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College football Week 11: Picks and preview

What a week. The COVID-19 surge throughout the country continues to hinder the college football world with numerous postponements and cancellations. The SEC, where Alabama-LSU, Texas A&M-Tennessee, Auburn-Mississippi State and Georgia-Missouri have all been halted, has been hit particularly hard.

Still, there are plenty of exciting matchups on the Week 11 slate. Here are our previews and predictions (point spreads courtesy of BetOnline.ag) for games featuring teams in The Associated Press Top 25 and other intriguing contests.

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1 of 19

East Carolina (1-5) at No. 7 Cincinnati (6-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2

East Carolina (1-5) at No. 7 Cincinnati (6-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
Sam Greene via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

The Bearcats are off to their best start since their 12-1 season of 2009 when they lost to Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Cincinnati is getting it done on both sides of the ball, but a defense that has yielded just 70 total points, and more than 13 just once, must be celebrated. East Carolina has been outscored 181-74 during a four-game losing streak at Cincinnati.

Predictions: Cincinnati (-27 1/2)

2 of 19

Western Carolina (0-0) at No. 22 Liberty (7-0), Saturday, Noon, ESPN3

Western Carolina (0-0) at No. 22 Liberty (7-0), Saturday, Noon, ESPN3
Dennis Nett/Pool Photo/USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, this is the best season in Liberty’s brief FBS football history, and the program is one victory away from matching a school record on that level. The Flames, who just gave coach Hugh Freeze a contract extension, might have the country’s best unknown player in quarterback Malik Willis (1,339 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, one interception; 603 rushing yards, seven touchdowns). Western Carolina, out of the FCS, is playing its first of three scheduled games in 2020.

Prediction: OFF

3 of 19

Middle Tennessee (2-5) at No. 16 Marshall (6-0), Saturday, Noon, CBS Sports Network

Middle Tennessee (2-5) at No. 16 Marshall (6-0), Saturday, Noon, CBS Sports Network
Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports

As Marshall looks to continue its best start since 2014, it will be somewhat of a somber day in Huntington. Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that claimed the lives of 75 people, including Marshall players, coaches, administrators and friends of the program on the way back from a game at East Carolina. Back on the field, this seems to have the makings of a special Marshall team that has outscored its opponents 220-57. MTSU has allowed 86 points in its last two games.
Prediction: Marshall (-23 1/2)

4 of 19

No. 10 Indiana (3-0) at Michigan State (1-2), Saturday, Noon, ABC

No. 10 Indiana (3-0) at Michigan State (1-2), Saturday, Noon, ABC
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports

Have the Hoosiers officially become the darlings of the college football world? With wins over perennial Big Ten powers Penn State and Michigan, Indiana is trying to reach 4-0 for the first time since 1990 and is ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1969. How did Indiana get here? Partially because of an offense that’s averaging 37.0 points. Meanwhile, it’s uncertain what to expect from Michigan State, which lost at home to Rutgers, won at Michigan and was blown out 49-7 at Iowa. The Spartans have won three straight and 17 of 20 in this series.

Prediction: Michigan State (+7 1/2)

5 of 19

No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0) at Troy (4-3), Saturday, Noon, ESPNU

No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0) at Troy (4-3), Saturday, Noon, ESPNU
Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Like Marshall, and to a certain extent Liberty, Coastal Carolina is another Group of Five program that has turned heads this season despite entering with little fanfare. The Chanticleers are a powerful offensive team (37.9 points per game) and also have yielded six points over their last two games. Troy has dropped two of its last three games but has scored 102 points in its three home games this season.

Prediction: Coastal Carolina (-10 1/2)

6 of 19

No. 9 Miami, Fla. (6-1) at Virginia Tech (4-3), Saturday, Noon, ESPN2

No. 9 Miami, Fla. (6-1) at Virginia Tech (4-3), Saturday, Noon, ESPN2
Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY Sports

Miami is actually the underdog entering this contest. The Hurricanes are trying for a fourth consecutive win overall and a third victory in four trips to Virginia Tech. The Hokies thought they blocked a game-tying kick and returned it for a winning touchdown against Liberty last week, but the play had been ruled dead after coach Justin Fuente called a timeout. It was a cruel moment for Virginia Tech, but taking down a Miami team that averages 34.4 points would be a nice bounce back.

Prediction: Miami (+2)

7 of 19

South Alabama (3-4) at No. 25 Louisiana (6-1), Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN+

South Alabama (3-4) at No. 25 Louisiana (6-1), Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN+
Scott Clause/USA TODAY Network via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Back in the Top 25, Louisiana has a chance to clinch the Sun Belt West Division and a spot in the league’s championship game — most likely against Coastal Carolina. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won three in a row by a combined 21 points. They’ve also won four straight over South Alabama by a combined 30 points.

Prediction: Louisiana (-15 1/2)

8 of 19

No. 20 USC (1-0) at Arizona (0-0), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox

No. 20 USC (1-0) at Arizona (0-0), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

USC pulled out a comeback 28-27 win over Arizona State last week and now takes on that state’s other Pac-12 squad. Kedon Slovis threw for 381 yards. while receivers Drake London and Amon-Ra St. Brown combined for 15 receptions and 225 yards last week. Arizona, meanwhile, is finally set to open its season after COVID-19 claimed its scheduled date with Utah.

Prediction: Arizona (+14)

9 of 19

No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0) at Boston College (5-3), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC

No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0) at Boston College (5-3), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

It’s a road game for the surging Irish, so we won’t have to worry about their student section being involved. Notre Dame’s defense will try to stop former Irish backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The sophomore has thrown for 2,083 yards and has 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. The Eagles nearly upset Clemson on the road and should not be intimidated by the Irish.

Prediction: Boston College (+13 1/2)

10 of 19

No. 23 Northwestern (3-0) at Purdue (2-0), Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

No. 23 Northwestern (3-0) at Purdue (2-0), Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

That’s right, these are the two top teams in the Big Ten’s West Division. Purdue last started 3-0 in 2007, so it’s been some time since the Boilermakers have enjoyed this kind of early success. Their two wins have come by a combined 11 points. Northwestern, meanwhile, is doing it with defense, allowing 36 points in three games while already forcing nine turnovers.

Prediction: Northwestern (-2 1/2)

11 of 19

Arkansas (3-3) at No. 6 Florida (4-1), Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Arkansas (3-3) at No. 6 Florida (4-1), Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Yes, there are still games being played within the SEC this week. Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks (1,428 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions) has helped the Hogs surpass their win total from last season and returns to Gainesville to face his former team. However, Arkansas’ defense will be seriously challenged by a Florida group that just roughed up then-No. 5 Georgia 44-28. Behind Kyle Trask (1,815 passing yards, 22 TDs, three INTs), the Gators are averaging 42.4 points.

Predictions: Florida (-17 1

12 of 19

No. 19 SMU (7-1) at Tulsa (3-1), Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2

No. 19 SMU (7-1) at Tulsa (3-1), Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Tim Flores/USA TODAY Sports

SMU has bounced back with two straight wins after falling to Cincinnati. However, Tulsa is 3-0 in the American Athletic Conference and is looking for a fourth consecutive victory overall. Oh yeah, there’s also the fact that SMU has lost its last four trips to Tulsa, with the last two decided by three points each. We expect that home trend for the Golden Hurricane to continue.

Prediction: Tulsa (-2 1/2)

13 of 19

No. 11 Oregon (1-0) at Washington State (1-0), Saturday, 7 p.m., Fox

No. 11 Oregon (1-0) at Washington State (1-0), Saturday, 7 p.m., Fox
Andy Nelson via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Oregon looked relatively solid during its 35-14 win over Stanford to open the season. Quarterback Tyler Shough threw for 227 yards and a TD and ran for 85 and a score in his first start for the Ducks, so that was a good sign. Washington State can score points in bunches but also can give them up at a generous rate. The Cougars have won two straight at home in this series.

Prediction: Oregon (-10)

14 of 19

No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0) at Michigan (1-2), Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC

No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0) at Michigan (1-2), Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

We honestly don’t know what to expect from this matchup. Specifically, who will be on the field for a COVID-19-infested Badgers squad that’s playing its first game since rolling over Illinois on Oct. 23. Will quarterback Graham Mertz be cleared to play? At Michigan, the issues are limited to the field, where the Wolverines have allowed 89 points in three games, can’t find offensive consistency and must deal with the Jim Harbaugh-on-the-hot-seat talk at an all-time high.

Prediction: Wisconsin (-4 1/2)

15 of 19

Iowa (1-2) at Minnesota (1-2), Friday, 7 p.m., FS1

Iowa (1-2) at Minnesota (1-2), Friday, 7 p.m., FS1
Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

Both of these teams will try to build on much-needed wins from last weekend. However, Iowa continues to deal with internal issues and player transfers, so it will be interesting to see if that will be a distraction. On the field, the Hawkeyes’ 49 points against Michigan State were promising. Minnesota, meanwhile, allowed just 14 against a lowly and short-handed Illinois squad after giving up 94 in its first two games. How the Gophers’ defense fares this week, however, is still anybody’s guess. Minnesota has also dropped five straight in this series.

Prediction: Minnesota (+3 1/2)

16 of 19

Wake Forest (4-2) at North Carolina (5-2), Saturday, Noon, ACC Network

Wake Forest (4-2) at North Carolina (5-2), Saturday, Noon, ACC Network
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina garnered plenty of attention by winning its first three games but has been rather inconsistent while splitting its next four. Wake, on the other hand, has won four in a row without hardly any of the country taking notice. The Demon Deacons have totaled 167 points over those four games, which included a win over then-.No.19 Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels, however, have won two straight at home in this series.

Prediction: North Carolina (-13 1/2)

17 of 19

TCU (3-3) at West Virginia (4-3), Saturday, Noon, Fox

TCU (3-3) at West Virginia (4-3), Saturday, Noon, Fox
Andrew Dieb/USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia looks to improve to 5-0 at home while TCU is trying to go 3-0 on the road in this Big 12 matchup. Something has to give. TCU quarterback Max Duggan has thrown for 1,113 yards and also leads the Horned Frogs with 329 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Mountaineers running back Leddie Brown has averaged 128.3 yards on the ground at home.

Prediction: West Virginia (-3)

18 of 19

Penn State (0-3) at Nebraska (0-2), Saturday, Noon, FS1

Penn State (0-3) at Nebraska (0-2), Saturday, Noon, FS1
David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

It’s obviously been a tough start on the field for the Nittany Lions, and this week got rougher off it with the news that running back Journey Brown has retired for medical reasons. While Sean Clifford’s days under center might be numbered, a Penn State defense that allows 36.3 points per game is the major issue. Nebraska, meanwhile, has been outscored 73-30 by Ohio State and Northwestern but will finally play its first home game of 2020.

Prediction: Penn State (-3)

19 of 19

Utah (0-0) at UCLA (0-1), Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Saturday, FS1

Utah (0-0) at UCLA (0-1), Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Saturday, FS1
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

COVID-19 kept Utah from playing its season opener last weekend, but things appear to be a go on Saturday. It’s uncertain who will be available for the Utes , who didn’t have enough scholarship players available last weekend. UCLA, meanwhile, lost in a wild 48-42 contest at Colorado. Bruins quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson, one of the Pac-12’s top athletes, threw for 303 yards with four TDs while also gaining 109 on the ground with a score last week.

Prediction: UCLA (+2 1/2)

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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