Week 11 provided some fantastic football, particularly the afternoon game between LSU and Alabama, but also in the night game where Iowa State traveled to play Oklahoma. LSU's investment into updating their offense paid off in spectacular fashion as they matched Clemson's production in attacking the Crimson Tide with spread passing and picking them apart for the duration of the game. Joe Burrow averaged 10 yards per attempt and the Tigers appeared capable of scoring almost at will on an Alabama defense that was at one time impenetrable.
Oklahoma actually controlled their contest with Iowa State for much of the game before collapsing in the fourth quarter with a pair of turnovers, first a fumble by star receiver CeeDee Lamb and then a terrible interception by quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Cyclones roared back from 42-21 to 42-41 and attempted a two-point conversion in hopes of winning the game outright, but the pass was intercepted and the Sooners escaped with a win.
Finally, Minnesota protected their home-field advantage and perfect record, handing the Penn State Nittany Lions their first loss in a 31-26 victory. The Golden Gophers picked the Nittany Lions defense apart with RPOs by quarterback Tanner Morgan, who threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns at 17 yards per attempt! Meanwhile Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford threw for 340 yards at 7.9 yards per attempt with three interceptions.
For Week 12, the drama will continue with big rivalry games like Michigan State vs. Michigan and Georgia vs. Auburn, as well as games with big playoff implications like Oklahoma at Baylor and Minnesota at Iowa.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Michigan State at Michigan (-13.5) -- 12 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Michigan State (4-5)||Michigan (7-2)|
|When Michigan State has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Michigan has the ball||Defense||Offense|
It has been a tough few years for Michigan State. Since appearing in the playoff back in 2015, they've gone 3-9, 10-3, 7-6, and are now sitting at 4-5 heading into the big rivalry game with the Wolverines. Before this season, State head coach Mark Dantonio shuffled his offensive staff into new positions without making any changes in the composition, a move that was criticized at the time and has drawn more attention given their performances this season. Last week was a potential watershed moment; the Spartans took a 31-10 lead into the fourth quarter but squandered it in a 37-34 defeat against lowly Illinois.
The Spartans haven't managed a win over any of the big fish on their schedule. They will close with Rutgers and Maryland, likely wins, but both will be needed for bowl eligibility should the Spartans lose to Michigan. Dantonio is surely on the hot seat, although it's not clear what it would take for him to be pushed out.
On the flip side, the Wolverines surely have to be very wary of a spirited effort by their rival. Their own season has yet to bring many big successes that would create enthusiasm. A loss would be a complete catastrophe, even if they should play spoiler to Ohio State in the season finale.
The matchup is a tough one. While Michigan fans hunger for a blowout victory over the hated "upstart" school, this game will mostly likely be a hard-fought and low-scoring contest. Michigan State continues to field great run defenses. Their replacement for middle linebacker Joe Bachie, suspended by the NCAA, was to slide veteran Antjuan Simmons inside while inserting a player named Noah Harvey, who led the team in tackles and added 1.5 sacks and two pass break-ups against Illinois. There's no shortage of talent and quality up front for Michigan State.
The Spartans defense is designed to chew up run-centric spread offenses like Michigan's by sending numbers flying to the football while getting by short-manned on the perimeter with bigger linebackers out in space like Simmons (216 pounds) or Harvey (229 pounds). Unlike a nickel corner, those linebackers can beat the blockers on quick screens and allow the Spartans to hold up against them without sacrificing their ability to outnumber the run. Michigan can either seek to work the ball to the perimeter anyways, try to force the ball inside behind tight ends with the run game, or lean on the passing attack.
Quarterback Shea Patterson has not really fulfilled hopes as the feature of the Michigan offense. The Wolverines lost both of the games this season in which he threw the ball 30 times or more (Wisconsin, Penn State). In the two recent wins, Patterson threw 12 passes against Notre Dame and 22 against Maryland. Michigan is far more comfortable winning with the run game, but that's exactly what the Spartans will aim to take away. Jim Harbaugh and his staff have had a bye week to prepare for this game, but the Michigan State staff will likely have a lot tucked away as well.
On the other side of the ball, things look much more favorable for the Wolverines. The Michigan defense has played at a high level again this season and has a knack for disruption with their run blitzes. Michigan State continues to be a team that wants to control the ball and the clock with a power run game before becoming a pro spread team on third downs. They do have some added quarterback run game dimensions though with Brian Lewerke. The scariest dimension of Michigan getting a bye week for the Spartans is what defensive coordinator Don Brown will have drawn up in the way of packages and blitzes to attack the State offensive line and run game.
- Can Michigan run the ball against the Spartans or will they have to trust in quarterback Shea Patterson?
- How will Michigan State's offense approach the speedy, stunting Wolverines defense?
- What kind of fight will Michigan State have in this game with questions swirling around their head coach?
FEI Outright Pick: Michigan by 10.8
Navy at Notre Dame (-9) -- 2:30 p.m. (NBC)
|Overall||Navy (7-1)||Notre Dame (7-2)|
|When Navy has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Notre Dame has the ball||Defense||Offense|
This game is going to be pretty revealing for the Fighting Irish, who have had a mixed season with a senior quarterback coming off a playoff appearance in 2018. Notre Dame's 2019 defense has been clearly weaker than the 2018 unit; they've struggled to replace their star linebackers and nose tackle from 2018 and as a result have embraced a more conservative style of defense that Michigan chewed up a couple of weeks ago. The Wolverines barely even bothered to throw the ball, using a variety of schemes to run through and around the Irish.
Having an iffier run defense would make most teams dead on arrival against Navy, but of course Notre Dame won't handle this game on defense in the same way. They'll have a specific defensive package and approach that has been installed and practiced over the last few years for usage against traditional triple-option teams like this that regularly show up on the Irish schedule. They played last year and Notre Dame pummeled them 44-22, but the Midshipmen weren't very good in 2018 on either offense or defense.
This year's Navy team moved star running back Malcolm Perry to quarterback, where he's leading the team with 1,042 rushing yards at 6.6 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns. Fullback Nelson Smith has been solid between the tackles, and some of the pitch tailbacks are averaging as many as nine yards per carry this season in the offense. The Notre Dame solution for the triple-option a year ago was their base 4-3 under look but with the safeties playing downhill and shallower than against most anyone else. The difficulty for them this year will be in executing that strategy without 2018's defensive tackle Jerry Tillery or the veteran linebackers behind him.
The Notre Dame offense will also have a tougher challenge. A year after yielding 33.5 points per game, the Midshipmen are now giving up 18.1 points per game to their opponents. Strongside linebacker Jake Springer has been a key part of their rise with seven sacks on the year, blitzing from the wide edge. Corner Michael McMorris has also been an important new starter with eight pass deflections this season.
The Midshipmen 3-4 defense has a lot more disruptive linebackers than a year ago when they struggled to make plays in opposing backfields. Their ability to kill an opposing drive with a well-timed run blitz has certainly improved. Notre Dame picked them apart a year ago with the passing game and could go back to that approach this season, hoping to out-athlete Navy on the edge. If quarterback Ian Book isn't precise, though, or doesn't care of the ball, then the margin for error is diminished.
- How will Notre Dame defend the triple-option this year against Navy?
- Navy linebacker blitzes changing the game on defense.
- Can Ian Book and the Notre Dame passing game allow the Irish to outscore Navy?
FEI Outright Pick: Notre Dame by 0.6
Georgia (-2.5) at Auburn -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||Georgia (8-1)||Auburn (7-2)|
|When Georgia has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Auburn has the ball||Defense||Offense|
There's a lot of excitement about this game, especially now that Georgia is back in the top four of the playoff rankings after Alabama's defeat at home to LSU. The Bulldogs are well-situated to make the playoff if they take care of business, but that business now includes a road trip to Auburn and likely a matchup with LSU in the SEC title game down the road if things go well for them here. Auburn has a shot at a 10-2 season with some big wins if they can close out by beating Georgia in this rivalry game and Alabama in the next one.
For all the discussion over whether Gus Malzahn is the right guy for Auburn, it rarely seems to be noted that he's in the difficult position of annually playing two of the strongest programs in the country in late-season rivalry games. While the shine has come off Georgia somewhat after their follow-up to the National Championship Game appearance in 2017 was a defeat to Alabama in 2018 and then losing one of the nation's most talented quarterbacks to Ohio State, things are still running pretty smoothly. They infused their skill talent with transfers, wide receivers Lawrence Cager (Miami) and Demetris Robertson (Cal) and tight end Eli Wolf (Tennessee). The offense has been decidedly unexplosive, but they are quite good at executing ball control concepts in the run and pass game. Quarterback Jake Fromm is at 8 yards per attempt this season with 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and the two main backs D'Andre Swift and Brian Herrien have a combined 217 carries for 1,287 yards at 5.9 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Auburn is going to challenge both dimensions to their offense with tight, match coverage outside from nickel personnel and their brilliant front led by defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Fromm's ability to hit some difficult windows will be essential for getting after Auburn, particularly if the big Georgia offensive line is unable to punch holes through the Tigers defense. Back in 2017, the Auburn defensive line dominated the game and held Georgia to 46 rushing yards on 32 carries. The Bulldogs line changed a few things around for the rematch in the SEC title game and ran the ball 41 times for 238 yards in a complete departure from the first contest. Last year's game looked similar with Georgia running 41 times for 238 yards. Which will we see this time?
While the Georgia passing game has some strong dimensions to it, typically when opponents have shut it down they haven't adjusted well. Texas pulled that off in the 2018 Sugar Bowl. Florida managed to limit their rushing attack this season, but that time Fromm responded with 279 passing yards at 9 yards per attempt.
But while Auburn may be able to quiet the Georgia run game and force Jake Fromm to carry the load, their own attempts to score against the Bulldogs defense could be where the game is lost. The Tigers have managed to manufacture offense this season with a quarterback run game and a diverse rushing attack that involves multiple players and angles. Against Georgia, though, they'll be hard-pressed to find consistent gains. The Bulldogs defense has excelled this season at keeping opponents in front of them and running to the ball. Inside linebackers Monty Rice and Tae Crowder lead the team in tackles and combined have only four tackles for loss and zero sacks; this team doesn't generate much "havoc," but they do make it very difficult for opponents to pick up strong enough gains to put together scoring drives.
Freshman quarterback Bo Nix is going to have to attack the Georgia cornerbacks with Eric Stokes draped over his top target and make some big-time throws. Otherwise, the Auburn offense is likely to get bogged down trying to confuse and run by one of the faster and more careful defensive backfields in the country.
- Can Auburn's big defensive front slow the Georgia run game and force quarterback Jake Fromm to beat them?
- How will Gus Malzahn attack Georgia's fast and careful defense with a freshman quarterback?
- This game could be a useful comparison to the playoff committee for when Auburn takes on Alabama in a few weeks to try and suss out the relative strengths of the Georgia and Alabama rosters.
FEI Outright Pick: Georgia by 2.7
Texas at Iowa State (-7) -- 3:30 p.m. (FS1)
|Overall||Texas (6-3)||Iowa State (5-4)|
|When Texas has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Iowa State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
Iowa State has had a pretty disappointing 2019 season, but could find some solace with a big win here at home against the Longhorns. The Cyclones lost to rival Iowa 18-17 on a fumbled punt, then at Baylor 23-21 on a late field goal, then finally this last week losing 42-41 at Oklahoma after narrowly missing a two-point conversion for the win. This is a good team that's very close to the sort of breakthrough many thought could happen for Matt Campbell's rising program, but they've been narrowly missing time and again.
Texas seems like a good mark for that big win. The Longhorns just scraped by a beat-up Kansas State team 27-24 in a game that was close primarily because Texas gave away 14 first-quarter points with bad defense. They shut down the Wildcats for most of the rest of the game other than a 98-yard kick return score where it appeared that the Longhorns coverage team were shocked that it wasn't a touchback. Texas will have some increased confidence after that win, but certainly this road trip to Ames is a tougher challenge than playing Kansas State with no starting running backs and coming off back-to-back big wins.
Iowa State's big hope in this game is in their ability to spread out and attack the aggressive and bust-prone Texas defense with quarterback Brock "Pump Fake" Purdy. The Cyclones sophomore quarterback has thrown for 2,849 yards at 8.8 yards per attempt this year with 20 touchdowns to seven interceptions while adding 331 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Iowa State has also gotten a boost over the course of the season from the emergence of future NFL tight end Charlie Kolar (515 receiving yards, six touchdowns) and freshman running back Breece Hall, who ran for 110 yards last week against Oklahoma.
If their efforts to confuse Texas with multiple-tight end formations, option schemes, and play-fakes are successful, this could turn into a classic November Big 12 shootout. If Texas can hang on and prevent big plays, they actually have some advantages with their freakishly large and athletic defensive line going up against an Iowa State offensive line that had six false start penalties struggling to stay with Oklahoma's speedy defensive front.
The Iowa State defense has been much more solid than Texas' own unit, but they are coming into this game beat up after taking back-to-back losses to the Oklahoma schools, each of which ran them over with dual-threat quarterbacks.
Texas' main running back Keaontay Ingram has been playing well of late; he ran for 139 yards on Kansas State last Saturday on just 16 carries. He's healthier than he was early in the year, such as in his disappointing game against LSU, and quarterback Sam Ehlinger also looked healthy and crisp coming off the bye week. With two upcoming bouts on the road against Iowa State and then Baylor with Big 12 Championship Game stakes on the line, the Longhorns may up the run game workload for Ehlinger and hope to grind down the Cyclones. Ehlinger has 548 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the year while being used judiciously in most games. If Texas opens up that dimension to their offense, they can hit another level.
The Cyclones' star run support safety Greg Eisworth has been battling an injured shoulder that has seen him miss some time and get moved away from the box, which was a big reason both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma were able to find running lanes against Iowa State. Their concern this week will be that Texas will spread them out in four-receiver sets before running power and zone read schemes with the 230-pounders Ehlinger and Ingram against a depleted front.
It'll be a cold-weather game between a pair of teams playing with a lot of pride on the line. Iowa State has a good chance to take advantage of the Texas defense, but in a higher-scoring game where each team has to run the ball in big moments, the Longhorns could have the advantage.
- Can Texas keep up with Iowa State's quarterback Brock Purdy and dual-threat tight ends?
- How will the Iowa State offensive line fare against Texas' big, athletic defensive line?
- Can Iowa State hold up and win a cold-weather shootout if Texas uses big quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the spread run game?
FEI Outright Pick: Iowa State by 7.7
Minnesota at Iowa (-3) -- 4 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||Minnesota (9-0)||Iowa (6-3)|
|When Minnesota has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Iowa has the ball||Defense||Offense|
The story heading into their big game with Penn State last week was Minnesota having feasted on an easier schedule and head coach P.J. Fleck securing a contract extension before he had to actually prove anything against a good team. One common assumption was that the Golden Gophers were about to come crashing back to earth, instead they got up big on Penn State and hung on for a 31-26 win. The Nittany Lions really struggled with Minnesota's RPO and play-action in particular. Penn State's defense is designed to send numbers to the ball to stop the run and to use five-man blitzes to attack protections, both of which fell apart against Minnesota's RPOs and play-action, which left defensive backs isolated against vertical throws time and again.
So now Minnesota is riding high going into a road game at Kinnick Stadium with the Big 10 West division in the balance. It's too late for Iowa to have a chance at winning the division, but they can still help Wisconsin spoil the chances for the Gophers. The Badgers need the Hawkeyes to deal Minnesota one conference loss and then they can deal the other, creating a two-way tie for the Big 10 West lead between Wisconsin and Minnesota with the Badgers holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The difficulty that Minnesota will find in this game, beyond it being a road game against Iowa, is that the Hawkeyes will slow-play their RPOs and play-action more so than most other Big 10 teams. Iowa is happy for you to pile up 3- and 4-yard gains while trusting their linebackers and safeties to make tackles; they're not going to come off their pass assignments and yield explosive plays because you caught them flying downhill to stop the run. The Gophers may be able to run the ball against Iowa, but how effectively? And how many points can they score taking that track?
On the bright side for Minnesota, beyond the fact that they can all but clinch the Big 10 West with a win here, is that the Iowa offense isn't terribly imposing. The Hawkeyes are pretty good at dragging opponents into lower-scoring games in which their own offense has a chance, but they've lost one-possession games this year against Michigan (10-3), Penn State (17-12), and last week against Wisconsin (24-22).
The offense is designed to move the ball on the ground and they simply haven't been explosive enough to keep opponents from keying their runs and getting hats to the ball. Modern defensive schemes with multi-tasking safeties can help opponents swarm running plays and the Iowa offense has struggled to catch up. Their passing game has been their only plausible trump card, but only freshman Tyrone Tracy Jr. has shown real danger with the ball. He showed up last week in the comeback attempt against Wisconsin, catching five balls for 130 yards and a touchdown. Iowa will need to find him again this week to give them enough punch to get over the top against Minnesota.
The Gophers have a really backloaded ending to their season, taking on Iowa on the road here and then Northwestern on the road before hosting Wisconsin. That final game may determine the Big 10 West; this game will say more about whether Minnesota has realistic chances at the playoff.
- Iowa to take away the RPOs and play-action that crushed Penn State and force the Golden Gophers to earn the Big 10 West by running the ball.
- Can Iowa score on offense enough to win if they successfully stop the Minnesota offense?
- How well will Minnesota show on the road after the big win against Penn State and then playoff rankings buzz this week?
FEI Outright Pick: Minnesota by 1.2
Oklahoma (-10) at Baylor -- 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Oklahoma (8-1)||Baylor (9-0)|
|When Oklahoma has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|When Baylor has the ball||Defense||Offense|
Everything is at stake in this prime-time slot. Oklahoma and Baylor alike have some hopes of being included in the playoff but only if they can win this game. Similarly, both teams have downside here as a loss could help Texas leapfrog the loser and knock them out of the Big 12 title hunt. Baylor in particular hosts Oklahoma and then Texas in back-to-back weeks and back-to-back defeats could take them from undefeated playoff challenger to also-ran in an awful hurry.
It's a pretty fascinating game and arguably more closely matched than the Vegas line would suggest. The Sooners have struggled in back-to-back weeks as teams have found holes in the schemes installed by new defensive coach Alex Grinch and sorted out the limitations of quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Oklahoma has had Hurts running the ball around 20 times in each of the last two games. They're at their best running power-option schemes or getting the ball to star receiver CeeDee Lamb in whatever fashion presents itself. But when he's pressured or facing layered coverage, Hurts has defaulted to scrambling or sometimes making bad decisions, such as the interception that gave Iowa State a chance to beat them last Saturday. Meanwhile Baylor has what is now the best defense in the Big 12, led by defensive end James Lynch (8.5 tackles) and nose tackle Bravvion Roy (11 run stuffs) and supported by linebackers Terrel Bernard (7.5 run stuffs) and Jordan Williams (10.5 run stuffs, two interceptions).
The Bears adopted Iowa State's three-down, inverted Tampa-2 defense and have been running it with superior athletes to what this Iowa State team can currently field. Baylor is pretty multiple and can mix man coverage and blitzing, but they also play in the drop-eight, inverted Tampa-2 scheme a lot and rely on their quickness to close on runs after dropping back to deny the pass. They have enough multiplicity to bracket Lamb and confuse Hurts but perhaps also enough good tacklers and physical players to close and stop the Oklahoma run game. The fear for Baylor, as for most Oklahoma opponents, is that they'll simply be overpowered by athletes like Lamb and Hurts, who are difficult to tackle if afforded any space in which to work.
Baylor's offense showed great promise as well earlier in the year but has suffered from apparent injuries to two of their star players. Left tackle Connor Galvin has been out the last six weeks and is due to return for his first game back against Oklahoma. Without him the Bears have started redshirt freshman Casey Phillips and often struggled to protect quarterback Charlie Brewer. To that point, Brewer appeared beat up against TCU last week and struggled to throw the ball down the field.
If Brewer and Galvin are healthy, the Bears could look to punish Oklahoma's pressuring defense by throwing vertical shots to their cadre of speedy receivers. If not, they may have to grind out a win by running the football and perhaps running Brewer, who had 15 carries against TCU.
- Can Baylor close and tackle against Oklahoma's star athletes like wide receiver CeeDee Lamb or quarterback Jalen Hurts?
- How will Hurts handle Baylor's shifting, 8-3 defense?
- How healthy is Baylor's left tackle Connor Galvin or quarterback Charlie Brewer?
- Major implications both for the playoff and also for the Big 12 race if Texas wins earlier in the day.
FEI Outright Pick: Oklahoma by 3.9
FEI PICKS: WEEK 12
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|at Michigan||13.5||Michigan State||Michigan||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|at Notre Dame||9||Navy||Notre Dame||Navy||Navy|
|at Iowa State||7||Texas||Iowa State||Iowa State||Texas|
FEI's Picks against the spread last week: 3-3
FEI's Picks against the spread on the year: 35-27
Ian's Picks against the spread in last week: 5-1
Ian's Picks against the spread on the year: 29-33