What to watch: Week 11 college football viewing guide, picks against the spread

Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.

We’re really in the thick of things now.

The calendar has turned to November and arguments about the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings are predictably everywhere you look on social media.

Those rankings featured a few minor surprises. For one, Saturday’s highly anticipated Alabama vs. LSU game that some thought would be a No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama matchup is actually No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Alabama. That left that coveted No. 1 spot vacant for another undefeated team: 8-0 Ohio State.

And before the eyes of the nation turn to Tuscaloosa, there will be an excellent appetizer with two other undefeated teams, No. 4 Penn State and No. 17 Minnesota, squaring off at noon. In a surprise to some, the 8-0 Nittany Lions topped Clemson in the rankings while Minnesota — 8-0 but largely untested — was all the way down at No. 17 behind six two-loss teams. The Gophers will have the chance to climb significantly this weekend.

Those two games will rightly garner most of the attention, but there is always the potential for unexpected upsets in this sport. Let’s see what you’ve got in store, Week 11.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

(Note: All times ET, point spreads from FanDuel Sportsbook)

5. No. 12 Baylor at TCU

Time: Noon | TV: FS1 | Line: Baylor -2.5

Like Minnesota, Baylor did not get much praise from the committee in the first rankings. The unbeaten Bears came in at No. 12 on the heels of an uninspiring 17-14 win over West Virginia on Halloween. It was not an impressive showing. The Bears turned it over three times, including a muffed punt in their own territory in the final minutes. But WVU could not capitalize and Baylor improved to 8-0 and kept its status as the last unbeaten team in the Big 12. Now the Bears will head on the road to Fort Worth, a place they haven’t won since 2013. With No. 9 Oklahoma visiting Waco next week, the Bears can’t afford to overlook TCU.

TCU started the season 3-1 before losing back-to-back road games to Iowa State and Kansas State. From there, TCU had its most-impressive effort of the season in a 37-27 win over No. 15 Texas. But the momentum from that win did not carry over as the Horned Frogs dropped to 4-4 with a 34-27 loss to Oklahoma State last week. Gary Patterson’s group is 3-1 at home this season and should present a big challenge for Baylor, especially if freshman QB Max Duggan can suit up. Duggan was instrumental in TCU’s win over Texas, but hurt his finger late last week. Patterson was optimistic that Duggan would be able to gut it out. If he can’t go, TCU is in a rough spot with backup Mike Collins injured and Kansas State transfer Alex Delton no longer with the team.

Picks: Sam Cooper: Baylor -2.5, Nick Bromberg: Baylor -2.5

4. Iowa State at No. 9 Oklahoma

Time: 8 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Oklahoma -14.5

As Kansas State proved a few weeks ago, the middle of the Big 12 is crowded and ready to play spoiler. K-State upset then-undefeated Oklahoma in Manhattan, and now Iowa State has the chance to knock the Sooners out of the College Football Playoff picture altogether. The Cyclones had high expectations entering the season, but underwhelmed a bit with a 2-2 start. From there, ISU went on a three-game Big 12 winning streak before falling to Oklahoma State two weeks ago. The Cyclones have played OU very tough during Matt Campbell’s tenure, including a massive upset in Norman in 2017. What will the Cyclones have in store this year?

Oklahoma had two weeks to think about that 48-41 upset that was not as close (K-State led 48-23 in the fourth) as the final score indicated. OU was ranked No. 5 entering that weekend and found itself at No. 9 in the first CFP rankings on Tuesday night. Now the Sooners have a lot of work to do to return to the CFP for the third straight season. OU still has No. 12 Baylor and No. 23 Oklahoma State on the schedule, but its rebound starts against ISU. The Sooners have no margin for error the rest of the way with teams like Georgia, Oregon and Utah ahead of them in the rankings.

Picks: Sam: Iowa State +14.5, Nick: Oklahoma -14.5

3. No. 18 Iowa at No. 13 Wisconsin

Time: 4 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Wisconsin -9.5

Minnesota may be undefeated, but Iowa and Wisconsin still have a chance to win the Big Ten West. Both teams sit at 6-2 overall with a 3-2 mark in Big Ten play. Most importantly, Minnesota is still on both of their schedules — for Iowa next weekend in Iowa City and for Wisconsin on the final weekend of the season in Minneapolis.

Iowa opened the year 4-0 before falling to both Michigan and Penn State. Since then, the Hawkeyes have handled Purdue and Northwestern in back-to-back weeks and have looked like your standard Kirk Ferentz team in the process. Iowa’s offense isn’t going to overwhelm a defense with explosive plays, but it won’t allow many defensively. In fact, Iowa has allowed only 65 plays of 10-plus yards — the fewest of any FBS team.

Wisconsin’s defense isn’t far behind. The Badgers’ defense has given up only 75 such plays, but has fallen off from the historic pace it maintained into mid-October. En route to a 6-0 start, Wisconsin registered four shutouts. Since then, things have gone downhill. Wisconsin was shockingly upset 24-23 by Illinois on Oct. 19 and then was dominated 38-7 by Ohio State the following week. Let’s see if the Badgers can get back on track with a division title still attainable.

Picks: Sam: Iowa +9.5, Nick: Iowa +9.5

2. No. 4 Penn State at No. 17 Minnesota

Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: Penn State -6.5

Penn State’s trip to East Lansing two weeks ago felt like it could be tricky. The Nittany Lions were coming off back-to-back one-possession wins over Iowa and Michigan and had a trip to Michigan State separating it from a bye week. PSU was able to push aside its recent struggles vs. MSU and pull out an easy 28-7 win, setting up Saturday’s showdown with fellow unbeaten Minnesota.

The Gophers have not seen a defense like the one Penn State will bring to Minneapolis. Minnesota, bolstered by a massive offensive line and stable of running backs, has been running the ball all over Big Ten opponents, averaging 295 rushing yards per game in the month of October. PSU has a deep defensive line and swarming linebackers and boasts the second-best run defense in the country, allowing only 68.4 yards per game. The Gophers haven’t seen an offense like Penn State’s either. As Banner Society’s Bud Elliott noted, Minnesota has not faced a first-string quarterback for a full game since Week 2. That’s six straight games in which Minnesota either faced a backup or its opponent’s starting QB went down with an injury.

P.J. Fleck’s group is in for a massive step up in competition.

Picks: Sam: Penn State -6.5, Nick: Penn State -6.5

1. No. 2 LSU at No. 3 Alabama

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Alabama -6.5

There were high expectations for LSU this year, but still a fair amount of skepticism surrounding the new offense Ed Orgeron hyped all offseason. That skepticism was pushed aside by Week 2. That was when Joe Burrow and the Tigers put up 45 points and 573 yards of offense in a road win over Texas. And the fun hasn’t stopped since then. Burrow is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy and LSU is second in the country in passing offense. But none of that will mean much if the Tigers don’t make it to the College Football Playoff. They may not have to snap their eight-game losing streak to Alabama to reach the CFP, but the Tigers want this game and a coveted SEC crown, and they want it badly.

For Alabama, much of the talk leading up to this game has been about the gimpy ankle of star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa suffered a high-ankle sprain in Alabama’s win over Tennessee on Oct. 20, but has returned to the practice field and is expected to be ready to roll on Saturday. Whether he will be 100 percent healthy remains to be seen. The Crimson Tide beat Arkansas without Tagovailoa, but they’ll need him in this one. If Tagovailoa’s mobility is hampered by the ankle, will LSU be able to get pressure on him? If he has time to throw to his ridiculously talented receiving corps, we could be in for a shootout of epic proportions.

Picks: Sam: Alabama -6.5, Nick: LSU +6.5

Records ATS to date: Sam: 26-27, Nick: 24-29

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, shakes hands with LSU head coach Ed Orgeron after their NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. Alabama won 29-0. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Week 11’s best bets

Nick Bromberg (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 13-17)

UMass at Army (-34.5): I picked Army to cover a week ago at Air Force figuring that the game would be low-scoring. It was. Army is 3-6 and needs to win its last four games to get to a bowl game because it has two FCS opponents on the schedule. The Black Knights win, but like last week, the points involved in this game means the underdog covers. Pick: UMass +34.5

No. 19 Wake Forest at Virginia Tech (+2.5): The Demon Deacons need to keep winning for the pride of the ACC. Wake looks like the heavy favorite to make the Orange Bowl if Clemson makes the College Football Playoff. And it’ll look a lot better for the conference if Wake is 10-2 or 9-3 heading to Miami. I think Virginia Tech comes back to earth after a near-upset of Notre dame. Pick: Wake Forest -2.5

Washington State at Cal (+7.5): The Cal offense has struggled — to put it nicely — since Chase Garbers got injured. The Bears haven’t scored more than 17 points since a 28-20 win over Ole Miss in September. That offensive impotence means Washington State covers this easily on the road. Pick: Washington State -7.5

Sam Cooper (Last week: 3-0, Overall: 15-14-1)

Florida State at Boston College (-2): There are a lot of reasons I like BC in this game. It’s the Red Bandana game, and you know the crowd is going to be fired up. BC has been running the ball at a ridiculous rate in recent weeks. You think the Florida State players, after their coach was just fired, are going to want to tackle A.J. Dillon on a cold day in Chestnut Hill? On top of that, BC has road games against Notre Dame and Pitt to close out its season. This is the Eagles’ best chance to clinch bowl eligibility. Pick: BC -2

Purdue at Northwestern (-2.5): Northwestern should not be favored against anyone, even at home against a 3-6 team starting a third-string quarterback. That QB, by the way, is named Aidan O’Connell and he led Purdue on a game-winning touchdown drive to beat Nebraska last week. Pick: Purdue +2.5

Louisville at Miami (-6.5): Miami is coming off a big road win over rival Florida State and has a bye week around the corner. Louisville, meanwhile, is coming off a bye week and has won three of its last four games. The only loss? Clemson. I like the spot here for the Cardinals, who are 3-1 ATS as an underdog this season, including two outright wins. Pick: Louisville +6.5

For Week 11 picks from Dan Wetzel, Pete Thamel and Pat Forde, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports College Podcast.

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