25 Key Storylines to Watch Heading into Week 11
Week 11 is finally here, and with it will come three of the biggest games of the college football season.
The action will start on Thursday with two colossal matchups. First, Baylor will face its first true test against Big 12 foe Oklahoma. Later that night, Oregon will have its much-anticipated rematch with Stanford.
When Saturday comes, so too will another thrilling, heavyweight bout between LSU and Alabama.
There are several other storylines to keep an eye on this week.
Click on for award updates, conference race information, the latest list of bowl-eligible teams and much more.
1. Big Thursday
Those of you who have a stockpile of sick days waiting to be used in the next two months, you might want to pull one out this Friday.
Given the Thursday night college football slate, it'll be worth it.
Baylor and Oklahoma will kick things off from Waco at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
After that, Oregon and Stanford will meet in one of the biggest games of the regular season. The Ducks and the Cardinal will put their national title hopes on the line at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Save some trouble and plan for a late night on Thursday.
2. Heisman Update
- Marcus Mariota: QB, Oregon
- Jameis Winston: QB, Florida State
- Johnny Manziel: QB, Texas A&M
- Lache Seastrunk: RB, Baylor
- Mike Davis: RB, South Carolina
Check out this week's Bleacher Report Heisman Watch from Barrett Sallee.
Sallee sees the rankings as such going into Week 11:
As Sallee mentions, the race is essentially down to the top three quarterbacks. This week, Johnny Manziel gained some ground on the two signal-callers in front of him.
The defending Heisman winner tallied 340 total yards and six total touchdowns to lead Texas A&M to a 57-7 win over UTEP over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Oregon's Marcus Mariota sat at home with a bye week and Florida State's Jameis Winston struggled a bit, throwing a pair of interceptions in a crucial game against Miami.
FSU still won that game, but Winston's mistakes on that big stage were a shot to his Heisman campaign.
Going forward, Manziel's performances against Missouri and LSU to close out the season will be crucial. However, nothing will have as much of an impact on the race as Marcus Mariota's performance against Stanford this Thursday.
3. Doak Walker Race
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey kept up his incredible rushing average, notching 152 yards in UA's 33-28 win over California. He has a healthy lead over the rest of the nation's rushers with an average of 153.1 yards per game.
Washington's Bishop Sankey is still right there with 1,162 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other competitors still in the race to be named college football's best running back.
Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon slipped a bit, as he took a back seat to fellow UW running back James White in the Badgers' 28-9 win over Iowa.
Meanwhile, Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, South Carolina's Mike Davis, Auburn's Tre Mason and Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews are all in good standing.
Each back has had his ups and downs. The debate will likely rage on until December.
4. Biletnikoff Race Opening Up?
Two receivers, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, looked to be gaining separation in the race for the Biletnikoff Award.
Evans and Cooks are still the favorites, but the race opened up a bit this week as both were held below 100 yards receiving for the second straight game.
Penn State's Allen Robinson is another name to watch. The junior has surpassed 125 yards in six games this season and had 165 or more in each of the last two games. With an average of 130.4 yards per game, he is No. 2 in the nation behind Cooks.
Finally, don't count out Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese of Baylor. As it is known, the Bears have the ability to snap for 70 points without even blinking. Additionally, they'll have several marquee games as the season comes to a close.
If Goodley or Reese can make big plays in the spotlight, they could move up along with the Biletnikoff leaders.
5. Bednarik Semifinalists Announced
The Bednarik Award, given to the most outstanding defensive player in college football, released its semifinalist list, per Chip Patterson of CBSSports:
LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
DE Vic Beasley, Clemson
LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
LB Trent Murphy, Stanford
DE Michael Sam, Missouri
LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
DE Leonard Williams, USC
It is just a coincidence that Barr is at the top of the list. The players are listed alphabetically, but the UCLA linebacker is also the favorite to take the award.
Of the other 16 competitors, Beasley, Joyner, Mosley, Sam and Shazier are likely the biggest threats to Barr. However, right now, the award is Barr's to lose.
6. Revenge of the Ducks
Last year, Stanford halted Oregon 17-14 in Eugene, ending the Ducks' run to the national title.
UO is again on a crash course for the national title game and will have to go through Stanford.
This time around, the Ducks will be out to prove that loss was a fluke. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News outlined the stakes of this upcoming contest and called this the biggest game ever played on The Farm:
Oregon dropped to No. 3 this week in the BCS standings, but a difficult schedule should catapult the Ducks into the national title game -- if they run the table.
Stanford also is in contention. Despite a loss at Utah three weeks ago, the Cardinal (No. 5 in the BCS) controls its own destiny in the Rose Bowl race and remains in the hunt for a berth in the title game. It must win out and get a little help.
Measured by the participants' position in the BCS standings and The Associated Press rankings, this is the biggest game ever played at Stanford Stadium.
For those who have written off the Ducks based on last year's results, take a quick look back. UO averaged 50 points per game in its last three trips to Stanford and 47.4 points in its five dates with the Cardinal before last season.
Stanford will also have to face a tougher Duck defense than last season and a more experienced quarterback, Marcus Mariota. It will face that test without a key member of its defense, defensive end Ben Gardner, who was lost for the season.
Tune in to ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Thursday to see if the Cardinal can bounce the Ducks from the national title picture once again.
7. Can LSU Derail Alabama?
Six of the past eight regular season meetings between LSU and Alabama have been decided by one possession. All eight of those games were decided by 14 points or less.
As former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson told ESPN's Edward Aschoff, LSU-Alabama has been the most significant rivalry in college football in recent years.
"If you played at Alabama or LSU, it's one of those games you measure yourself by," Peterson told Aschoff. "Look at the players who've come out of both schools, how many of those guys are in the NFL. It's the game in college football."
With both teams boasting a plethora of talent and BCS hopes, this year's contest will likely be no different.
The Tide have been rolling this season, as expected. They have won six of their seven games by 25 points or more.
Alabama is No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (9.8 PPG) and the only team that has allowed less than 10 points per game on average.
LSU will counter with a powerful and explosive running game and improved quarterback play from Zach Mettenberger. If the senior signal-caller is on, the Tigers will have a chance to derail the Tide en route to the national title.
The two rivals will square off in Tuscaloosa at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
8. Baylor's First Test
Baylor has been the most explosive team in college football this season, averaging 717.3 yards and 63.9 points per game.
As a result, BU is at the top of the Big 12 and right on the cusp of the national title conversation. The only reason the Bears aren't ranked higher is their weak schedule thus far. BU has only three wins over teams with winning records, which came against Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe.
This will be Baylor's first big test and if it explodes for another ridiculous point total and dominates OU, it will be right in the thick of the national title race.
However, as the Sooners see it, the real test is on their shoulders. OU cornerback Aaron Colvin explained the challenge ahead to Eric Bailey of Tulsa World:
Anytime you face an offense like this it's challenging. If you want to be the best defense, if you want to be one of the best players, you have to go against challenging teams and challenging players. We have to be locked in.
The biggest key for the secondary is probably to be locked in on our guys and locked in on our assignments and anything Coach Mike (Stoops) gives us. We know they're a great team with great speed. As long as we stay disciplined ... we'll be all right.
Colvin hit the nail on the head. OU will have to be very disciplined to stick with the speed that Baylor will field. A few missed assignments could result in a few touchdowns in no time for the Bears.
Baylor and Oklahoma will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday on Fox Sports 1.
9. Can Auburn Stay the Course vs. Tennessee?
Auburn has been one of college football's biggest surprise teams this season and could be on a collision course for an Iron Bowl against Alabama that will decide the SEC West Division champion.
To make it there, the Tigers must keep winning, continuing with Tennessee this week. Meanwhile, the Volunteers are also looking to regroup after being smashed 31-3 by Missouri.
The Vols sit at 4-5 and have their sights set on a bowl bid, as head coach Butch Jones told Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Our goal as a football program is to get to a bowl game. We've got to win two games, and we have three games left. We've got to win three. Our expectation is to win every game, but I think it's learning from your mistakes so you don't make those mistakes over and over and over again.
There can be no quit. There can be no give-up. And I asked them, I said, 'What's going to make Team 117 different? What's going to make this senior class different? What's going to make them different?' From leadership to keep working every day and keep believing. I know we have good character in our football program, and we have to continue to move forward.
It will be the second straight Top 10 foe for UT and its seventh ranked opponent its last eight games.
Meanwhile, the Tigers must just survive and advance, however possible. That process starts at 12 p.m. ET Saturday at Neyland Stadium and on ESPN.
10. Is ACC Coastal on Verge of Chaos?
After Miami's loss to Florida State and Virginia Tech's losses to Duke and Boston College, the ACC Coastal Division is up for grabs almost as much as it was before the season began.
Miami controls its own destiny with one loss in ACC play, but as Adam Rowe of 247Sports' BlueDevilLair.com tweeted, Duke also controls its own destiny. Yes, if the Blue Devils win out, including beating Miami, they'll win the Coastal.
Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech all sit behind the 'Canes with two losses in ACC play. And just because this could also be a factor, Pitt and North Carolina aren't far behind with three league losses.
If Miami loses to Virginia Tech this weekend, it will open the floodgates.
Watch the 'Canes and the Hokies at 7 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN to see the starting point of what might be a wild ACC Coastal finish.
11. Minnesota Looks for First 8-Win Season Since 2003
Minnesota had to bounce back from a 26-point, second-half rally Indiana to edge the Hoosiers 42-39 over the weekend. That win moved the Gophers to 7-2 and guaranteed an improvement from their 6-7 finish from a year ago.
This week, they'll have a chance to notch win No. 8 against Penn State. As Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune highlighted, it will be a momentous win if they pull it off:
• It would be the first eight-win season since they went 10-3 in 2003 under Glen Mason.
• It would be their first time with four Big Ten victories since they went 4-4 under Mason in 2005.
• It would give them four consecutive Big Ten victories for the first time since 1973 under Cal Stoll.
But as Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill told Christensen, he and his team will remain focused on the task at hand, which is a tough test against PSU this week:
We don’t really pay attention to it. When I talked to the [players] last week, I said, ‘You need to enjoy the pats on the back. … You need to soak it in, and enjoy the moments. … But you can’t forget where you came from.’
There are a ton of good coaches in the Big Ten, but there’s nobody that did what that guy [PSU coach Bill O’Brien] did last year, with all the adversity that he faced. That guy can coach football … and he’ll have his kids ready to play.
Kill's Gophers will host O'Brien's Nittany Lions at noon ET Saturday on ESPN2.
12. Could Florida Miss a Bowl?
Could the nation's second-longest bowl streak come to an end this season? If Florida doesn't beat Vanderbilt this week, that possibility could become a reality.
The Gators, decimated by injury, sit at 4-4 and have lost three in a row.
Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun broke down the situation facing a Gators squad that began the season as a national title hopeful:
Then the injuries hit (boy, did they ever hit) and the losses followed. Now, the Gators find themselves riding a three-game losing streak and in danger of not going to a bowl for the first time since 1990.
UF has gone to a bowl game the past 22 years, the second-longest active streak in college football, behind only Florida State, which has played in a bowl in 31 consecutive seasons.
The Gators have not had a losing season since 1979, the 0-10-1 year.
UF has four games remaining and only one sure win in the bunch. The Gators will face Georgia State on Nov. 23, but they also have contests with South Carolina and Florida State in which they'll be large underdogs.
That leaves this week's tilt with Vanderbilt as the likely deciding factor between bowl eligibility and a 5-7 regular season in Gainesville.
UF's season will be on the line Saturday at noon ET in Gainesville.
13. Todd Graham's Scary Weekend and Arizona State's Pac-12 South Title Quest
The first order of business involving Arizona State this week is the frightening near-plane crash involving ASU coaches Todd and Bo Graham.
If you haven't read the story, check it out from Doug Haller of the The Arizona Republic. Even through that terrifying situation, Graham (jokingly) kept his goal of the Pac-12 title in mind:
Both coaches said they felt fine at Sunday’s practice. Todd initially joked about the incident – ”I thought: ‘I’m not going to be able to coach this team in the Pac-12 championship game,” — but later he said he was told the incident was similar to the one that took the life of pro golfer Payne Stewart.
“We’re very lucky,” Todd said.
ASU controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South Division and will take on Utah this weekend. The Sun Devils will take on the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the Utes beat Stanford earlier this season.
If the Devils win out, they'll have a shot at the league title and a BCS berth. The next step in that direction will come at 4 p.m. ET on the Pac-12 Network against Utah.
14. Johnny Manziel's Last Game at Kyle Field?
Texas A&M will play its last home game of the season against Mississippi State this weekend. It'll be senior day for some Aggies, but it also might be the last time quarterback Johnny Manziel suits up at the home of the 12th man.
If the redshirt sophomore heads to the NFL draft at the end of the year, this will obviously be his Kyle Field swan song.
Manziel has averaged 377 total yards per game at home this year and averaged 358.5 at Kyle Field last year.
You can catch what might be his last appearance at home at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
15. Ole Miss Is Poised to Finish Strong
With a win over Arkansas this weekend, Mississippi will be bowl eligible and almost guarantee that it will at least match its 7-6 finish last year.
And that is about worst-case scenario for the Rebels.
Best-case scenario, 10-3, is still very possible. Ole Miss has three winnable games over the end of the season against Arkansas, Troy and Mississippi State. None are home runs, but all are winnable.
The Rebels also face a big test against Missouri, but they'll take on the Tigers at home, giving them a legitimate chance at victory.
It isn't out of the question for the Ole Miss to take down Mizzou, grab a bowl win and hit the 10-win mark to match their 10-3 finish from 2003 when Eli Manning was still in Oxford. That will match their best finish since 1971.
Even if that doesn't quite happen, there is a great chance that the Rebels will finish with eight wins and continue their climb under Hugh Freeze. With another solid recruiting class coming in, Ole Miss can always look to take the next step next year.
16. Ameer Abdullah Is Looking Forward to the Big House
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah leads the Big Ten on the ground and he is ready to take that show to the Big House in front of what he calls a "nasty" and "ruthless" group of Michigan fans.
Per Sam McKewon of The World-Herald, Abdullah said in a press conference Monday that he is looking forward to silencing the "ruthless" Wolverines fans:
Two years ago they killed us up there. I was kind of shellshocked. I didn’t play much, but, just being there, Michigan fans are nasty, man. They’re ruthless. I wouldn’t have it any other way…honestly, I’m not a big fan of Michigan. Obviously, we’ve had some rough games against so far since I’ve been here and nothing would make me happier than go up there and shut them up.
Abdullah had just two carries for 19 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in Nebraska's 45-17 loss in Ann Arbor. He already had some payback last year, running for 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in Nebraska's 23-9 win in Lincoln.
He'll be looking for more in what is essentially a must-win game in the Huskers' quest for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
Michigan also can't afford another conference loss and will be hungry to bounce back from an embarrassing 29-6 loss to rival Michigan State last week.
Abdullah will have to back up his talk at 3:30 p.m. ET in the Big House and on ABC.
17. UCF and Houston Play for AAC Supremacy
UCF has one goal: to win the American Athletic Conference at earn a BCS berth. As the Knights' offensive line coach Brent Key told Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel, this week's contest with Houston might be their biggest roadblock left:
We keep telling everybody and preaching to the team, it's another chance to move closer to our goal and that's winning the conference championship. It's another step toward accomplishing our goal, another big game for us and a chance for us to be up against … an opponent with the same record as us.
Houston also has AAC title and BCS hopes of its own. The Cougars are right next to the Knights in the league standings, as the two are the only teams still undefeated in conference play.
The winner of this game will be on the fast track to the AAC title.
UCF will host Houston at 7 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2
18. Fresno State Faces Another Challenge
Fresno State must have at least nine or even 10 lives.
The Bulldogs were backed into a corner yet again last week but escaped with their BCS lives. They led by just one possession midway through the fourth quarter but ran away late against Nevada for a 41-23 win.
The week prior, the 'Dogs needed to block a field goal at the end of regulation so they could avoid an upset at the hands of San Diego State.
Now this week, they'll be facing a bit of an unknown in the Wyoming defense that has shaken up its defensive staff in recent weeks, as Fresno head coach Tim DeRuyter told Robert Kuwada of The Fresno Bee:
I believe the interim defensive coordinator is going to call it and he was with them this year running the 3-4...We'll just have to be prepared for everything. I think our offensive staff has done a nice job of adjusting. The second half at San Diego State, we did some things to change up when San Diego had two weeks to prepare and really changed a lot of the things that they did, and we'll have to be ready to do the same thing on Saturday when we go up there.
Fresno shouldn't have too much trouble, considering it ranks No. 6 in the nation in total offense. And as DeRuyter told Kuwada, he believes that will nullify whatever Wyoming tries to switch up defensively:
No doubt, and that's why I like going up-tempo. I think it's a great neutralizer of things that may be a little foreign to you because guys that may not be as experienced in their defensive package have to make quick decisions, quick communication, so hopefully you can take advantage of some slight hesitations if they are changing things.
Fresno and Wyoming will kickoff at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
19. UCLA's Penalty Problem
At an average of 9.4 flags for 80 yards per game, UCLA is the most penalized team in the nation, which is surprising considering it is led by a former NFL coach.
Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News broke down UCLA's latest penalty woes in the Bruins' 45-23 win over Colorado:
UCLA allowed Colorado a whopping 26 first downs, seven of which came on penalties. The Buffs’ highest first-down total this season prior to Saturday were their 24 in a season-opening win over Colorado State. Just three of those came on penalties.
The Bruins’ clearly aren’t going to shake their problem with flags. They had 11 for 122 yards, just 17 yards shy of their rushing total. It was the most yards UCLA has lost on penalties since giving away 138 against New Mexico State.
UCLA will need to sharpen up or those flags could come back to bite it in a must-win game this week. The Bruins will take on Arizona, which is right next to UCLA at 3-2 in Pac-12 play.
The loser of this game will likely be eliminated from Pac-12 South title contention.
The Wildcats will host the Bruins at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.
20. Can Charles Sims Lead West Virginia to Second Win vs. Texas?
When West Virginia beat Texas 48-45 in Austin last year, it looked like the win might propel the Mountaineers to the Big 12 title and perhaps even a national title berth.
Since then, they have gone 6-11. However, WVU showed promise last week, thanks to the enormous game from running back Charles Sims.
The Houston transfer tallied 189 total yards and two touchdowns in West Virginia's 30-27 win over TCU. He is No. 3 in the Big 12 in rushing and No. 4 in all-purpose yards per game.
After that performance, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen lauded his versatile senior back, per Dave Hickman of The Charleston Gazette:
Charles is a special player. We all know that and we've been saying it since the day he arrived here. He's a special player in the run game and he's a special player in the pass game. There are no other backs in the country that do as much as he does.
WVU is still on a quest for bowl eligibility at 4-5, while Texas has the Big 12 title still in its sights, sitting at 6-2 overall and 5-0 in conference play.
The Longhorns will need to silence Sims and top West Virginia in what will be a hostile Milan Puskar Stadium. The two teams will kick off at 7 p.m. ET on Fox from Morgantown.
21. Bowl Eligibles
Here is a look at the ever-expanding bowl-eligible list. This list includes all teams with at least six wins that aren't barred from postseason play.
Florida State (8-0)
Georgia Tech (6-3)
Virginia Tech (6-3)
Oklahoma State (7-1)
Texas Tech (7-2)
Michigan State (8-1)
Ohio State (9-0)
East Carolina (6-2)
North Texas (6-3)
Notre Dame (7-2)
Northern Illinois (9-0)
Ball State (8-1)
Fresno State (8-0)
Boise State (6-3)
Oregon State (6-3)
Arizona State (6-2)
South Carolina (7-2)
Texas A&M (7-2)
Texas State (6-3)
22. Sun Belt Update
Louisiana-Lafayette still controls its own destiny in the Sun Belt Conference as the only team undefeated in league play.
The Ragin' Cajuns face a crucial game against Troy this Thursday.
ULL's cross-state rival Louisiana-Monroe also controls its own destiny. The two play on Nov. 30 in ULM's final regular-season game.
Right now, it looks like that tilt in Lafayette could serve as the de facto Sun Belt title game.
23. MAC Update
The Mid-American Conference will soon be decided in the coming month of "MACtion."
Ohio and Buffalo will battle this week for control of the MAC East Division. The Bobcats will then take on Bowling Green the following week in another crucial conference game.
Buffalo sits atop the division at 4-0 in league play, while the Bobcats and the Falcons right on their heels at 3-1 in the conference.
The MAC West is much closer to being decided. Northern Illinois and Ball State will square off next Wednesday (Nov. 13) as the only two teams in the West still unbeaten in league play.
That game will likely decide the winner of the West.
24. C-USA Update
Conference-USA is still far from being decided.
The C-USA East is likely to come down to a Nov. 29 tilt between East Carolina and Marshall. The Pirates and the Thundering Herd share the division lead, each with just one loss in league play.
There is a three-way tie atop the West between Rice, Tulane and North Texas.
Tulane already has a win over North Texas and will take on Rice on Nov. 30. Rice lost to North Texas this past week but still has plenty of hope left. UNT will have to win out and hope Rice beats Tulane.
25. Looking Ahead
Week 12 doesn't have near the clout that Week 11 does, so enjoy the big games while you can. Here's a look at what will be coming next week.
Wednesday, Nov. 13 (8 p.m. ET): Ball State at No. 18 Northern Illinois
Friday, Nov. 15 (9 p.m. ET): Washington at No. 19 UCLA
Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA): No. 5 Stanford at USC
Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA): No. 25 Texas Tech at No. 6 Baylor
Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA): Georgia at No. 9 Auburn
Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA): Florida at No. 12 South Carolina
Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA): No. 14 Oklahoma State at Texas
Saturday, Nov. 16 (TBA): No. 17 Michigan State at Nebraska