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College Football Week 11 Preview: Picks, predictions, players to watch and more

Oct 10, 2020; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback D'Eriq King(1) runs through warmup drills before a game against the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has had its way with the Week 11 college football slate, causing cancellations to the AlabamaLSU game, the Big Ten clash between Ohio State and Maryland, and a whole host of other exciting college football matchups. However, we still have a handful of great contests on the slate, including a couple of transfer revenge games, with Feleipe Franks taking on Florida, and Phil Jurkovec facing off against Notre Dame. We also finally get to see Wisconsin freshman Graham Mertz make his second career start following a multiple-week hiatus due to Covid-19.

With the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics — which are now available to PFF's CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers — we can give you everything you need to know ahead of this week's top college football matchups. Please note that any picks and predictions made here are not reflective of PFF Greenline or our expert betting analysts. For this week's college football betting advice, click here!

EAST CAROLINA @ NO. 7 CINCINNATI

Friday, Nov. 13 — 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The big thing to watch here is whether we see the Bearcats’ offense continue to improve. We know that their defense is one of the best in the country, but if they are going to win out and have a shot at a CFP berth, they need their offense to step up.

They have certainly not disappointed in recent weeks, as the Cincinnati offense ranks 13th in the FBS in expected points added (EPA) per play over their last three games. This is largely thanks to the rushing attack, given that they have racked up 25 explosive running plays and recorded 0.317 EPA per rush since Week 8, tied for fourth and third, respectively, among teams in that span. Cincy has also busted off six rushing touchdowns of 20 or more yards, two more than any other FBS offense over the last three weeks.

While the Bearcats leaned on the running game during their 42-13 demolition of SMU in Week 8, it was Desmond Ridder’s downfield passing that took center stage during Cincy's 49-10 rout against Memphis in Week 9. Ridder's game against the Tigers was quite easily his best game of the year through the air; he completed seven 10-plus-yard passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were season highs.

Cincinnati is quite easily a playoff team if the ground game stays on track and Ridder continues to make plays with his arm, but the latter isn’t something I would bank on.

Treash’s prediction: Cincy, but I need to keep seeing strong offensive performances.

Seth’s prediction: Cincy. It's a tune-up game for UCF next week.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


No. 9 MIAMI (FL.) @ VIRGINIA TECH

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King put the team on his back last week, single-handedly leading Miami to a 44-41 victory over NC State and earning the best single-game passing grade of his entire college football career.

King put up a 94.1 passing grade that featured six deep completions (completions on passes thrown 20 or more yards in the air downfield) that resulted in 176 passing yards and three touchdowns. He also did his fair share of damage on the ground, with four explosive runs of 10 or more yards and four broken tackles across 16 designed runs. After that performance, King will enter this Week 11 bout with a 91.6 PFF overall grade that ranks fifth among qualifying FBS signal-callers.

King will try and keep that caliber of play rolling against a Virginia Tech defense that has struggled for most of the year. Granted, Covid-19 hit the Hokies hard early in the year, but they've not seen any drastic improvement as the weeks have gone on. Virginia Tech ranks third-to-last in the ACC in EPA allowed per play, and the team is currently dead last in the conference in run-defense grade.

The good news for Hokies fans is that the offense has vastly improved since Hendon Hooker's Week 6 return, as they rank second in the ACC in EPA per play generated over that span. In fact, Hooker and running back Khalil Herbert have combined to form the best ground game in college football, which ranks first in EPA per rush among all FBS teams that have played in at least two games.

Treash’s prediction: I love both quarterbacks here, but I’m going with Miami because I have more faith in D’Eriq King than Hendon Hooker. This is going to be a shootout, and I cannot wait.

Seth’s prediction: Miami. VT is still a very intriguing team with a good QB and RB, but I'm still going with Miami.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Nov 7, 2020; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) hands the ball off to Indiana Hoosiers running back Stevie Scott III (8) during the second half of the game at Memorial Stadium. The Indiana Hoosiers defeated the Michigan Wolverines 38 to 21. Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 INDIANA @ MICHIGAN STATE

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC

For the first time in over 50 years, we will watch an Indiana football team that is ranked in the top 10 in the AP poll.

At the start of the year, quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s accuracy was not as finely tuned as it was in 2019, but he has turned things around in dramatic fashion over the last few weeks. Ever since the final moments of that Penn State game, Penix has been accurate and has delivered numerous dimes downfield with his rocket of an arm. His 13 big-time throws over the last three weeks are tied for the most in the FBS, and that’s helped him earn the 11th-best grade in the country on passes thrown over 10 yards downfield.

Penix and the Hoosiers’ passing offense will present a difficult test for a Spartans coverage unit that has faced a pretty weak set of quarterbacks to start (Noah Vedral, Joe Milton and Spencer Petras), but the real question will be, which version Rocky Lombardi will we see on Saturday?

Lombardi has never been — and likely never will be — an accurate quarterback, but he did a terrific job of protecting the football while connecting on some downfield shots back in Week 9 in Michigan State’s upset win over Michigan.

Sure, we still saw a few inaccurate throws, but the aggressive playstyle paid off. He had a 15.5 average depth of target for the game and hit five deep passes of 20-plus yards for 204 yards and a score. To no surprise, the Spartans left the game having generated 0.79 EPA per pass, the fifth-best figure among FBS offenses in Week 9.

Lombardi then followed up that performance with last week's clunker, tossing up four turnover-worthy plays and leading an offense that generated -0.41 EPA per pass play, the sixth-worst figure among Power 5 offenses last week. Unfortunately, that Lombardi-led offense of Week 10 is more of a norm than the one he orchestrated against Michigan.

Treash’s prediction: Indiana by a few touchdowns. I cannot see this Michigan State team replicating that upset win over Michigan — I’m expecting the Rocky Lombardi we saw in Week 10 here again in Week 11.

Seth’s prediction: Indiana. Penix is playing really smart football right now.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


No. 15 COASTAL CAROLINA @ TROY

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars have unquestioningly been the biggest surprise of the 2020 college football season, but the 7-0 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers aren't that far behind.

Coastal Carolina has fielded what is quite easily the second-best non-Power 5 offense we have seen this season (behind BYU) — they have generated an astounding 0.48 EPA per pass play, the fifth-best mark in the entire FBS. The spread-option offense has been unique, and the players have executed it to perfection.

Quarterback Grayson McCall is the fifth-highest-graded passer in college football at 92.1, while wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh rings in with the fourth-highest grade among the nation's wideouts. Still, they'll have their work cut out this week against the Troy Trojans, who have fielded the fifth-highest-graded coverage unit in the FBS this season. The Trojans' pass coverage has recorded just one sub-70.0 team coverage grade this year — it came against BYU in Week 4 (45.6).

Treash’s prediction: Seth turned me into a Coastal Carolina believer, so I’m rolling with them here. This may seem like a trash game to the common fan, but trust me, you’re going to want to watch this one.

Seth’s prediction: CCU. My favorite offense in football continues to roll.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


MIDDLE TENNESSEE @ NO. 16 MARSHALL

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 12:00 p.m. ET, CBSSN

Led by quarterback Grant Wells, the Thundering Herd have produced the most efficient passing attack in the C-USA by a large margin. Marshall has plowed right through every low-level defense they have faced, and they’ll get another one this week against Middle Tennessee, as the Blue Raiders rank second-to-last in the conference in team coverage grade.

The last time we saw Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara came in Week 8 when he lit up Rice — the lowest-graded coverage unit in the C-USA — and left the game with a 90.6 passing grade. This time around, he gets the highest-graded coverage unit in the C-USA to work against.

Treash’s prediction: Marshall.

Seth’s prediction: Marshall. The Herd pair a tremendous O-line with an accurate QB — what's not to like?

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Oct 17, 2020; Syracuse, NY, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) scores on a touchdown run in the first half during a game against Syracuse on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Nett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

WESTERN CAROLINA @ NO. 22 LIBERTY

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3

Liberty has knocked off two Power 5 programs — Syracuse and Virginia Tech — in two of the last three games and now sit with a 7-0 record entering Week 11.

Auburn transfer quarterback Malik Willis has to do a better job at protecting the ball both in a collapsing pocket and as a runner, but he has still led the FBS's 19th-most efficient offense. Whether it be by design or on a scramble, Willis has tallied at least three explosive runs of 10 or more yards in every single one of his starts this season. Nearly 33% of his total carries have resulted in a gain of 10 or more yards, the highest rate in the FBS by three percentage points.

Treash’s prediction: Liberty.

Seth’s prediction: Liberty. This is a cupcake game.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


SOUTH ALABAMA @ NO. 25 LOUISIANA

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN+

South Alabama quarterback Desmond Trotter has directed the third-most efficient passing offense in the conference so far — behind only Coastal Carolina and App State — despite having to deal with the second-lowest-graded offensive line in the FBS.

Trotter struggled somewhat against the Chanticleers last week, recording a 62.8 PFF grade behind one big-time throw and two turnover-worthy plays, and he will face a coverage unit that is just as tough this Saturday. Louisiana ranks 21st in EPA allowed per pass; they've also been among the best in the FBS in defending downfield, allowing the third-lowest catch rate in the country (31.6%) on passes thrown 10 or more yards in the air downfield. The Ragin' Cajuns have racked up eight interceptions on those downfield throws, which also ranks third in the FBS.

Treash’s prediction: Louisiana.

Seth’s prediction: Louisiana. This could be close, but I'll still go with the Cajuns.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 2 NOTRE DAME @ BOSTON COLLEGE

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Revenge game!

Phil Jurkovec decided to transfer to Boston College ahead of the 2020 season after playing second fiddle to Ian Book in 2019. He’s been an absolute rollercoaster as the Eagles’ starter this season — his 17 big-time throws through Week 8 led all signal-callers in the ACC, but at the same time, he also let go of 13 turnover-worthy plays, third-most in the conference.

The Pennsylvania native earned a 74.4 passing grade over his first six games, a mark that was on pace to set a PFF College-era record for a Boston College quarterback. That caliber of play has since tumbled, though; he's graded below 50.0 in each of the last two games, taking BC’s passing efficiency rank from fifth to 10th in the ACC.

On the opposite end of that QB spectrum sits Notre Dame starter Ian Book, who was seemingly afraid to throw it deep up until his Week 10 game against Clemson. Consequently, the fourth-year signal-caller had recorded the ACC's lowest average depth of target (aDot) along with the fewest big-time throws through Week 9.

Book failed to produce a 73.0 passing grade in each of his first six starts and seemed destined for failure against Clemson. Then a flip switched. Book threw the ball 14.1 yards downfield on average — his highest aDot of the season by over 3 yards — and he completed seven 10-plus-yard passes, two more than he had in any other game of the season. He picked up the best passing grade of his collegiate career at 90.7 and, of course, led the Irish to victory.

If we see that Ian Book every week, you can guarantee the Irish are a playoff team, but that is a very lofty expectation, given his past play.

Treash’s prediction: I kind of want to go against the grain here and pick Boston College, but Jurkovec’s recent performances have been concerning. Notre Dame.

Seth’s prediction: Notre Dame. There's a universe out there where ND falls flat and loses, but I don't think it's this one.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 20 USC @ ARIZONA

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Be sure to tune into this one if you’re a fan of watching accurate quarterbacks, as USC’s Kedon Slovis and Arizona’s Grant Gunnell are two of the best in the game in that category.

Slovis made his 2020 debut last week against Arizona State, and it was pretty underwhelming to start. He did have the fourth-highest adjusted completion percentage of the week at 87.5%, but he squeaked out three turnover-worthy plays on top of that.

The USC playcalling was conservative, giving him a 7.5-yard aDot, the second-lowest aDot of his career. But when you consider that Slovis was the fourth-highest-graded passer on throws of 10 or more yards as a true freshman last year, airing it out seems like the way to go. Slovis attempted only six passes over 10 yards downfield in the second half of their comeback win over the Sun Devils, and he completed all six for 133 yards and two scores, one of which was our play of the week.

Gunnell appeared in eight games as a true freshman last year and posted a passing grade north of 70.0 in every single one. He didn’t have enough throws to qualify for a rank, but he threw an accurate pass on 66% of his passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage, a rate that would have trailed only Joe Burrow and Slovis.

The bad news for Gunnell is that his supporting cast is a tick below USC at just about everywhere, especially wide receiver.

Jamarye Joiner will really need to step up in this one. Joiner switched from quarterback to wide receiver before last season and finished the year as the conference’s fourth-highest-graded slot receiver. Considering the positional move and the fact he was playing with an injured foot, that’s pretty impressive.

Treash’s prediction: USC. I had far higher hopes for them in their debut last week, but I think they now know they need Slovis to sling it downfield to have a shot at an undefeated year.

Seth’s prediction: ‘Zona. USC did not look good in the ASU win, and now they play an even better QB in Arizona.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Oct 31, 2020; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) throws a pass during a game against the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Credit: Brad McClenny-USA TODAY NETWORK

ARKANSAS @ NO. 6 FLORIDA

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

Revenge game No. 2!

Quarterback Kyle Trask was handed the reins to the Florida offense in Week 3 of the 2019 season when Feleipe Franks —then the team's starter — went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. The rest, as they say, is history. Trask finished the season ranked among the nation's top-20 quarterbacks in passer rating from a clean pocket (118.4, 19th) and adjusted completion percentage (75.4%, 17th) and ultimately did enough to keep the job for 2020.

Franks chose to transfer to Arkansas this past offseason and has since been the Razorbacks' starter. And while we have yet to see that elite-caliber game from him at Arkansas, Franks has consistently been reliable, earning a 76.8 passing grade through six starts. His passing grade shoots up to 90.6 when you look at throws from a clean pocket, the second-best grade in the SEC behind only Alabama's Mac Jones.

As of now, the front-runner for the 2020 Coach of the Year is none other than Dan Mullen, and it isn’t particularly close. Mullen and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson have transformed this Florida offense into a juggernaut. They are creating open throws, giving their receivers room to make plays after the catch and finding ways to provide Trask with easy reads. In turn, Trask is doing what he needs to do by delivering catchable ball after catchable ball — his 19% uncatchable-pass rate on throws beyond the line of scrimmage currently ranks 15th in the FBS.

Treash’s prediction: I think we may see a close one here. And, no, Florida fans, it’s not because I’m a hater. Gators end up with the W, but by single digits.

Seth’s prediction: Florida. Dan Mullen has this offense firing on all cylinders.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


No. 11 OREGON @ WASHINGTON STATE

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 7:00 p.m. ET, FOX

Both of these quarterbacks are fresh off their starting debuts. One signal-caller far exceeded expectations; the other was a bit of a mixed bag.

Unfortunately for Oregon fans, Tyler Shough was the latter. He stumbled to a 46.2 passing grade against Stanford and made several bad decisions. And while he did uncork a 40-plus-yard seed to Micah Pittman, he negated that with two horrible turnover-worthy throws — one of which was intercepted; the other was a dropped pick.

On a more positive note for the Ducks, they did see a great season debut from cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who didn’t allow a single catch across three targets in coverage. The key now for Lenoir is sustaining that throughout the season and not falling off, as he did in 2019.

The most impressive performance out of the Pac-12 last week perhaps came from Washington State true freshman Jayden de Laura, as he earned the highest passing grade in the conference at 89.2. He did attempt a desperation heave into double coverage — a throw one would expect from someone with his experience — but he made up for it with four big-time throws.

Treash’s prediction: Washington State — de Laura train.

Seth’s prediction: Oregon — Shough train.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


No. 19 SMU @ TULSA

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This one has big AAC title game implications, as Tulsa joins Cincinnati as the only “unbeatens” in conference play.

Tulsa has had three games postponed due to Covid-19 protocol, but the defense has impressed so far. They tamed UCF’s potent deep passing attack back in their Week 5 upset win, allowing only two of Dillon Gabriel’s nine deep shots to be caught. The Golden Knights were able to come away with just 26 points that game, and that still stands as the only time this year they scored fewer than 40. This week, the Golden Hurricane get another formidable deep passing attack to keep quiet as they face off against Shane Buechele and the SMU Mustangs.

Buechele is currently tied for fourth in the FBS in deep big-time throws (14) and has led the 11th-most-efficient passing offense among qualifying FBS programs this year. But if you remove their poor Week 8 outing against the daunting Cincinnati defense, they jump up to fourth.

As good as Tulsa’s defense looked against UCF, it’s certainly not on the level of Cincinnati’s, and the unit did struggle in their game against East Carolina a couple of weeks ago when they allowed the 13th-worst successful pass play rate of the week.

Treash’s prediction: I will leave all college betting advice to PFF’s Ben Brown and Eric Eager, but I truly do not understand how Tulsa is favored here. SMU.

Seth’s prediction: SMU. The crazy thing is that Tulsa is still unbeaten in the American, but I think that ends this week.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz looks and completes one of his 20 completed passes Friday night. Mertz only threw one incompletion and threw four of his five touchdowns in the first half in Wisconsin's opening victory over Illinois. Credit: Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

No. 13 WISCONSIN @ MICHIGAN

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Finally, after three weeks of waiting, we get to see Graham Mertz make his second career start. We can see if he will sustain the ridiculous level of play he displayed against Illinois.

The redshirt freshman played flawlessly in Wisconsin’s season opener back in Week 8. He threw a catchable ball on every single one of his 21 pass attempts, with three of those passes earning the big-time throw designation. He left his first college game having earned an incredible 93.9 PFF passing grade.

Mertz displayed real-deal arm talent and will get his opportunity to show that off against a struggling Michigan secondary this week. Their outside corners have been getting fried this season — they rank third-to-last in the Big Ten in coverage grade this year and have given up three more explosive plays of 15-plus yards than any other team (13).

Treash’s prediction: Wisconsin. Graham Mertz > Joe Milton.

Seth’s prediction: Wisconsin. Michigan is really bad right now.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


No. 23 NORTHWESTERN @ PURDUE

Saturday, Nov. 14 — 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Well, I think we can all agree that no one expected Northwestern to be a ranked team this season, but as we all know, anything can happen in 2020.

Northwestern’s lack of receiving threat was a big concern entering the season, and that looks to be true so far, but Indiana transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey has found a way to lead this passing offense to success. They have the second-most-efficient passing attack in the conference and have been dangerous when Ramsey has been kept free from pressure. Ramsey has thrown an uncatchable ball on just 8% of his attempts from a clean pocket — the second-best rate in the Big Ten — while putting up the third-best passing grade in the conference behind only Fields and Penix.

We are yet to see Rondale Moore take the field this season, and it’s unknown when he will make his 2020 debut. Either way, they’ll still have one of the top wide receivers in the country on the field with David Bell. The true sophomore ranks third in the Big Ten in receiving grade this year, behind only Rashod Bateman and Garrett Wilson.

That said, Bell and quarterback Aidan O’Connell will have a tough test here against a Northwestern coverage unit that has certainly surprised this season. The Wildcats have actually earned the conference’s highest team coverage grade. As a team, they have faced a total of 41 10-plus-yard throws; they have forced tight coverage on 19 of them, allowing just one touchdown catch and coming down with five interceptions.

Treash’s prediction: Northwestern … if the Boilermakers don’t have Rondale Moore out there.

Seth’s prediction: NW just because I like Peyton Ramsey, but I can see this going either way.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

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