Michigan is on an incredible roll right now and is easily one of the top four teams in the nation. Both offensively and defensively, the Wolverines are dominating their opponents.

Then you realize they are headed to Piscataway to face Rutgers this weekend.

For those who might not be aware, Rutgers is historically bad this year and has not won since Week 1 against Texas State. Since that game, the Scarlet Knights have lost by an average score of 37-13.

In the immortal words of Piglet, “Oh, D-D-D-DEAR!


OK State looks to play spoiler again

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Bedlam. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Cowboys will be in Norman this Saturday for a rivalry game against the Oklahoma Sooners, who have been rolling offensively all year long.

Oklahoma State recently knocked off Texas in stunning fashion. Another upset win Saturday at Memorial Stadium would create some big ripples nationally, because right now Oklahoma appears to be the last Big 12 team with a reasonable shot of getting into the playoff.

This game will boil down to whether the Cowboys can put pressure on Kyler Murray and somehow shut down Oklahoma’s dominant run game. Given that Oklahoma State’s defense hasn’t been good all year, it’s hard to envision either of those things happening.


Can Wazzu keep rolling?

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Gardner Minshew has Washington State running red hot right now. His end-game exploits late last Saturday night were a sight to behold and, like Grier, put him even more squarely in the Heisman conversation.

The Cougars have won five straight, and their only loss this year was a three-point stunner in Southern California that came about because of a blocked field goal. They’re headed to Colorado this Saturday to face the Buffaloes, who’ve lost four straight.

On paper, this lends itself to yet another win for the Pac-12’s last beacon of hope for a playoff berth. Especially if Buffaloes star receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is out once again.


Huge BIG road game for Northwestern

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The Big Ten West is a mess. That a five-win Northwestern team leads the division should tell you all you need to know about this situation.

The Wildcats are in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West and will make the conference title game if they keep winning their league games. This one on Saturday in Iowa City is huge. Despite two-straight losses, the Hawkeyes are a dangerous team, especially at home.

Given Northwestern is giving up as many points as they score this year, one gets the sense that these Wildcats are due for a letdown. If that happens, and if Purdue wins on the road against Minnesota and Wisconsin beats Penn State, then the run toward the finish line gets very interesting, indeed.


Surging Cyclones going for fifth straight win

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Iowa State opened the season with three losses in their first four games. Since then, however, the Cyclones have won four straight, including two huge upsets over Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

Now they’re hosting Baylor, which is coming off an upset win of its own against Oklahoma State (the Big 12 is wild, folks).

Not surprisingly, the home team is favored to win by more than two touchdowns. But don’t discount the Bears from conjuring interesting ways to score. This game could be one of the more underrated entertainment packages of the weekend.


Can Auburn hang with Georgia?

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The Tigers stunned Texas A&M last Saturday as Jarrett Stidham woke up from a season-long slumber and led two fourth-quarter touchdowns-scoring drives to win by four points. He capped off the shocking upset with a gorgeous touchdown pass to Seth Williams late in the fourth quarter.

The victory was the second straight for the Tigers, who’ve trudged through some very tough times this year.

But this weekend’s test is on another level. Auburn will be in Athens for the 2018 Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, and the Bulldogs are absolutely rolling right now. Georgia’s offense is as balanced as any you’ll find in college football, and the Bulldogs are darn good on the defensive side, too.

With that in mind, it’s looking like another Georgia win is in the books.


Reeling Seminoles head to South Bend

Florida State quarterback James Blackman

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For the Fighting Irish, the rest of the season is simple: Win out and they’re in the College Football Playoff. They’ve certainly experienced some lucky moments this year but enter Week 11 with an undefeated record and a date with a Florida State team that’s going the wrong direction.

The Seminoles are giving up nearly a touchdown more per game than their opponents. Their last two games, both losses, saw them get beaten by an average score of 53-19. Deondre Francois has struggled through a frustrating season and is now having to fight off James Blackman, who replaced him and threw for four touchdowns last weekend.

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Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish are getting outstanding play from quarterback Ian Book, and their defense continues to be strong, allowing just over 19 points per game this season. Needless to say, it would be a stunning development if Florida State came out of South Bend with a win on Saturday night.


Longhorns desperate to avoid three-game skid

Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman

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It’s been an interesting season for the Texas Longhorns. They’ve undeniably taken steps in the right direction in Tom Herman’s second season. At the same time, given the way they were playing early they’ve also disappointed in a big way recently with two straight losses.

The most frustrating development has been the regression of Texas’ defense, which has allowed 35.5 points per game in its last four contests (that includes 17 points allowed against Baylor).

Now Texas is headed to Lubbock for a chance to take home the Chancellor’s Spurs — a rivalry the Red Raiders have won twice in the past three years.

This coming game will test the Longhorns’ defense again, because the Red Raiders are averaging nearly 43 points per contest. A third straight loss would be devastating to Herman and Co. It’s going to be fascinating to see if they can overcome.


Can Boston College slow down the Clemson juggernaut?

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There’s only one team in the nation that appears to have a remote shot at taking down the mighty Crimson Tide. The Clemson Tigers have been doing their best ‘Bama impersonation lately, taking their opponents behind the woodshed on a weekly basis. They enter Week 11 with a perfect record, the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring defense and fourth-ranked scoring offense.

This team has gotten more formidable the past month as the run game has developed and Travis Etienne has become more of a featured player within the offense.

Standing in the way of perfection is a road game Saturday night against Boston College. And the Eagles cannot be taken lightly. The healthy return of AJ Dillon has sparked BC’s offense in a big way, and the Eagles have won three straight.

However, the last time Clemson lost to Boston College was 2010. Since then it’s been a lopsided rivalry, and it’s hard to imagine things changing in Week 11.