Relatively speaking, Week 11 is light on marquee matchups. There are good games, but not a ton with crossover national appeal. And the folks over at Pac-12 HQ in San Francisco couldn’t be happier.
Of all the top matchups this weekend, none is bigger than the one in Seattle between USC and Washington. It features the league’s two most talented rosters in a possible prequel of the Pac-12 Championship Game a month from now. The league will quietly be rooting for the Huskies, while every one-loss playoff wannabe will be wearing cardinal and gold, even if only in spirit.
Below are the breakdowns and predictions for the 10 most consequential and entertaining games of Week 11.
10. Minnesota (7-2) at Nebraska (7-2)
Wisconsin is now the team to beat in the Big Ten West. But the Gophers and Huskers are waiting to pounce in the event the Badgers stumble.
There’s a three-way tie atop the division, despite the fact that Nebraska has lost two straight, including last Saturday’s demolition at the hands of Ohio State. Plus, quarterback Tommy Armstrong is day-to-day after suffering a concussion in Columbus. Meanwhile, Minnesota is a bit of riddle, having won four straight behind a stout D and assertive ground game, albeit against the softest part of the Big Ten schedule.
The Huskers will need to have a short memory after last Saturday’s debacle. It’ll help to be back in Lincoln, whether it’s Armstrong or Ryker Fyfe taking snaps. It’ll also help that the Gophers aren’t as speedy or explosive as the Buckeyes. Look for a physical slugfest akin to the Nebraska-Wisconsin game two weeks ago, with the Huskers avoiding a third straight loss by the narrowest of margins.
Prediction: Nebraska 24, Minnesota 23
Line: Nebraska -8
9. South Carolina (5-4) at Florida (6-2)
For the first time since 2004—and only the fourth time in the past quarter-century—Steve Spurrier won’t be one of the central figures in this game. Fine enough. New era, new storylines.
The disheveled SEC East sure can use a good showing from Florida and South Carolina on Saturday. The Gators lead the division, but who could tell after last week’s three-touchdown loss to Arkansas? Plus, Florida will be shorthanded, with Austin Appleby replacing injured quarterback Luke Del Rio for a second time this season. And here comes former Gator coach Will Muschamp, who recruited many of Jim McElwain’s current players and has his young Gamecocks surging with a three-game winning streak.
The future looks good in Columbia, especially with true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley dealing so crisply over the past three games. But this is a tough spot for a young hurler, particularly when his line has allowed 28 sacks. The Florida D will be the story on an afternoon that both impotent offenses perform like impotent offenses.
Prediction: Florida 23, South Carolina 13
Line: Florida -12
8. Penn State (7-2) at Indiana (5-4)
Penn State has blossomed into one of the big stories of November. But Indiana has been feisty all year, and is just a win shy of bowl-eligibility.
The Lions have come on strong since losing two of the first four. They’ve won five straight, including the upset of Ohio State and last week’s bombardment of Iowa. Behind Saquon Barkley, improved quarterback Trace McSorley and a defense that just keeps getting better, Penn State is hurtling toward a 10-win regular season. The Hoosiers, though, have shown all year that they’re not to be taken lightly.
Penn State is playing with tremendous confidence, which won’t be disrupted in Bloomington. Barkley will stay hot on the ground, while McSorley mixes in strikes to wideout Chris Godwin. On defense, the Lions will win the line of scrimmage to limit the damage of Hoosier running back Devine Redding and error-prone quarterback Richard Lagow.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Indiana 21
Line: Penn State -7
7. Baylor (6-2) at Oklahoma (7-2)
Baylor and Oklahoma each have two losses, but their records couldn’t possibly feel more different.
The Sooners are 7-2 and surging into top 10 territory following six wins in a row. The Bears, on the other hand, have dropped their last two, getting dressed down by TCU in Waco last weekend, 62-22. And head coach Jim Grobe is lamenting that off-field distractions are hurting his club. This week’s challenge will be Baylor’s toughest to date, going on the road to face an Oklahoma team averaging almost 600 yards a game during the winning streak.
Baylor is in a nasty spot right now, even suspending all-time leading rusher Shock Linwood this week for what was described as “attitude issues”. And Norman is not the place to turn things around. Baker Mayfield and the Sooners will revel in the opportunity to add to the Bears’ misery, coasting behind a ground game that could return both Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Baylor 24
Line: Oklahoma -14.5
6. LSU (5-3) at Arkansas (6-3)
For very different reasons, LSU and Arkansas need to put last Saturday in the rear view mirror and have a razor focus on this week’s SEC West showdown in Fayetteville.
In Week 10, the Hogs throttled Florida, erasing the memory of their lopsided loss to Auburn two weeks earlier. A few hours later, LSU suffered a hard-fought loss to Alabama, 10-0. After expending so much emotion and energy seven days ago, which of these rivals will be ready to climb back up the mountain and improve their postseason standing?
It’ll admittedly be tough for LSU to get back up, especially on the road. But the Tigers have two distinct advantages needed to get out of town with a win. Their best weapons, backs Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, will see plenty of running room against a D allowing 6.2 yards per carry. And Hog quarterback Austin Allen will be neutralized by the star-studded LSU secondary.
Prediction: LSU 30, Arkansas 21
Line: LSU -7
5. Mississippi State (4-5) at Alabama (9-0)
Having knocked one SEC West team out of the playoff race, Mississippi State turns its attention to another, top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama.
The Bulldogs and the Tide are both coming off huge wins, the latter over LSU in Baton Rouge and the former against Texas A&M, which ranked No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Alabama is the heavy favorite to win back-to-back national championships this year, and clearly the more talented team. However, Mississippi State dominated a good Aggie team at the point of attack, and confidence is at a season-high.
Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a load outside the pocket, but he’d have to be a much better passer to have any shot against this Bama D. Plus, the Tide will get back to moving the ball on offense with Jalen Hurts and the backfield troops against a Mississippi State defense that’s been spotty all season, especially against the pass.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Mississippi State 10
Line: Alabama -30
4. West Virginia (7-1) at Texas (5-4)
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all the rage these days in the Big 12. But West Virginia is still very much in the race as well.
The Mountaineers fell off the national radar after losing to Oklahoma State two weeks ago. This Saturday in Austin affords them an opportunity to recapture much-needed momentum, especially before the Sooners visit Morgantown next week. For Texas, Week 11 is about building on back-to-back wins over Baylor and Texas Tech that have helped catapult running back D’Onta Foreman into the Heisman dialogue.
The Longhorns are unbeaten at home, a trend that’ll continue this weekend. Foreman will continue to roll downhill against a West Virginia front that rarely gets penetration. And rookie quarterback Shane Buechele will take advantage of a defense that stacks the box, popping a few well-placed long balls and going toe-to-toe with veteran Mountaineer quarterback Skyler Howard.
Prediction: Texas 33, West Virginia 30
Line: Texas -2
3. Michigan (9-0) at Iowa (5-4)
Kinnick Stadium in primetime … hey, you never know.
Iowa has been a big disappointment, losing the last two games, including an awful showing a week ago in Happy Valley. But the Hawkeyes have seasoned talent on the roster and on the sideline, and there’ll be no shortage of motivation to make amends with the locals than to play big against Jim Harbaugh and his unbeaten squad. The Wolverines, which are starting to get more help from quarterback Wilton Speight and the offense, are hitting the road for just the third time all season.
This is a potentially tricky spot, because of the atmosphere and the veteran makeup of the host. However, while Iowa is rapidly heading in the wrong direction, Michigan has maintained its razor focus. The Hawkeyes don’t have the playmakers on the outside to beat corners Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, or the O-line play to move the Wolverines off the line of scrimmage.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Iowa 19
Line: Michigan -21.5
2. Auburn (7-2) at Georgia (5-4)
For the 120th time, Auburn and Georgia meet in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
The Dawgs have had the upper hand in this series of late, winning the last two and eight of the last 10. But it’s the Tigers that enter this weekend with the most at stake. Sure, Georgia would love to bag that first statement SEC win under Kirby Smart, particularly in Athens. As one of the country’s hottest teams, though, streaking Auburn can still jump Bama in the West Division, capture the league championship and even vie for a playoff berth.
Auburn has risen on the strength of the ground game, but neither Kamryn Pettway nor Kerryon Johnson will be 100% this week. And Georgia is allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, so the Tiger passing might need to be more contributory Saturday. Carl Lawson and the defense will shoulder more of the load in order to keep the streak alive, but this game will be closer than the records and rankings indicate.
Prediction: Auburn 29, Georgia 21
Line: Auburn -10
1. USC (6-3) at Washington (9-0)
The Pac-12 takes center stage in Week 11, with a riveting matchup between the league’s most talented teams in each division.
There’ll be ramifications that reach well beyond the Pac-12 borders this Saturday night in Seattle. Washington is trying to make its case for inclusion in the College Football Playoff, and a visit from rising USC will be its best remaining shot to create a national splash. The Trojans trail Colorado by a half-game in the South, but no one in the division has been hotter. Troy hasn’t lost since Sept. 23, wrecking Arizona, Cal and Oregon over the last three weeks.
U-Dub isn’t Arizona, Cal or Oregon. And the team is determined to prove it to an unconvinced country. USC has been playing very well, a credit to both coach Clay Helton and redshirt freshman QB Sam Darnold. However, Washington is better, well, just about everywhere, including in hidden areas, like turnover margin and special teams. The Huskies will also sport the more active pass rush, allowing Jake Browning to team up more regularly with John Ross and Dante Pettis than Darnold can with his star receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Prediction: Washington 38, USC 28
Line: Washington -8.5null