by Ian Boyd
The biggest game of the year was a colossal letdown and eerily familiar to previous LSU vs. Alabama contests, with Nick Saban's defense coming off a bye week in peak form to suffocate the life out of the Tigers offense. LSU's defense came up short in terms of stopping the Tide offense, and their own offense was shut out and held under 200 yards.
Elsewhere, Big 10 powers Michigan and Notre Dame trucked along with wins over Penn State and Northwestern, respectively. The Wolverines have improved since their defeat in South Bend to start the season and Notre Dame has also improved thanks to the play of quarterback Ian Book. Ohio State nearly blew another game against a Big 10 West opponent, narrowly fending off Nebraska, and now has to take on both Michigan schools in the final three weeks.
Down to the south, Georgia predictably demolished Kentucky and established supremacy over the SEC East. They still have to beat Auburn this week to keep their playoff hopes alive but a shot at the SEC championship is all but assured now that they have the tiebreaker over Kentucky.
In the Big 12, Oklahoma needed Texas Tech to lose their starting quarterback and middle linebacker in order to escape Lubbock with a 51-46 victory. They have looming contests still against Oklahoma State and at West Virginia to close out the year. The Mountaineers are in solid shape for the Big 12 title race as well after beating Texas 42-41 in a back-and-forth shootout that they pulled off by going for two at the end of the game and surprising the Longhorns with the normally immobile Will Grier running a quarterback draw. Texas takes their turn at a beat-up Texas Tech this week, they need to win out while hoping that West Virginia also wins out and defeats Oklahoma or that some other combination of West Virginia and Oklahoma losses occurs.
The Pac-12 is now taking a backseat nationally due to a lack of highly ranked teams or high-profile games.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Ohio State (-3.5) at Michigan State -- 12 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Ohio State (8-1)||Michigan State (6-3)||F/+||11||16||S&P+ rating||17.5||9.8||Special teams S&P+||39||41||When Ohio State has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||6||7||S&P+||3||7||IsoPPP+||79||48||Rushing S&P+||88||2||Passing S&P+||12||29||When Michigan State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||51||62||S&P+||45||95||IsoPPP+||115||58||Rushing S&P+||49||87||Passing S&P+||90||68|
Ohio State has been ripe for more upsets for much of the year, struggling to handle the spread offenses of Minnesota or Nebraska, to say nothing of the Purdue unit that worked them over in prime time. Of course the Michigan State Spartans don't run a spread offense, but a plodding, power-run oriented scheme that shifts into more of a spread when they inevitably fail to pick up enough yards on first or second down and need their quarterback to bail them out. Quarterback Brian Lewerke has been less effective at bailing them out this season than some of their previous signal-callers due to accuracy issues, but the Spartans have been able to get the job done this season more often than not.
The Buckeyes have been scrambling to try and patch together their own defense in the midst of key injuries, iffy tactics, and unsound play. Their young secondary has struggled and there are questions about whether they're missing defensive back coach Kerry Coombs, who left after 2017 for a job with the Tennessee Titans. The Spartans have a governor of their own offense that tends to prevent them from lighting up the scoreboard. The question is whether the Buckeyes can avoid occasional trick-play scores or long, clock-killing drives if this game is a defensive struggle.
The main hope for the Buckeyes in avoiding a defensive slog in the cold Michigan weather on Saturday is that the Spartans can't handle Dwayne Haskins and the Ohio State passing game. The Buckeyes managed to find some solutions to their red zone woes a week ago utilizing some pistol formations and sweeps to get their backs loose near the goal line, but they'll likely return against the ultra-stout Spartans defensive front. Ohio State's hopes of putting big points on the scoreboard have to come on passes to their speedy wideouts from outside the red zone.
The Michigan State pass defense is geared to pressure quick routes and dare an opponent to try and beat them over the top against the pass rush of their defensive line. As it happens, Ohio State has had some struggles along their offensive linem and if they can't handle defensive end Kenny Willekes (7.5 sacks) or the Spartans blitz package, then this could be exactly the kind of low-scoring slog which Michigan State often finds a way to win.
- Can Michigan State's passing game land some explosive plays on Ohio State's struggling secondary?
- How will Dwayne Haskins and the Ohio State offensive line handle playing the tough Spartans defense in the cold?
- Can Michigan State's defense stop the Buckeyes passing game and make Ohio State kick field goals in the red zone?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Ohio State
Wisconsin at Penn State (-9) -- 12 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Wisconsin (6-3)||Penn State (6-3)||F/+||29||12||S&P+ rating||15.3.2||15.3||Special teams S&P+||105||71||When Wisconsin has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||30||14||S&P+||10||20||IsoPPP+||104||43||Rushing S&P+||1||35||Passing S&P+||64||18||When Penn State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||49||48||S&P+||44||29||IsoPPP+||86||26||Rushing S&P+||84||15||Passing S&P+||56||63|
Penn State is coming off a pretty rough stretch of schedule heading into this one. After a big home game with Ohio State that the Nittany Lions narrowly lost, they had a bye week and then a slate that went Michigan State at home (narrow loss), at Indiana (win), Iowa at home (narrow win), and then on the road against Michigan (blowout defeat). They've been effectively eliminated from the Big 10 title game and quarterback Trace McSorley is playing with a gimpy knee that has robbed him of much of his explosiveness as a runner.
Penn State's passing game this season hasn't been the same without their top targets (or coordinator Joe Moorhead), and they've given McSorley at least 12 carries in every Big 10 game in order to get their rushing attack going. That resulted in them having to turn to back-up Tommy Stevens against Michigan once they got down big. McSorley's health and status is unclear heading into this big contest with Wisconsin.
Wisconsin also has questions at quarterback after starter Alex Hornibrook left their game against Rutgers with a concussion. Hornibrook missed the previous game with a concussion suffered two weeks ago, so the odds of him playing this week seem low. Backup Jack Coan is just a freshman but had a strong second half against Rutgers. He was mostly just handing off to star running back Jonathan Taylor, but then that's more or less what Hornibrook does anyways. The Badgers offense is having a great season and really doesn't ask that much of the quarterback, unlike the current Penn State system. Wisconsin is pounding the ball on the ground with the best run game in the country while the quarterback is either taking shots off play-action or getting into the spread with a flex tight end on third down and making easy reads or checkdowns and draws to skilled receiving running back Garrett Groshek.
Penn State's defense came apart against Michigan's run game a week ago and they'll need to bring a lot more in the tank to withstand the Badgers run game in a cold-weather game this Saturday. Wisconsin isn't going to let the Lions just load the box, they'll match them with multiple tight ends and fullbacks on the field to account for the extra defenders and run the ball anyways. This one probably comes down to whether McSorley and the Penn State offense have enough juice left to get after a diminished but still solid Badgers defense that is bringing back defensive starters from injury this week. Since the Badgers are still alive for the Big 10 championship, expect them to bring a focused team into State College for this one.
- Is Trace McSorley healthy and can he run the Penn State option game against Wisconsin's defense?
- Can the Penn State defense rebound and slow down running back Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers run game?
- Will we see future quarterbacks Tommy Stevens and Jack Coan in this game?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Penn State
Mississippi State at Alabama (-23.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Mississippi State (6-3)||Alabama (9-0)||F/+||9||1||S&P+ rating||16.1||31.4||Special teams S&P+||96||103||When Mississippi State has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||14||2||S&P+||46||11||IsoPPP+||76||92||Rushing S&P+||3||6||Passing S&P+||87||5||When Alabama has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||8||2||S&P+||5||2||IsoPPP+||44||2||Rushing S&P+||25||4||Passing S&P+||8||2|
The Crimson Tide passed a pretty big test when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns to one interception while lead Tide running back Damien Harris ran the ball 19 times for 107 yards and another score on LSU's highly ranked defense. The Tide were dominant on both sides of the ball, shutting out the Tigers offense while going after the Tigers secondary and running the ball downhill on the LSU front. They get perhaps a tougher test this week from Mississippi State, but at home and against a style they may be less susceptible to.
The danger in playing LSU was that the Tigers had the athletes to conceivably match up against Alabama's passing game, and also a passing game led by Joe Burrow with a knack for landing plays down the field throwing to their receivers. A 50-50 ball is still exactly that, whether a defense is good or not, but the Tigers were unable to hit any of those in the end zone and Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Mississippi State has been more effective on offense this year than the Tigers and more effective overall on defense as well. The question is whether their option run game will be able to make any headway against Alabama's blue-chip led defensive front. If the Bulldogs can't move the Alabama defensive line off the ball or create gaps with confusion via their option game it's hard to see them having that much more success finding the end zone than LSU did. In particular Mississippi State needs to be able to effectively block Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who's remarkably third on his team in tackles with 12 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Mississippi State has their own impact defensive tackle in Jeffery Simmons, who's also fourth on his team in tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss. They add defensive end Montez Sweat with his 9.5 sacks coming off the edge. These are two of the best five defensive lines in the entire country. They'll need to lean on that defensive line to hold up the Alabama run game so that they can devote numbers to deny Alabama's quick-strike passing game in hopes of keeping the score down where Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has a chance of pulling out a win.
- Will Mississippi State's ground-bound offense make any headway against the Alabama defense?
- How will Mississippi State's star-packed defensive line fare against Alabama's offensive line?
- Can Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa stay healthy and avoiding tweaking his knee?
- High impact defensive linemen on both sides of the ball that will be top NFL draft picks this summer.
S&P Outright Pick: Alabama
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (-19.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Oklahoma State (5-4)||Oklahoma (8-1)||F/+||42||4||S&P+ rating||11||25||Special teams S&P+||75||28||When Oklahoma State has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||27||60||S&P+||13||53||IsoPPP+||42||36||Rushing S&P+||33||34||Passing S&P+||40||76||When Oklahoma State has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||105||1||S&P+||67||1||IsoPPP+||95||1||Rushing S&P+||91||2||Passing S&P+||63||1|
The Bedlam series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State has produced a lot of entertaining shootouts this decade, but a pretty lopsided tally overall, with Oklahoma 6-2 with three consecutive victories. Last year the Sooners won 62-52 in a ridiculously fast-paced game thanks to a late interception of Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. The cast of this game is fairly different with both teams featuring new quarterbacks and new defensive coordinators after the guys that presided over last year's outcome were both eventually fired for producing too many outcomes of that variety.
Both teams are coming off weaker performances this year. The Sooners barely survived in Lubbock and Oklahoma State dropped a road game in Waco, Texas, when the Baylor Bears mounted an impressive comeback victory. The Cowboys have been a more run game-driven team this season, still explosive in the passing game throwing to star receiver Tylan Wallace (1,052 receiving yards and seven touchdowns), but not quite on the level they were in 2017 when Rudolph was throwing the ball to James Washington and Marcell Ateman. Instead the Pokes have leaned more on the run game, starting with lead running back Justice Hill, who hopes to break a thousand yards again this year as early as this week (he's at 895 currently). Freshman Chuba Hubbard has been explosive, averaging 7.0 yards per carry, and then redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius has seven rushing touchdowns and is regularly involved in option schemes.
The Oklahoma defense will have their hands full making sure they have defenders in position to take away OSU's run game without leaving themselves vulnerable to deep passes to Wallace against their cornerbacks, who have been a soft spot for the Sooners defense this season.
No one has really stopped Oklahoma's offense this season. The three teams that gave Oklahoma their toughest games all did so by scoring lots of points and by forcing turnovers. Heisman candidate quarterback Kyler Murray turned the ball over twice in the Texas and Texas Tech games and helped those teams keep up with the Sooners offense. The trickiest issue is perhaps found in the way that Oklahoma runs the football. They can run downhill schemes to big running back Trey Sermon even when in four-wide receiver spread sets thanks to their counter-read schemes and the running threat of Murray.
Oklahoma State has really struggled to stop the run this season and will have to handle some difficult questions as a unit about whether they want to try and hold up to Sermon's bruising carries for four quarters or load the box and take their chances from Murray throwing over the top. The fact that star receiver Marquise Brown has been dinged up may impact this decision; the blazing-fast wide receiver is arguably the scariest dimension to the Sooners offense.
- How does Oklahoma State approach the Oklahoma offense? Do they load the box and embrace a shootout?
- Can the Oklahoma State offense run the ball well enough to keep pace in a high-scoring game?
- How is the health of Marquise Brown?
- If Oklahoma State can pressure Kyler Murray, will he turn the ball over?
S&P Outright Pick: Oklahoma
Auburn at Georgia (-14) -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Auburn (6-3)||Georgia (8-1)||F/+||19||3||S&P+ rating||13.5||23.9||Special teams S&P+||52||12||When Auburn has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||68||24||S&P+||57||16||IsoPPP+||68||5||Rushing S&P+||97||71||Passing S&P+||54||9||When Georgia has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||15||3||S&P+||10||8||IsoPPP+||77||12||Rushing S&P+||21||9||Passing S&P+||21||5|
Auburn had a huge rebound victory this Saturday against Texas A&M, coming back from a 24-14 deficit in the fourth quarter when quarterback Jarrett Stidham led them down the field on back-to-back touchdown drives at the end of the game. Up till then it had been another lackluster performance from the Auburn offense, which has struggled to find its identity this season without a steady run game.
Lead running back Jatarvious Whitlow has been the main option for running the ball between the tackles, normally the main thrust of head coach Gus Malzahn's offenses, but the freshman got only eight carries that went for 16 yards against the Aggies after a 170-yard day on 19 carries against Ole Miss the week prior. Stidham has been inconsistent this season and has not carried the Tigers offense as expected after a strong 2017. Before the final two drives against the Aggies, Stidham had completed 11-of-21 passes for 114 yards and a single score before finishing by going 7-of-8 for 125 yards and another touchdown pass. Georgia has had a very strong pass defense this year and won't give Stidham an easy time finding receivers against tight coverage, so the Tigers are going to have to find a way to get their moribund run game going to have a chance in this rivalry game.
The Georgia offense has quietly been one of the better units in the country with an offensive line that has been getting better week by week and a quarterback in Jake Fromm who has been dicing teams apart working off a two-headed running back committee that hasn't missed the amazing tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as much as expected. The one difficult outing for Georgia this season came against the LSU defense, when the Tigers got to Fromm and inflicted four sacks, two interceptions, and two fumbles that LSU recovered.
Auburn's defense has held up pretty well this season but got creased in the run game for a few big plays last week by the Texas A&M offense and running back Trayveon Williams. They tend to play things pretty aggressively and you can get behind them if they are creased, which Georgia may very well do with their downhill running game. Auburn needs a big day up front preventing Georgia from opening holes for their running backs to get up to speed and then at cornerback contesting the back-shoulder fades that Fromm regularly executes in crucial situations for the Bulldogs.
- Will we see the Jake Fromm that has torched the SEC East or the Fromm that struggled badly against LSU?
- Can Auburn stop the run and limit big plays against Georgia's explosive run game?
- Will Auburn force the issue with their run game or put their hopes on Jarrett Stidham's passing?
S&P Outright Pick: Georgia
Texas (-2) at Texas Tech -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Texas (6-3)||Texas Tech (5-4)||F/+||33||28||S&P+ rating||7.5||8.8||Special teams S&P+||72||5||When Texas has the ball||Offense||Defense||FEI||25||48||S&P+||26||88||IsoPPP+||106||79||Rushing S&P+||98||58||Passing S&P+||26||40||When Texas Tech has the ball||Defense||Offense||FEI||59||37||S&P+||50||14||IsoPPP+||58||86||Rushing S&P+||40||50||Passing S&P+||57||49|
Texas Tech's numbers may lag in this game due to the injuries they sustained against Oklahoma, particularly to quarterback Alan Bowman, who was by far their best option in the normal Air Raid offense that Texas Tech has always been known for. Bowman, who had already suffered a collapsed lung in an earlier game this year, re-aggravated the same injury diving for the goal line against Oklahoma and is likely out for this game. His backup Jett Duffey has thrown for 627 yards at 7.8 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and four interceptions while also adding 297 rushing yards and four rushing scores.
When Duffey is in the game, the Red Raiders aren't able to use their pair of 6-foot-5-plus wideouts Antoine Wesley and T.J. Vasher as effectively, but their misdirection-heavy run game adds fresh layers due to Duffey's explosive speed in the open field. That's a challenge for the Longhorns, who have been gashed each of the last two weeks by similar Air Raid-style offenses rushing for 181 yards (Oklahoma State) and 232 yards (West Virginia) in the last two weeks. The Longhorns have really struggled with handling the horizontal stress of outside zone plays and nearly came apart last week after losing strong safety Brandon Jones to an injury before the game began.
Texas Tech will need to hammer the Longhorns defense however it can because they'll likely be without defensive MVP Dakota Allen going up against a Texas offense that has really hit its stride in the last few games. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger hasn't thrown an interception since Week 1 against Maryland and has a chance to break the league record for most passes thrown without throwing an interception. He has had a year-long performance that has been a far cry from 2017, when as a freshman he committed costly turnovers that allowed Texas Tech (and other teams) to beat the Longhorns.
The Longhorns offense has been a fascinating unit for their lack of explosiveness. They're one of two teams in the country that have not scored on a play of 50 yards or more, yet they've been increasingly deadly and efficient each week. Their run game is good at avoiding negative plays, as is Ehlinger, and the 230-pound quarterback doubles as a short-yardage and goal-line back with his strength and running ability. Meanwhile their own pair of 6-foot-5 receivers, Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson, each have five touchdown catches and are approaching a thousand yards apiece.
If the Red Raiders defense can't confuse and turn over Ehlinger, which no one else has effectively done this season, they could be in for a long night of giving up long scoring drives to the Longhorns. Texas badly needs this win to stay in the Big 12 title race while Tech is now fighting for bowl eligibility and to salvage a season that once held major promise with a big win.
- A prime time game in Lubbock usually means drama -- it certainly did last week.
- Which team is able to get their big receivers going and light up the scoreboard?
- Can Texas Tech and Jett Duffey exploit Texas' troubled run defense?
- Do both teams have fight after suffering big losses and injuries in recent weeks?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Texas Tech
S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 11
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick|| S&P+ pick
against the spread
| Ian's pick
against the spread
|Ohio State||3.5||Michigan State||Ohio State||Ohio State||Michigan State|
|Penn State||9||Wisconsin||Penn State||Wisconsin||Wisconsin|
|Alabama||23.5||Mississippi State||Alabama||Mississippi State||Mississippi State|
|Oklahoma||19.5||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State|
|Texas||2||Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Texas|
S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 3-3
S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 34-26
Ian's Picks against the spread last week: 3-3
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 35-24