Week 11 games with the most impact on the College Football Playoff
Let’s say you decided to rent a time machine from your mad scientist friend and pay a visit to your past self around mid-August or so.
If you’d told yourself there’d be six Top 25 matchups on the Nov. 11 college football schedule, including three top-10 showdowns, you’d almost certainly have assumed Clemson-Florida State would be among them. As it happens, that one is an afterthought as the Seminoles can only play spoiler as they try to avoid a sub-.500 season.
You might have come up with Ohio State-Michigan State, but even that would have been a stretch. There were three Big Ten East teams in the preseason top 10, but the Spartans weren’t among them. But even that one, which will now determine the division leader, isn’t the biggest game in the conference in terms of the playoff hunt, since both teams would need a lot of help in the last three weeks of the regular season to climb back into the picture.
All of which is to say this sport’s capacity to defy predictability is what always keeps us coming back for more. Here are the five games on a very busy Saturday slate that will have the most direct impact on the playoff.
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 6 Miami (Fla.)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Simple arithmetic dictates that at least one champion of a Power Five conference won’t be included in the four-team field. That number increases if a team without affiliation can craft a playoff-worthy resume. The Fighting Irish will have done just that if they can get to the finish line at 11-1, adding this road contest against the unbeaten Hurricanes to their ledger in the process. A second loss, on the other hand, would eliminate Notre Dame from the mix. A Miami win would not quite guarantee the ACC a spot at the table but would move the league a step closer.
In light of the Hurricanes’ numerous close calls, last week’s decisive triumph against Virginia Tech was an eye opener. Such an outcome figures to be hard to duplicate against the Fighting Irish, who have been dominant outside of their lone one-point loss to Georgia. Miami QB Malik Rosier does have an excellent breakaway threat in WR Braxton Berrios, and WR Darrell Langham has shown on a couple of occasions what can happen if the defense forgets about him. But LB Te’von Coney has emerged as a disruptive force in the Notre Dame front. There might be some health concerns for the Irish’s offensive backfield, but coach Brian Kelly says both QB Brandon Wimbush and RB Josh Adams should be ready to go. They’d do well to steer clear of Miami LB Shaquille Quarterman.
No. 9 TCU at No. 7 Oklahoma
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox
Though a couple of games remain for both teams, the winner of this first-place showdown just about locks up the Big 12 regular-season title. There’s a quantum of solace for the loser, however, which would still have a chance to finish second and earn a rematch. That will depend in part on how some other action on Saturday unfolds, like Oklahoma State’s visit to Iowa State, but neither can afford to take any chances since a two-loss league champion would be a playoff long shot.
Sooners QB Baker Mayfield undoubtedly earned himself a trip to New York with last week’s huge outing against Oklahoma State. If he can repeat it, he’ll be returning home with a statue. It won’t be nearly as easy, however, against the Horned Frogs’ defense, the best in the Big 12 and ranked sixth nationally in average yards allowed. Mayfield’s ability to spread the ball among a variety of solid targets will serve him well if he can avoid the likes of TCU DE Ben Banogu and LB Travin Howard. The Horned Frogs aren’t as explosive, though they’re capable of scoring points if QB Kenny Hill takes care of the ball. RB Darius Anderson can help, though he’s sure to get plenty of attention from Sooners LB Emmanuel Beal.
No. 2 Georgia at No. 10 Auburn
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Speaking of teams with two losses, Auburn is probably the lone team in that category that can still win its own way into the playoff. It’s a big ask, of course. The Bulldogs don’t necessarily need this game since they already have the SEC East wrapped up. But the Tigers shouldn’t count on any disinterest from Georgia, a long-time league rival who’d rather not have to face a team a second time if it can be avoided.
Georgia’s devastating rotation of ball carriers has been impossible to stop thus far, as the Bulldogs are averaging 279 yards a game on the ground. The Tigers’ rushing defense isn’t bad, surrendering 126 per contest, but LBs Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams will have their hands full containing RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The Tigers have developed a formidable running game of their own, thanks mainly to RB Kerryon Johnson. That’s a huge help for QB Jarrett Stidham, who hasn’t always been consistent with his deep throws. They might both have a hard time getting past Georgia LB Roquan Smith, who usually makes his tackles stick.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 18 Mississippi State
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
A scenario exists in which Mississippi State wins the SEC West. It’s a narrow window, and it might be closed by the time the Bulldogs take the field should Auburn upend Georgia. The Crimson Tide would rather take matters in hand themselves, since their depth figures to be tested during this difficult stretch drive.
With injuries piling up for Alabama, particularly at the linebacker position, there appeared to be some good news this week as do-everything S Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) went through drills as usual. He and senior LB Rashaan Evans will be needed to keep Bulldogs QB Nick Fitzgerald bottled up. For his part, Fitzgerald will need support from RB Aeris Williams to keep his passing lanes clear. Meanwhile, the Tide offense continues to grind away with RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough making QB Jalen Hurts’ job easier. Bulldogs LB Dez Harris will do his best to close all the holes.
Iowa at No. 3 Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Suddenly, it’s the Big Ten West where the league’s best hope for a playoff participant resides. The Badgers’ achievements to date haven’t resonated with the committee, but that will change if they keep winning. Even the most optimistic Hawkeyes follower couldn’t have foreseen their 55-points explosion against Ohio State coming. Against their previous four Big Ten opponents not named Illinois, they’d scored a total of just 56. But if they have another big upset in them, they’ll have to show they can perform away from Iowa City.
Wisconsin is a ball-control team that relies on freshman RB Jonathan Taylor to move the sticks and QB Alex Hornibrook to avoid miscues. He does make a few, however, and the Badgers have had some close shaves as a result. Hornibrook must watch out for Iowa CB Josh Jackson, who will look to add to his five picks. QB Nate Stanley was largely responsible for Iowa’s scoreboard explosion with his five TD throws last week. He’ll again need to make use of all his weapons, including TE Noah Fant and WR Nick Easley. The Hawkeyes’ offensive line is still a patchwork group, so Stanley might have a hard time with the likes of Badgers LB Garret Dooley and DE Alec James.