With four games remaining in the regular season, college football programs across the nation are buckling down for the push to the inaugural Playoff. This Saturday’s games are likely to have dramatic effects upon the landscape of the season, with a slate of crucial matchups scheduled for the week 11.
While this week lacks the glamorous, top-5 SEC West showdowns that have dominated the scope of college football coverage in recent weeks, it may be the most influential stretch of the season. Week 11 features huge games in the Big 12, Pac 12, and Big 10, and, by week’s end, the races in these conferences could be just about wrapped up.
#9 Kansas State at #7 TCU
Quarterback Trevone Boykin and the high-powered TCU Horned Frogs face off against a balanced Kansas State squad in a battle of one-loss teams with heavy Playoff implications. Coming off a tough victory over West Virginia, the Horned Frogs look to cement their position as a Playoff contender. The winner of this game will undoubtedly be in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 race, and will be in a solid position to snag one of the four playoff spots. The Wildcats have a very tough road ahead, still having to travel to the hostile confines of Morgantown to face #24 West Virginia before ending their season at #10 Baylor. If they are able to win those three daunting road games, it would be nearly impossible to deny them a playoff spot, as their lone loss was a hard-fought non-conference defeat at the hands of #3 Auburn.
Prediction: TCU-37, Kansas State-31
#13 Ohio State at #8 Michigan State
The thirteenth-ranked Buckeyes travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans in what is undoubtedly the Big Ten’s biggest game of the season. Since their embarrassing loss at home against a mediocre Virginia Tech team, the Buckeyes have looked very strong, though they have not played the toughest schedule. In their first test in conference play, they face the Spartans, who have also dominated their Big Ten competition, in a matchup which will likely determine the winner of the Big Ten East division. This game pits two of the nation’s most dynamic offenses against each other, with the Buckeyes and Spartans boasting the fourth and fifth highest-scoring offenses, respectively. Coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have found success with freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, but they have not faced a squad as deep as the Spartans this season. Were the Buckeyes to pull the upset and win the Big Ten East, they still would need some help to make the Playoff. If the Spartans win, they face a likely road through the Big Ten East Championship Game, and if they win out, they will boast a very strong resume, with their only loss being on the road in a hard-fought non-conference game against the #5 Oregon Ducks.
Prediction: Michigan State-41, Ohio State-24
#5 Oregon at #20 Utah
The Ducks, led by star quarterback Marcus Mariota, travel to a hostile environment to face the Utes. Coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss against Arizona State, Utah’s hopes of pursuing a prestigious bowl game depend largely on this matchup. The Utes, led by running back Devontae Booker and a solid defense, pose the toughest remaining test of the regular season to the playoff-seeking Ducks, but the challenge comes at the right time. Oregon’s offensive line, at times their Achilles’ heel this season, has improved dramatically, especially with the return of left tackle and locker room stalwart Jake Fisher. For the Ducks, this matchup serves as a solid test for their all-but-assured upcoming Pac 12 Championship Game and, if they win out, a playoff birth. The Utes, however, are a dangerous team and could very well keep the Ducks offense in check and eek out a win.
Prediction: Oregon-31, Utah-28
#8 Notre Dame at #11 Arizona State
To the chagrin of many in SEC and Big 12 country, the Fighting Irish’s showdown against the Sun Devils comes with serious playoff implications. Arizona State, despite a 35-point home loss to UCLA that essentially removes them from playoff contention, remains a strong, balanced team, and playing them at home is a serious challenge. Under the leadership of quarterback Everett Golson, the 7-1 Irish are dark horses in the playoff race, but picking up a signature win on the road against the Sun Devils would help their chances. If the Fighting Irish do beat the Sun Devils and proceed to win the rest of their games, they would make a very strong case for playoff consideration, with their lone loss a gut-wrenching 31-27 defeat on the road against #2 Florida State.
Prediction: Arizona State-27, Notre Dame-23
Photo: The New York Post