Week 14 is college football conference championship weekend. That is significant because this is Week 11, and just about every team in the country has only three regular-season games left. That means teams that have two or fewer wins do not have a chance at bowl eligibility.
Those teams will be left to play for pride, to play spoiler or to save a coach’s job, and sometimes those motivations simply aren’t enough. By this point, teams are tired, especially with most of them having played shortened schedules last season due to COVID-19. Players are beaten up and running on empty emotionally, physically and mentally.
These could all be factors in how games play out in Weeks 11, 12 and 13, so keep that in mind as you handicap the card. Some teams just don’t have a lot to play for, and it could impact the kind of effort they give.
I’ll consider that and more with these Week 11 situational spots.
North Carolina at Pitt (-6, 74.5)
Tobacco Road was more like Bourbon Street with the partying that went on Saturday after the Tar Heels erased an 18-point deficit to stun Wake Forest and knock the Demon Deacons out of the playoff picture. It was a high-octane game on both sides, as over 1,150 yards were accumulated and UNC had to defend 90 plays.
Turning around on a short week against another potent offense makes for a tough spot for Mack Brown’s bunch. Pitt still controls its destiny in the Coastal Division, and the goal now is an ACC championship with the College Football Playoff out of the realm of possibility. Add travel to Heinz Field for the Tar Heels, and this is about as tough a spot as it gets.
UNC has played three games away from home and has lost all three. That doesn’t bode well for this matchup.
NC State at Wake Forest (-2, 66.5)
It seems only fitting to follow with this game and a really obvious spot. The bubble has burst for Wake Forest. Dave Clawson is an excellent coach, but this kind of situation would be difficult for any team. The Demon Deacons still have a shot to win the ACC, but that wasn’t really the goal with an undefeated record this late in the season. The goal was to make a strong enough case to the College Football Playoff committee.
Perhaps Clawson can get his team focused, but we’ve seen this “bubble burst” angle before. A team loses its first game, and that shaken confidence and those lingering disappointments can have a carryover effect. Not that all teams are created equal, but it happened to SMU after the loss to Houston. The Mustangs followed it with a loss to Memphis last week. Notre Dame won but struggled with Virginia Tech and failed to cover after losing to Cincinnati.
It isn’t foolproof by any means. Oklahoma State beat Kansas 55-3 after losing to Iowa State. Each team is different. Each situation is unique. This one, though, with the manner in which Wake Forest lost, seems particularly challenging, and I’d lean with a really stout NC State team.
Maryland at Michigan State (-13, 62.5)
Once again, it seems only fitting to follow up the last game with this game. Michigan State’s bubble also burst last week with the road loss to Purdue. The Spartans were in a tough spot after the Michigan comeback, which may or may not have had something to do with the loss. Keep in mind that Michigan State had not really played anybody all that good until that Michigan win and then faced another solid opponent in the Boilermakers.
Maryland is not very good, and this could be a good matchup for Sparty, but 13 points is a lot given that Ohio State is on deck in a game MSU now absolutely must have to even sniff a chance at winning the Big Ten. You certainly have to like the spot for the Terrapins, who need to beat Michigan State, Michigan or Rutgers to secure bowl eligibility after losing four of the last five.
Mississippi State at Auburn (-5.5, 51)
The dream isn’t totally dead for Auburn to win the SEC West, but it is on life support. Last week’s loss to Texas A&M gave the Tigers a second loss in league play. Texas A&M now has wins over Alabama and Auburn, so the Aggies have the two tiebreakers within the division. Even if Auburn beats Alabama in the Iron Bowl, it likely won’t be enough.
I’d be worried about Auburn’s focus level this week against Mississippi State. Bad Bo Nix returned last week, and the Tigers mustered only three points. The Bulldogs lost a game they shouldn’t have against Arkansas, as the kickers combined to miss three field goals. For Auburn, I think the focus shifts to beating Alabama and playing spoiler in the rivalry game. I’m not sure we’ll get great efforts this week or next at South Carolina.
Mississippi State will get bowl eligibility next week against Tennessee State, but you can bet that the Bulldogs would love to add another ranked win to their list of victories. I’m not sure Auburn will be as engaged, so I like this spot for the road team.
Arkansas (-2.5, 58.5) at LSU
Was the Alabama game Ed Orgeron’s last stand at LSU? The Tigers had plenty of chances to upset the Crimson Tide and shake up the College Football Playoff in a big way. They weren’t able to do it, but it was an extremely admirable effort all around from Orgeron’s team.
What happens now? LSU needs to win two of the last three games to get to a bowl game, and you have to wonder how much that means to the players. The SEC schedule has been a gauntlet. Arkansas received enough votes to be 27th in the AP Top 25, making the Razorbacks the first unranked team LSU has faced since Sept. 25. That team, Mississippi State, is now ranked.
How much does LSU have left in the tank? The Tigers rallied in a big way against Florida after the Orgeron news came to light but played poorly the week after against Ole Miss. Coming out of the bye, LSU put everything into that Alabama game and lost. Is this just too big a spot to overcome?
Bettors seem to think so, as Arkansas took the early money this week. I tend to agree.
Air Force (-3, 45.5) at Colorado State
The Falcons have to be hurting from that overtime loss to Army last week. Air Force does have a fall-back option that Army would not have had if the game had gone the opposite way. The Falcons are in a conference, and they’re in a conference they still have a chance to win.
Air Force does have a head-to-head loss to Utah State and no control over what happens in the Mountain Division as a result, but the service academies are usually very disciplined and focused in every situation. The loss to Army may have a lingering effect, but Colorado State is going in reverse, and that might be enough to cancel out any residual disappointment for the Falcons.
It’s a tough spot, but Air Force is the better team.
Samford at Florida
How about a bonus situational spot for this week? FBS-vs.-FCS lines are typically posted later in the week, but this game fascinates me. Florida is playing back at home for the first time since Oct. 9. The Gators lost to LSU by 7, had a bye, lost to Georgia by 27 and then lost to South Carolina by 23. Dan Mullen won’t exactly be welcomed back to the Swamp with open arms.
Samford is an OK team with a really bad defense. Will the Gators let out some frustration and blow out the Bulldogs, or will the stink of losing four of five leak into the picture? Florida has Samford, Missouri and Florida State left and needs two wins for bowl eligibility, so that doesn’t seem to be a worry, but still. Narrowly scraping by with six or seven wins isn’t the standard for this program.
The Gators fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy, so those are the fall guys for Mullen’s underwhelming season thus far. Anthony Richardson missed the South Carolina game with a knee injury suffered while dancing at the team hotel, and Emory Jones was among several Gators with the flu, so there were some extenuating circumstances, but this program is a mess right now.
The Gators have the talent to cover a spread that will be in excess of 30 points, but will they? I’m not sure I could bet on it with everything going on.