The fourth quarter of the college football season has arrived and that means the games get bigger and the pressure ramps up higher than at any point of the campaign.
As the season heads toward the final weeks, the urgency of the College Football Playoff and conference races cause teams to raise their level of play – or stumble close to the finish line.
That’s why we’re here to make sense of things. The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Scooby Axson, Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with bold predictions for Week 11 of the college football season:
Alabama rebounds and keeps SEC title hopes alive
In what serves as an SEC West eliminator for Alabama, the Crimson Tide will bounce back against Ole Miss on the road. There is nothing that they did in the overtime loss against LSU that would give their fans confidence, as they still are undisciplined and are not balanced at all in their offensive attack. But they still have Heisman winner Bryce Young on the roster. When the Ole Miss running game is on, nobody has been able to stop them, so the Crimson Tide’s focus defensively will be on that. Look for Alabama to win a back-and-forth contest and keep their slim division hopes alive. — Scooby Axson
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Texas is really back after beating TCU
TCU has been one of the more incredible stories of the 2022 college football season, ripping off a 9-0 start under first-year coach Sonny Dykes to rise all the way to No. 4 in the coaches poll and the College Football Playoff rankings. The magic finally runs out Saturday when the Horned Frogs travel to No. 18 Texas for a night game at what should be a raucous Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. This is the type of game the Longhorns should win in Year 2 under Steve Sarkisian if the program is to be taken seriously again – and I think they do it as everyone proclaims Texas “back” for the millionth time since 2009. — Jace Evans
SEC West race blurred with LSU loss to Arkansas
Arkansas beats LSU and sends the SEC West race into a tizzy with two weeks left in the regular season. While the Tigers would remain atop the division standings thanks to head-to-head wins against Alabama and Ole Miss, the loss raises the odds that the winner of Saturday’s game between the Crimson Tide and Rebels could still manage to win the West. Even if LSU loses but hangs on to reach the SEC championship game, a third loss would likely eliminate the Tigers from playoff contention even if they pull off an unexpected conference title. — Paul Myerberg
Central Florida takes control of the American Athletic
Much of the fanfare in the best Group of Five conference has gone to Tulane, and that’s fair given its defeat of Kansas State and unbeaten start in league play. But the Knights have quietly been playing impressive football – outside a loss at East Carolina that was their only blemish in their last seven games. Among those wins were a defeat of Cincinnati. UCF is now poised to go on the road and beat the Green Wave to put itself in position to reach the conference championship game and maybe advance to a New Year’s Six bowl. — Erick Smith
Baylor keeps rolling with Kansas State win
Remember Baylor? The defending Big 12 champion Bears were all but forgotten when a 43-40 loss at West Virginia on Oct. 13 knocked them to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference.
Since then, however, Baylor has rattled off three league victories in succession, including last week’s 38-35 triumph at Oklahoma. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t see that one, since it was relegated to streaming only, but that result has the Bears positioned for a possible return to the conference championship game.
Baylor’s next two games are at home, with Kansas State coming to Waco on Saturday. It won’t be easy – it never is in this league – but look for the Bears to outlast the Wildcats in another close one to set up next week’s big showdown with first-place TCU. — Eddie Timanus
No bounce back for Alabama against Mississippi
There is no evidence that Alabama is a good road team. There is ample evidence that Mississippi is a good home team. So why is Alabama nearly a two-touchdown favorite to win in Oxford? Looking at this Alabama team through the lens of previous Alabama teams is a mistake. If you took off those jerseys and put this same team in, say, Texas A&M jerseys, you’d expect that team to lose this weekend. Thus, this looks like a huge opportunity for Lane Kiffin to notch his first win over Nick Saban and put Ole Miss in position to challenge for the SEC championship game if LSU stubs its toe at the end of the season. There isn’t a great track record of how Alabama teams respond to being eliminated from national title contention, since that usually doesn’t happen until either the College Football Playoff or the Iron Bowl. The bet here is that Alabama lets go of the rope a little and suffers its third loss of the year. — Dan Wolken