2015 Week 11 NCAAF Weekend Preview

November 14, 2015

Remember what I said early last week about the College Football Playoff Rankings right now?

Nos. 2, 7, 8, 16, 18, 19 and 24 from the Week 9 rankings all lost last week.

Unfortunately, I also lost, to Amanwhoknowsnothing, which for those of you outside of my personal circle is last weekend’s guest analyst Jack. His water cooler knowledge was enough to push the guests ahead, at least for one week. Here are the overall standings for this season:

K. Becks: 29-21

Guests: 30-20

This week Jack’s roommate, who also happens to be his brother-in-law, joins the blog to see if he can keep the guests’ success going. I have to give Tommy a lot of credit up front for being able to stand Jack as a roommate. This would take an incredible amount of patience at times and also the ability to block out Jack’s comments on one’s cooking habits. There are multiple ways to skin a cat, so they say.

This week appears tame compared to last weekend’s full slate, but there are still some solid matchups on the schedule for Week 11. At any rate, November football is unpredictable and it’s wise not to sleep on anyone at this point in the season.

Here is a list of ATC’s top five games to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#2 Alabama at #17 Mississippi State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

It would be easy to assume that after an emotional and convincing victory over a team like LSU, there could be a bit of a drop-off for the Crimson Tide this weekend. But Alabama is not your typical college football team. The ultra-focused Nick Saban will be constantly reminding his team that they are just one slip up away from being out of the playoff conversation for good this season. This will not be an easy home contest for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State has surprised many by hanging around in the Top 25 this season despite being such a young team (particularly on offense). Some of the success is legitimate and can be attributed largely to the stellar season that Dak Prescott is having. But some of the success is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The Bulldogs are 7-2, but have just two victories over teams with a winning record. Only one team that they have played is included in the current College Football Playoff rankings. And with all this already being said, it’s clear that the Crimson Tide are playing their best football right now. The defense has been nasty as of late, allowing over 315 total yards just once since September 26. Leonard Fournette was held to just 31 yards on 19 carries last Saturday, proof that Alabama can and will game plan to stop a star player. Expect Prescott to be the target this weekend.

This is one of the few games between two Top 25 teams, so naturally it is one to keep an eye on, if only just in case. But in ATC’s estimation, “just in case” describes the reason for attention to this game perfectly. Mississippi State played LSU tough, but that was Week 1 of the 2015 campaign. As deep as we are into the season, teams that have beaten primarily sub-.500 squads are generally exposed. I expect that to happen in Starkville on Saturday afternoon.

My Pick: 35-13 Alabama

Tommy’s Take: In this 101st Meeting of the Battle of Highway 82, look for history to repeat itself with Alabama extending its current seven game winning streak against Mississippi State. While being one of the oldest SEC rivalries, it also is one of the most lopsided, with Alabama holding a 79-17-3 advantage against the Bulldogs. Expect the Crimson Tide to keep their momentmum as they roll into Starkville. Alabama 28, Mississippi State 24

#21 Memphis at #24 Houston (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

The Tigers were running away with the Group of Five’s automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl, but then Navy’s triple option attack struck. Now Memphis is in the thick of a tight and surprisingly exciting AAC race along with the Midshipmen and its opponent this weekend, the Houston Cougars. The Cougars are looking to protect an unbeaten record, but also to validate it. This is the first real test that Houston has had since facing Louisville early in the year.

Memphis had its issues stopping Navy’s run game as a whole last Saturday, but the defense did its job against Keenan Reynolds. The Navy quarterback was held to just 38 rushing and did not score on the ground, only the third time that has happened in his last 12 games. If the Tigers can hold Houston’s main offensive threat to such numbers, they will be in good shape. Greg Ward Jr. accounts for 327 of Houston’s 525 yards per game, or roughly 62 percent of its offensive output. Ward has either had 200 yards passing or 100 yards rushing in every game this season and has only had two multiple turnover outings. It won’t be as easy as “stop Greg Ward, win the game”, but it’s definitely a good start. Head coach Tom Herman was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, so this game will serve as an indication of just how savvy Herman is as the leader. He will need to dial up a plan to move the ball with guys other than Ward.

While Houston is undefeated, the Committee has made it clear that the Cougars will not move up in the rankings so long as they do not have a marquee victory under their belt. While the Tigers aren’t the biggest name in the business, they have had a good season and are respected thanks to a win over Ole Miss. This is a chance for both teams to make a statement, but I think that Memphis is more prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

My Pick: 34-30 Memphis

Tommy’s Take: An undefeated Houston squad faces its toughest test yet, as it has essentially rolled through its first nine games, with only two scares against Louisville and Cincinnati. Memphis looks to bounce back from last week’s loss against Navy, and it doesn’t get any easier, as another road contest looms next week against Temple. Houston’s offense shines in this matchup. Houston 38, Memphis 31

Oregon at #7 Stanford (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

This matchup has become a heated rivalry over the past decade, but for the first time in recent memory the script has been flipped. Oregon comes into this game as the clear underdogs, having gone through a rough patch at the beginning of Pac-12 play. But all is not lost for the Ducks if they can find a way to take out the Cardinal. Believe it or not, this game will decide which team is the leader of the Pac-12 North Division.

The defense is still horrendous (worst in the Pac-12), but the Ducks may have figured out how to win by employing a bend but don’t break style on that side of the ball. Two road victories by fewer than double digits in its last three games has Oregon on the cusp on taking the Pac-12 North lead, which seemed like a goal miles away when the Ducks were thumped by Utah in late September. Stanford won’t be allowing the Ducks to hit their season average of 543 yards on offense, however. The one familiar aspect of this rivalry game will be Stanford’s hard-nosed defense, which will give the Oregon offense fits moving the football. UCLA, the only team to gain over 500 yards of offense against the Cardinal this season, was surprised to find out that Stanford has a strong offense in its own right.

What the Stanford defense misses in this game, Christian McCaffery will make up for on the offensive end. Oregon may or may not be improving, but the Cardinal have already proven that they are the Pac-12’s best chance for a playoff bid in 2015. Stanford is strong on both sides of the ball and will take advantage of Oregon’s sloppy defense. Despite being unranked, Oregon was a threat for too long not to be taken seriously. The Cardinal will take care of business at home.

My Pick: 45-31 Stanford

Tommy’s Take: Stanford looks to clinch its third Pac-12 title in the past four years as it host the Ducks Saturday. Since losing to Northwestern to start the season, Stanford has rattled off eight consecutive victories, and looks to pad its resume this weekend with its ninth win. Expect the NCAA Cross Country West Regional in Seattle between these two schools to be a closer matchup this weekend. Stanford 38, Oregon 28

#12 Oklahoma at #6 Baylor (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The Big 12 is in desperate need of this game to be a good one. The marquee matchup of Week 11 is a chance for the conference to put its best foot forward, and for one of its teams to make a statement as we near the final weeks of the regular season. The Committee has stymied Baylor’s progress in the playoff rankings due to a lack of quality victories, but this weekend is a prime opportunity for the Bears to prove themselves.

Defending Baylor by citing their gaudy offensive numbers is about as effective as a windbreaker at the North Pole. To say that the Bears haven’t played a tough schedule thus far isn’t as much an opinion as many of the broad statements you’ll hear. It’s closer to a fact. Not a single team that Baylor has beaten is over .500 currently, and the best defense that the Bears have faced (West Virginia) is No. 89 in the country in average yards allowed. So when the No. 21 Oklahoma Sooners enter Waco, it may be a wake up call for Baylor. It has been a renaissance year for the Sooners, which not only play solid defense but also have the No. 6 defense in the country as well. Needless to say, the Bears will be facing their stiffness test yet and no one is quite sure how they will respond.

If I was overthinking this game (which I am prone to doing), I’d say that the Bears may come out strong in this one because they are angry about the amount of disrespect that they have been receiving from Committee voters. But the truth of the matter is that we really don’t know how good Baylor is and cannot rely on intangibles like that to choose a winner in this one. Just based on the eye test, Baylor’s defense isn’t good enough to hold Oklahoma under 35 points. And I think that the Sooners can hold Baylor to that mark, which is why I’m picking the visiting squad to solve the enigma that is the Baylor Bears.

My Pick: 42-35 Oklahoma

Tommy’s Take: This game has College Football Playoff implications written all over it, as Oklahoma opens its three game gauntlet through the top-heavy Big 12 to close out the season. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, but will need to beat Oklahoma with a freshman quarterback, who propelled them to a win over Kansas State last week. Expect this game to be a typical Big 12 shootout. Baylor 38, Oklahoma 35

Washington State at #19 UCLA (Saturday, 10:45 PM ET)

Neither one of the teams are out of their respective Pac-12 division races, but it’s not just the late start time that has this game feeling like somewhat of a consolation prize for the day. These two squads have been flying under the radar for much of the season, albeit for very different reasons. But a win here would be a major boost for either school, regardless of the number of people watching by the time this one finishes up.

Fans in the Eastern timezone willing to stay up for this one will likely be treated to an offensive shootout. UCLA has scored at least 35 points in its last four contests while Washington State has done it in four of its past five games. However, this game also features the top two pass defenses in the Pac-12, presenting an interesting challenge for the No. 1 and 4 pass offenses in the Pac-12. In this league, offensive normally reigns supreme, so I expect Luke Falk and Josh Rosen to be able to find ways to move the ball through the air. If not, then look for Paul Perkins to give the Bruins a heavy advantage in the ground game. Perkins could complement Rosen with a big night in this one, as Washington State’s run defense is less than stellar.

If you’re looking for reasons to root for the Cougars in this one, look no further than the swashbuckling pirate himself, Mike Leach. The head coach has simply let his athletes play this season, and the results have been enjoyable to say the least. Washington State has been in every game this season, the first time in Leach’s tenure at the school that this has been the case. This one should be no different, but the lack of both a run game and the ability to stop it will be difficult to overcome against the talented Bruins.

My Pick: 38-33 UCLA

Tommy’s Take: Former Washington State quarterback, Ryan Leaf, would be proud of the 400+ yards of passing the Cougars average each game, but can they head into Southern California in mid-November and not be distracted by the Rose Bowl glamour? Much like the enrollment of two former UCLA students, Jack Black and Mila Kunis, any lead Washington State may have in this game will be brief. UCLA 35, Washington State 28

5 Games to Flip To

#11 Florida at South Carolina (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

After a close call at home against lowly Vanderbilt, the possibility of an upset here for Florida doesn’t seem so far fetched.

#14 Michigan at Indiana (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Wolverines become the latest in a line of solid Big Ten teams that must overcome the hurdle that is Indiana’s potent offense. To date, the Indiana defense has been of little help in any of these games.

Arkansas at #9 LSU (Saturday, 7:15 PM ET)

The Razorbacks are full of confidence after converting a two point try in overtime to win last weekend, and the Tigers are not after Leonard Fournette was proven human against the Crimson Tide. This one will be closer than people think.

Minnesota at #5 Iowa (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

Rumor in Iowa City is that the administration is planning on presenting Coach Ferentz with a blank check to fill in with the biggest number he can think of if the Hawkeyes get to the Big Ten title game unbeaten.

#10 Utah at Arizona (Saturday, 10 PM ET)

The Wildcats have had a trying season, but are good enough offensively to give the Utes trouble and potentially derail another Pac-12 team in playoff position.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Tommy did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

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