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2014 season preview: Five games to watch in week 11

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama
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Nov 9, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon (4) carries the ball past LSU Tigers linebacker Deion Jones (45), Jermauria Rasco (59) and Jalen Mills (28) during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 38-17. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted.

These games take place the weekend of November 8.

 Previously: Week One (August 30) ~ Week Two (September 6) ~ Week Three (September 13) ~ Week Four (September 20) ~ Week Five (September 27) ~ Week Six (October 4) ~ Week Seven (October 11) ~ Week Eight (October 18) ~ Week Nine (October 25) ~ Week Ten (November 1)

Alabama at LSU (TBD)

Early Tiger losses at Georgia and Ole Miss combined with the rise of Auburn to make this match up slightly less important than usual in 2013, but this is still generally where the SEC West is decided. In 2011, LSU won in Tuscaloosa in overtime, winning the division and the conference title (before falling to Alabama in the BCS title game). In 2012, T.J. Yeldon’s late touchdown catch-and-run knocked off the Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge. Last year’s game wasn’t as close as the LSU defense had absolutely no answer for Alabama’s offense after tying it at 17 in the third quarter, giving up three unanswered touchdowns en route to a 38-17 loss. A.J. McCarron (who threw three touchdowns that night) is gone, but the deadliest of his weapons are all back, including a trio of effective tailbacks (T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake), probable top-five pick Amari Cooper at wide receiver and perhaps the best tight end in the country in sophomore O.J. Howard. But the Tigers are at home and return seven defensive starters after the previous offseason’s talent drain. They also have bulked up the offensive firepower, with five-star freshmen at tailback (Leonard Fournette, of the Adrian Peterson comparisons) and wide receiver (Malachi Dupre). Both teams will be coming off byes.

Ohio State at Michigan State (8:00 p.m.)

A rematch of last year’s surprising Big Ten championship tilt, which featured the Spartans blowing a 17-0 lead in impressive fashion before rallying for the final 17 points of the game in a 34-24 victory that ended Urban Meyer’s 24-game Buckeye win streak and denied their conference mates a chance at the BCS title game. Due to the reorganization of Big Ten divisions (farewell, Legends and Leaders), these two are now division rivals competing with mutual enemy Michigan for a berth in the title game. Ohio State returns most of the front seven that couldn’t stop Connor Cook in the fourth quarter but has to rebuild their secondary. It will be interesting when Ohio State has the ball, as their rebuilt offensive line attempts to aid Braxton Miller in moving the ball on a Pat Narduzzi defense missing most of its 2013 stars. Worth noting that Michigan State is coming off a bye.

Baylor at Oklahoma (TBD)

Last year’s clash of top-12 teams turned into the Bears’ hot katana going through a Sooners team that spent most of the game impersonating particularly malleable butter, the final result a 41-12 Baylor win. Oklahoma was still going with Blake Bell at quarterback at that point, and with his switch to tight end and Trevor Knight’s emergence, the Sooners offense should be a little more reliable. (It wouldn’t hurt if they could get a transfer waiver for former top receiver recruit Dorial Green-Beckham, who was booted from Missouri.) Baylor will score points as long as Art Briles walks their sideline, and while he has to replace a few parts, he brings back quarterback Bryce Petty (32 touchdowns, three picks in 2013) and top receiver Antwan Goodley in addition to the enrollment of All-Name first-teamer and blue-chip freshman wideout K.D. Cannon. Baylor has only beaten Oklahoma twice in the series’ history (2011, 2013), both at home.

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UCLA running back and linebacker Myles Jack. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

UCLA running back and linebacker Myles Jack. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

UCLA at Washington (TBD)

Just your weekly PAC-12 clash between a team that could be potential playoff contender dealing with a challenger that could easily win ten under the right circumstances. The Bruins prevailed 41-31 in Pasadena last year, but this is the seventh game in a seven-game stretch without a bye for Jim Mora’s crew. UCLA has to replace some stars in their linebacking corps and settle on a running back, but there’s one man who might be right for both jobs: Sophomore Myles Jack, who had 75 tackles, 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in one of last season’s most surprising performances. Jack is talking Heisman, and why not? He might not be the only two-way player in the game, as Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson – a five-star junior who’s the team returning tackle leader – is making a case to get some action at running back. This could be the rare occasion where a linebacker stuffs a running back who gets to return the favor on the next possession. This will be a dandy.

Texas A&M at Auburn (TBD)

It may be tough for this year’s game to match last year’s totals (1217 yards and 86 points) or entertainment value (Tre Mason’s touchdown with 1:19 left gave the Tigers at 45-41 road win), but it’s a Gus Malzahn offense versus a Kevin Sumlin offense so expect at least one of these teams to score a whole lot of points. Sumlin is still searching for his Manziel successor, with freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill expected to split reps during camp. The Aggies will also be without their 2013 Defensive MVP Gavin Stansbury, who recently announced a transfer to Houston.

Other games to consider:

Notre Dame at Arizona State (TBD)

A rematch of last year’s entertaining neutral site clash at Cowboys Stadium, where Notre Dame broke a 27-27 tie to prevail 37-34. This match up was the cause of a minor kerfuffle when former Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson (now in the same role at Texas) publicly admonished the Irish for possibly maybe trying to move or cancel this game.

Iowa at Minnesota (TBD)

This is Iowa’s toughest road game of the season in a schedule set up perfectly for a run at the Big Ten West. Due to a scheduling quirk, these two also played in Minneapolis last year, a 23-7 Hawkeyes win.

Northern Illinois at Ball State (8:00 p.m., Tuesday)

Weeknight MACtion! Ball State’s only conference loss last year was to Northern Illinois, costing them a trip to the MAC Championship. These two teams have combined to win 41 games over the last two seasons, and while they’re both replacing prolific quarterbacks both have been picked to finish near the top of the MAC again.

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