College football’s Week 11 slate is highlighted by a key matchup in the Pac-12 North (Oregon State visits Stanford), an intriguing showdown in the SEC West (Texas A&M travels to Alabama) and several key games in the Big Ten.
Oregon State (+5) at Stanford
Oregon is the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North, but Oregon State and Stanford are both 5–1 in the league and both teams still have a date with the Ducks. So the winner of this game will have an opportunity to play its way into the second Pac-12 title game. The other storyline is the quarterback situation at both schools. In Stanford’s 48–0 win over Colorado last week, redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan replaced Josh Nunes after two series and went on to complete 18-of-23 for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Coach David Shaw named Hogan as the starter earlier this week. At Oregon State, Cody Vaz has apparently taken over for Sean Mannion, who struggled in his one game back from a knee injury. Vaz, a junior, threw for 267 yards and three scores in a 10-point win over Arizona State on Saturday night. It’s rare that two teams this good are unsettled at quarterback this late in the season.
Texas A&M (+13.5) at Alabama
After seeing a CBS promo for the Texas A&M-Alabama game, my 8-year-old son asked the following: “Do you think Johnny Football will gain a lot of yards against Alabama?” That’s a good question: Can Johnny Manziel, who threw for 311 yards and rushed for 129 in last week’s win at Mississippi State, do his thing against the mighty Crimson Tide? Much has been made of Manziel’s “struggles” against the top defenses he has faced, but he still averaged 268 yards of total offense in losses — by a total of 10 points — to Florida and LSU. Alabama is riding high after its thrilling win in Baton Rouge, but Nick Saban can’t be pleased that his defense gave up a season-high 435 yards — 232 more than its previous season average — to an LSU team that had averaged only 318.3 yards in its first four SEC games. The Crimson Tide can wrap up the SEC West title with a win.
Wisconsin (+7) at Indiana
Amazingly, this game — between two teams with a combined nine overall losses — could determine who represents the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game. Ohio State (6–0 Big Ten) and Penn State (4–1) are the top two teams in the division, but both are ineligible to play in the title game due to NCAA sanctions. That leaves 3–2 Wisconsin, which is struggling through its worst season since 2008, and 2–3 Indiana, which has won four of it last 25 games vs. FBS competition, as the next best options. To its credit, IU is showing signs of significant improvement in Kevin Wilson’s second season in Bloomington. The Hoosiers flirted with upsets over Michigan State (lost 31–27) and Ohio State (lost 52–49) early last month before breaking through with two straight Big Ten wins, at Illinois and vs. Iowa at home. Wisconsin had a three-game winning streak snapped two weeks ago at home to Michigan State. The Badgers lost quarterback Joel Stave to a season-ending injury and will reportedly send out senior Curt Phillips, who has suffered three torn ACLs in his career.
Penn State (+7) at Nebraska
Nebraska has seized control of the Leaders Division with consecutive wins over Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State. The Cornhuskers, 4–1 in the league, are one game up on both Northwestern and Michigan and now hold the tie-breaker over both teams. Last Saturday, Nebraska rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to beat Michigan State in East Lansing. Quarterback Taylor Martinez was largely ineffective throwing the ball (16-of-36 for 160 yards with three INTs), but he rushed for 205 yards and two scores to lead a ground attack that totaled 313 yards on 40 attempts. Penn State rebounded from a 35–23 loss at home to Ohio State by drilling Purdue on the road 34–9. Matt McGloin had another big game, throwing for 321 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. McGloin will have to solve a Nebraska defense that has been very good against the pass. The Huskers rank eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense and fifth in passing yards allowed (156.0 ypg).
Kansas State (-7.5) at TCU
Kansas State held on to its No. 2 spot in the BCS standings after knocking off Oklahoma State 44–30 last weekend. But the big story in Manhattan is the health of Collin Klein, the Heisman frontrunner. Klein was forced out in the third quarter of the O-State game with an undisclosed injury that has been reported by some to be a concussion. His status for Saturday’s game in Fort Worth most likely won’t be known until game time. If Klein can’t go, redshirt freshman Daniel Sams will get the call. Sams completed 5-of-6 passes for 45 yards and ran for 20 yards in relief on Saturday. TCU has been playing with its No. 2 quarterback, Trevone Boykin, since early October. Boykin is 2–3 as a starter, with wins over Baylor and West Virginia, and losses to Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Last weekend, he completed only 12-of-29 passes, but those 12 completions went for 254 yards and two touchdowns to help the Horned Frogs upset West Virginia in Morgantown. TCU’s numbers are down on defense, but this team has shown it can score points in bunches vs. most Big 12 teams.
Kansas State 34–21
Northwestern (+11) at Michigan
Northwestern is 7–2 overall and had a double-digit lead in both of its losses — at Penn State (39–28) and vs. Nebraska (29–28). The Wildcats rank 13th nationally in rushing offense (237.6 ypg) thanks in part to the emergence of tailback Venric Mark. A junior who had only 23 carries in his first two seasons, Mark has rushed for 1,072 yards and nine scores on a healthy 6.5-yard average. Michigan has a dynamic playmaker of its own in Denard Robinson, but the senior quarterback missed all of last week’s game and a large portion of the Nebraska game with an elbow injury. He is expected to play this week, but the injury could be a factor for the rest of the season. Michigan is still alive in the Legends Division race, but the Wolverines will need some help; they are tied with Nebraska at 4–1. but the Huskers have the tie-breaker and have an easier schedule.
Florida State (-13.5) at Virginia Tech (Thu)
This figured to be the game of the year in the ACC, a showdown against the overwhelming favorites in the Atlantic and Coastal. Well, Florida State has done its part, with a 5–1 league record and a top-10 national ranking. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has been a colossal disappointment, with an overall record of 4–5 and a 2–3 mark in the ACC. The Hokies’ five losses are the most since the 2003 team went 8–5; they haven’t lost six games in a season since 1992 (2–8–1). Virginia Tech hasn’t been horrible in any one area (though it ranks 91st in turnover margin), but the Hokies haven’t been good at anything, either. The usually stout defense has given up 30 points or more four times, and the running attack has been average at best. It will be a surprise if Florida State does not win this game by a comfortable margin.
Florida State 35–21
Vanderbilt (+3) at Ole Miss
It’s a huge game for two programs searching for their sixth win of the season. Vanderbilt has controlled this series of late, winning five of the last seven overall, including two straight in Oxford. Last year, the Commodores won 30–7 in Nashville for their most decisive win vs. Ole Miss since beating the Rebs 91–0 in 1915. This, however, is a much-improved Ole Miss team that has made significant progress on both sides of the ball under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. The key to this game could be quarterback Bo Wallace, a Tennessee native who is a threat with his arm and his legs. Wallace, however, has thrown nine interceptions in the Rebs’ six games against AQ conference teams. Vanderbilt must win the turnover battle and limit Wallace in the zone read — something that has been a problem for the Commodores at times.
West Virginia (+7.5) at Oklahoma State
Things have changed quite a bit in the past month for West Virginia. In early October, the Mountaineers were 5–0 and ranked in the top five in both major polls. Now, WVU is 5–3, unranked and a 7.5-point underdog to an Oklahoma State team that also has three losses. The Mountaineers have allowed an average of 532.8 yards and 50.2 points in their five Big 12 games. Those numbers might be even worse after this week’s trip to Stillwater. Oklahoma State, despite injuries at the quarterback position, is averaging 509.2 yards in its five Big 12 games, second only to Baylor (589.2 ypg). The Cowboys likely won’t know who will start at quarterback until late this week; true freshman Wes Lunt, the opening day starter, was sidelined in the Kansas State game with an undisclosed injury. Junior Clint Shelf, in his first appearance of the season, stepped in and completed 16-of-27 for 233 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh was lost for the season with a torn ACL three weeks ago.
Oklahoma State 48–40
Louisville (-3) at Syracuse
Louisville is ranked No. 9 in the latest BCS standings, but the Cardinals — other than being 9–0 — don’t really have the résumé of a top-10 team. They beat FIU (2–8) by seven points, Southern Miss (0–9) by four points and South Florida (3–6) by two points. They have two solid wins, over North Carolina and Cincinnati, but those were by a combined eight points and both were at home. Syracuse is playing pretty well despite its overall mark of 4–5. Each of the Orange’s five losses has come to an AQ conference team that currently has a winning record. Syracuse’s strength is throwing the ball. Louisville’s strength — at least one of them — is stopping the pass. Whoever wins this battle will have a great chance to win the game. Go Orange in the upset.
Last week: 8–2 overall (5–5 against the spread)
Season: 66–34 overall (51–49 against the spread)