College Football Week 11 Preview — Washington Looks to Pad Playoff Resume
Fourth-ranked Washington takes on No. 20 USC in a big game with Pac-12 and playoff ramifications. That is just one of the intriguing storylines as we go into Week 11 of college football.
Can Washington Solidify Its Playoff Hopes?
After Texas A&M’s loss to Mississippi State, No. 4 Washington finally got its chance to move into the College Football Playoff’s top four. Now the question is can they stay there? With a weak nonconference schedule and an overall down year for the Pac-12, the Huskies need all the style points they can get to stay in that spot ahead of one-loss teams with more impressive resumes. They’ll have their first chance this week against No. 20 USC.
After a miserable 1–3 start and a change at quarterback, the Trojans have been arguably the hottest team in football, rolling off five straight wins and putting up 40+ four times. In fact, during this current winning streak, USC has averaged over 570 yards and 40 points per game. Freshman quarterback Sam Darnold has played beyond his years, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
This week, however, the Trojans will be tested by a Washington offense that can go toe-to-toe with them in the scoring department. Quarterback Jake Browning has worked himself into the Heisman discussion with 34 touchdowns to just three interceptions. The Huskies are second in the nation in scoring offense and are coming off a 66-point, 704-yard effort at California.
Washington will have a chance to impress down the stretch, with matchups against No. 20 USC, No. 23 Washington State and then a Pac-12 title game against likely either No. 12 Colorado or No. 16 Utah. However, the Huskies probably have less margin for error than, for example, a one-loss Ohio State. So the Huskies need to keep winning and look good doing it.
Who Wins the Battle for SEC Pride?
No. 24 LSU and No. 25 Arkansas are both out of SEC title contention. So they’re playing for pride and bowl placement at this point. But which team shows up to defend their Top 25 ranking?
LSU’s Leonard Fournette was held to just 35 yards on 17 carries in last week’s loss to No. 1 Alabama. He’ll need to have a much bigger output against the Razorbacks’ 91st-ranked rush defense for LSU to get the road win. Arkansas, meanwhile, will need to solve the up-and-down play that has haunted them the last six weeks. The Razorbacks have averaged 39 points per game in three wins during that time, but the defense has given up 50 per game in the three losses.
Can Oklahoma Make a Late Playoff Push?
Yes, I know it’s a long shot for any Big 12 team to make the playoffs this year. And I know we’d written off Oklahoma after that 1–2 start. But hear me out. Since the September 18 beatdown by Ohio State, the Sooner offense has been rolling, averaging 48.5 points per game in its six-game winning streak. Receiver Dede Westbrook has emerged as a Heisman dark horse and running backs Samaje Perine (injury) and Joe Mixon (suspension) are expected to return this week for the Sooners’ stretch run.
Yes, the defense has been suspect (it is the Big 12, after all), allowing 40-plus points four times this season. And they’ll need to bolster their playoff resume in three remaining games against Baylor, No. 16 West Virginia and No. 13 Oklahoma State. Plus, with four Big Ten teams ahead of them, Oklahoma will need a helping hand from Michigan to take down Ohio State and Wisconsin. The rest of the formula involves Washington losing, quantum mechanics and some pixie dust.
So I’m not saying it’s likely Oklahoma will become the first two-loss team to make the playoff. I’m just saying that Donald Trump started out with 250/1 odds to be president.
Is Texas Saving Charlie Strong’s Job?
After a 2–3 start and a loss to archrival Oklahoma, most observers assumed Texas coach Charlie Strong was living on borrowed time. Well, don’t look now but the Longhorns are making a late-season push that could save his job.
Led by star running back D’Onta Foreman, 5–4 Texas has won two of its last three, including an upset of then-No. 8 Baylor. Foreman has rushed for 100-plus yards in every game he’s played this year but has taken it to another level of late, rushing for 591 yards and five scores in his last two outings. He leads the nation in rushing yards per game (180.75) and is second nationally in rushing despite missing one game with a groin injury.
Foreman will face two of the conference’s better rush defenses (TCU and West Virginia) ahead of him (although I am well aware using “Big 12” and “defense” in the same sentence is a questionable practice). But with strong performances in his final three games, Foreman could not only work himself into the Heisman discussion but potentially save his coach’s job.
How Does Nebraska Rebound?
No. 19 Nebraska is not as good as their 7–0 start would seem, but they’re probably not as bad as last week’s 62-3 loss at Ohio State would indicate. So with the Cornhuskers no longer controlling their own destiny in the Big Ten West, how will they respond after dropping their last two?
Unfortunately, they may have to find out without senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong. Armstrong left last week’s game in an ambulance after being knocked unconscious when being tackled on the sideline. He later returned to the stadium in street clothes, but coach Mike Riley is keeping quiet about Armstrong’s availability this week. If he is not cleared from the concussion protocol, the Nebraska offense this week against 7–2 Minnesota will fall on the shoulders of a running game that, before last week, was averaging 4.5 yards per carry and had scored 19 times. Fifth year senior quarterback Ryker Fyfe is one of those great “local kid done good” stories, but is just 7/23 for 93 yards passing this season.
The Golden Gophers boast the nation’s No. 18 rushing defense and will certainly be geared to stuff the Cornhusker rushing game if Armstrong can’t go. Riley has Nebraska trending in the right direction this year after a 6–7 mark a year ago. But this week could go a long way toward determining just how improved they really are.