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Dr. Saturday

Looking ahead to college football: Week 11′s five games to watch

Dr. Saturday

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Kevin Hogan (at Oregon) and A.J. McCarron (at LSU) celebrate huge 2012 road victories. (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. The two Thursday night games are better than some of the past Saturdays.

These games are played the weekend of November 9.

LSU at Alabama (TBD) – The Tide barely escaped Baton Rouge with a 21-17 victory last year, as T.J. Yeldon took a screen pass 28 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 51 seconds remaining. That was the third classic in a row between the two SEC West powers, with LSU winning a 9-6 overtime slugfest in 2011 as well as the 24-21, “Did Les Miles just eat grass?” game in 2010. LSU’s schedule is considerably tougher than Bama’s (the Tigers play Florida and Georgia while the Tide plays neither), so this is a crucial game if they want to get back to the SEC Championship Game. For Alabama, this is one of the biggest obstacles separating them from a championship threepeat. As good as Nick Saban is, the Mad Hatter has given him some trouble over the years, so hopefully we’re in line for another memorable one.

Oregon at Stanford (9:00 p.m., ESPN, Thursday) – Oregon won every game by double digits last year…except one. Kevin Hogan and a valiant defensive effort helped Stanford escape Autzen Stadium with a 17-14 upset last year, a victory that propelled the Cardinal to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl titles while keeping the Ducks out of the BCS title game. David Shaw's crew was able to overcome the twenty-point spread and even do something Andrew Luck’s great Stanford teams had failed at: Beat the Ducks. Has the Cardinal coaching staff found a counter to the blazing fast Oregon offense, or was 2012 just a fluke? We’ll find out in what could very well be a match up of top-five teams.

Oklahoma at Baylor (7:30 p.m., Thursday) – This game probably won Robert Griffin III the Heisman in 2011, but the Sooners got revenge with a 42-34 win last year. I know I write this for nearly every week's preview, but the Big 12 is going to be insanely entertaining and probably very wide open this year with five teams (these two, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU) probably capable of winning the title. There’s a very good chance Baylor is 6-1 or better coming into this game, but it begins an absolutely brutal closing stretch where they face the Sooners, Red Raiders, Cowboys, Horned Frogs and Longhorns all in a row. Will probably Bryce Petty and probably Blake Bell be able to match the Griffin/Landry Jones shootouts of yesteryear? Even if they get it to 50%, we're in for a treat.

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Taylor Lewan will need to protect Devin Gardner against the Blackshirts defense. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports …

Nebraska at Michigan (TBD) – This is the most difficult road game on Nebraska’s schedule by a large margin (other options: Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State), and the largest pothole between the Cornhuskers and a second consecutive Legend Division title. (Note: There was some confusion in the comments last week about the Big Ten division names. They are indeed getting rid of Legends and Leaders, but not until next season when Rutgers and Maryland are in the field. One more season of the worst division names in sports history.) Last season a Denard Robinson injury and Devin Gardner's position switch to receiver forced Russell Bellomey into duty under center. He had a few struggles, going 3-for-16 for 38 yards and three picks. That loss cost Michigan a shot at the Big Ten title, and with a full game of Gardner under center - protected by stud left tackle Taylor Lewan, a projected top pick in next spring's NFL draft - expect a better offensive effort from the Wolverines.

Virginia Tech at Miami (FL) (TBD) – After losing seven of nine to the Hokies, the Hurricanes put their foot down last year at home, harassing Logan Thomas into two picks while utilizing a Stephen Morris/Duke Johnson en route to a 30-12 victory. Bud Foster’s defense will be better this year with a bunch of starters returning, but unless Thomas can cut down on the turnovers, it will be a struggle for Tech to pull out a road win with both Morris and Johnson back for a potentially lethal Cane offense.

Other games considered:

Louisville at Connecticut (TBD, Friday) – The Huskies downed the Cardinals in Louisville last year, and this with a primetime start on Friday night, this will likely be one of the biggest games in Rentschler Field history.

UCLA at Arizona (TBD) – Rich Rod’s Spread n’ Shred attempts to keep up with Brett Hundley and the Bruins after suffering a humiliating 66-10 loss last year.

Notre Dame at Pitt (TBD) – The Panthers probably came the closest to dropping the Irish during their undefeated regular season in 2012. Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees barely scraped by at Heinz Field in 2011, salvaging a 15-12 win.

San Diego State at San Jose State (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – The Legend of David Fales, San Jose State quarterback, is continuing to grow over the offseason. Enjoy your night cap with a nice little Mountain West clash.

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