College Football Picks Week 11: Can the Top Teams Hang Tough Through Thanksgiving?

The SI Staff
Sports Illustrated

Week 10 saw Texas, LSU and Kentucky effectively bow out of the College Football Playoff race after coming out on the wrong end of the day’s biggest matchups, and with only three Saturdays left in the regular season, teams are running out of time to make their moves as the final four frontrunners try to stay on course for end-of-season rivalry games that stand as their toughest remaining test. This weekend, Clemson heads to Boston College in primetime with the College GameDay crew in town, Ohio State takes on an always tricky Michigan State team in East Lansing and Pac-12 favorite Washington State heads to Colorado for a potential shootout. If those teams want their Thanksgiving weekend rivalry games to mean something, they can’t slip up now.

Below, our writers and editors take turns defending their straight-up picks for the biggest games of the Week 11 slate.

Season-long standings
Scooby Axson: 82–37 (68.9%)
Ross Dellenger: 81–38 (68.1%)
Molly Geary: 78–41 (65.5%)
Max Meyer: 77–42 (64.7%)
Joan Niesen: 76–43 (63.7%)
Andy Staples: 75–44 (63.0%)
Laken Litman: 70–49 (58.8%)
Eric Single: 67–52 (56.3%)

Fresno State at Boise State (Friday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Max Meyer picks Boise State: Fresno State has a very stingy secondary, but this will be the Bulldogs’ toughest test yet. Quarterback Brett Rypien is putting together a strong senior campaign for Boise State, sporting a 67.7% completion percentage (tied for 13th in FBS) while throwing for 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He’s averaging 8.5 yards per throw, and the Broncos are tied for 14th in the country with 40 passing plays of 20-plus yards. None of the quarterbacks Fresno State has faced this season are currently completing even 60% of their throws. Alexander Mattison gives Rypien a complement on the ground, as he has rushed for 726 yards on 126 carries, but this is a lethal and experienced unit that will give the Bulldogs issues.

Ohio State at Michigan State (Saturday, Noon, FOX)

Laken Litman picks Ohio State: The Buckeyes’ defense has been struggling even aside from giving up a season-high in points (49) and total yards (539) in a loss to Purdue. Coming off a close win over Nebraska that many had pegged as an opportunity for course-correction in Columbus, this will be the week Ohio State regroups against a banged-up Spartans team.

Baylor at Iowa State (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

Scooby Axson picks Iowa State: The Cyclones are aiming for their fifth straight win, and they are doing it with a defense that is getting better every week, having allowed only three offensive touchdowns in the last three games. Iowa State has held each of its eight opponents to below their season total offensive average, and expect that trend to continue against Baylor, which is one win away from bowl eligibility.

Mississippi State at Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Andy Staples picks Alabama: The Bulldogs’ defensive line might be able to test Alabama’s offensive line a bit (but not enough), but it’s tough to imagine Mississippi State—which couldn't move the ball on Kentucky, Florida or LSU—moving the ball on Alabama’s defense.

Washington State at Colorado (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Max Meyer picks Washington State: If Laviska Shenault doesn’t play, Colorado doesn’t have a chance. The Buffaloes’ offense has looked mostly putrid without their injured star wideout on the field. Colorado’s defense that was ripped to shreds by Arizona last week, and now it has the even tougher task of trying to contain Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew. The Cougars don’t have the most explosive offense in the Pac-12 in terms of consistently completing deep passes, but their death-by-a-thousand-cuts passing game may even be trickier to defend, given Minshew’s extreme efficiency on short throws. Colorado doesn't have the firepower to keep up with Washington State either, so expect the Pac-12’s slim CFP hopes to remain alive for at least one more week.

Northwestern at Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Molly Geary picks Iowa: The Hawkeyes have lost their last two, but both defeats came on the road, and I don’t foresee them losing a third straight back at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has a defense capable of slowing the Wildcats and quarterback Clayton Thorson, and offensively the Hawkeyes could use the tight end tandem of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson to exploit a Northwestern pass defense that ranks 73rd in yards per game allowed.

Virginia Tech at Pitt (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Laken Litman picks Pitt: The ACC Coastal is a mess—every time one team takes control of the division, it loses its place just as quickly. Just last week Virginia was the front-runner, only to have Pitt pull the upset in Charlottesville. Now the Panthers have a chance to take the lead with a win over Virginia Tech. And Pitt can do it if it utilizes the power running game led by bruising tailbacks Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, who had a season-high 229 yards and 3 TD vs. UVA.

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Ross Dellenger picks Oklahoma: The Cowboys are so up-and-down that Mike Gundy’s children are criticizing him about his team’s inconsistency, and the Sooners are still allowing opponents to score at will. Look for a fun-filled shootout here, but the Sooners will move a step closer to the Big 12 Championship Game.

Auburn at Georgia (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Ross Dellenger picks Georgia: Gus Malzahn is safe for another season, per Auburn AD Allen Greene, but the Tigers needed a late rally to beat Texas A&M and Georgia seems to have hit its stride after the egg it laid in Tiger Stadium last month. The Bulldogs bash Auburn to atone for their 2017 regular season loss in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

FSU at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Joan Niesen picks Notre Dame: The Irish haven’t necessarily lit the world on fire in recent weeks, and they won’t have to against one of college football’s worst offenses at home on Saturday. Florida State isn’t even averaging 25 points per game, and it’ll take far more than that to top Notre Dame with its offense humming the way it was at times against Northwestern.

Texas at Texas Tech (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Eric Single picks Texas Tech: At the risk of turning this into a Jett Duffey fan blog, the Red Raiders’ backup quarterback is one of the the most exciting players in the Big 12. With Alan Bowman working through a scary recurrence of his collapsed lung, Duffey will stress a Todd Orlando defense that has let Taylor Cornelius and Will Grier largely do whatever they want in Longhorns losses over the past two weeks. What did Texas do to deserve a night game to compound the difficulty of its trip to Lubbock?

Clemson at Boston College (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Laken Litman picks Clemson: Boston College head coach Steve Addazio said this week that Clemson might be the “best team I’ve seen in my career.” The Tigers have been steamrolling opponents, winning their last four games by an average score of 60–9. Dabo Swinney’s crew knows this road game is for a spot in the ACC championship and won’t take the Eagles lightly, which is how they fell victim to trap games the past two seasons. All Clemson has to do to make the College Football Playoff is keep winning, and it doesn’t seem like anyone in the ACC can slow it down.

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