Picks for the biggest Week 11 games
No. 21 Memphis at No. 24 Houston
Line: Houston -7.0
In what could be the most entertaining matchup of the coming weekend from an offensive perspective, very little introduction should be required. Both schools are statistically strong in defending the run — Houston ranks eighth while Memphis is at a much-improved 46th. Since both offenses are built predominantly around rushing attacks, we could be in for a drastically different style of game than might be expected. Another commonality, both defenses can be found ranked in the bottom 20 in defending the pass. An over/under of 71 points is simply not enough space to contain the fireworks in store for the Houston crowd.
Prediction: Houston 49, Memphis 42
No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor
Line: Baylor -2.5
The Sooners are one of only three Power-5 teams that can stake a claim as having a scoring defense and offense found within the nation’s top 20. QB Baker Mayfield has received all of the credit behind the offensive explosion, but the true mastermind to the alteration is OC Lincoln Riley. Coach Riley implanted his Air Raid-variation into a Sooners offense that was only able to score 14 points against Baylor in 2014. The schematic philosophy led East Carolina to a sixth-place rank in total offense in 2014 and has actually reached greater heights equipped with Oklahoma’s drastic talent advantage.
Simply put, Baylor can score on any defense and in any venue on the planet. No statistics are required to prove that fact and none will be given — it’s common knowledge. Here’s the deal: Baylor’s defense allowed a team with the third-worst total offense in the entire FBS to generate 430 total yards, control the clock for two-thirds of the game, and to threaten them with defeat until the final seconds of the game. Look beyond the Kansas State game and the defensive issues have been ever-present since allowing 31 points to Lamar in Week 2. Home field advantage will be a minuscule factor in the outcome of this Big-12 showdown and — upset alert — will conclude with the Bears falling from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Prediction: Oklahoma 49, Baylor 46
No. 3 Ohio State at Illinois
Line: Ohio State -16.5
With quarterback J.T. Barrett under center, already proven to be the best suited to drive HC Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense, you really need to dig deep to find a weakness in the Buckeyes.
Despite the common perception of a “down” season for Ohio State, the defense is allowing the sixth-fewest points per game (PPG) in the FBS, and the offense ranks 19th in scoring. The only other Power-5 schools with such a scoring balance found within the top 20 of both lists are Clemson and Oklahoma. The next closest team to meeting that criteria – Southern California – ranks 37th in scoring defense and illustrates the rarity of the achievement.
Whether purely statistical or in utilizing the PFF analysis standards, the Fighting Illini have provided a stout defense, and a stickler against the run this season. A defensive interior composed of Chunky Clements and Rob Bain combined with Jihad Ward and Dawuane Smoot setting the edge presents an intimidating wall of resistance. Unfortunately, the offense has failed to uniformly blossom and an inability to open running lanes and continued deficiencies at QB have been their undoing. Removing a lopsided victory over 2-7 Purdue, Illinois is averaging 12 PPG against Power-5 schools, and that number is 40 PPG for the Buckeyes. A blowout is on the horizon.
Prediction: Ohio State 44, Illinois 17
No. 8 Oklahoma State at Iowa State
Line: Oklahoma State -14.0
You would think that nearly doubling-up on a previously undefeated TCU team would lend a higher amount of predictory respect. You’d be incorrect in that line of thinking. Consider that the 3-6 Cyclones lost by an average of 26 PPG to Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU … yet we find them falling to the Cowboys by a mere two TDs. Make the case for the close victories over West Virginia, Kansas State, and Texas, but this Oklahoma State team has undergone a transformation over the last three weeks.
QB Mason Rudolph is on the fast track to entering the 2016 season as the nations top-overall player at his position. After Week 10 of this season, Rudolph already grades as PFF College’s fourth-highest overall QB. Not bad for someone with three starts and 218 college snaps entering the season. Of course, the Cowboy evolution can also be attributed to the emergence of WR James Washington, and the unstoppable charge of edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. Directly to the point, Oklahoma State’s attack is worth more than 14 points to an Iowa State team that fell to Texas Tech by a 35 point margin.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Iowa State 21.
Minnesota at No. 5 Iowa
Line: Iowa -12.5
The respect behind Iowa’s early season win streak could be compared to that of an over-talented FCS programs’ dominance biding its time for an FBS bid. The stages of that respect mirror the DEFCON alert state and level 4 was reached following a Week 5 defensive defeat of Wisconsin. The respect reached level 3 after a 31-point crushing of (then) No. 20 Northwestern in Evanston. A massive troop of believers has already made preparations to mobilize should the Hawkeyes run the table. Finding an invite to match up with the Big 10 East contender in the conference championship would be the force needed to dial the scale to DEFCON 2.
It would be wise for Iowa fans to temper their postseason expectations and maintain focus on the challenge ahead. While the Golden Gophers sit at 1-4 within the conference, Michigan and Ohio State secured victories over Minnesota — but by an average of only 8.5 points. One half of the reason for the programs recent form centers on an ever-improving defense that currently ranks as the nations 22nd-best and an ability to keep the score close while allowing its offense to identify weaknesses in their opponents. The second half of that edge falls within a simple nothing-to-lose, spoiler role that is likely the current theme of the Iowa coaching staffs recurrent nightmares.
Prediction: Iowa 29, Minnesota 27.
Washington State at No. 19 UCLA
Line: UCLA -10.5
Despite mid-season setbacks in losses to Arizona State and Stanford, the Bruins have brought along one of the more consistent scoring offenses in the country. The downside to that consistency has also been a uniform allowance of opponents reaching the endzone. Take the completely overmatched UNLV and Oregon State games and toss them aside. Both simply warmups for the challenges ahead and mere backyard scrimmages. During the remaining games, the defense has allowed their opponents to score an average of 31 PPG.
While we are on the subject on continuity, if you factor out the disappointing Week 1 defeat to the FCS-powerhouse of Portland State, the Cougars have put forth a season nearly identical to that of UCLAs. Consistent offensive scoring production and a clear vulnerability to their own ability to slow opponent scoring. In fact, these offenses have generated yards per game averages that differ by exactly seven yards, scoring averages separated by 0.04 PPG, and the difference in yards allowed by both defenses is 20 yards. The 10.5 points given to UCLA is as ridiculous as it is profitable.
Prediction: UCLA 39, Washington State 34.
Georgia at Auburn
Line: Auburn -2.0
The Auburn Tigers have been streaking over their last three games, taking Ole Miss and Arkansas to the brink of defeat, and handing Texas A&M a beating in College Station. Although, from a half-empty perspective, Auburn was facing an Aggies program searching for an identity, the success against Arkansas was entirely on the ground, and the Bulldogs field a run defense allowing an average of one rushing TD per game and 3.61 yards per carry.
The Faton Bauta experiment at QB was an overwhelming failure for Georgia (four interceptions, 4.67 yards per attempt) and the singular team morale-crusher behind the Florida embarrassment. Remove the Alabama and Florida games from the Bulldogs season and we are left with a solid resume. Despite the loss of RB Nick Chubb to injury, Sony Michel has been able to showcase a sample of why he was a higher-touted high school recruit, and the only vulnerability on defense can be found in the secondary. The Auburn offense is simply not equipped with the tools to an aerial attack to exploit that weakness and the Tigers 93rd-ranked run defense is ill-prepared for the RB-combo of Michel and Keith Marshall.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Auburn 19.
Georgia Southern at Troy
Line: Georgia Southern -6.0
Troy HC Neal Brown deserves a lot of credit for the Trojans mid-season run in his first season after replacing Larry Blakeney. The Trojans were narrowly defeated by Idaho, forced an underappreciated Appalachian State squad to three OTs, and absolutely crushed New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe. While improvements have been made, the credit offered to Troy steps beyond its reason in finding the Trojans predicted to finish within a TD of Georgia Southern. The Eagles Triple-Option Flexbone is a fine-tuned machine predicated on ground dominance and has them leading the country in every team rushing-based statistical category in existence. Only 35 FBS schools have had more difficulty defending the run than Troy. Cash in.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 42, Troy 27.
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