College Football Week 11 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the five biggest games

2MAK5JM Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) signals during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

• No. 9 Ole Miss-No. 2 Georgia: The back-to-back champions try to keep their undefeated season alive against the highest-ranked team they’ve played all season.

• No. 3 Michigan-No. 10 Penn State: The Wolverines have their first true test of the season on the road against the Nittany Lions.

• No. 18 Utah-No. 5 Washington: The Huskies’ electric offense faces a stout Utes defense.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

The end of the college football season is quickly approaching. With just three weeks left in the regular season, it’s do-or-die time for the College Football Playoff contenders to state their cases to the committee. 

There are a few games this weekend with massive playoff implications, including two between top-10 teams. Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for the six biggest games of Week 11.


Storyline to know: Michigan’s first true test

The Wolverines have looked like the most complete team in college football this season. Michigan is first among FBS schools in team defense grade (95.1) and tied for first in team offense grade (93.2) with Washington. No other school ranks top 10 in both. The Wolverines have won every game this season by at least 24 points but still haven’t played a top-25 team in PFF’s power rankings.

Michigan’s nine opponents this season
Opponent Scoring Margin Current Record Current PFF Ranking
East Carolina 27 1-8 123rd
UNLV 28 7-2 63rd
Bowling Green 25 5-4 89th
Rutgers 24 6-3 51st
Nebraska 38 5-4 58th
Minnesota 42 5-4 28th
Indiana 45 3-6 100th
Michigan State 49 3-6 T-76th
Purdue 28 2-7 T-74th

That all changes this weekend as Michigan travels to Penn State, the eighth-best team in our power rankings.

Matchup to watch: Just how real are J.J. McCarthy’s Heisman chances?

McCarthy is currently tied for third in Heisman odds at (+850) according to DraftKings Sportsbook. When looking at his advanced metrics, it’s hard to argue with that placement. The junior’s 91.4 passing grade this season paces all signal-callers in the country. 

As mentioned earlier though, it’s come against weak competition. With Michigan building massive leads in every game, McCarthy has only 10 dropbacks in the fourth quarter this season. That’s tied for 238th among all quarterbacks in the country. Reminder, there are 133 FBS schools. His true colors will be shown this weekend as Penn State’s defense is second in the nation in EPA per pass, only trailing Michigan.

Prediction: Michigan 27, Penn State 21

Michigan survives but for the first time this season, it won’t be by at least three scores. 


Storyline to know: Can Utah play the role of spoiler once again?

The sole reason USC didn’t make the College Football Playoff last year was Utah, as the Utes handed the Trojans their only two losses before the bowl game, first in the regular season and again in the Pac-12 championship game.

Utah can once again take down the Pac-12’s top playoff contender this year in Washington, who currently sports an undefeated record. 

Matchup to watch: Washington’s passing attack vs. Utah’s defense

Washington’s passing game has been one of the deadliest in college football this season. It starts with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who is currently the Heisman favorite at (+140) according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The nation’s second-highest-graded receiving corps is at his disposal with two projected first-round picks in Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk. The Huskies offensive line has also only allowed a sack or hit on 2.3% of its pass-blocking snaps, the third-lowest rate in the FBS. Not to mention, head coach Kalen DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb are two of the best offensive minds in the sport right now.

Ditto for Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley for the nation’s best defensive minds. The Utes currently place 11th nationally in EPA per pass and are led by edge defender Jonah Elliss, whose 12 sacks are tied with Laiatu Latu for the most among Power Five defenders.

Expect both coaching staffs to get creative in this game to get an edge in what should be a thrilling chess match.

Prediction: Washington 34, Utah 24

Washington’s high-powered offense is too much for practically anyone, including Utah, to handle.


Storyline to know: Battle for silver in the SEC East

Georgia is pretty clearly the top team in the SEC East, especially after beating Missouri 30-21 this past weekend. I’d even argue that the Bulldogs deserve to be the top-ranked team in the country right now. 

This game pits the next two best teams in the division. While there aren’t too many College Football Playoff or even SEC Championship stakes in this one, the winner of this game has a good chance at making a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Matchup to watch: Can James Pearce Jr. wreck Missouri’s offensive game plan?

James Pearce Jr. has been one of the biggest breakout stars in the country this season. The true sophomore’s 24.6% pass-rush win rate is third among all edge defenders in the nation while his 92.0 pass-rushing grade ranks fourth. 

Missouri has done a solid job of protecting quarterback Brady Cook with a 17.6% pressure rate allowed on the season that ranks 18th in the country. If Pearce is able to get home though, the Tigers will have a lot of problems. Cook’s 38.7 passing grade under pressure this season stands just 109th among all quarterbacks in the country. 

Prediction: Missouri 31, Tennessee 28

Mizzou keeps Pearce at bay just enough to keep its New Year’s Six dreams alive.


Storyline to know: Don’t screw up

While nearly every College Football Playoff contender has massive games upcoming, Florida State doesn’t have another ranked team on its schedule until at least the ACC Championship Game.

While a relatively easy path ahead may sound enticing, it’s also incredibly dangerous as one loss all but kills the Seminoles’ chances of making the College Football Playoff. Miami is no slouch either, ranking in the top 40 of PFF’s power rankings.

Matchup to watch: Florida State’s offensive line vs. Miami’s defensive line

Florida State has one of the most well-rounded offensive lines in the nation this season, placing fifth in the Power Five in grade as a unit (77.1). Florida State is one of four offensive lines in that same group to place top 15 for both pass-blocking (13th) and run-blocking grades (tied for seventh).

Miami, meanwhile, ranks sixth among all schools in the country in pressure rate (41.1%) this season. The Hurricanes are also tied for sixth among all teams in the nation in team run-defense grade (91.9). The two stars of the unit are interior defensive lineman Leonard Taylor III and edge defender Rueben Bain Jr.. Taylor is a top-20 prospect on PFF’s 2024 NFL Draft big board while Bain is the third-highest-graded true freshman in the country this season.

Prediction: Florida State 35, Miami (FL) 20

The Seminoles take care of business and move one step closer to the College Football Playoff.


Storyline to know: Can Georgia pass another test?

Georgia beat its first top-15 opponent of the season this past weekend in then-No. 12 Missouri, 30-21. It wasn’t always pretty, as the Tigers held the lead midway through the third quarter and it was a one-possession game with just a few minutes left.

Ole Miss is ranked even higher at No. 9 and will try to take down the defending back-to-back champs themselves this week. If the Rebels succeed, they’ll be established as legitimate College Football Playoff contenders.

Matchup to watch: Can Quinshon Judkins carry the Rebels to victory?

Judkins entered the season as my No. 2 running back in the country following a stellar true freshman season in 2022. After a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Judkins has picked up right where he left off. His 436 rushing yards after contact since Week 5 are the fourth-most among all running backs in the country.

Georgia’s strength on defense has shifted from the front seven in 2021 and 2022 to the secondary this season. The Bulldogs are fifth in the FBS in team coverage grade (92.2) but place just 45th in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.3 yards). With Jaxson Dart and Tre Harris forcing Georgia to respect the pass, Judkins may have an opportunity to gash the Bulldogs when they get into lightboxes.

Prediction: Georgia 35, Ole Miss 24

Judkins does enough to keep the Rebels alive in this one, but it’s not enough to dethrone Georgia.


Storyline to know: USC’s first game without Alex Grinch

Lincoln Riley made headlines on Sunday when he fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch following a 52-42 loss to fifth-ranked Washington. It was a move many saw coming, as Grinch’s defenses have been top 75 in EPA per play just once in his five years with Riley.

Interim co-defensive coordinators Shaun Nua and Brian Odom will be thrown into the fire immediately. Oregon’s offense trails only LSU in expected points added per play this season. Quarterback Bo Nix could be well on his way to a Heisman Trophy, as his 85.1% adjusted completion rate leads the nation this season.

Matchup to watch: Can Caleb Williams pull one last rabbit out of a hat?

Odds are that USC’s defense won’t suddenly be able to slow down one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, so the burden will once again fall on Caleb Williams’ shoulders to keep up. While he’s not quite having a Heisman-worthy season like last year, his 92.9 grade when kept clean is still tied for second among all quarterbacks in America. The problem becomes when he’s under pressure, as his 36.7 grade under duress stands just 120th in the country. Oregon’s defense meanwhile has the 16th-highest pressure rate in college football at 36.9% which could be trouble if the Trojans don’t protect Williams.

This could be one of the final times we see Williams play in college as USC only has next week’s game against UCLA on the docket before a bowl game that he might not play in. If he’s able to lead USC to an upset win though, the Trojans can extend that with a Pac-12 championship berth.

Prediction: Oregon 38, USC 35

Williams keeps it close for as long as he can, but Oregon is able to sneak away with the victory.

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