Storylines for 25 Key Games Heading into CFB Week 11

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIINovember 6, 2012

Storylines for 25 Key Games Heading into CFB Week 11

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    We are in Week 11 of the 2012 college football season, and that means that there are bowl races, conference races and even a national championship race that hinge on at least one game every week.

    While the Big Ten has done everything in its power not to make it into this article, there are still even a few Big Ten games that are well worth paying attention to.

    As the national championship race heats up, Oregon and Kansas State are currently battling for the second-place spot behind Alabama.

    In the meantime, Notre Dame keeps winning in hopes that at least two of the teams ahead of it in the BCS will fall to at least one opponent before the selectors go to work.

    What are the top storylines of the week? Some play out as early as Tuesday, but most will continue on Saturday, as usual.

25. Vanderbilt at Ole Miss

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

    Vanderbilt and Ole Miss both have five wins, and this game will decide who gets to breathe a little easier for the rest of the season. Sure, more wins would be nice and could possibly lead to a better bowl, but getting into the postseason is priority No. 1.

    Vanderbilt is a program that's improving but hit a couple of speed bumps throughout the season. Matching last year's six-win total is a must for the Commodores.

    For Ole Miss, simply getting to a bowl would be a shocking accomplishment. After all, Ole Miss was a two-win team in 2011. Of course, with LSU and Mississippi State coming after Vanderbilt, Ole Miss is likely either going to get into a bowl in Week 11 or not at all.

    These two teams will be fighting as hard as Texas A&M and Alabama will be. It will be worth watching, at least in picture-in-picture.

24. No. 5 Georgia at Auburn

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

    This makes the list because Auburn is loaded with talent. The Tigers have yet to play a game in which they all play together as a team, but the talent is on the field every week.

    I wouldn't go so far as to put Georgia on upset alert, but it's never wise to assume victory—much less against a conference opponent that would give anything for a win.

    Of course, unless Auburn magically becomes South Carolina this week, Georgia will walk away unscathed. Georgia should be heading to Atlanta, but Auburn is no stranger to playing season-spoiler. That's why the No. 5 team is so low on this list.

23. Ball State vs. No. 25 Toledo

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    When: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m.

    Toledo has just cracked the BCS Top 25 this week and has earned every bit of that by winning. A big win over Cincinnati was the bulk of the fuel for this Top 25 run, but Toledo needs to maintain focus.

    Sitting behind only Northern Illinois in the divisional standings, Toledo is possibly overlooking Ball State. (Northern Illinois is on the schedule for Week 12.)

    Ball State is just good enough to be a serious threat to the Rockets. Both teams are already bowl-eligible, but only one is in control of its own destiny in terms of conference supremacy.

    Update (Nov. 7, noon ET): Ball State made sure Toledo had a short stay in the Top 25, knocking off the Rockets 34-27.

22. No. 10 Florida State at Virginia Tech

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    When: Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

    Florida State still has everything it needs to put together an ACC championship season that lands it in the Orange Bowl via the ACC contract.

    Virginia Tech is another team that has the talent to take down a team of this caliber, and that would certainly make the Hokies' season. Last year, the Hokies ended up in the Sugar Bowl. There is no shot at that for them this year, but a bowl in general is not a mathematical impossibility just yet.

    If the Hokies are looking for a game that could turn the season around mentally, this is it.

21. No. 20 Louisiana Tech vs. Texas State

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

    Louisiana Tech is still in a position that could feasibly result in a BCS bowl appearance. Granted, another team on this list would have to lose for that to happen, but it's possible.

    Louisiana Tech will need to thump Texas State to keep itself in the hunt for that coveted No. 16 slot in the BCS standings. Of course, LA Tech should thump Texas State, so that's working in the Bulldogs' favor. The low ranking on this list is due to the opponent's reputation.

    Colby Cameron is one of the best stories of the 2012 season. Cameron's stats coming into Week 11: 255-of-358 (71.2 percent) for 2,946 yards, 24 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His single-season interception-less streak is still the best in NCAA history.

20. Bowling Green at Ohio

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    When: Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.

    Both of these teams are sitting behind undefeated-in-conference Kent State. Of course, both teams still get to play Kent State, so that situation will iron itself out.

    The winner of this game joins Kent State in the driver's seat to represent the Mid-American Conference West Division in the conference championship game.

    The MAC champion gets to go to the Bowl in January. This game may not have BCS implications, but it's certainly one of the few MAC games worth watching this season.

    It definitely looks like it will be more entertaining than what Georgia will be doing to Auburn.

19. Fresno State at Nevada

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10:35 p.m.

    While you will probably not be staying up late to watch a Mountain West Conference battle like this, the story is worth following.

    After Boise State's loss to San Diego State, Fresno State took over the lead of the MWC. Nevada entered the season as a potential conference champion in its first year.

    If that is the case, then this is Nevada's chance to get close to having the opportunity to prove that. While tough losses are difficult to overcome, Nevada can still finish first in the MWC if key teams ahead of it lose.

    Two of those key teams are on Nevada's schedule, and the first is Fresno State in Week 11.

18. Cincinnati at Temple

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at noon

    Temple is unlikely to defeat Cincinnati, but Cincinnati has proven itself to be a bit questionable when it comes to winning tough games.

    Temple is capable of taking down teams like Cincinnati but has had little success this season. Temple still has the sweet taste of the postseason in its mouth from last year and is not yet eliminated from this year's bowl lists.

    While this game should end in Cincy's favor, the Toledo game should have been a win for the Bearcats too.

17. West Virginia at Oklahoma State

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

    West Virginia has had a bit of a disappointing season in 2012, but that's because it had high expectations. There are plenty of teams that would love to have only three losses in Week 11.

    Of course, Oklahoma State is in the same three-loss boat as West Virginia.

    The winner of this game is looking at a fourth-place finish in the Big 12. That would be good enough for an Alamo Bowl appearance if Kansas State goes to the national championship game.

    West Virginia is fighting for breath in this game. Oklahoma State only has two conference losses, where West Virginia already has three.

    This is a must-win for the Mountaineers. It never gets easier to snap a losing streak, and its streak is already at three.

16. Wake Forest at NC State

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3 p.m.

    Both teams enter this game with five wins. That coveted sixth win is something that isn't going to be any easier for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have Notre Dame and Vanderbilt coming after this NC State clash.

    After a tough matchup with Clemson, NC State will have a favorable game against Boston College to end the season, but nobody wants to wait until the last game to qualify for a bowl.

    Wake needs this win badly and should play accordingly. This tough battle between ACC in-state rivals is always entertaining. The immediate bowl implications make it even better.

15. Maryland at No. 13 Clemson

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

    Clemson's story is a bit shaky at this point in the season. Every game is a must-win with the Tigers sitting at No. 13.

    Any loss at all would push the Tigers out of contention for a BCS berth, and South Carolina is looming at the end of the schedule.

    Maryland can play the role of season spoiler for the Tigers, not to mention keep long-shot bowl hopes alive. Two wins against Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina would put the Terrapins into the postseason.

    That's a tall order, but nobody is looking at Maryland as a serious opponent. Clemson is worried about South Carolina, and Florida State is already worried about Florida.

    If Maryland can take advantage of its current bad reputation, that reputation could be completely different by the end of the season.

14. No. 3 Oregon at California

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m.

    Oregon continues to be stymied by the Kansas State Wildcats. While Oregon keeps winning, so do the Wildcats. Oregon will have a few more chances to play against ranked opponents before this season comes to an end, and it will need to take advantage of those opportunities.

    In the meantime, California is in a situation where individual games are seen as wins for the season. With no chance to go to a bowl, California's biggest game of the season could make the season an overall win.

    Spoiling Oregon's chances for a national championship would give Cal something to hang its hat on at the end of the season.

    Oregon will need to bring its defense back out onto the field for this game. There won't be that many future NFL players on the opposing offense this time.

    Can Oregon maintain its lead over Notre Dame in the BCS?

13. No. 18 UCLA at Washington State

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m.

    UCLA is currently in control of its own destiny as far as the Pac-12 title game is concerned. With USC hot on the Bruins' heels, all they need to do is win to get the opportunity to play Oregon in the conference championship game. (UCLA has USC next week, so that will settle that argument directly.)

    Washington State is 0-6 in conference play this season and is looking for anything to smile about this season. A win over the current leader of the Pac-12 South Division would qualify.

    UCLA could be in the mix for the Rose Bowl. That's definitely worth keeping on in the background of your living room.

12. Iowa State at No. 17 Texas

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at noon

    Texas has an indirect influence on Kansas State's national title hopes. As the Wildcats' only remaining opponent who is currently ranked, Texas needs to keep winning. If Texas can get close to the Top 10, a Wildcats win would mean something.

    However, Iowa State can earn a trip to a bowl game with a win here and will fight like it. An Iowa State win here would all but guarantee an Oregon appearance in the national title game (assuming both Oregon and Kansas State finish undefeated).

    How awesome would it be for the Cyclones to directly affect two national championships in a row? The NCAA should look into making a ring for teams that can do that.

11. Baylor at No. 12 Oklahoma

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

    Oklahoma has lost two more games than expected this year, but it remains a solid second in the Big 12 title race.

    If Kansas State drops a couple of games along the way, Oklahoma is sitting right there ready to take over the Big 12's berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

    Baylor's only conference win so far is against the Kansas Jayhawks, who haven't won a single conference game yet.

    Baylor would like nothing more than to establish itself as being nowhere near the bottom of the barrel. A win over Oklahoma is unlikely, but Bob Stoops has a knack for dropping games that he should win.

    Usually those games are "bigger" than No. 12 Oklahoma vs. Baylor. Look for Oklahoma to maintain its lead over everyone in the conference except Kansas State.

10. Penn State at No. 16 Nebraska

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

    Nebraska remains in control of its own destiny on the way to the Big Ten title game. Penn State is in second place in the Big Ten Leaders Division but will have no chance at the title due to sanctions. Nebraska can do a lot to help its reputation by defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions.

    One of the biggest questions surrounding the Big Ten is whether the champion will actually be representative of the conference's strength. While the 'Huskers already lost big to Ohio State, they can reestablish conference supremacy in a big way with a huge win over the Lions.

    If Penn State can take down the 'Huskers, Bill O'Brien should definitely be the coach of the year. (That's another storyline to watch during this game.)

9. Arizona State at No. 19 USC

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3 p.m.

    Arizona State is not far from the top of the Pac-12 South Division standings. To take over the South, the Sun Devils need to win out and hope that UCLA finds two games to lose between now and December.

    Another upset over the USC Trojans would immediately take care of the fact that Arizona State is behind them in the conference standings.

    USC has shown vulnerability against teams who are not as good as Arizona State. An upset here is quite possible. Of course, USC is coming fresh off a game where it proved that there are plenty of ways to score against it.

    USC is a nine-point favorite at home in this game. Arizona State will do everything in its power to prove that wrong.

8. No. 24 Northwestern at Michigan

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at noon

    Here is yet another opportunity for a Big Ten team to knock one of its precious few ranked conference-mates out of the BCS Top 25.

    Northwestern would absolutely fall out of the rankings with a loss to the Michigan Wolverines. Of course, with only three losses on the season, Michigan may actually break into the Top 25 for a week or two with a win here.

    Being ranked as a Big Ten member is quite an accomplishment this season, and Michigan and Northwestern have both flirted with the rankings all year.

    Michigan can still get into the Big Ten title game, but it likely must win all three remaining games. That includes the season finale against Ohio State. On top of that, Nebraska must lose another game to give Michigan the nod.

    Northwestern is in the midst of one of the best seasons in recent memory. A win here over Michigan would give it the No. 2 spot behind only Nebraska in the Legends Division.

7. No. 9 Louisville at Syracuse

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at noon

    Louisville has simply kept winning as others around it lost to push it up the rankings repeatedly throughout the season. At No. 9, Louisville's potential BCS berth will not be handed out begrudgingly.

    Louisville has earned every bit of its No. 9 ranking by taking down teams such as North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. (Even No. 4 Notre Dame had trouble with Pitt.)

    If there are any teams left on the Cardinals' schedule that can trip them up, they are Syracuse and Rutgers. Syracuse would love to make it out of this season with a couple of feathers in its cap other than "USC only beat us by 13 points."

    Syracuse has the talent to take down Louisville. If that happens, it's a game you won't want to have missed. If Teddy Bridgewater does something to break into the top of the Heisman list, you won't want to have missed that either.

6. Arkansas at No. 8 South Carolina

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at noon

    Arkansas has been fighting for relevance since the loss to Louisiana-Monroe in Week 2. The Razorbacks aren't mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet, but the outlook is not good.

    Arkansas has South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU to finish out the regular season. The requisite wins are not going to be easy for the Razorbacks, and some may say they're impossible. If Arkansas can't take down South Carolina, the Razorbacks are most likely out.

    South Carolina, on the other hand, can pad its bowl selection resume with another conference win against the Hogs. With only two losses on its resume, South Carolina is poised for a berth in the Outback Bowl (or an even better bowl if Alabama, LSU or Georgia trips up).

    This game doesn't pack as much of a punch as it did last year, but the talent on Arkansas' side of the ball still makes it a potential upset.

5. No. 11 Oregon State at No. 14 Stanford

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3 p.m.

    Oregon State and Stanford meet in an epic Pac-12 battle. Oregon State can still get into the Pac-12 title game by winning all remaining games on its schedule. Stanford will not be a pushover, and the Cardinal are eying the Pac-12 title game themselves (they've only lost one conference game).

    Either team's hopes for the conference championship rest on this game. A loss here would absolutely devastate either team. If Oregon slips up in the future, this game will be the one that decides who benefits the most (besides Kansas State or Notre Dame, of course).

4. No. 21 Mississippi State at No. 7 LSU

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

    Mississippi State's Cinderella schedule is over, the clock has struck midnight and the coach is a pumpkin. Or is it? Mississippi State has to go to Death Valley and play a game that will descend into darkness somewhere around halftime.

    It's not as much of a "night game" as Alabama just escaped, but Mississippi State must put a ton of points up before halftime. The issue for cowbell-ringers is that Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel couldn't beat LSU. After what A&M just did to them, there's not much hope for the Bulldogs here on paper.

    LSU's potential run at a mid-major bowl could end here, and Mississippi State's run at the Sugar Bowl could start here.

3. No. 4 Notre Dame at Boston College

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.

    Notre Dame had a major scare against Pittsburgh in Week 10. Boston College is not as good as Pitt, but the Eagles are more easily overlooked than the Panthers were.

    While Notre Dame clearly didn't show up to the Pitt game, the Irish should have learned their lesson against the Panthers in triple overtime.

    If not, then Boston College may win the "biggest upset of the year" award for taking down the Irish after already being eliminated from the postseason.

    Notre Dame needs to destroy every remaining team on the schedule to even have a glimmer of hope for the national championship this season. Boston College would be a good start.

2. No. 2 Kansas State at TCU

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

    Kansas State's storyline is twofold in Week 11. The first point is Collin Klein's injury. While Bill Snyder is being reported as optimistic, his words are as neutral as they come. Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press article:

    When asked about Klein on Monday, Snyder replied: "Seems fine to me." And when asked whether he'll play against the Horned Frogs, Snyder said: "Hope so."

    Anyone with a concussion is going to "seem fine" to someone else, especially if that "someone else" doesn't want to give away too much information before a big game. Also, the "hope so" response doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean that he has information either way. It means that the head coach hopes his star quarterback will play the next game.

    The other story is whether TCU can surprise Kansas State by playing one of its better games. TCU blew out Baylor 49-21, and it barely eked out a win over West Virginia by one point in double overtime.

    If TCU brings its Baylor performance out of mothballs, Kansas State could get beaten in Week 11. That would make both Oregon and Notre Dame happy.

    This game has as many implications as one could want in a Saturday evening show.

1. No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama

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    When: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m.

    Alabama is once again favored in a football game. Alabama is once again going to be tested. No, Texas A&M's defense is not as good as LSU's. However, A&M's offense is better than LSU's even on a bad day.

    Johnny Manziel hasn't had a bad day in a long time, and he certainly hasn't been looking past the Alabama game. Manziel (sixth) and A.J. McCarron (third) are both on ESPN's Heisman Watch List.

    These two defenses are more than just good defenses, and LSU just put on a clinic against Alabama on how to beat it offensively. This game will be Texas A&M's shot at establishing itself firmly in the top of the division.

    A takedown of Alabama is something nobody other than LSU has done since 2010. If Texas A&M can pull that off, it will be awesome. If Alabama can remain undefeated, the SEC championship is the Tide's to lose.