Every Friday throughout the season we’ll highlight the five best games of the coming weekend. This year, we’ll pick those games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
We’ll just come right out and say it: Week 11 does not have the best selection of games.
We’re at the point in the season where there are no more than 10 teams with a legitimate chance to make the College Football Playoff. While four of those teams — No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 5 Georgia and No. 10 Ohio State — will square off against ranked opponents, most are significant favorites to win this weekend.
That presents some opportunities for teams like Florida State (at No. 3 Notre Dame without Ian Book), Oklahoma State (at No. 6 Oklahoma), Colorado (vs. No. 8 Washington State) and TCU (vs. No. 9 West Virginia) to play the role of spoiler and diminish the CFP field even further. There are also some important games (hello Pitt-Virginia Tech) as we enter the stretch run of divisional races across the country, but Week 11’s What to Watch is more focused on the games that can affect things from a national perspective.
(Games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, all times ET)
5. No. 23 Fresno State at Boise State
Time: 10:15 p.m. (Friday) | TV: ESPN2 | Line: Fresno State -2.5
The American Athletic Conference loves to clamor for inclusion in the so-called “Power Six” conferences, but the Mountain West has been every bit as good as the AAC this season. The MWC’s best team is No. 23 Fresno State, the only other Group of Five to join undefeated No. 12 UCF in the College Football Playoff rankings. Fresno is 8-1 overall and a perfect 5-0 in league play entering a critical trip to Boise State on Friday night. The Bulldogs, whose lone loss came on the road to Minnesota in Week 2 (thanks to a ridiculous INT by Antoine Winfield Jr.), have been trouncing teams all season, winning its games by an average of 32.5 points. If UCF slips up, Fresno could find a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
While Fresno leads the West Division, Boise State (7-2, 4-1) trails Utah State (8-1, 5-0) in the Mountain. We tabbed the Broncos as our Group of Five favorite (ahead of UCF) entering the season, and that prediction looked good when BSU combined for 118 points in its first two wins. However, the goal of playing in a New Year’s Six bowl died when Boise lost two of three after the 2-0 start. From there, however, Boise has won four straight with a visit from Utah State looming on Nov. 24. USU won’t be challenged until its trip to Boise, so the Broncos have no margin for error if they want to return to the conference title game.
Picks: Sam: Fresno -2.5, Nick: Fresno -2.5
4. No. 16 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Alabama -21.5
Alabama passed its first significant test of the season with flying colors. The top-ranked Tide went into Baton Rouge to face then-No. 3 LSU and came out with a 29-0 victory, wrapping up the SEC West in the process. The Tide completely dominated the Tigers, especially on defense, to improve to 9-0 on the year. Heisman favorite Tua Tagovailoa and the Bama offense have another tough defense to face this week with Mississippi State coming to Tuscaloosa.
Mississippi State, in its first year under Joe Moorhead, have been nowhere near as explosive offensively as some anticipated, but the defense has been as advertised. The Bulldogs allow just 12.3 points (No. 2 nationally) and 278.7 yards per game (No. 6) and have given up only four passing touchdowns all year long. MSU started the year 3-0 before dropping three of four. Since then, a struggling passing attack with Nick Fitzgerald has improved in wins over Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. Can the Bulldogs possibly pull off the upset?
Picks: Sam Cooper: Alabama -21.5, Nick Bromberg: Alabama -21.5
3. No. 24 Auburn at No. 5 Georgia
Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Georgia -14
It’s been an up-and-down year for Auburn, but it can play the role of spoiler against Georgia. The Tigers staged a late-game rally with two touchdowns in the final five minutes to beat Texas A&M at home last week. The win, which came despite a putrid 19 rushing yards on 21 carries, improved Auburn’s record to 6-3 on the year, a disappointing mark for a team with high expectations entering the year. Still, Auburn AD Allen Greene made it clear that Gus Malzahn will return next fall. Perhaps that proclamation provides a boost for the Tigers.
On the other side, Georgia clinched the SEC East title by taking care of Kentucky, 34-17, last week in Lexington. The impressive win set up a showdown with Alabama in the SEC Championship, but the Bulldogs, now No. 5 in the CFP rankings, cannot afford to look ahead. Georgia and Auburn split two matchups last year, with Auburn winning in the regular season and UGA taking the rematch in the SEC title game. Georgia, with a loss to LSU under its belt, has to win out to return to the playoff. That starts with Auburn and continues with UMass and Georgia Tech visiting Sanford Stadium to round out the season.
Picks: Sam: UGA -14, Nick: UGA -14
2. No. 10 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State
Time: Noon | TV: FOX | Line: Ohio State -4
Ohio State is an enigma. The preseason Big Ten favorites undoubtedly have one of the most talented rosters in the sport, but the Buckeyes have just looked ordinary for much of the season. Last week’s win over Nebraska by a measly five points was no exception. Still, at 8-1, the Buckeyes still have a chance to crack the College Football Playoff. But they will have to win out in order to win the Big Ten East, including defeating rival Michigan, now No. 4 in the country. Traveling to East Lansing for an early kick against a physical Michigan State team could also be a tough test.
Michigan State has won three of its last four, jumping back into the CFP rankings in the process. The defense has played especially well in recent weeks. The Spartans have the top rush defense in the country, allowing just 71.7 yards per game on the ground. Ohio State got its rushing game going against the Huskers, but have struggled in that department all year. OSU QB Dwayne Haskins is coming off his worst game of the year, so Michigan State could potentially pull off an upset if it gets consistent pressure on Haskins. MSU has lost its last six vs. OSU at Spartan Stadium, dating back to 1999.
Picks: Sam: OSU -4, Nick: OSU -4
1. No. 2 Clemson at No. 17 Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Clemson -20
A trip to Boston College is the toughest remaining regular season test for Clemson. The Tigers weren’t overly impressive early in the season but have kicked it into high gear in recent weeks. Clemson has won its last four games by an average of 51 points. That includes a 63-3 drubbing of Wake Forest and last week’s 77-16 demolition of Louisville. There was also a 41-7 win over NC State, a team now ranked No. 14, so the competition hasn’t been all bad. Still, it’s been awfully impressive to see Clemson operating at such a high level, especially with a true freshman QB in Trevor Lawrence. The primetime atmosphere Lawrence will encounter in Chestnut Hill will definitely be the toughest since he was splitting time with Kelly Bryant against Texas A&M in Week 2. With a win, Clemson would clinch the ACC Atlantic.
For Boston College (7-2, 4-1 ACC), it has taken quite a while to build to this point. BC is in its sixth season under Steve Addazio. Addazio has four 7-6 seasons and one 3-9 season under his belt, so this is far and away the best team he’s had. Leading the way is running back A.J. Dillon. The bruising sophomore burst onto the scene with 1,589 yards last year. Dillon has 897 yards this year, but has been hampered by an ankle injury. He missed two games but has been in the lineup the last two weeks, but clearly not operating at 100 percent. If the Eagles can pull off the upset, creating some College Football Playoff chaos in the process, they will need Dillon at his best.
Picks: Sam: BC +20, Nick: BC +20
Record ATS to date: Sam: 29-21, Nick: 19-31
Week 11’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 16-14)
TCU at West Virginia (-11.5): TCU’s secondary is depleted and West Virginia’s passing game is rolling. The Mountaineers should be able to throw the ball effectively on TCU, who is also starting backup quarterback Michael Collins. Less than two touchdowns in West Virginia’s favor seems like a good bet. Pick: West Virginia -11.5
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (-21): Bedlam’s always a big game and this line is way too big. Oklahoma should win the game but Oklahoma State should be up for this game like it was against Texas. The Cowboys are an infuriating team but Oklahoma shouldn’t win by more than three touchdowns. Pick: Oklahoma State +21
Florida State at Notre Dame (-16.5): Oh what this game could have been. If Florida State was decent then the hype for this game would be through the roof. Alas, this game is approaching with a whimper because of FSU’s struggles and Notre Dame’s quarterback situation. With Brandon Wimbush starting in place of Ian Book, I like the Seminoles plus the points. I’ll probably regret that. Pick: Florida State +16.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 14-16)
Maryland at Indiana (-2): At 5-4, this is Maryland’s best chance — by far — to get to a bowl game. The Terps have had some really rough performances on offense, but with the craziness of the D.J. Durkin now in the past, I like them to bounce back against an Indiana defense that allows close to 400 yards and 30 points per game. Pick: Maryland +2
BYU at UMass (+14): BYU was able to move the ball before ultimately losing a close one to Boise State last week. The Cougars have lost four of five and need to win two of three down the stretch to get back to a bowl. This is a cross-country trip, a noon start, and UMass’ offense can really put up points. I’ll take the Minutemen to cover at home. Pick: UMass (+14)
Temple at Houston (-4.5): Houston had a big letdown game last week, losing on the road to SMU to snap a five-game winning streak. Back at home, I think D’Eriq King and the Cougars will be more engaged and bounce back against Temple, especially with Ryquell Armstead, the Owls’ top running back, banged up. Pick: Houston -4.5
For Pat Forde and Pete Thamel’s Week 11 picks, check out Race for the Case: