College Football Week 11 Storyline Watch: One-loss teams make playoff push in 3 pivotal games

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The five unbeaten Power 5 teams – Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State and Washington – also have the top five rankings and the inside track on the College Football Playoff. It’s conceivable the last four-team CFP bracket will be the first with four perfect records.

But the national championship field has featured at least one one-loss team annually since its 2014 inception (and a least two one-loss teams the past three seasons), so a defeat isn’t a death knell for winning the title.

Three of the biggest matchups in Week 11 will involve one-loss teams whose national championship aspirations will depend on running the table and getting some help – and that could be of their own making in two cases Saturday afternoon.

No. 10 Penn State’s hopes of making the Big Ten championship game and earning its first CFP berth will hinge on a home game against No. 2 Michigan.

A victory by the Wolverines (amid incessant media scrutiny into whether the program will face sanctions for an ongoing investigation into alleged sign-stealing) would eliminate the Nittany Lions from B1G title game contention.

Penn State, which lost a 20-12 defensive struggle to Ohio State last month, will be coming off a 51-15 thrashing of Maryland that improved its top-ranked national turnover margin (20 takeaways vs. four giveaways), and star defensive end Chop Robinson (out since the loss to the Buckeyes) could return after practicing this week. While the Nittany Lions (5-1 Big Ten, 8-1) will be seeking their first win over a top-five opponent in seven years, the Wolverines (6-0, 9-0) will be facing their first ranked opponent of the season.

“Penn State definitely is good enough to beat Michigan if they play their best game of the season,” NBC Sports analyst Todd Blackledge said on the B1G Talk podcast with Noah Eagle. “Their defense is talented enough to give problems to (Michigan quarterback) J.J. McCarthy. They’re playing at home, which is a big advantage. It’ll be lively crowd and a challenge for Michigan.”

The other matchup between top 10 teams will pit No. 10 Mississippi (5-1 Southeastern Conference, 8-1) against No. 1 Georgia (6-0, 9-0) in Athens with an SEC East title (and spot in the conference championship game) at stake for the Bulldogs.

The Rebels, who enter with the momentum of beating Texas A&M in a 38-35 comeback thriller, will shore up their reputation if they can snap the Bulldogs’ 26-game winning streak with a road upset.

But the path still would be complicated to an SEC West title and conference championship game (and potential CFP berth) for Mississippi, which still would need to defeat Mississippi State and count on two conference losses by No. 7 Alabama (6-0, 8-1).

With an impressive 42-28 win over No. 18 LSU last week, the Crimson Tide continued their season-long rehabilitation from their opening home loss to Texas.

Alabama, which finishes the season against Chattanooga and Auburn, can clinch the SEC West and championship game spot by beating unranked Kentucky (3-3, 6-3) on the road Saturday (the Wildcats most recently beat the Tide in 1997).

Another SEC title would position Alabama for its eighth CFP appearance under coach Nick Saban – and its fifth despite sustaining a regular-season loss.

And if the Tide were to beat an unbeaten Bulldogs team for the conference championship, there would be a distinct possibility of Alabama and Georgia qualifying for the national championship bracket as one-loss teams for the second time in three years. The same scenario unfolded in 2021 when Georgia avenged an SEC title loss by beating Alabama in the national title game.

Other storylines for Week 11:

The Michigan maelstrom

Amid Michigan’s mostly smooth and unchallenged march to an unblemished record, the chaos seemingly continues daily in Ann Arbor.

Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday night that Michigan delivered a 10-page response to the Big Ten and commissioner Tony Petitti, who has weighed penalizing coach Jim Harbaugh (who already sat out the season’s first three games in a self-imposed punishment) for the investigation into an alleged sign stealing by since departed staffer Connor Stalions (who reportedly had an elaborate scheme for scouting future opponents). Yahoo! Sports reported that Michigan’s letter to Petitti included evidence of Michigan’s signs being stolen by conference rivals.

The Associated Press described the Michigan letter as “blistering” in warning Petitti to avoid overstepping his bounds by punishing Harbaugh, which the school said was outside the commissioner's authority.

Yahoo! Sports reporter Dan Wetzel said during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show that a multigame suspension for Harbaugh “is on the table,” possibly through the rest of the regular season.

Big Ten ban of Harbaugh would be unprecedented

Dan Wetzel joins The Dan Patrick Show to discuss what's on the table amid negotiations between the Big Ten and Michigan, including a potential suspension for Jim Harbaugh, who Wetzel says is in a "precarious spot."

“It’s a precarious spot right now for Harbaugh considering what the Big Ten is sending out there as possible punishments,” Wetzel said. “ There’s absolutely a negotiation going on. We’ll see how dug in everybody is. We’ve never seen this: A commissioner suspending a head coach of a winning team in the middle of a season. I’ve been covering college athletics a couple of decades and never seen anything like this.

“What Stalions did was an attempt to violate the rules. If the NCAA investigation (found) proof that Harbaugh knew or his coordinators knew, then Harbaugh should be fired immediately by Michigan, but that hasn’t’ materialized. To make this big of an aggressive move when there’s an investigation ongoing without knowledge, this is an unprecedented move and unprecedented negotiation. No one really knows what the Big Ten will do. It’s quite a move to make a decision on Harbaugh in the middle of the investigation.”

A decision by the Big Ten could come Friday.

The (still) wild B1G West

Unexpected losses by Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin again left a muddled race to the wide-open Big Ten West title.

How to watch Minnesota at Purdue: Time, live stream, key storylines for Week 11

With a last-minute field goal to beat Northwestern 10-7, Iowa (and its infamously lackluster offense) is back in control of its destiny. The Hawkeyes (who made the B1G championship game in 2015 and ‘21) will earn a Dec. by beating unranked Rutgers, Illinois and Nebraska.

Minnesota’s hopes of its first B1G championship appearance took a hit in a last-minute 27-26 loss to Illinois. The Gophers (3-3 Big Ten, 5-4), who are playing at Purdue (1-5, 2-7) in Week 11 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock), still can make it to the title game, but Minnesota will need to beat Ohio State next week and also need an Iowa loss.

If the Hawkeyes (4-2, 7-2) fall short, the most likely candidate for the West title seems Nebraska (3-3, 5-4), which will close the season No. 24 again Iowa – a win plus any Minnesota loss will put the Cornhuskers in their first B1G championship since 2012

How to watch Maryland at Nebraska: Time, live stream, key storylines for Week 11

In his first year (after being fired by the Carolina Panthers), coach Matt Rhule can ensure bowl eligibility for Nebraska (which can end six consecutive losing seasons) by beating Maryland (2-4, 5-5) at home Saturday (noon ET, streamed exclusively on Peacock).

After a 5-0 start, the Terrapins (2-4, 5-4) are reeling from four consecutive losses but also trying to qualify for a bowl in the third consecutive season.

The final long-shot contender in the Big Ten West is Wisconsin, which needs to win out against Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota while also counting on two losses by Iowa.

More on the bowl stakes for Maryland and Nebraska

Harrison and the Heisman

A long-shot bid for the Heisman Trophy took a hit for Marvin Harrison, who had two touchdowns but only 25 receiving yards in a 35-16 victory over Rutgers. The second-generation star wide receiver still has five consecutive games with a TD and moved into a tie with Cris Carter for fourth on Ohio State’s career receiving TD list (eight shy of the 2018-21 record set by Chris Olave.

But with the return of running back TreVeyon Henderson (415 total yards in his past two games), Harrison has been overshadowed on his own team for college football’s top award despite the gaudy numbers (52 catches, 914 yards, 10 TDs).

Why Harrison Jr. is a 'dark horse' to win Heisman

Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge preview the Michigan State-Ohio State matchup and discuss how star WR Marvin Harrison Jr. can continue to improve his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy.

“He’s definitely one of the best players in college football,” said Blackledge, a Heisman voter. “It’s difficult for a wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy. He still is a great player. The thing about is he doesn’t return kicks or do anything extra that sets him apart other than he’s a phenomenal wide receiver.

"He definitely is in the conversation and should definitely be in New York (as a top five Heisman voting finalist) but a wide receiver always will be a dark horse to win. Because what used to be a running back award has morphed into a quarterback award.”

How to watch Michigan State at Ohio State: Time, live stream, key storylines for Week 11

Making the case tougher has been the absence of fellow wideout Emeka Egbuka and tight end Cade Stover (allowing defenses to key on Harrison) and the play of Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord, who has three interceptions in his past two games after none in his first six.

Trojans getting defensive

A game once with major Pac-12 implications has become merely a late-season tune-up for No. 6 Oregon (5-1, 8-1) as the Ducks play host to unranked USC (5-2, 7-3).

The Trojans fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch after a 52-42 defeat to Washington that marked USC’s third loss in four games and its sixth consecutive game of yielding more than 30 points. Grinch had worked under Lincoln Riley since 2019, following the head coach from Oklahoma to USC.

With USC joining the more defense-minded Big Ten next year, Blackledge believes it’s a critical hire.

Inside the firing of Grinch post USC's big loss

Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge recap USC's loss to Washington in Week 10 and what it says about the Trojans defense. The two also break down the firing of DC Alex Grinch and who Lincoln Riley may hire to replace him.

“Being defensive coordinator for Lincoln Riley and the way they play offense is not an easy job,” Blackledge said. “(USC is an) ‘Air Raid’ team in the shotgun all the time with a finesse running game. You don’t get to practice certain ways against the things you see from other teams. In the Big Ten, (the Trojans) will see people who will line up with two tight ends and pound the football. (With) that kind of offense that USC has, you can’t get a scout team necessarily to get the look and feel of that kind of power football.”

Will be interesting who Lincoln Riley brings in next. Jim Leonard, former Wisconsin DC not coaching but on Illinois staff. If he’s itching to get back, could be an interesting arrangement.

More key games

--A matchup of ranked SEC teams with identical records, No. 13 Tennessee (3-2, 7-2) will travel to No. 17 Missouri (3-2, 7-2), which narrowly lost to top-ranked Georgia 30-21 last week.

--In the 68th meeting of a Sunshine State rivalry, No. 4 Florida State (7-0 ACC, 9-0) will put its unbeaten mark on the line at home against Miami (2-3, 6-2), whose last win over a top 10 opponent was over six years ago.

--No. 5 Washington (6-0, 9-0) can clinch a spot in the Pac-12 conference championship (and a likely rematch with Oregon) by beating No. 13 Utah (4-2, 7-2) on the road.

How to watch Big Ten football on NBC and Peacock this weekend

This Saturday’s featured Big Ten games are Maryland at Nebraska (noon ET, streamed exclusively on Peacock), Minnesota at Purdue (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock) and Michigan State at Ohio State (7:30 p.m.ET, NBC and Peacock).

Information for how to sign up for Peacock is available here. Peacock is available for streaming on several devices (view the full list of supported devices here). NBC Sports recently announced its schedules for Big Ten men’s basketball and women’s basketball on Peacock.

Below is the announced remaining schedule for Big Ten teams and Notre Dame on NBC Sports; more NBC Sports games will be announced during the season (all times are ET):

Sat., Nov. 11


Maryland at Nebraska


Sat., Nov. 11

3:30 p.m.

Minnesota at Purdue

NBC, Peacock

Sat, Nov. 11

7:30 p.m.

Michigan State at Ohio State

NBC, Peacock

Sat., Nov. 18

3:30 p.m.

Wake Forest at Notre Dame

NBC, Peacock

Sat., Nov. 18

7:30 p.m.

Nebraska at Wisconsin

NBC, Peacock

Friday, Nov. 24

7:30 p.m.

Penn State at Michigan State (Ford Field)

NBC, Peacock

The remaining NBC Sports’ Big Ten Football games will be announced during the season.