Top storylines heading into college football Week 11

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt college football Week 11
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t as many big games on the schedule in college football Week 11 compared to last weekend, but the big ones are really big.

For instance, Notre Dame and Miami will clash in the evening Saturday, the loser likely losing out on any hope of making it into the playoff. Georgia hits the road for its first huge test since Week 2. TCU and Oklahoma will battle for the top spot in the Big 12, and Mississippi State will try to knock off Alabama.

Every weekend is full of intrigue, but now that we’re in November the excitement and anxiety all gets distilled to entirely new levels of crazy.

These are the biggest storylines heading into college football Week 11.

Can Stanford out-bully Washington?

This Friday night edition of Pac-12 after dark figures to be among the more intriguing contests in Week 11.

Traditionally, Stanford has been the bully of the Pac-12. This season Bryce Love has continue the program’s trend seeing that dynamic running back power their offense. The Cardinal don’t have much else going on offensively, however. And the defense is very much middle of the road.

Washington comes into this game clinging to miniscule playoff hopes. With one loss, the Huskies must win out to have a shot at sneaking their way in. Unlike what we’ve seen from this program in recent years, Washington is getting the job done with more muscle than finesse. Featuring the No. 1 defense in the nation, this team has turned into quite the bully itself.

Big plays will determine the outcome. If Bryce Love has a big game then Stanford has a chance. If not it’s going to be a blowout for the road team. Oh, and Stanford, don’t punt to Dante Pettis.

Michigan State looking for upset No. 3 in the Big Ten

Dec 5, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A helmet is raised in celebration after the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Conference football championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Already having knocked off Michigan and Penn State, the Spartans are taking aim at a wounded Ohio State team that had its clock cleaned by Iowa last weekend.

On the surface, an upset here seems highly unlikely. The Buckeyes are coming back home, and we certainly don’t expect J.T. Barrett to implode again after he threw four picks last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Ohio State has too much team speed on both sides of the ball to fall to Michigan State in this one — on paper, at least.

But given the collapse of the Buckeyes last weekend and the simple fact that the Spartans have already done the impossible twice this year, we cannot rule out the possibility they’ll do it again. If LJ Scott has one of his good games on the ground, and if quarterback Brian Lewerke has another monster game — 400 or more yards in each of his last two, with six total touchdowns — then Sparty has a shot.

Will James Franklin finally unleash Saquon Barkley?

One of the more disheartening developments this year has been Penn State head coach James Franklin’s absolute refusal to make Saquon Barkley the focal point of the offense. Last year, Barkley carried the ball 18 or more times in a game nine times. Through nine games this year, it’s happened just three times.

It makes no sense. As we predicted earlier in the season, the refusal to feature Barkley as a runner ended up biting Penn State right in the hindquarters. In the program’s last two games, both losses, Trace McSorley was featured twice as much and ultimately was in over his head.

Penn State should be able to run the ball at will against Rutgers at home Saturday. Barkley should be a Heisman favorite right now, but he’ll need a strong push to really challenge Baker Mayfield at this point. The team’s playoff aspirations are shot, so it might as well feature Barkley like he’s, you know, actually the best player in the nation now that there’s nothing to lose.

Cowboys looking to rebound after devastating loss to Oklahoma

Bedlam was chaos on a grand scale. Glorious, no-defense chaos in which 114 points were scored and 1,446 yards were piled up. Oklahoma State had a real shot to win in the end but blew it, ultimately losing by 10 points to the Sooners.

And that game was at home. Now the Cowboys hit the road for a game against the Iowa State Cyclones, who feature a defense much more capable of slowing down opposing offenses than any other team Oklahoma City has faced since it lost to TCU a number of weeks back.

The Cyclones were unable to keep their hot streak going last weekend against West Virginia, but they did hold Will Grier and Co. to just 20 points. That’s no small feat. If they can force Mason Rudolph into some mistakes, they can absolutely conjure enough offense to win this game at home.

UCF marching towards an undefeated finish

UCF running back Adrian Killins

UConn is hitting the road this week to face the UCF Knights, who feature the most potent scoring offense in college football. If it were up to them, the Huskies would love to make this some sort of rivalry (they even have a trophy, which UCF has rejected).

But rivalries only exist when both teams are capable of winning.

The Huskies are going to get trucked Saturday. Featuring a defense that gives up darn near 40 points a game, they’re going to get absolutely blown out as UCF continues marching towards an undefeated finish. The Knights are favored to win by over five touchdowns, and they might go well above that in this game.

LSU should have a huge game against Arkansas

Here’s all you need to know about this upcoming game: Arkansas barely eked out a one-point win over Coastal Carolina — a one-win team from the Sun Belt — last weekend.

After giving Alabama’s offense some trouble last weekend in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers should romp at home against the hapless Razorbacks. Given how awful Arkansas’ defense is against the run, we expect Derrius Guice to have a monster game. Defensively, Arden Key and Co. will make a secondary home in the backfield of the Razorbacks’ offense.

Unable to dethrone the Crimson Tide, the Tigers will take out their frustrations in a blowout win.

Boston College could deal huge blow to reeling Wolfpack

NC State has lost two in a row, falling to Notre Dame and Clemson in consecutive weeks. That’s a rough stretch, to be sure, but anything less than their best will result in a third loss when the Wolfpack hit the road to face Boston College.

The Eagles have won three games in a row. They put up 45 points to outscore Lamar Jackson, 41 points against Virginia and then nearly blanked Florida State a couple weeks back, winning 35-3. They’re getting hot at the right time to not only make a run at a bowl game but also throw some monkey wrenches into other teams’ plans. In addition to the offense getting hot, the defense has allowed just 13 points in its last two games.

Meanwhile, Dave Doeren is worried about why Clemson had a laptop on its sideline last Saturday.

Gators look to avoid losing five in a row 

Firing Jim McElwain did nothing to improve Florida’s season. The Gators have lost four games in a row now. They were blown out by none other than Missouri last Saturday, and things were so bad that both teams’ official Twitter accounts trolled the Gators.

It’s not going to get any easier in Week 11. South Carolina just gave Georgia a very good fight last weekend and has lost just three games this year.

Whether it’s Malik Zaire or the disgruntled freshman, Feleipe Franks under center for the Gators, the offense has been awful this year. Given this prevalent issue, and given the way the Gamecocks have played on the defensive side of the ball the past month, it’s hard to imagine an outcome where Florida wins.

Can Virginia Tech solve the triple option?

The Hokies will have an easier time scoring points on offense this week against Georgia Tech than they did against Miami in Week 10. But the real issue is whether they can slow down TaQuon Marshall and the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense.

Miami ran circles around the Virginia Tech defense, going off for 219 total yards at a 6.3 yards-per-carry clip. Georgia Tech averages over 330 yards per game on the ground and has given the likes of Miami and Clemson plenty to handle.

If the Hokies can come together on defense — build a brick wall where players mind their gaps — to subdue the Yellow Jackets, they’ll win. If not, then they’ll fall to 7-3 on the season, and 3-3 in their conference.

Time to find out how tough Georgia really is

South Carolina tested Georgia’s mettle last weekend, but the Gamecocks were mostly shut down, scoring just 10 points while gaining 270 yards. It wasn’t a surprising development by any means. The Bulldogs have one of the best defenses in the nation, and South Carolina’s offense is among the worst.

Auburn offers a new test. At Jordan-Hare Stadium, it’s going to be very hostile for the visiting team, and Auburn’s offense is the best Georgia has seen since Notre Dame back in Week 2. And at that point, the Fighting Irish were nowhere close to the steamroller they are now. So this is going to be a very interesting measuring-stick game for the vaunted Georgia defense.

Offensively, it could be even more of a test. Auburn’s defense is formidable. The Tigers have allowed just 12 offensive touchdowns all year and rank No. 14 in total defense. The team’s two losses (to Clemson and LSU) came by a combined 11 points.

If Georgia really is as good as the CFP committee thinks it is, it’ll find a way to win by double digits. We’ll be surprised by that outcome, however, and won’t be surprised by an upset.

FSU needs a miracle to hang with Clemson

The Seminoles clawed their way to a win last weekend to stop the bleeding after a 2-5 start. Now with three wins, they’re clinging to the idea that a bowl game is still attainable and are doing some drastic stuff to schedule their way into one.

Another loss, however, would put a damper on those hopes in a major way.

The Seminoles enter Saturday’s game with the 113th-ranked offense in the FBS. Freshman James Blackman has been unable to to a lot in the passing game. If Cam Akers gets shut down by the dominant Clemson front line it will be a long day for the road team.

Throw in the fact that Florida State’s defense has been far less imposing than anyone expected, we’re more likely to see a blowout win for the Tigers at home than an upset.

Can Iowa make it two in a row against a top foe?

The Hawkeyes absolutely annihilated Ohio State at home in Week 10, crushing the Buckeyes by the blowout score of 55-24. It’s almost too crazy to believe, if we hadn’t seen the game with our own eyes. Can they have that kind of impact on the rankings once again, one week later on the road against Wisconsin?

The Badgers are the weakest undefeated team in college football as far as this scribe is concerned. They have a quarterback in Alex Hornibrook who has nine interceptions already this year. He’s thrown at least one in each of his six games, too, actually throwing just seven touchdowns and eight picks during this stretch. Without Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s offense barely did a darn thing in the second half against Illinois two weeks back.

The key to Iowa pulling off another upset is whether Akrum Wadley and the Hawkeyes offensive line can get a push against Wisconsin’s stout defense. If they can run the ball, the Hawkeyes have a shot. And if Nathan Stanley has a game like he did last weekend, this will be another huge upset in the already volatile Big Ten.

Lamar Jackson back in action

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson

College football just isn’t the same when Lamar Jackson doesn’t play. Thankfully while he and the Louisville Cardinals were on their bye in Week 10, the rest of college football was crazy enough we didn’t have withdrawals. He’s back in action once again this weekend and should have a big game against Virginia at home in front of the Louisville faithful.

Jackson is averaging 426 yards and 3.55 touchdowns per game this year. If he had an actual team (with defense and everything!) behind him, he’d be right there in the thick of it to repeat as the Heisman winner in 2017.

People are also sleeping on him as a quarterback the NFL might take a very keen interest in come February, March and April. Blessed with talents most quarterbacks could never dream of wielding, Jackson is a college football treasure you need to soak in while you still can.

Michigan’s rushing attack should feast 

The Wolverines still aren’t in an enviable position at the quarterback position, but they can run the ball like crazy. Especially against defenses that aren’t fronted by NFL-sized linemen. They ran over Minnesota’s defense to the tune of 371 yards and four touchdowns last weekend and should find similar success Saturday on the road against Maryland.

The Terps give up almost 175 yards per game to opposing offenses on the ground. Heck, Rutgers ran for 239 yards and two scores last weekend, and the Scarlet Knights are no powerhouse in this department. Michigan should exceed its seasonal average of 213 yards per game en route to a blowout win for the Wolverines.

FAU going for six in a row

Lane Kiffin is a big fish swimming in a little pond as the head coach at Florida Atlantic, but he’s doing a very good job with that program right now. The Owls have ripped off five wins in a row to improve to 6-3 on the season, and they are atop the Conference USA East division with a perfect 5-0 record.

That’s impressive. Florida Atlantic will be on the road Saturday for a matchup against Louisiana Tech and is favored to win by six points. We’ll be surprised if it’s that close. The Owls have a much more potent offense than the Bulldogs, who’ve lost three out of their last five games.

Can USC keep its positive momentum?

USC quarterback Sam Darnold

Is it weird to feel like USC should have more than two losses? Given the way every game early in the season seemed to come down to the wire, not really. Yet here we are in the first weekend of November and the Trojans are 7-2, having won their last two games by the combined score of 97-52.

Sam Darnold has gotten into a bit more of a comfort zone of late. In his last five games, the sophomore has thrown 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, which has a lot to do with USC’s 4-1 record in that stretch.

The Trojans are hitting the road for one final time this year before finishing their season at home against UCLA. Given the way the Bruins have played this season, that’s probably going to be an easy win for USC.

So can Darnold and Co. stay hot Saturday when they head into the Colorado Rockies for a date with the Buffaloes? Colorado’s defense isn’t good and should be open for business as far as USC’s offense is concerned. As long as Darnold can take care of the ball, this should be a win for the road team.

Luke Falk adding to his legacy

Last weekend, Luke Falk — a former walk-on — became the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer in his team’s 24-21 win over Stanford. It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for the senior quarterback, who has been benched on more than one occasion. But he’s maintained a level of maturity through it all that bodes well for his future, wherever it leads.

The big challenge Saturday is that Falk and the Cougars have struggled on the road the past few weeks, losing at Cal Berkley and then again at Arizona, both losses coming in blowout fashion. Utah’s been pretty awful of late, barring last weekend’s win over a Josh Rosen-less UCLA team. The Utes will also be without starting free safety Marquise Blair, who injured his leg last weekend.

All this adds up to what should be a glorious second-to-last game of Falk’s career before the big one against Washington on the 25th.

Mississippi State has chance to rock rankings with upset over Bama

Alabama rolls over every team. That’s almost a scientific fact. If you don’t believe me, just read this.

At 9-0 this season, their only close(ish) games have come against Texas A&M and LSU, which held the Crimson Tide to 27 and 24 points, respectively. In those two games, however, ‘Bama held its opponent to a total of 29 points, combined.

We’ve been remarking all year how it sure looks like this team is destined to play for yet another national championship. Injuries have taken a toll, however, especially on defense, and if ever there was a time to see an upset this weekend’s probably it.

Mississippi State features a stout defense of its own, which allows 18 points per game. If Nick Fitzgerald can get things going on the ground against Alabama’s depleted front seven, then the Bulldogs could have a shot to win at home.

We’re not holding our breaths over here, though. Alabama is too deep and too talented to collapse under the weight of injuries. LSU put up a big fight last weekend and still didn’t come close.

Can the Fighting Irish pound Hurricanes into submission?

Georgia was lucky to have taken on Notre Dame so early in the season. In fact, given the track both teams have been on lately, this scribe’s not so sure the results wouldn’t be reversed if that game happened this weekend. Brian Kelly had a brain fart offensive game plan late in that one, and since then the Irish have been rolling.

They’re not taking on Georgia this weekend, but the Irish are in for a serious battle on the road against Miami. The Hurricanes haven’t lost a game. And while we had some serious questions about their viability heading into Week 10, they were kicked to the curb in a big way when Miami stomped Virginia Tech.

Still, Notre Dame is so much stronger than Miami at the point of attack running the ball. Led by a tremendous offensive line, Josh Adams (who’s feeling great after a head injury last weekend) has been unstoppable of late. As long as Brandon Wimbush continues his strong play, the Irish will win big once again.

Battle for Big 12’s top spot

We know this game is going to be straight fire. Oklahoma’s offense averages 608 yards(!) and 45 points per game. TCU isn’t quite on that level but has a much better defense than the one the Sooners trot out every weekend — Oklahoma State gained 661 yards and scored 52 points in a loss last weekend.

Being that Baker Mayfield is on an unbelievable tear this season — passing for 3,226 yards with 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions — and that the Sooners are at home, we expect them to win. Especially because, aside from his five-touchdown barrage against Kansas three weeks ago, Kenny Hill threw one other touchdown in the month of October.

Whichever team wins this game will be in good shape to make the College Football Playoff and will be the king of the Big 12 heading into the final weeks. Both teams should win their final two games (on paper, at least), making this contest all the more meaningful.