With just three Saturdays remaining in the college football regular season, races for conference championships are coming into focus. A few participants in championship weekend in early December are already determined, but plenty of slots have yet to be filled.
The most important games on the Week 11 slate include four matchups of ranked opponents and three others that could produce surprises. Here they are, as usual listed in order of potential to entertain.
No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 18 Baylor (Noon ET, Fox)
Why watch: The Sooners got a week off to prepare for their challenging three-week finishing kick in the Big 12 in which they will face their three closest pursuers. It begins with this trip to Waco, where the Bears must regroup quickly from last week’s surprising setback against TCU. Newly installed QB Caleb Williams has provided a boost to the Sooners’ offense with 1,189 passing yards and 14 TDs since taking over, but the OU defense remains suspect. The Bears’ defense has also been inconsistent, so QB Gerry Bohanon will again be asked to do a lot.
Why it could disappoint: If Baylor’s RB tandem of Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner find room to operate from the outset, the Sooners will be in for another shootout. But if the OU defense is able to contain the Bears’ ground game and build a bit of a cushion, the game could get away from Baylor.
No. 11 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why watch: The Aggies still have work to do and will still need help to win the SEC West, but last week’s drubbing of Auburn was a huge step. Up next is this trip to Oxford, where Ole Miss poses a different challenge with its high-octane attack. This will come down to which team can establish its preferred tempo. The Rebels wouldn’t mind making it a track meet, but they might have no choice if the Aggies get on the board early. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral’s ability to find running room is perhaps an underappreciated part of his game, but Aggies’ LB Aaron Hansford might make him think twice about taking off. The A&M offense figures to get off to a better start this week as RBs Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane take advantage of the Rebels’ front that is allowing 4.3 yards per rushing attempt.
Why it could disappoint: Aggies QB Zach Calzada has the arm strength to stretch the field but not always the accuracy. If his deep balls are connecting, even the Rebels’ potent attack will have a hard time keeping up against the stronger A&M defense.
No. 19 N.C. State at No. 13 Wake Forest (7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
Why watch: It’s a first-place showdown in the ACC Atlantic, and it doesn’t involve Clemson. Yes, under a couple of scenarios the Tigers could still win the division, but the winner of this key clash in Winston-Salem will be in the driver’s seat. In four of the Demon Deacons’ last five games, they’ve surrendered at least 34 points. But they’ve scored at least 35 in every contest this season, so suffice to say a high-scoring affair is quite likely. Wake QB Sam Hartman accounted for seven TDs at North Carolina last week, though his two interceptions proved costly. The Wolfpack offense isn’t quite as prolific, but QB Devin Leary has 25 TDs with just three picks and should take advantage of the Deacons’ leaky secondary.
Why it could disappoint: There probably isn’t any such thing as a safe lead in this game. If one team starts to pull away, it will likely be due to turnovers. N.C. State’s ball security has been outstanding since its early setback at Mississippi State, and the Wolfpack have just seven total giveaways all year.
No. 8 Michigan at No. 23 Penn State (Noon ET, ABC)
Why watch: The Big Ten East race officially goes through Columbus with Ohio State now the lone team unscathed in conference play. The Wolverines are still in a good position to challenge the Buckeyes but must get over a couple more hurdles first. The Nittany Lions can only play spoiler at this point but would like to optimize their place in the league’s bowl pecking order. The Penn State defense has withstood a lot and must do so again with Michigan QB Cade McNamara showing a bit more pop in the passing game of late. Nittany Lions QB Sean Clifford is happy to have WR Jahan Dotson looming as a constant breakaway threat but is going to need other playmakers to step up as he tries to steer clear of Wolverines DE Aidan Hutchinson.
Why it could disappoint: Neither team surrenders points in bunches, so there could be long stretches of punt exchanges. It shouldn’t lack for intensity, though the daytime crowd could be less of a factor than it might be at night in Beaver Stadium.
Purdue at No. 5 Ohio State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Why watch: Before the Buckeyes deal with the Michigan schools in their bid to close out the rugged Big Ten East, they must first play host to Purdue, the proven giant killer from the West. The Boilermakers would need help to win their division thanks to earlier losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin but have already sprung two top-10 upsets. QB C.J. Stroud has kept the ball moving for the Buckeyes, but coach Ryan Day would like to see more drives end with touchdowns rather than field goals. There might again be opportunities for Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell and WR David Bell to exploit the OSU secondary that has not always been airtight.
Why it could disappoint: Of course, the best way for OSU to avoid red-zone issues is simply to run through it on the way to paydirt. WRs Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will try to do just that and build a big lead early.
No. 1 Georgia at Tennessee (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Why watch: With the SEC East already wrapped up, the Bulldogs close out their regular-season conference slate in Knoxville, where the Volunteers are coming off the most significant victory to date of the Josh Heupel era with last week’s triumph at Kentucky. Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker has accounted for 25 total TDs — 21 by air — with just two interceptions. He’ll have his hands full, however, facing DT Jordan Davis and the lights-out Georgia defensive unit that has surrendered 13 points or fewer in every outing this season.
Why it could disappoint: This might be the game when either QB Stetson Bennett or J.T. Daniels has to make something happen for the Bulldogs’ offense. But it’s more likely that the other side of the ball will continue to dominate, and the Bulldogs will have another drama-free second half.
Washington State at No. 6 Oregon (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why watch: The Ducks aren’t winning pretty, but they’re winning and might still have a path to the Playoff. They return home with a chance to clinch the North Division in this #Pac12AfterDark offering, but they face a Cougars squad that has been remarkably feisty amid all the turnover on the coaching staff. WSU will be rested coming off its impressive win at Arizona State two weeks ago, fueled by QB Jayden de Laura and five takeaways by the defense. The Ducks have lacked explosiveness in the passing game, but QB Anthony Brown and RB Travis Dye have at least been able to keep the chains moving thanks to a 50% third-down conversion rate.
Why it could disappoint: It’s been almost like a March Madness "survive and advance" mentality for the Ducks, and it’s served them well for the most part. That doesn’t always make for excitement, but they’d like to avoid any fourth-quarter angst just the same.
Follow Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ranking best college football games to watch for Week 11