B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 11
The chaos has been pretty evenly distributed throughout the first 10 weeks of the 2021 college football season. There have been one or two substantial upsets per week, but there has been no week in which all the title contenders have won or a week wherein all hell has broken loose.
As we crank things up to (Week) 11, though, this just might be where things go completely off the rails.
No, Alabama isn't going to lose to New Mexico State. We highly doubt Georgia is going to lose to Tennessee, either. (Though that upset is much more feasible.) But there are four showdowns between CFP Top 25 teams—Purdue-Ohio State, Oklahoma-Baylor, NC State-Wake Forest and Texas A&M-Ole Miss—plus six other games in which a ranked team is favored by fewer than six points against an unranked foe.
What do Bleacher Report's college football experts David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard think will happen with this loaded slate?
We're glad you asked.
No. 11 Texas A&M at No. 15 Ole Miss: Who You Got?
At full strength, or even relatively close, Ole Miss would be my choice. The best version of this offense is both incredibly fun to watch and highly effective.
But that is simply not reality for the Rebels, who have quarterback Matt Corral playing on two sprained ankles, plus three key wideouts (Dontario Drummond, Jonathan Mingo and Braylon Sanders) dealing with injuries. Lane Kiffin hasn't provided much insight on their statuses, so it's unclear who exactly will be available beyond Corral.
Without that firepower, Ole Miss has a tough task ahead. Texas A&M ranks fifth nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt and has ceded only 3.6 yards per carry. Only two teams have scored more than 20 points against the Aggies, who aren't overwhelming on offense but have a distinct advantage over Ole Miss' mediocre run defense. A&M wins.
As someone who has spent about six hours on each of the past six Sundays working on bowl projections, I am obsessed with this game.
The winner will be in the driver's seat for a New Year's Six bowl—either the SEC's spot in the Sugar Bowl if both Georgia and Alabama make the College Football Playoff, or one of the three "wild-card" spots available in either the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. And if the winner is Texas A&M, there's still a mathematical possibility the Aggies reach the College Football Playoff, provided they win out, Alabama loses one more SEC game and A&M beats Georgia in the SEC championship. (Note I said "mathematical" possibility, not "realistic" possibility.)
And I do think Texas A&M gets that big time road win, because Ole Miss has had quite a lot of trouble defending the run lately. Liberty only managed to score 14 points, but it still rushed for 284 yards against the Rebels on Saturday, becoming the fifth team in the past six weeks to put up at least 200 against them. And the Aggies have averaged 264.0 rushing yards over their past three games.
Matt Corral will do enough damage to keep things interesting, but he's going to have a harder time with A&M's defense than Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane will have with the Ole Miss defense. Texas A&M wins 35-24.
Does No. 8 Oklahoma Improve to 10-0 at No. 13 Baylor?
If Baylor hadn't just lost to an unranked, sub-.500 team last week, I probably would have picked the upset. But despite Oklahoma being on the road, the Sooners—winners in each of their past three trips to Waco—shouldn't have too much trouble, and I expect them to cover the one-touchdown spread.
While Baylor previously looked like one of the few Big 12 teams that could actually beat Oklahoma, that drastically changed last Saturday. The Bears gave up a whopping 562 yards in a 30-28 loss to TCU, not to mention the Horned Frogs won despite committing 13 penalties for 111 yards.
Oklahoma, led by quarterback Caleb Williams, comes into this game averaging 476.2 yards and 42.9 points per game, and I don't think the Sooners will have a problem against this defense.
While this game might have a shootout feel to it early, I think the Sooners pull away in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma would be wise to win by a couple scores, too. This game and the Nov. 27 showdown against No. 10 Oklahoma State are the Sooners' last ranked opponents, and beating both by at least a couple scores would make a much-needed positive impression on the College Football Playoff committee.
This is a gigantic "aside from," but aside from getting shutout in the first half against Kansas, Oklahoma's offense has been positively potent since Caleb Williams took over. The Sooners have scored 187 points in the 15 quarters since Williams unofficially became the starter with that 66-yard touchdown scamper to open the second quarter of the Red River Rivalry.
Now he gets to take on a Baylor defense which has allowed at least 270 passing yards in each of its past four games. The matchups with BYU and TCU were particularly rough for the Bears, allowing more than 11.0 yards per pass attempt in both of those games.
Oklahoma probably won't maintain its recent pace of 12.5 points per quarter, but a total in the 38-42 range is well within the realm of possibility.
And when Baylor has the ball, that rushing attack is likely to be stifled by an above-average Oklahoma front seven. The Bears struggled on offense against both Iowa State and Oklahoma State, and the Sooners should cause similar problems while improving to 10-0.
Will No. 6 Michigan Win at Penn State to Remain in the CFP Hunt?
I, like everybody else, was shocked when the College Football Playoff rankings came out and a Michigan team that just lost to rival Michigan State was slotted directly behind the Spartans. Say what? That happened two weeks ago! But the Wolverines will get a chance to show they deserve with that lofty ranking, beginning this week when they travel to Happy Valley to take on a Penn State team that has faded after a stellar start.
While losing to Ohio State is no slouch, the nine-overtime setback against Illinois was an embarrassment. So, which Nittany Lions team is the real one?
I believe they're somewhere in between, and while I'm still not a huge believer in coach Jim Harbaugh's team, I'm not convinced they're going to have their usual November swoon this year, either. Between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, they've got the stars under center to improve at that position.
The offensive line and running backs are already as strong as any in the Big Ten, and while the defense had a hiccup against Michigan State, that was an anomaly. The Wolverines are still second in the league in total defense, and they are going to win by playing their brand of football this weekend.
This will be a good, old-fashioned defensive donnybrook, and I like Big Blue to prevail 24-20.
I truly don't know what to make of this game because of how mercurial both of these teams have been.
Michigan bookended a 21-point road win over Wisconsin with nail-biters against both Rutgers and Nebraska. The Wolverines also blew a 16-point lead in the final 20 minutes of the loss at Michigan State. Sometimes they're unstoppable on the ground and impenetrable on defense. Other times they look average at best.
Penn State has had a similar scatterplot diagram, although at least the Nittany Lions' randomness can be attributed to Sean Clifford's injury. All the same, they blew an early 14-point lead against Iowa, inexplicably lost at home to Illinois and then put up more of a fight than anyone expected in the road loss to Ohio State.
Michigan might run all over Penn State's defense the same way Illinois did, except the Wolverines would finish off enough drives with points to avoid any nine-overtime nonsense. Conversely, Michigan might struggle against what has been a solid run defense outside of that Illinois game while Clifford eclipses 360 passing yards for a third consecutive game in a statement win for Penn State.
But I think the most likely outcome is Michigan eking out a close win on the road and bringing us one step closer to a mammoth showdown with Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend.
Will Michigan State And/Or Wake Forest Lose for a Second Successive Week?
I think Michigan State can have a nice rebound against Maryland this week as it goes back home where it has yet to lose a game this season. Maryland ranks 96th in the nation in scoring defense at 30.4 points per game, while MSU is averaging 34.0 points per game. Getting a win this week against the Terrapins should give Sparty the confidence it needs heading into its two most important games remaining, against No. 4 Ohio State and Penn State.
As for Wake Forest, I do think the Demon Deacons are likely to lose to NC State on Saturday.
Wake is currently just a two-point favorite at home, and I think this one might come down to the strength of NC State's defense. Although the Demon Deacons are third in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 44.7 points per game, NC State's defense is tied for sixth in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 16.0 points on average.
This one should be close, but I can see the Wolfpack defense coming through with a late turnover or big defensive stop. I was rooting for Wake to finish the regular season undefeated, but, unfortunately, I think the Demon Deacons get their second successive loss on Saturday.
Michigan State will be fine, because Maryland has been just plain bad against the top half of the Big Ten. In four games against Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota, the Terrapins have yet to score more than 17 points and have not yet held one of those opponents below 31.
I do think Maryland will score a little bit more than usual in this one—since this is a pass-heavy offense and we just saw what one of those can accomplish against Michigan State—but the Terps will be helpless against Kenneth Walker III and the MSU offense. I see this game playing out similarly to MSU's 48-31 win over Western Kentucky.
Wake Forest is definitely in danger against CFP No. 16 NC State, though.
The Demon Deacons have been awesome on offense, but they haven't faced a respectable defense yet this season. Facing legitimate resistance for the first time, they'll almost certainly be held below their 44.7 scoring average, perhaps drastically so.
And while NC State isn't particularly explosive on offense, it's good enough to capitalize on Wake Forest's defensive struggles. The Wolfpack has scored at least 27 points in seven straight games, and it should flirt with 40 in this minor upset.
Does No. 19 Purdue Shock the World Yet Again with a Top-5 Upset at Ohio State?
I refuse to count out college football's greatest dragon slayer, although I have my doubts Purdue can do it again.
Now, that's no knock on Purdue. The Boilermakers have the ingredients to create some doubt. I expect wideout David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis, the two stars on this team, to each have huge games. As good as Ohio State is in so many places, those dudes are tremendous.
But the issue is a) the overall talent advantage and b) the environment. The fact that Purdue is more than a 20-point underdog in this game should speak volumes. Vegas, of course, has been wrong before, but that is a significant number.
The Buckeyes weren't exactly dazzling against Nebraska, and I thought C.J. Stroud played his worst game in a while. Still, there are so many weapons on this offense that Purdue has to contend with that it might not matter if Stroud is imperfect again.
I would love to see more chaos, but I think it will be harder to come by. Ohio State by double digits. Just maybe not by 21.
Well, now that Purdue is ranked, it's not as dangerous anymore.
That's how that works, right?
Independent of any rankings-based theories, I just don't like this matchup for Purdue.
When Ohio State lost that game to Oregon back in September, it was largely a product of the Ducks taking advantage of a Buckeyes run defense that was still finding its way. Not only has Ohio State's front seven improved considerably since then, but Purdue also doesn't run the ball. Like, at all. We're talking dead last in the nation in yards per carry (2.39) with only 76.8 rushing yards per game.
Granted, Ohio State's secondary hasn't been all that great, as the Buckeyes are a middle-of-the-Big Ten team in pretty much every passing defense category. But they're at least better than Michigan State in that regard, definitely better than the Spartans on offense (in spite of their recent red zone woes) and they're playing at home. I like Ohio State to win with relative ease, 38-20.
Is No. 2 Alabama Going to Cover the 51.5-Point Spread vs. New Mexico State?
I can't imagine this week's practices at Alabama were much fun. After an uninspired performance against LSU, Nick Saban probably had some choice words for his team as it heads into the home stretch of the season.
And with New Mexico State on deck—a cupcake before a fascinating final stretch—things were likely extra spicy.
What does that mean for this week?
When the point spread is north of 50, it's hard to say.
Historically, Saban is not one to purposely embarrass other coaches. His teams will do it on occasion because the talent gap is that much wider, although it's not always intentional.
With games against Arkansas and Auburn to come, I just don't see Saban keeping his foot on the gas for terribly long. Even with the struggles of last week and the disappointment that likely lingered, he's also too smart to let that carry over into a game like this.
Can Alabama still stumble into a 59-3 win? You bet. But I'm going to say it's slightly more competitive.
New Mexico State barely beats the number. Alabama 51, New Mexico State 7. (Also, please don't bet on this game.)
Since the start of the 2017 season, Alabama has won seven games by at least 52 points. No such result for the Crimson Tide thus far this season, but they did beat Southern Miss by 49 in late September. And one of those seven wins was a 62-10 beatdown of New Mexico State two years ago.
It's a perfectly fair line, considering it's the second-best team in the country hosting easily one of the worst teams in the country.
But after a game against LSU in which the Crimson Tide finished with just six rushing yards on 26 carries, I suspect we're going to see a whole lot of running plays. Sure, there will be a deep bomb or three from Bryce Young to Jameson Williams, but this one is more about reasserting dominance on the ground. And that means a running clock more often than not, which makes it harder to win a game by more than seven touchdowns.
Don't get me wrong, this is very likely going to be the biggest blowout of the week. But I have Alabama just barely missing the cover in a 56-7 victory.
Over/Under: 2.5 Offensive Touchdowns in the Minnesota-Iowa Game?
The good news for Minnesota is top wideout Chris Autman-Bell will likely play. He missed the second half of last weekend's ugly loss to Illinois, and the Gophers had absolutely zero threat of a passing game without CAB. They probably won't score often, but one touchdown is manageable.
On the opposite side, the Hawkeyes might actually benefit from a QB change. Spencer Petras exited the recent win over Northwestern with a shoulder injury and isn't expected to play. Alex Padilla, though, offers a more mobile element than Petras and, in limited snaps, hasn't held the ball as long. For an offense that has struggled to create explosive plays all season, Padilla could provide a real spark.
Iowa's defense is most important in this matchup, but the offense can score a couple of touchdowns to hit the over.
Asking what essentially boils down to "Will either offense be able to score two touchdowns?" might seem disrespectful for most games. For Minnesota-Iowa, it's merely an acknowledgment that both of these defenses have been quite good while the offenses have been struggling, especially as of late.
Both the Golden Gophers and the Hawkeyes enter this weekend fresh off a game in which neither team scored 20 points. Iowa narrowly defeated Northwestern 17-12 while Minnesota was unable get on the board until the final five minutes of a 14-6 loss to Minnesota.
For Iowa, it's nothing new. If anything, it was an offensive explosion, as the 361 total yards in that game was good for its third-highest total of the year. Moving the ball has been a year-long struggle for the Hawkeyes.
For Minnesota, it was more a product of attrition, as the Gophers have been losing running backs to injury left and right. They were still able to run quite well against Maryland and Northwestern, but they seemed to hit a wall against the Illini and are about to hit an even bigger one against Iowa.
I'm going under 2.5 offensive touchdowns, as I've got Iowa winning 14-10 with a defensive score accounting for one of those three touchdowns.
Call Your Shot: How Many Total Points and Yards for Tennessee vs. No. 1 Georgia?
The big, bad Georgia defense may just be facing its biggest test of the year this week when the top-ranked Bulldogs travel to Neyland Stadium.
Nobody is suggesting the three-touchdown underdog Vols are going to shock the world and upset UGA. But if there's one thing Josh Heupel knows how to do, it's draw up offensive plays in the dirt and score points. It's hard to envision a scenario where Tennessee doesn't put some on the board, even against this generational defense.
But how many?
Vegas has the total around 57 points, and if UGA barely covers the 20.5-point spread, that tells me they're expecting a game around 40-17. That sounds about right, but the crowd is going to be electric, and Hendon Hooker is playing at an elite level right now.
The Vols are going to gain yards, even if they aren't in chunks. The bad news for Tennessee is UGA isn't going to yield much on the ground, and Tennessee had been balanced offensively until last week against Kentucky. When the Dawgs make you one-dimensional, they prey on quarterbacks.
So, it isn't going to be a massive amount of yards for the Vols. I'll go with Georgia winning 38-20 and Tennessee posting 310 total yards—more than 80 above UGA's average.
I'm going with 13 points and 317 total yards.
By Georgia's defensive standards (6.6 PPG, 230.2 YPG), that's a bad day. By Tennessee's offensive standards (38.2 PPG, 457.7 YPG), it's an even worse day. But Georgia has been training to face Hendon Hooker for quite some time now.
Here's how the past five games—all against mobile quarterbacks—have gone for Georgia's defense:
Arkansas's KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby: 10-16, 87 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 12 carries, 16 yards, 0 TD
Auburn's Bo Nix: 21-38, 217 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; 10 carries, negative-16 yards, 0 TD
Kentucky's Will Levis: 32-42, 192 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT; 10 carries, 12 yards, 0 TD
Florida's Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones: 22-34, 194 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT; 17 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD
Missouri's Brady Cook and Tylor Macon: 20-32, 152 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 21 carries, 74 yards, 0 TD
All told, that's an average line of 21.0-32.4, 168.4 yards, 0.4 TD, 0.6 INT; 14.0 carries, 26.8 yards, 0.2 TD. And while I do expect Hooker to fare a little better than that average, it's going to be a rough afternoon for the Volunteers.