At face value, Week 11 projects to be less volatile on the College Football Playoff rankings than the last two weeks have been, but chaos often strikes college football in the weeks when you least expect it. Most of the teams ranked in the top 10 are heavily favored this week (we’re looking at your 40-point line over Rutgers, Michigan), but two are favored by a touchdown or less on the road.
Here’s a look at some of the more challenging matchups that College Football Playoff contenders face in Week 11.
No. 10 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State, 12 p.m. ET, FOX
Line: Ohio State -3.5
The sneaky reality for the much-anticipated Week 13 rivalry game between Michigan and Ohio State in Columbus is that the Buckeyes could be out of the playoff race before that game kicks off on November 24, with an emphasis on “could.”
Here’s a look at Ohio State’s last four games since beating Penn State on the road.
- 49-26 win vs. Indiana — Indiana led 17-14 until 4:39 left in the second quarter; Ohio State led 35-26 entering the fourth quarter
- 30-14 win vs. Minnesota — Minnesota led 14-10 until 3:59 left in the second quarter; Ohio State led 20-14 entering the fourth quarter
- 49-20 loss at Purdue
- 36-31 win vs. Nebraska — Nebraska led 21-16 at halftime; Ohio State led 30-21 entering the fourth quarter
Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska have just one Big Ten win apiece, yet each school led Ohio State in the Horseshoe deep into the second quarter and remained within striking distance entering the fourth quarter.
Now what happens when the Buckeyes play an offensively challenged, but defensively stout, Spartans team in East Lansing? Remember that Michigan State recently beat Purdue, unlike the Buckeyes.
The Spartans haven’t allowed more than 21 points in their last four games and they rank first nationally in rushing defense at 71 yards allowed per game.
That should be worrisome for an Ohio State team that has mysteriously been unable to consistently run the ball this season (32 carries for 92 yards against Minnesota, 25 carries for 76 yards against Purdue) despite having two running backs who have rushed for more than 2,000 yards in their careers in Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins.
The Spartans have had inconsistent play at quarterback from starter Brian Lewerke in his last two games against Michigan and Maryland, while freshman backup Rocky Lombardi performed admirably in his first career start against Purdue (26-of-46 for 318 yards and two touchdowns) while filling in for Lewerke.
A pivotal game against Ohio State may not be the time for Michigan State to make a permanent change at quarterback, but the Spartans need to find an offensive spark, especially if their defense can hold the Buckeyes well below their average of 42 points per game.
A win for Michigan State this weekend and an Ohio State win over Michigan could eliminate the Big Ten from the College Football Playoff. It’s not an impossible task for the Spartans, who have won three of their last seven meetings with the Buckeyes. In four of those seven games the winning team scored 17 points or less, so don’t be surprised if this one skews toward that direction, too.
No. 8 Washington State at Colorado, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Washington State -6
This is the country’s chance to get a good look at Pac-12 favorite Washington State in the 3:30 p.m. ET window, when Alabama, Michigan and Oklahoma State are all at least 20-point favorites. Like last week’s 19-13 win against Cal, Colorado could put Washington State in a tough spot where a win provides little benefit to its resume and anything short of a blowout victory potentially fuels skeptics of the Cougars.
The Buffaloes are just about average on both sides of the ball, ranking 69th offensively and 72nd defensively in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings. After winning their first five games, they’ve lost four in a row, three of which were on the road.
The case for Colorado is that junior quarterback Steven Montez has thrown for at least 300 yards five times this season and has a 17-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, so he can keep pace with Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew if this game turns into a shootout.
Washington State’s last two wins have resulted from game-winning scores with 19 and 32 seconds left in games against Stanford and Cal, respectively. Colorado has committed just eight turnovers all season, while forcing 15, so it could keep the score close late in the game if it wins the turnover battle once again.
The number of one-loss teams is going to dwindle after Ohio State and Michigan, and Oklahoma and West Virginia play each other, so Washington State just needs to keep winning until then and its ranking should climb.
No. 2 Clemson at No. 17 Boston College, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Line: Clemson -20
Even though Clemson is playing on the road against a top-25 team, which typically puts a program on upset alert, it’s fair to ask if Boston College has an offense that can keep pace with a Tigers team that scored 77 points last week or a defense that could slow down that offense enough to make this game competitive deep into the second half.
The Eagles have only lost once in ACC play, so they could still win the ACC Atlantic if they win out, which makes this one of the more intriguing Week 11 games because of its potential impact. It’s not just that a loss would tarnish Clemson’s perfect record, but it could keep the Tigers from playing for the ACC Championship.
Boston College’s strength is in its rushing attack, which averages 225 yards per game in large part because of sophomore running back AJ Dillon, who has 897 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season. However, the Eagles are averaging just 214 yards per game through the air and their 56th-ranked pass defense doesn’t suggest they can succeed in making Clemson’s freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence uncomfortable for long.
Lawrence has completed 65 percent of his passes this season and has taken care of the ball (18 touchdowns to three interceptions), giving Clemson the offensive firepower required to potentially enter the College Football Playoff undefeated.