College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 11
And then there were four.
Georgia owned Tennessee, Notre Dame wasted Clemson and the College Football Playoff rankings now include a quartet of unbeaten teams: UGA, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU. But while upsets anywhere are possible, only No. 4 TCU has a marquee opponent in Week 11.
Still, the remainder of Saturday's busy slate has plenty of CFP and New Year's Six implications.
Will two-loss LSU keep its slim, surging hopes alive? Can one-loss Ole Miss topple nemesis Alabama to stay in the race? Will Tulane keep marching toward that coveted NY6 slot?
Also, does anyone want to win the Big Ten West?
Bleacher Report's expert panel—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—all shared their thoughts on the upcoming slate.
After Wild Saturday, Who's the Biggest CFP Sleeper?
I might sound like an #SECHomer here, but I have to go with LSU. A one-loss ACC champion Clemson or one-loss Pac-12 champ (likely Oregon or USC) could end up in the playoff if it wins out. But none of those teams are sleepers. A sleeper is a team that seems to have no business getting into the CFP.
LSU has two losses. A two-loss team has never made it into the playoff. But the CFP has never been without the SEC champion either.
Let me preface this by saying it looks highly unlikely for LSU to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Dawgs just dominated one of the most explosive offenses in the country and made it look easy. LSU doesn't have what it takes to move the ball with ease against Georgia's defense, and the Dawgs offense can outscore anyone.
But if LSU were to upset Georgia, that would give the Tigers three Top 10 wins. Even with the losses to Tennessee and Florida State, it would be incredibly hard to keep out the Tigers.
North Carolina is understandably just 15th in the CFP rankings. Although the Tar Heels are 8-1, they lost to Notre Dame and haven't defeated anyone of consequence.
Not yet, at least.
This weekend, they travel to Wake Forest. Two recent losses have stung Wake, but it's still a solid team with an explosive offense. Heck, one of my colleagues has UNC on upset alert. Not an easy game. After hosting Georgia Tech, the Heels welcome No. 16 North Carolina State. And then No. 10 Clemson presumably awaits in the ACC Championship Game.
Let's be clear: UNC needs help. Most likely, the SEC and Big Ten champs are in. It seems the Pac-12 champion has a great shot. Clemson's loss diminishes the shine of a possible ACC win too. And sure, this probably won't happen!
But that's why the Heels are a sleeper. If the inevitable chaos breaks just right, UNC would have an argument at 12-1.
Does Anyone Want to Win the Big Ten West?
The answer might be "no," but someone has to. The leader in the division is Illinois. The team's remaining games consist of Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern, which may cause trouble.
Other candidates to win the Big 12 West include Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Back-to-back losses have Purdue trending down, but Wisconsin and Iowa are riding two-game win streaks. Minnesota still has to play both of them and lost the tiebreaker to Illinois.
Illinois is the favorite to win the division. Even if the Illini drop the upcoming game to Michigan, they own tiebreakers on Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota and can pick up a fourth against Purdue this weekend.
They all want to win.
The problem is that "they" is undefined, and that's never a good thing in a CFB division.
Weirdly enough, Illinois has been solid this year. Well, until last week. The Illini are still in position to win that side, although games against Purdue and Michigan won't be easy. (Northwestern should be.)
Wisconsin seems to be finding a rhythm, although it might be too late. Illinois holds the tiebreaker, and the Badgers still have games at Iowa, at Nebraska and against Minnesota. These aren't bad, but they could lose any one.
With an upset this week, Purdue could be in a fabulous position. Given the fact that the Boilermakers have lost back-to-back games, though, this really says it all about the West.
My guess? Illinois hangs on. It won't be pretty or easy, but it will be effective. Ohio State or Michigan will be ready for whatever challenge comes its way in the championship game.
What's the Best Matchup Outside the Top 25?
Iowa has finally figured out that points are a huge factor in winning football games. Iowa had 33 points against Northwestern and 24 over Purdue in a two-game win streak.
This matchup with Wisconsin is between teams with identical records of 5-4 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Both the Badgers and Hawkeyes seem to have found momentum in the later half of the season.
Wisconsin has a more polished offense, but defense and home-field advantage should give Iowa the edge. Iowa has allowed a combined 16 points in the past two weeks and just 14.3 per game this season.
Although the Badgers have a talented running back in Braelon Allen, Iowa's defense—behind key contributors Jack Campbell and Riley Moss—will give the Hawkeyes, a slight underdog, the win.
Friday night's showdown between 6-3 East Carolina and 7-2 Cincinnati has—or, perhaps by the time you're reading this, had—major implications in the AAC race.
And there's a sneaky-fun Sun Belt game Saturday.
Coastal Carolina, 8-1, is awfully close to a second division title in three years, but the upcoming game is a tricky one. Southern Miss is the lone program to defeat Tulane, the front-runner to represent the Group of Five conferences in a New Year's Six bowl.
That NY6 slot is mostly a dream scenario for CCU. It's highly likely the AAC champion or Liberty—considering the Flames have wins over BYU and Arkansas—will appear there.
Two years ago, though, COVID-19 protocols canceled the Sun Belt Championship Game. CCU never had an opportunity to play for the crown. Win Saturday and the Chants will be in the title game.
Which Top 25 Team Is on the Highest Upset Alert?
North Carolina is headed an hour away to play an in-state bout against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were a dangerous team in the first half of the season, going 6-1 and only losing to Clemson in double overtime.
UNC faced some doubts as redshirt freshman Drake Maye took over at quarterback, but it's mostly been smooth sailing for the Tar Heels.
The young Heels may be vulnerable against an experienced opponent, though. And a roster doesn't get more seasoned than the Demon Deacons' group. Much of their team has been in the college atmosphere for three or more years, which has been a key asset in 2022.
Wake Forest has back-to-back losses in an abysmal stretch from quarterback Sam Hartman in which he's thrown six interceptions. However, that should change opposite a weaker UNC defense. Wake Forest has to break the skid, and a win against UNC would light a fire back in the Demon Deacons.
Several games this weekend could end in L's for Top 25 teams. Purdue could beat Illinois, LSU had better watch out for Arkansas, Maryland could erupt offensively against Penn State and UNC could lose a shootout to Wake Forest.
But I'm rolling with Louisville to upset Clemson on the road, handing the Tigers their second consecutive loss. I called the Notre Dame loss a week ago because Dabo Swinney's team doesn't have a good enough offense to hang with explosive teams.
The Cardinals, led by quarterback Malik Cunningham, have been playing much better football, and they will pull the kind of upset that can boost Scott Satterfield's job security.
Will No. 7 LSU Avoid the Alabama Hangover at Arkansas?
No, that hangover will be robust. You will not see the same LSU team you saw last week; I feel confident in saying that. LSU has not beaten Nick Saban often, and the outcome of last Saturday's game will linger quite a bit.
It also feels like we might be (slightly) overrating both Alabama and LSU. Let's not forget that a few weeks ago, the Crimson Tide nearly lost to Texas A&M.
As for this game, Arkansas is coming off a tough loss to Liberty. Hugh Freeze's team is solid, however, so it's hard to quantify what this means. Arkansas will be very much up for this, especially at home. On the other side, the Tigers are playing only their third true road game.
The hangover will be real, and it wouldn't shock me to see Arkansas pull this off. The point spread, which is small, tells me this will be tight. I agree.
Arkansas wins a really good football game.
I guess I'll keep praising LSU. The Tigers will be fine against Arkansas on Saturday. The Tigers are slim favorites, and this game could be close. LSU's two wins on the road against Florida and Auburn were decided by a combined 14 points.
But LSU's rushing attack, led by quarterback Jayden Daniels, gives the Tigers an edge. What Daniels has done with his feet has been impressive.
Against Ole Miss, he rushed for a season-high 121 yards and three touchdowns. The week prior against Florida, he had three scores on the ground too. In the big win over Alabama, he had 95 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Arkansas enters the game just hoping to make a bowl again, a surprise after finishing 9-4 in 2021. The Razorbacks are coming off a shocking loss to Liberty, falling 21-19 at home. Unfortunately for Arkansas, its rush defense ranks 59th in the country, giving up 140 yards per game.
This game could be tight throughout, but Daniels and the LSU ground game will be too much for Arkansas. But if LSU does suffer a hangover and falls to Arkansas, a CFP bid is off the table for the Tigers.
No. 22 UCF at No. 17 Tulane: Who You Got?
Could I outsource this one to Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield? The Tigers lost 38-28 at Tulane two weeks ago and 35-28 at home against UCF last Saturday, so he might have a good idea of what to expect in this AAC showdown with massive Cotton Bowl implications.
Unfortunately, I don't have him on speed dial, but my guess is Tulane gets the job done at home.
UCF has had a great offense. No denying that. But quarterback John Rhys Plumlee missed last week's game against Memphis following a concussion in the previous week against Cincinnati, and it's unclear whether he or Mikey Keene will get the start Saturday.
Here's the thing, though: Tulane's defense has been really good.
The Green Wave have faced two offenses with top-35 rankings in total yards per game and limited them to 19 total points. Tulane beat Kansas State 17-10 and East Carolina 24-9. Even in Tulane's lone loss of the season, the unit held Southern Miss to 253 total yards and had some awful luck.
UCF should put up more points than KSU and ECU combined to score, but it won't be near the typical offensive performance by the Knights. Tulane ekes out a 24-21 victory.
I haven't been able to connect with Silverfield either. Alas.
Plumlee's status is a major storyline. Keene ran a little last season, but that's not his preferred style. Plumlee's mobility would provide a valuable boost opposite a Tulane defense that has surrendered only 3.5 yards per carry in 2022.
The struggle for UCF, however, will be stopping Tulane's methodical, run-first offense on key downs. Tulane is one of the best in the nation at converting short-yardage opportunities.
UCF desperately needs to force negative plays—as it accomplished with 10 tackles for loss in 2021's matchup—because it will force an improved yet vulnerable Tulane passing game to carry the offense.
But I'm with Kerry. Tulane wins a close one, riding the rushing attack to the brink of the AAC Championship Game.
Does No. 11 Ole Miss Hand Nick Saban a Rare Third Loss?
This is one of those games where the betting line (Alabama -11.5) makes so little sense that I've convinced myself that Alabama will win in blowout fashion.
It makes no sense because A) This is nowhere near a vintage Alabama team, B) the Crimson Tide are on the road and C) they face a title contender that has had two weeks to prepare for this matchup. Were it anyone other than Alabama, there's little chance the CFP's No. 9 team would be favored by double digits at the CFP's No. 11 team.
That said, 'Bama doesn't do back-to-back losses. It's happened just once in the past 13 years, and that was at the end of the 2013 campaign when a team dejected by the "Kick Six" failed to show up for the Sugar Bowl more than a month later.
After each of its last 10 losses, Alabama bounced back to win by at least 17 points.
Even though my head says Ole Miss is good and Alabama might come out flat with nothing to play for for the first time in a long time, my gut says this wounded animal will lash out against the Rebels to make sure Lane Kiffin also doesn't get to partake in the College Football Playoff.
This year's Alabama team is hard to figure out. The Crimson Tide don't have any game-changers at receiver, and while Nick Saban continually talks about how much he likes this team, it isn't playing up to his standards. The Tide are undisciplined, play uneven games and are out of the SEC and national title races in early November.
Now, they're on the road to play an upset-minded Ole Miss team capable of beating the Tide. But it's not going to happen.
The Rebels aren't good enough defensively to contain Bryce Young. No matter how much Alabama has struggled by its standards, he's an unbelievable and dynamic force who can will UA to wins. He'll do that this weekend. I like the Tide to win 41-33.
Will No. 4 TCU Seal Big 12 Title Spot at No. 18 Texas?
I've been a TCU Horned Frogs believer. They're kind of the Big 12's version of Tennessee, an explosive offensive team that doesn't have a talent edge early in the tenure of the head coach but puts up enough points to do the trick.
Last weekend, the Vols ran into a team with a great game plan and too much talent and lost to Georgia. This week, TCU is the Top Four darling, and it's the Frogs' turn to get gigged.
Texas doesn't have much of a defense, but TCU cannot afford to trail like it has all year. Quinn Ewers and Bijan Robinson pose the biggest problems this Frogs defense has faced, and given that this game is in Austin, Texas wins and covers a seven-point spread.
College football's title run will be more up in the air after this week.
Don't you love a head vs. gut dilemma?
Texas is favored. Texas is at home. Texas has more talent, including the best player on the field in Robinson. He's an incredible NFL-bound back who ranks second nationally in yards from scrimmage and has 14 total touchdowns.
Every popular—and reasonable—justification says to pick Texas, save for TCU being undefeated. Which, you know, is a convincing counterargument.
TCU simply does not quit. The defense is flawed but consistently excels in late situations, allowing just two meaningful fourth-quarter touchdowns in six Big 12 games. Also, trying to tackle quarterback Max Duggan and running back Kendre Miller seems like a nightmare task.
Perfection persists. Powered by another tremendous second-half performance, TCU clips Texas.
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