by Justyn Spanski
Phil Steele Publications Associate/PhilSteele.com Contributor
Week 10 of the college football season is officially in the books and we were treated to four excellent games this past weekend that were highlighted in my Week 10 Games with College Football Playoff Implications on the Line article last week. Georgia, Oregon, and Utah all kept their playoff hopes alive with big wins away from home while SMU and Florida saw their playoff hopes fade in the distance as they suffered tough losses. Alas, we are onto Week 11 where there are four more marquee matchups with College Football Playoff implications on the line. The four games are highlighted by the biggest game of the season to this point as No. 2 LSU travels to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 3 Alabama. However, three other games this Saturday should not be overshadowed and hold equally as much value when further examining teams in the hunt for one of the four playoff bids. For LSU, Alabama, Penn State, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Minnesota the mission is simple: win and keep your hopes of a playoff berth alive…suffer a loss, and they could vanish. Below I will preview these four exciting matchups as well as analyze what is at stake for each of these six teams.
**NOTE**: All times of games listed below are based Eastern Standard Time (ET). Rankings of Top 25 teams mentioned in this article and matchup previews reflect those of this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. PS #’s of players mentioned can be found in Phil Steele’s 2019 College Football Preview. All statistics, pass efficiency defense ratings, and power ratings can be found on PhilSteele.com as a subscriber to Phil Steele Plus. Subscribe to Phil Steele Plus right now for just $49.00 through the Super Bowl on the PhilSteele.com Store.
WHO: No. 4 Penn State vs. No. 17 Minnesota
WHEN: Saturday, November 9 12:00 PM
WHERE: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
PREVIEW: PJ Fleck’s Gophers have been one of the biggest surprises this season and they enter Saturday’s matchup a perfect 8-0. Fleck entered this season with a 12-13 record at the helm for Minnesota, but his players have fully bought into his “row the boat” motto this year and the dividends are huge. His team currently sits in first place in the Big Ten West and are very much in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff, should they earn a victory Saturday afternoon. Sophomore Tanner Morgan has been reliable and effective at QB for Fleck and OC Kirk Ciarrocca, totaling 1,761 yards through the air with an 18-4 TD-INT ratio. RB Rodney Smith has been a lethal force on the ground as he has amassed 889 yards on 154 rush attempts (5.8 YPC). The Gophers defense has been solid all season, holding opponents to 98 yards below their season averages on offense. The defense is led by DB Antoine Winfield, who leads Minnesota with five interceptions and LB Kamal Martin who is tied with Winfield for the team lead in tackles with 46.
In State College, PA James Franklin and his undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions have been equally as impressive. Many fans and experts across the country wondered how Penn State would fare after all-time passing leader Trace McSorley (#6 DC BAL) graduated this past year. Sophomore QB Sean Clifford has quieted the skeptics and been a great leader under center, throwing for 1,931 yards with an impressive 20-3 ratio while adding 280 yards and three more scores on the ground. Clifford has formed a great connection with another sophomore, electric WR KJ Hamler, as the two have hooked up 37 times this season for eight touchdowns. Hamler is averaging an outstanding 16.8 YPC on the season. Their relationship goes beyond their two years together as Penn State teammates, as the two became close friends during middle school and high school football showcases, often discussing the possibility of being teammates together one day on college football’s biggest stage. Pat Freiermuth has been one of the country’s best tight ends, hauling in 25 receptions for seven touchdowns while being a great blocker in the run game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Nittany Lions run to the ball with aggression and are punishing tacklers. The group is led by a number of highly talented players including junior DE’s Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney, PS #1 sophomore LB Micah Parsons, and junior DB Tariq Castro-Fields. Penn State ranks very well in our Pass Efficiency Defense rankings, coming in at No. 12. They are holding opponents to 88 yards below their season averages on offense.
WHAT’S AT STAKE/CFP IMPLICATIONS: Nobody expected the Gophers to enter this matchup undefeated, but don’t tell that to PJ Fleck…or do? Fleck is a great motivator and his Minnesota teams have gone toe to toe with some of the Big Ten’s best including Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin, who they upset last year 37-15 to secure their first victory against the Badgers since 2003. While the Gophers have played a very easy conference schedule to this point facing Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland who combined are a lowly 8-22 in Big Ten play, the Gophers should not be written off in this weekend’s showdown. Regardless if the Gophers win or lose, they will remain atop the Big Ten West. Minnesota is looking to shock the nation and keep “rowing the boat” with a huge win on Saturday. If the Gophers can pull off the upset, there is no doubt they would be in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff with a quality win over a tough Penn State team should they win out.
Penn State is looking to do much of the same, the only difference is that this is a familiar position for the Nittany Lions, unlike it is for the Gophers. James Franklin knows what his team needs to do to secure a victory Saturday in order to remain undefeated and keep pace with No. 1 Ohio State in the Big Ten East headed into their monumental matchup with the Buckeyes on November 23 in Columbus. The Nittany Lions are playing with lots of confidence right now after back-to-back victories in primetime over Iowa and Michigan and a 28-7 thrashing of Michigan State where the defense limited the Spartans to just 265 yards of total offense. Franklin, Clifford, and OC Ricky Rahne will certainly look to test the Gophers secondary early as Rahne does a great job designing plays to get KJ Hamler and the rest of the Nittany Lions playmakers open in space where they can use their speed and athleticism to make tacklers miss. You also have to imagine that DC Brent Pry will dial up blitzes and disguise packages right away given how good his defense played against Michigan State two weeks.
This matchup is most certainly the biggest one this week in the Big Ten as well as one of the most intriguing across the country. Many fans and experts will tune in to see if the Gophers are legit and how Penn State will fare in what is sure to be an electric environment in Minneapolis. This game is certain to be an excellent one and should feature some classic “Midwest football” as these two teams will battle it out to see who can remain undefeated and continue their push to the playoff.
WHO: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Alabama
WHEN: Saturday, November 9 3:30 PM
WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL
PREVIEW: After a bye week for both teams added to the suspense of this monumental matchup, the week of the big game is finally here. This Saturday, the college football world will have their eyes fixed upon Bryant-Denny Stadium where the No. 2 LSU Tigers will face their toughest test all season, the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide. There are multiple storylines entering this matchup, but the biggest without a doubt is that surrounding the quarterback situation of both teams. If you look at the tape of LSU QB Joe Burrow from last year to this year you would think that the Tigers have someone else suiting up as Burrow this season. However, that could not be falser. The Athens, OH native has transformed himself from a game manger in year one under Ed Orgeron to a Heisman frontrunner in year two. OC Joe Brady has helped turn Burrow and the Tiger offense into one of the nation’s most feared this season, which has not been the case in past years. The offense is averaging 147 yards more than their opponents’ defenses have allowed on the season, good for No. 4 in the country. Burrow has shredded his foes this year, amassing 2,805 passing yards to go along with a spectacular 30-4 ratio and even more impressive 78.8% completion rate. He has a trio of trusted and speedy wide receivers in Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, and Terrance Marshall, who have taken a big leap this year thanks to Brady’s “Summer of 10,000 catches,” where he each LSU pass catcher had to haul in 10,000 receptions during practice before the start of the season.
Most secondaries have provided little resistance to Alabama’s passing attack this season, but LSU’s unit is certainly up for the challenge, and very capable of limiting the Tide as well. The Tigers come in at No. 21 in our Pass Efficiency Defense rankings, highlighted by true freshman defensive back Derek Stingley, All-American safety Grant Delpit, and hard-hitting safety JaCoby Stevens. The Tigers also boast a fearsome front seven, with pass rusher Rashard Lawrence leading the way. However, the Tiger defense took a big hit this week after senior LB Michael Divinity left the team. There is speculation as to whether Divinity was kicked off the team by Orgeron or left on his own, but regardless he will not be suiting up in LSU’s signature white jersey and gold pants against the Tide. Sophomore Damone Clark filled in earlier this season during Divinity’s absence, but he could see his playing time increased on Saturday due to the void left by the senior.
Across the field from the Tigers, the question surrounding All-American QB Tua Tagovailoa’s status for Saturday is arguably the biggest story in all of college football. Two games ago, Tagovailoa exited the contest against Tennessee in the first half with what was later ruled as a high ankle sprain. He underwent surgery the next morning and sat out the Tide’s last game, which was a 48-7 blowout of Arkansas. Backup QB Mac Jones replaced Tua in the Tennessee game and started against the Razorbacks where he went 18-22 for 235 yards and three scores. No matter which quarterback trots onto the field for the opening snap on Saturday, there is no question that Tagovailoa or Jones will have the country’s best group of wide receivers to throw to. Wideouts Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs create a matchup problem for any secondary that lines up against the trio. The group is highlighted by Jeudy, who has used his amazing sense of space and athleticism to haul in 52 passes this season for eight touchdowns. Smith has one of the best set of hands in the nation, with his nine touchdowns on the season as great evidence, including an incredible five TD receptions against Ole Miss in Week 5. Henry Ruggs has showcased his explosive speed time and time again this season, averaging a whopping 19.7 YPC entering Saturday. The Tide also boast one of the best offensive lines in the country, led by junior tackles Jedrick Wills and Alex Leatherwood.
Adversity for the Alabama defense began just before the season began when preseason All-American junior LB Dylan Moses went down with a season ending knee injury. Other injuries have tested the Tide, but freshman LB Shane Lee and NG DJ Dale have played exceptionally well given the circumstances. In the secondary, safety Xavier McKinney and sophomore defensive back Patrick Surtain II have provided experience and toughness for a young defense. The defense has been inconsistent at times, allowing 459 yards to South Carolina in Week 3 and a season high 476 yards to Ole Miss two weeks later. Alabama enters this matchup ranked No. 9 in our Pass Efficiency rankings. While the defense has not been as dominant as in recent years, there is no question they can turn it on at any given moment and produce a defensive masterpiece.
WHAT’S AT STAKE/CFP IMPLICATIONS: Many across the country anticipated this would be a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup before the first playoff rankings were announced on Tuesday evening. Ultimately Ohio State ended up securing the top spot and the Tigers and Tide followed at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. LSU is well aware of how big this game is, and they are looking to end their losing skid to the Tide. Alabama has won eight in a row in the series, including a 29-0 rout last year in Baton Rouge. A blowout and low scoring game are not expected this year, as the implications are bigger than they have ever been before.
A win for LSU all but guarantees them a spot in the SEC title game, and most likely one of the top two seeds in the College Football Playoff. If the Tigers lose however, hope is not lost, as long as they can compete with the Tide until the final whistle. LSU would have to win out, but they would most certainly still be in the discussion for one of the final spots in the playoff despite not getting a chance to compete in the SEC Championship game. Coach O will have his team fully prepared for anything Nick Saban and Alabama throw his way come 3:30 on Saturday.
Nick Saban’s defense has faced questions all season long, but all of that has a chance to be put to rest on Saturday if they can shut down Burrow and the explosive LSU offense. A lot is riding on if Tua Tagovailoa can play, but even if he doesn’t play, they still have a shot. Mac Jones is unproven as a backup, but he has a good supporting cast around him that can make plays. A win for Alabama puts them in the driver’s seat at the top of the SEC West heading into their always highly anticipated rivalry game against Auburn in the Iron Bowl on November 30. If Tagovailoa does play, he won’t be at 100%. You would have to imagine the playoff committee would take that into account if the Tide lost to the Tigers this Saturday, and most likely their hopes of securing a playoff bid would not be gone.
This game is certain to be a thriller and one that will be remembered for ages. The Tigers finally have a high-powered offense that can compete and even outscore any team in the country. A win Saturday is crucial for both teams’ playoff hopes, but a loss will certainly keep both teams relevant in the playoff discussion until the final week of the season.
WHO: Missouri vs. No. 6 Georgia
WHEN: Saturday, November 9 7:00 PM
WHERE: Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA
PREVIEW: The Bulldogs secured a huge 24-17 victory last Saturday in Jacksonville that kept their College Football Playoff and SEC East title hopes alive. Jake Fromm played well, going 20-30 for 279 yards and a pair of touchdowns while D’Andre Swift ran for 86 yards on 25 carries. The defense was exceptional, holding Florida to only 278 yards of total offense and 21 rushing yards. Fromm rebounded from his poor performances against South Carolina and Kentucky, and he has the Bulldogs headed in the right direction again.
Missouri has fallen off in recent weeks, as the Tigers were stunned three weeks ago when they lost 21-14 to Vanderbilt and followed that up with a poor performance in a 29-7 loss at Kentucky. The offense appears lost after only putting up 293 total yards in the loss to Vanderbilt and 289 the next week against Kentucky. There was a lot of hype this offseason surrounding the quarterback position, as former Clemson starter Kelly Bryant transferred in and looked to fill the void left by No. 2 all-time passing leader Drew Lock (#2 DC DEN). Bryant has looked excellent in multiple games this year, but the offense ultimately goes through him and he has struggled in the team’s last two contests. His status for Saturday’s game is questionable with a hamstring injury, so if Bryant is unable to go head coach Barry Odom will have to turn to sophomore Taylor Powell under center. RB Larry Rountree has been consistent on the ground this season, tallying 581 yards for eight touchdowns. The defense has also struggled to find consistency since LB Cale Garrett was lost a few weeks ago to a season ending pectoral injury. The Tigers will not be able to go to a bowl this season due to an NCAA violation, so they essentially have nothing to lose as they line up across the field from Georgia on Saturday.
WHAT’S AT STAKE/CFP IMPLICATIONS: Georgia is back home after a big win last week against rival Florida and the Bulldogs will look to keep things rolling on Saturday. For Georgia the mission is simple: win out the rest of the regular season and afford yourself a big opportunity to avenge your loss earlier in the season to South Carolina in the SEC title game. Jake Fromm is looking to stay in the grove with another big game and D’Andre Swift will look to return to his 100-yard game form as he has done so frequently all year. If Georgia plays the way they did last week against the Gators, they should have little trouble getting past Missouri.
As stated previously, Missouri will not be able to play in a bowl game this year due to the NCAA violation. However, they are still a very dangerous team. If Kelly Bryant can go on Saturday, he needs to get the offense back on the right track. If he can do this, they could surprise some fans and experts, and most importantly the Bulldogs. For this to happen, Bryant will need to have a big game and find TE Albert Okwuegbunam for some big plays. The defense will also need to rise to the occasion and stifle Fromm and the Georgia offense.
This game will certainly be one to keep tabs on, as Missouri could return to their early season form and give the Bulldogs a test.
WHO: Iowa State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma
WHEN: Saturday, November 9 8:00 PM
WHERE: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, OK
PREVIEW: Two weeks ago, the Sooners were stunned by Kansas State on the road, 48-41. The Sooners were down big at half, but Jalen Hurts engineered a resurgence that nearly allowed Oklahoma to tie the game, had it not been for an overturned call on an onside kick. The Sooners defense who struggled mightily last year, had performed well and surprised many experts this season, until they gave up 426 yards against Kansas State. On the offensive side of the ball, the Sooners are averaging 161 yards more than their opponents’ defenses have allowed during the season. Another transfer QB in former Alabama starter Jalen Hurts moved over from the Tide in the offseason as a graduate transfer. Hurts has lit up defenses all year throwing for 2,467 yards with a 21-3 ratio and 73.7% completion rate. It doesn’t end there however, as Hurts is also the Sooners leading rusher with 801 yards and an incredible 13 touchdowns. In the air, Hurts has a clear top receiver in junior CeeDee Lamb, who has torched defenses this year for 814 receiving yards and 11 scores. On defense first year DC Alex Grinch also has some talent, led by Phil Steele 3rd team preseason All-American linebacker Kenneth Murray. Pass rusher Neville Gallimore has generated consistent pressure through the middle all season long, as he is tied for the team lead in sacks with three.
Matt Campbell has done a remarkable job as head coach for Iowa State since his debut in 2016. He has brought in good recruiting classes and it appears that he has a talented quarterback in sophomore Brock Purdy. Purdy has thrown for 2,567 yards this year with a 68.5% completion rate. He is also a threat in the running game, entering this game with six scores on the ground. While wideout Deshaunte Jones only has one touchdown reception on the year, his team leading 52 catches prove that he is Purdy’s number one receiver and a reliable one at that. On defense, the Cyclones boast a strong linebacker duo that consists of senior Marcel Spears and sophomore Mike Rose. DB Anthony Johnson has held his own against some of the best in the Big 12, leading the unit with five pass break ups.
WHAT’S AT STAKE/CFP IMPLICATIONS: This is Oklahoma’s first time out since their shocking loss to Kansas State. After a big win against against rival Texas, it certainly appeared the Sooners were ready for another playoff run. But all of that quickly changed with the loss to the Wildcats. Oklahoma needs to respond this week with a big win over Iowa State to catch the eye of the playoff committee and those around the country. The offense has been spectacular this season, but the problems that plagued the defense last season popped up again against K-State. There is no doubt Lincoln Riley will expect a much- improved performance from his defense this week. If the Sooners can perform at the high level they have all year on offense and put together a solid defensive performance, they can earn a big victory over a tough Iowa State team and keep themselves in the playoff discussion and on track for a spot in the Big 12 title game.
Iowa State has had some close losses this season, but the 5-3 Cyclones are one of the best multiple loss teams in the nation. If Brock Purdy can rebound from his poor performance last week against Oklahoma State where he threw three picks, the Cyclones have a chance to keep pace with the Sooners and earn the upset. The defense has been fairly consistent in Big 12 play, and that should continue this weekend. If Matt Campbell’s team plays a turnover-free game and can get a few key stops on defense, they have a shot to stun fans dressed in crimson and white on Saturday night in Norman, and earn Campbell arguably the biggest win of his career.