The Week 11 college football schedule features underhyped matchups to decide the leaders of the Sun Belt Conference and the West Division of the American Athletic Conference.
No, none of these games will have a direct impact on the College Football Playoff chase, like USC-Washington will at Husky Stadium. And they’re light on catchy branding, unlike The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry pitting Auburn against Georgia. Still, the following beneath-the-radar gems are packed with juicy storylines and compelling subplots, and they warrant your time and attention in Week 11.
6. Southern Miss (5-4) at Old Dominion (6-3)
There’s an interesting development brewing in Norfolk that’s understandably eluded the vast majority of the country.
Virginia Tech isn’t the only feel-good story in the Commonwealth. Just three short years after joining the FBS, the Monarchs became bowl-eligible last week against Marshall, one of Conference USA’s name-brand members. ODU is taking flight behind the backfield duo of dual-threat quarterback David Washington and running back Ray Lawry, who fueled the rout of the Herd. If the Monarchs can pass their toughest remaining test, Saturday against underachieving Southern Miss, they’ll be heavily favored to finish the regular season 9-3 while keeping the pressure on East Division leader Western Kentucky.
5. UTSA (5-4) at Louisiana Tech (7-3)
First place in Conference USA’s West Division will be at stake when UTSA travels to Joe Aillet Stadium this weekend.
It’s no surprise that Louisiana Tech is contending. The Bulldogs won nine games in each of the last two seasons for Skip Holtz. And the 2016 edition has ripped off six straight wins behind quarterback Ryan Higgins’ breakout senior year and 1,000-yard receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. That the Roadrunners are standing in Tech’s way to a possible crown is a shocker. First-year coach Frank Wilson inherited a team that won three games in 2015, yet now stands a victory from a program-first bowl game. Confidence in San Antonio has never been higher now that UTSA has taken four of its last five games.
4. Army (5-4) at Notre Dame (3-6)
Army and Notre Dame are kind of flipping the script as they get set to meet at the San Antonio Alamodome.
The Black Knights and Fighting Irish meet for the 51st time, with Army looking for its first win in the series since 1958. Snap the 14-game losing streak and the cadets will be bowl-eligible for the first time in six years. While the Academy has a ton to play for over the next month, ND is in the unfamiliar position of playing out the string. Yeah, the Irish can win the final three to qualify for a bonus game, but no one in South Bend is going to care. The only storyline remaining centers on the future of Brian Kelly, who’s in danger of falling to a service academy for a second straight Saturday after his kids lost to Navy last weekend in Jacksonville.
3. Kentucky (5-4) at Tennessee (6-3)
Nah, it’s not the most consequential SEC pairing of Week 11. Just don’t try to convince the coaches otherwise.
For Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Tennessee’s Butch Jones, this is a huge game at Neyland Stadium. The Cats have lost 30 of the last 31 in the series, and haven’t won in Knoxville since Stoops was a defensive back at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. With an upset, UK becomes bowl-eligible and Stoops leaves the hot seat for at least the next 10 months. Jones might need to finish strong to save his own job with the Volunteers, remarkable since this team was not long ago ranked in the top 10. But the wheels have come off the Vols, and the coach and his staff can ill-afford a fourth consecutive loss to an FBS opponent.
2. Appalachian State (7-2) at Troy (7-1)
It’s not just the game of the year in the Sun Belt Conference. It’s also a matchup of two really good and really underrated Group of Five schools.
Troy and Appalachian State are almost identical programs; they’re balanced on offense, stout on defense and undefeated in league play. And when they square off at Veterans Memorial Stadium, they’ll decide who Arkansas State will be chasing over the final three weekends of the regular season. It will also be a matchup of particular interest to a select group Power Five ADs, who could someday target Trojan Neal Brown and Mountaineer Scott Satterfield as future coaching candidates.
1. Tulsa (7-2) at Navy (6-2)
Someone is taking over the lead in the West Division of the American. And, no, the game will not involve Houston.
Greg Ward Jr. and the Cougars were supposed to turn the league race into their own three-month coronation to a New Year’s Six bowl game. Instead, Tulsa and Navy have risen to the top of the West with contrasting styles. The Golden Hurricane is lighting up opposing defenses with a balanced attack that blends the passing of Dane Evans with the two-headed ground game of James Flanders and D’Angelo Brewer. The Midshipmen, true to their usual persona, are pounding the ball out of the triple-option. QB Will Worth, a backup before Tago Smith went down in the opener, ripped off 175 rushing yards and two scores in last week’s upset of Notre Dame.