It has been a thrilling college football season, but the fun isn’t going anywhere just yet. Coming hot off the heels of last week’s record-tying six top-25 matchups, three top-10 matchups with enormous College Football Playoff implications loom large in Week 11. With Ohio State and Penn State both suffering shock losses in Week 10, it’s anyone’s guess who will surface as contenders or pretenders in the coming month. The door remains ajar for a few teams to lock themselves into one of those coveted final four positions. Considering what’s on tap this Saturday, you might want to clear your schedule and clear some spots on the couch for your buddies.
#1 Georgia (9-0) at #10 Auburn (7-2) – 3:30 P.M., CBS
Four years after the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” this remains one of the premier SEC East-SEC West games on the college football schedule, and with good reason. How Auburn inexplicably beat that Bulldog team that had for 59 minutes played their best football of the season remains a mystery, but Gus Malzahn’s team used that game as a launching pad for the rest of their season. Two weeks later, the Tigers would recreate history in their own backyard against #1 Alabama on Chris Davis’ “Kick Six” before downing Missouri in the SEC Championship game. Only a superhuman performance from Jameis Winston in the BCS Championship game kept Auburn from the title in 2013.
Four years later, however, the roles are reversed. An undefeated Georgia team, led by the two-headed monster in the backfield of seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who watched the Prayer at Jordan-Hare as high school seniors and recent Bulldog commits, will be looking to exact their revenge and prove something to the country in the process. Though the Bulldogs remain one of the country’s five undefeated programs and sit atop the College Football Playoff rankings, not everyone is sold on their strength of schedule, a problem rarely faced by an SEC football program this late in the season. The Bulldogs will be pointing to their 20-19 victory over Notre Dame (more on them later) in Week 2 as evidence of being up to the task, but the Tigers and the hostile environment on Saturday afternoon will be the test Kirby Smart’s squad needs in order to have that second blue-chip win on their resume. With a win, Georgia could also potentially maintain the #1 spot in the rankings the rest of the way, though an SEC title game matchup with #2 Alabama would most likely be on the cards.
Auburn have been a bit unlucky this year, losing on the road to Clemson early in the season before essentially seeing all hopes of making an inaugural trip to the College Football playoff vanish with a narrow home loss to LSU in Week 8. Still, the Tigers have an upcoming schedule that would give the Playoff committee something to think about if they were to win out. Regardless, they would be more than happy to play the role of spoiler for the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide in the coming weeks.
#3 Notre Dame (8-1) at #7 Miami (8-0) – 8 P.M., ABC
Three decades after the Miami Hurricanes travelled to South Bend, Indiana to play the Fighting Irish in the original “Catholics vs. Convicts” showdown, Brian Kelly’s team will be making the trek south, hoping to stay at just one loss on the season and solidify their position within the College Football Playoff Committee’s top four. The Hurricanes, for their part, have yet to lose and have done what they can to show the Committee they deserve a ticket to Atlanta come New Years’. The Hurricanes relatively low ranking considering their unblemished record is a result of their four wins by less than 10 points against unranked opposition, but a win on Saturday night will certify them as contenders and give the committee trouble leaving them outside the top four for another week.
The matchup itself is almost as exciting as the implications it holds. Since being held to 58 yards rushing in a 20-19 nail-biting loss to Hurricanes coach Mark Richt’s former team, the aforementioned Georgia Bulldogs, Notre Dame has run all over every team they’ve faced. With at least 318 yards on the ground in each of their last five games and a whopping 34 rushing touchdowns on the season, the Irish are in an undeniable rhythm. The U, meanwhile, has ceded only four rushing touchdowns on the season, fourth-fewest in the nation, making this tilt a great matchup of strength vs. strength.
This game is a can’t miss. Ed Reed has been on campus all week hyping the Miami players up and will serve as honorary captain on Saturday, and there’s an off chance that he emerges from the locker room in full pads penciled into the lineup at safety. Notre Dame has struggled mightily down the stretch in their last few seasons but this team is playing with an edge that few Irish teams have had of recent. Catholics vs. Convicts is back and better than ever.
#6 TCU (8-1) at #5 Oklahoma (8-1) – 8 P.M., FOX
True, this game is being played in Norman in front of a raucous crowd at Memorial Stadium. Yes, the Oklahoma Sooners offense is a runaway freight train. And no, I don’t know how Iowa State managed to corral for them 60 minutes. Head Coach Lincoln Riley will still be calling the plays for the men in red, and he should probably be putting his freakish gifts to use for society as opposed to shredding Big 12 defenses with them. And, to confirm your worst nightmares, the hero America deserves is healthy and suiting up under center for the Sooners. But there is something about these TCU Horned Frogs that makes them one of the toughest outs in college football year after year. Head Coach Gary Patterson has a little history in Norman, marching up there in 2005 while the Frogs were still in the Mountain West and knocking off Oklahoma in their season opener. In his two games there since, Patterson has lost two heartbreakers by a combined four points, so he will be looking to exact a score against the Sooners.
The Horned Frogs are not merely looking to mess with OU fans’ hotel reservations in Atlanta, however. They too inexplicably fell victim to the three-loss Iowa State Cyclones, yet that remains the only blemish on their record late in the season. The Frogs will leapfrog Oklahoma and possibly others if they can come out of Norman with a win. Kenny Hill has settled in nicely in Fort Worth after transferring from Texas A&M, already reaching the 2,000 yard mark on the season, while being backed by the sixth-ranked scoring defense in the nation..
This game has all you can ask of a a primetime November football game. It’s Riley, the baby-faced offensive genius of just 34, the future of college football coaching, against Patterson, the second-winningest active head coach in college football, the man who looks like he could be your junior prom date’s father but just happens to have built a powerhouse at little Texas Christian University over the past decade and a half. It’s a Heisman favorite in Mayfield squaring off against the only defense in the conference that looks like it might actually have a solution for him. The winner of this showdown will be sitting pretty in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee heading into the homestretch of the regular season, while the loser will be effectively eliminated from contention. If you’re not watching this game right at 8 P.M., choosing instead to start with the matchup in South Beach, you’ll have changed the channel soon enough.