Who Can Play Themselves In?
Week 11 might not be an “official” playoff week, but it might as well be. We'll be seeing six matchups between ranked teams, guaranteeing that some championship hopes will come to an end. Here are this week's big questions:
Can Ohio State Jump Into the Championship Hunt Against Michigan State?
When quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a preseason shoulder injury, most observers wrote off Ohio State as a championship contender. But new starter J.T. Barrett has filled in admirably, completing 65 percent of his passes and leading the Buckeyes to six straight wins after an early season slip-up against Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes are fourth in the nation in scoring and have put up 50-plus in five of their last six. But this will be by far their toughest test of the year against a Michigan State unit that ranks fifth nationally in total defense and can go toe-to-toe with Ohio State offensively.
This could well be a play-in game for the college football playoff. Both teams have very manageable schedules leading up to the Big Ten title game. It’s entirely likely that the winner of this game will win out and could find itself in the Final Four. This week's election results could bode well for the Buckeyes.
Will This Week Decide the Big 12?
In the preseason, we all had next week’s Baylor-Oklahoma game marked on our calendar. But who knew that the biggest game in the conference would end up being Kansas State at TCU? But that’s exactly where we find ourselves this week, as both teams could put themselves squarely in the title mix with a win this weekend. The No. 7 Wildcats are the only undefeated team in Big 12 play and, thus, the only team to control their own destiny. The No. 6 Horned Frogs, meanwhile, have rebounded from a fourth-quarter meltdown against Baylor by putting up nearly 52 points per game on their last three opponents.
I can’t really call this a play-in game, as Baylor will still have some say in the ultimate outcome—the Bears take on Kansas State December 6 and still hold a tiebreaker over TCU. But it will definitely be an elimination game for the loser. So let’s just all enjoy this moment when Kansas State vs. Texas Christian is the biggest game in college football.
Can Marcus Mariota Lock Up the Heisman?
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the clear Heisman frontrunner, and he can take a serious step toward locking it up with a big showing this week at No. 17 Utah. The senior has been on a tear, racking up 1,325 total yards and 15 touchdowns in his last four games. A good showing against the Utes—who lead the nation in sacks—could give him another highlight game while also securing a spot in the PAC-12 title game.
This week’s matchup with U.T.-Martin won’t exactly be a showcase game for Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. And Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon should put up big numbers against Purdue, but that’s almost expected. So the spotlight will be squarely on Mariota this weekend to step up and grab the trophy.
Can LSU End Alabama’s Title Hopes?
There’s certainly no love lost between LSU and Bama, so if the Tigers can’t win the title themselves, the next best thing would be to spoil the Crimson Tide’s hopes as well. And for Alabama, this is just the beginning of a rough season-ending month that includes matchups against No. 16 LSU, No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Auburn.
Night games in Death Valley are always tough, but expect a particularly raucous crowd this Saturday night.
If the Crimson Tide can get past their murderers’-row schedule down the stretch, they will have earned a spot in the playoff.
Can Notre Dame Sneak Back In? Or Will Arizona State Make the PAC-12 a Two-Horse Race?
No. 10 Notre Dame’s controversial loss to Florida State didn’t hurt the Irish’s chances much, and a win this week could move them squarely back into the title discussion. The real surprise here is, though, Arizona State. Don’t look now, but the No. 9 Sun Devils have moved up the rankings and put themselves in a position to challenge Oregon not just in the conference, but for a playoff spot as well. With a win this week, Arizona State will have beaten four ranked teams in five weeks, something that is sure to catch the eye of the playoff committee, which says it is weighing strength of schedule heavily.