The plot thickens in Week 11, as nine one-loss teams face ranked opponents, outcomes that will shrink the first-ever College Football Playoff field even further.
On national TV, there is a meaningful matchup in every time Saturday time slot: Baylor-Oklahoma happens early, followed by a huge game between Notre Dame and Arizona State in the mid afternoon.
The best offering is served up in primetime, when you’ll be treated to switching between three of the best games of the year: TCU-Kansas State (FOX), Alabama-LSU (CBS) and Ohio State-Michigan State (ABC). It may be the greatest Saturday night of 2014, the kind of lineup the Playoff schemers must have fantasized about when they drew up their plans to revolutionize college football.
After the smoke clears, don’t forget to stay up late for Utah-Oregon, yet another late night test for a Pac-12 playoff contender vs. a ranked foe.
It’s key to remember that after this week, only three full weekends of college football remain. The message is clear: Get serious, this thing is almost over.
Thursday, Nov. 6
7:30PM ET, ESPN: No. 21 CLEMSON (6-2) at WAKE FOREST (2-6): The Demon Deacons have only beaten Clemson once in the last eight tries (in 2008), have dropped five straight and lost the last two by an average of 39 points. Though Wake Forest has one of the least effective offenses in college football (ranked No. 125 out of 128 FBS teams in scoring), it does have the No. 10-ranked pass defense. This pairs well with Clemson’s pass-dominated offense, ranked No. 21 in passing yards per game vs. No. 93 in rushing. Look out for Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (#4), who is healthy enough to play but may or may not start this week after breaking a bone in his throwing hand. Watson, a true freshman from Gainesville, Ga., has participated in six games this season, throwing only 112 attempts, but already ranked No. 11 nationally in completion percentage (67%), No. 1 in yards per attempt (10.5) and No. 2 in quarterback rating (186.95). If he can stay healthy, Watson has the skills to be a future Heisman contender.
Friday, Nov. 7
7:30PM ET, ESPN U: MEMPHIS (5-3) at TEMPLE (5-3): Last season was the first-ever meeting between these two, a game Temple won 41-20 in Memphis. Though this matchup looks less than compelling on the surface, the reality is it’s the No. 22-ranked scoring offense (Memphis) squaring off with the No. 11-ranked scoring defense (Temple). What may decide the outcome is the Owls’ struggling offense, tasked with scoring points against the Tigers’ No. 15-ranked scoring defense. Look out for Memphis senior linebacker Tank Jakes (#13), he’s No. 19 in the FBS in tackles for a loss (12) and No. 29 in sacks (six). Keep in mind that these are two of the top teams in the American Athletic conference, making this game critical in the chase for a league title.
8:00PM ET, ESPN2: UTAH STATE (6-3) at WYOMING (4-5): Utah State has won two straight over the Cowboys, but hasn’t won in Laramie since 1978. Wyoming ended its four-game losing skid last week with a 45-17 drubbing of Fresno State, a win that featured freshman running back Brian Hill (#8), who rushed for 281 yards and two scores in what was only his second-ever start. This sets up an interesting scenario vs. Utah State, a team that ranks No. 5 vs. the run, allowing an average of only 90 ground yards per game. The Aggies’ defense is led by brothers Zach (#53, a senior) and Nick (#41, a sophomore) Vigil, both linebackers, who lead the team in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks. The duo isn’t just a local sensation: Zach ranks No. 7 in the FBS in tackles for a loss (14), while little brother Nick ranks No. 31 (11).
Saturday, Nov. 8
12:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 20 GEORGIA (6-2) at KENTUCKY (5-4): Kentucky has only beaten Georgia twice in the last 17 tries, most recently in 2009 in Athens. The Bulldogs ought to be an angry bunch after getting waxed by unranked Florida last week, while the Wildcats will try to stop their three-game losing streak, dropping consecutive games to heavyweights LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri. Look for Georgia’s rushing attack—held to just 141 yards last week—to go off on the Wildcats’ No. 95-ranked rushing defense. On the flip side, the Bulldogs’ No. 17-ranked pass defense should shut down Kentucky’s passing attack. The only way the Wildcats have a chance is if the usually careful Bulldogs (ranked No. 2 in turnover margin) suffer an epic case of mistakes. Kentucky hasn’t bested Georgia in Lexington since a 24-20 win in 2006.
12:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 12 BAYLOR (7-1) at No. 15 OKLAHOMA (6-2): Baylor dropped 19 straight to Oklahoma before winning two of the last three meetings including last season’s 41-12 beat down in Waco. What will decide this game is defense: First, can the Sooners’ No. 108-ranked pass defense stop Baylor’s No. 5-ranked aerial attack? Next, how good is the Bears’ No. 8-ranked rush defense and can they handle Oklahoma’s No. 24-ranked rushing attack? Remember, this is a Sooner unit that racked up a whopping 510 ground yards in last week’s win over Iowa State, fielding three backs who rushed for 100-plus yards. The Sooners are the best rushing attack that the Bears have seen, or will see, this season. This is a must-win for Baylor to stay alive in the race for a Big 12 title and a College Playoff spot, if it loses this game, it’s over. In 11 tries, the Bears have never won a game in Norman.
12:00PM ET, BIG TEN NETWORK: PENN STATE (4-4) at INDIANA (3-5): Even though this game is featured on the Big Ten Network, which may require leaving the comforts of home to tune in, it’s one of the best strength vs. strength matchups of Week 11. Its Indiana’s No. 11-ranked rushing attack taking on Penn State’s No. 1-ranked rush defense. Other than allowing Ohio State 219 ground yards in a Week 9 loss, the Nittany Lions have held its other seven opponents to under 104 yards rushing, holding five foes to under 70. This unit will be tested against a Hoosier attack led by junior running back Tevin Coleman (#6), who leads the nation with 162.5 yards per game and has posted 10 consecutive 100-plus yard performances. How good is he? Well, the fellows over at NFL Draft Scout, featured on CBSSports.com, have him as the No. 8 running back in the 2015 NFL draft. Before last season’s 44-24 Hoosier win in Bloomington, Penn State had never lost to Indiana, winning 16 straight from 1993 to 2012.
3:30PM ET, CBS: TEXAS A&M (6-3) at No. 3 AUBURN (7-1): These two have met twice as SEC members, the visitor winning on both occasions. While Auburn’s No. 9-ranked rushing attack ought to absolutely destroy Texas A&M’s No. 88-ranked rush defense, what’s interesting is how the Tigers’ secondary will hold up against the Aggies’ young passing offense. The last two games Auburn has coughed up a season-high 416 passing yards to South Carolina and then 341 to Ole Miss. The Tigers rank No. 97 vs. the pass and are set to square off with an A&M attack that despite the turmoil, still ranks No. 7 in passing yards per game. The Aggies will be led by quarterback Kyle Allen (#10), who reportedly won the starting job from former Phenom Kenny Hill before his suspension leading into Week 10. Even though Allen was an unimpressive 13-of-28 for 106 yards, one score and one interception in his debut in last week’s 21-16 win over Louisiana Monroe, he has all the tools necessary to challenge the Tigers’ only major statistical weakness. Texas A&M is 3-1 all-time vs. Auburn, the only non-SEC meetings coming in the 1986 Cotton Bowl and a 1911 regular-season game in Dallas, both wins for the Aggies.
3:30PM ET, ABC: No. 10 NOTRE DAME (7-1) at No. 9 ARIZONA STATE (7-1): Though this game isn’t getting near the national attention that Notre Dame-Florida State did, it’s every bit as critical for the Irish, representing what should be their last regular-season game against a ranked opponent. On the flip side is Arizona State, flying well under the radar with one-loss, a legit contender for the College Football Playoff. If Notre Dame is going to win this game it will have to shut down the Sun Devils’ passing attack, ranked No. 22 in the FBS. This is the same group that hung up 488 passing yards vs. UCLA and 510 vs. USC earlier this year, but has fallen off in recent weeks. It’s key to remember that the two big-yard games came with backup quarterback Mike Bercovici (#2) under center, playing in relief of injured starter Taylor Kelly (#10), who hasn’t dazzled since hitting the field again two weeks ago vs. Washington. Notre Dame is No. 66 vs. the pass, giving 326 passing yards up in its near miss vs. North Carolina and 273 in the loss to Florida State. The Irish and Sun Devils have met three times in history—all since 1998—with Notre Dame winning on every occasion.
3:30PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 23 WEST VIRGINIA (6-3) at TEXAS (4-5): These two have split their only two Big 12 meetings and met only one time before that, in 1956 when the Mountaineers won 7-6 in Austin. What’s compelling in this game is Texas’ No. 9-ranked pass defense, the best unit in the Big 12, taking on West Virginia’s No. 11-ranked passing attack. The Longhorns held Baylor to 111 yards passing in Week 6 and Oklahoma to 129 in Week 7. Look out for Texas cornerback Duke Thomas (#21), who is tied with the sixth most passes defended in the FBS with 11 and is No. 7 in passes broken-up with eight. With games remaining at Oklahoma State and vs. TCU, the Longhorns need this win to even consider a bowl bid. A win for West Virginia would mean matching its highest win total since joining the Big 12 in 2012. The visiting team has never lost in this series.
6:30PM ET, ESPN: VIRGINIA (4-5) at No. 2 FLORIDA STATE (8-0): These two haven’t met since 2011, when the unranked Cavaliers marched into Tallahassee as 17-point underdogs and zapped No. 23 Florida State 14-13. Though it’s difficult to imagine Virginia being the squad to come out of nowhere and shock the Seminoles, the Cavaliers do have a good defense, allowing only 24.2 points per game and are exceptionally good vs. the run, ranking No. 19 nationally. The way to beat Florida State is through the air, the Noles’ secondary has coughed up 300-plus passing yards on four occasions: 306 to Clemson, 359 to NC State, 313 to Notre Dame and 330 to Louisville. An unscripted aerial attack by Virginia’s young offense combined with a rash of turnovers by FSU could equal an upset, though it’s unlikely. Don’t be surprised if Mike London’s team doesn’t show up in a big way for this game, performing way better than their 4-5 record. Virginia has played Florida State 18 times and has only won on three occasions (2011, 2005 and 1995).
7:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: No. 18 UCLA (7-2) at WASHINGTON (6-3): The reason to tune into this game—other than to see UCLA coach Jim Mora return to his alma mater for the first time as a college head coach—is to watch a guy who ought to be a Heisman finalist, but unfortunately plays on the wrong side of the ball. Flip over to watch Washington senior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha (#8), who leads the nation in sacks (15.5) and tackles for a loss (21.5). How good is he? Well, with four regular season games plus a bowl appearance left to go, Kikaha is just nine sacks away from breaking Terrell Suggs’ single-season NCAA FBS sack record of 24 (set in 2002 at Arizona) and 11 tackles for a loss away from breaking Jason Babin’s single-season tackles for a loss record of 32 (set in 2003 at Western Michigan).
7:30PM ET, FOX: No. 7 KANSAS STATE (7-1) at No. 6 TCU (7-1): These two have squared off eight times in history, but never as ranked opponents. K-State is 2-0 vs. TCU in Big 12 play, but before that dropped three straight from 1984-86. What’s interesting about this game is K-State’s defense, ranked No. 12 in scoring, representing the stiffest opposition the Horned Frogs’ offense has faced, or will face, this season. This is a big deal for a team that has won its three games vs. ranked opponents by a total of eight points. Though the Big 12 is all about passing yards, the key to beating K-State may be shutting down its rushing attack. The only team to best the Wildcats this season—Auburn—is also the only foe to hold them to under 130 rushing yards. K-State gained a mere 40 ground yards in its 20-14 loss to the Tigers. Check-out TCU senior linebacker Paul Dawson (#47), ranked No. 15 in the nation in tackles (91) and No. 19 in tackles for a loss (12).
8:00PM ET, CBS: No. 5 ALABAMA (7-1) at No. 16 LSU (7-2): Don’t forget to tune into CBS during primetime for what might be the best game of the evening. Though both these squads have stellar scoring defenses, what may cost the Tigers a win is their offense, struggling by SEC standards to score points. LSU is averaging 32.8 points per game (No. 45 in the FBS, No. 8 in the SEC) and must deal with an Alabama defense that’s allowing only 14. Though the Tigers have played solid defense, they do rank No. 64 vs. the run, leaving an opening for Alabama’s backs (#4 T.J. Yeldon and #27 Derrick Henry) to have huge nights in Baton Rouge. Though the Tide are surging, all could be lost if they get on the wrong side of the turnover margin, they rank No. 85 among the 128 FBS teams. This is the first meeting between Alabama and LSU since 2010 without one team being ranked No. 1.
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 14 OHIO STATE (7-1) at No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE (7-1): The last time these two squared off was in last year’s Big Ten title game, a game the Spartans won 34-24, snapping Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak. The Spartans haven’t upended the Buckeyes in East Lansing since 1999. On paper, this looks like the game of the century, featuring two fantastic rushing attacks against a pair of stellar defenses. Ohio State ranks No. 4 in rushing yards while Michigan State is No. 17. On the flip side, the Buckeyes’ D is No. 18 vs. the run while the Spartans are No. 6. What’s compelling is that where Michigan State has played two teams that are still ranked this season (Oregon and Nebraska), Ohio State hasn’t faced a single opponent that is still in the Top 25. Furthermore, where the Spartans have won games against two of the best rushing attacks in the nation (No. 8 Nebraska and No. 11 Indiana), the Buckeyes have faced just one prolific rushing team, Navy (No. 2 in rushing yards, via running the option), a game where OSU coughed up 370 rushing yards. Don’t forget that these teams share membership in the new Big Ten East division, meaning only one can advance to the conference championship game and beyond.
8:00PM ET, PAC-12 NETWORK: COLORADO (2-7) at No. 19 ARIZONA (6-2): Why tune into this mismatch when three of the best games of the year are featured during the same time slot? Well, if you are a fan of potential upsets, flip over (or watch the score on the bottom of your screen) to see Colorado try and beat a ranked team for the first time since 2008, when it beat No. 21 West Virginia 17-14. What makes this game interesting is the Buffaloes’ No. 17-ranked passing attack taking on Arizona’s No. 121-ranked pass D. Under center for Colorado is sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau (#13), who is No. 4 in touchdown passes (25), No. 11 in yards (2,590) and No. 15 in yards per game (287.8). Also of note is Buffalo receiver Nelson Spruce (#22), No. 1 in receptions per game (10), No. 2 in receiving touchdowns (11) and No. 8 in receiving yards per game (111.3). Even though the Wildcats ought to torch the Buffs’ No. 118-ranked scoring defense, this one could get interesting. Arizona has won three of the last four, but before that dropped 12 straight to Colorado.
10:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 4 OREGON (8-1) at No. 17 UTAH (6-2): On paper, Utah looks like the perfect opponent for Oregon to stay afloat in the College Football Playoff top four: The Ducks biggest weakness—their No. 118 ranked pass defense—should be able to survive the Utes’ No. 111-ranked pass offense. On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s No. 16-ranked passing attack ought to go off on Utah’s No. 100-ranked pass defense. Though the bulk of offensive love for Oregon has rightly been focused on quarterback Marcus Mariota (#8), check out true freshman running back Royce Freeman (#21), who has posted 100-plus yard performances in three of his last four outings, including hanging up 169 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-20 win over Washington. Utah has never beaten Oregon in Pac-12 play and has dropped five of its last six meetings with the Ducks, last winning 17-13 in 2003 in Salt Lake City.