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College Football Picks 2021: Week Eleven

David Bell, Purdue

Current Picks Record: 60-30

Upset: 6-4

Superdogs: 7-3

(#8) Oklahoma Sooners @ (#13) Baylor Bears

Despite being one of the few remaining undefeated Power Five teams in the country, Oklahoma remains well outside the current CFB Playoff field at No. 8. However, they have three great opportunities to boost their resume as they wrap up their regular season, beginning with Baylor. The Bears have been one of the league's biggest surprises after a strange 2020, but they need to get back on track after losing to TCU last weekend.

The Sooners have looked night-and-day offensively since Caleb Williams took over for Spencer Rattler at quarterback. There's something magical about the way Williams is able to sling the ball over the field in a controlled manner, and his running ability adds another element to the Oklahoma offense. The fact that defenses have to keep him honest have opened up other avenues for the Sooner offense; their ground attack has been more potent in recent weeks and the offensive line has been playing better with a more mobile QB to protect. This has always been an extremely talented offensive group, but Williams has been able to unleash it in different ways. Marvin Mims is one of the best receivers in the nation, Mario Williams is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and under-appreciated players like H-back Jeremiah Hall and steady veteran Drake Stoops can have their presence felt. What's been particularly impressive about Williams is not just his ability to get everybody in the offense so involved, but how smart he's been with the ball despite being a true freshman. He has an extremely impressive 14-1 TD-INT ratio, while completing nearly 72% of his passes. The thing is, you always wonder how sustainable those types of numbers are. At the end of the day, true freshman quarterbacks are true freshman quarterbacks; even superstars like Williams will have off days. Could the Baylor defense be the one to capitalize? It's an experienced Baylor secondary, but they're coming off a week in which they were absolutely obliterated by Chandler Morris and TCU. Perhaps that was a wakeup call for the entire group, but how quickly can they pull a 180 this weekend?

Baylor is a run-first offense, even though quarterback Gerry Bohanon has impressed me with how well he has played for a first-year starter. Bohanon's solid play is overshadowed by the two-headed monster the Bears have in the backfield in Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner. Smith has already surpassed 1,000 yards on the year and is looking for more, while Ebner is not only a great runner, but has proven in the past he can make plays out of the backfield as a receiver. Add in Bohanon, who is pretty nimble for being 6'3", 220 pounds, and Baylor's rushing attack is enough to keep Alex Grinch and the Oklahoma defense up at night. But, the larger concern for the Sooners is unquestionably their pass defense. With their secondary banged up, Oklahoma has been getting absolutely killed through the air over the past month and if something is going to keep them from finishing the year undefeated, it will be the pass defense. It's not in Baylor's nature to take too many deep shots, but you get a feeling that they have to be aggressive if they want to pull off the upset in this one. Tyquan Thornton and R.J. Sneed are an effective 1-2 punch out wide, and Thornton's deep threat ability is a real concern. If the Bears are able to play ball control and then take and make the occasional home run, you have to be very intrigued about the upset potential.

Going into McLane Stadium in Waco is never easy and it's particularly rowdy when the Bears are playing well. Obviously, Dave Aranda and the Bears would love nothing more than to play spoiler to Oklahoma's undefeated campaign. It's one with serious upset potential, but I'm wary about going with Baylor just one week after their performance against TCU. The Horned Frogs might have played inspired football, but it was shocking to see just how terrible the Bear defense looked. I'm not sure they can figure it out in just one week when they have to face Caleb Williams and this fearsome Sooner attack.

The Pick: Oklahoma, 37 Baylor, 28

(#19) Purdue Boilermakers @ (#4) Ohio State Buckeyes

Purdue has beaten two Top 5 teams en route to a 6-3 start, and they're looking to add another prize to their collection in Ohio State. It's a really concerning matchup for Ohio State, even in "The Shoe" and will be the first time the two programs square off since 2018, when the Boilermakers pounded the Buckeyes by four touchdowns.

After a relatively slow start to the season, Ohio State's offense has been humming over the past month-and-a-half. C.J. Stroud in particular is playing with a lot more confidence running the Buckeye offense and has not shied away from taking the down-the-field shots he seemed hesitant about early in the season. It does help that Ohio State has the nation's best receiver corps top-to-bottom. We entered the year knowing all about Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but it is second-year phenom Jaxon Smith-Njigba who is leading OSU in receiving yardage. Smith-Njigba is fresh off a 15-catch, 240 yard showing in the win against Nebraska and will be at the front of every Purdue defender's mind. True freshman TreVeyon Henderson leads the Buckeye ground game, and is on pace so smash countless Ohio State freshmen records. He's been one of the best running backs anywhere in the country the last few weeks, let alone freshmen. It will be an interesting battle between this Ohio State offense and the Purdue defense. Quietly, the Boilermakers' improvement defensively has been one of the better stories of the Big Ten season and is a big reason why they're bowl eligible in mid-November. They've been particularly good against the run, but does the pass defense have the pieces in place to hold up? It's one thing to shut down an Iowa or Michigan State offense, but the athletes Ohio State can throw at you are completely different.

Purdue obviously doesn't trout out the same athletes as Ohio State, but David Bell is one of the best receivers anywhere in the nation and is a serious candidate for the Biletnikoff Award. He's had a couple of games this season where he was so clearly the best player on the field it was tough to keep your eyes off of him. His play, along with continued growth from QB Aidan O'Connell, has evolved the Purdue offense into one of the more explosive in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers are currently averaging over 330 yards of passing per game, which is Top 10 nationally. That's a real concern for a Buckeye secondary that is still awfully talented, but hasn't quite lived up to that potential over the past year-and-a-half. Bell could be in store for a field day, but the X-factors for Purdue lie in tight end Payne Durham and their ground game. Durham hasn't been 100 percent and was barely on the field for the Michigan State upset, but it's hard to explain his value to the offense. He's a dangerous possession receiver underneath, and his work in the blocking game is pivotal to what Purdue wants to do on offense. The Boilermaker run game has lagged behind for years at this point, but they have to bring some balance to the table if they want to hang with the Buckeyes. They don't need 200-plus yards of offense from the ground attack, but they need something to keep OSU honest. 

Despite the fact Purdue is playing great football right now, Ohio State enters this one as a three-touchdown favorite. The fact the game is in Columbus obviously plays into that, but the assumption is that Ohio State is playing too well at this point to avoid this type of slip-up. I'm not entirely sure about that; the Buckeyes have looked very beatable over the last two weekends, albeit against quality foes. Purdue has the tools to give OSU a game, but will need to create turnovers and probably engineer some luck to win. It's too much to ask for me to pick Purdue outright, but I definitely like their chances at covering.

The Pick: Ohio State, 38 Purdue, 24

(#16) NC State Wolfpack @ (#12) Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Although they match up every single year, it's been awhile (perhaps never) that this game between in-state rivals NC State and Wake Forest meant this much. With both teams first and second in the ACC Atlantic, this game essentially operates as a de-facto Atlantic Division Title Game, especially since Wake Forest's loss last weekend didn't count against their conference record. 

Even though the Demon Deacons came up short against North Carolina last Saturday, their offense remains one of the funnest to watch anywhere in college football. It's an aggressive, fast-paced offense with playmakers at every single level and a quality veteran QB, Sam Hartman, leading the way. Hartman is coming off a five-touchdown performance against UNC, but his two interceptions in that game proved to make all the difference in a three-point defeat. Considering he did throw the ball 51 times against the Tar Heels, a pair of turnovers isn't anything to be very disappointed about, but he has to prove he can take care of the ball against a ball-hawking NC State defense. Hartman is joined by a trio of efficient tailbacks in Christian Beal-Smith, Justice Ellison, and Christian Turner and two of the ACC's best wide outs in Jaquarii Roberson and A.T. Perry. Roberson is the possession receiver that will be a pain to stop, but it's Perry that could blow the game wide open; he leads Wake with 10 touchdown receptions on the season, and he's averaging over 20 yards per reception. With so many different weapons, the Demon Deacons can pound you with a physical run attack or a short passing game, but they'll take the necessary shots down-the-field when they want to. As long as they don't turn the ball over, they should be set up nicely against this NC State defense. This is a veteran-laden Wolfpack defense, but one beat up throughout their entire roster. It's tough to imagine them being the ones to slow down Hartman and company enough.

NC State's offense isn't quite as explosive as Wake Forest, instead leaning on a more balanced approach that uses QB Devin Leary's strengths. Leary has been a great story after missing most of 2020 with a leg injury, as he's thrown for 2,475 yards and 25 touchdowns, with just three interceptions. He's been especially impressive as of late, crossing the 300-yard threshold in three consecutive games, with a 10-1 TD-INT ratio in that span. Joining him are running backs Zonovan "Bam" Knight and Ricky Person Jr., a powerful 1-2 combo, as well as a solid receiver corps that includes Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas, and Devin Carter. There's not quite as much pure speed in the lineup as Wake, but it's still a productive group that has proven it can move the ball. Knight and Person are a load to handle over four quarters and it's hard to imagine this atrocious Wake Forest secondary being able to handle the trio out wide, particularly if Carter can get back on track after a quiet few weeks. 

This game has all the makings of a shootout, and should be a fun one. Wake Forest has a slightly better offense than NC State, but they can't stop absolutely anyone. The Wolfpack offense isn't quite as aggressive as Wake's, but Leary's play over the last several weeks allows them to compete with anyone. Their defense also happens to be one of the better units Wake Forest has seen so far in 2021, even if they are dealing with injuries. Top to bottom, I think NC State is probably the best team in the division, and they've put together a strong season for head coach Dave Doeren. However, they've also had bouts of maddening inconsistency, such as in losses to Mississippi State and Miami and a stinker against Louisiana Tech. Wake Forest at home makes a lot more sense to me than NC State, even if they lost last weekend. As I said previously, this Wake team isn't a Playoff-good team, but one I believe capable of winning the weakest ACC we've seen in awhile.

The Pick: Wake Forest, 49 NC State, 40

Other Picks

(#1) Georgia, 35 Tennessee, 21 -- At some point, Georgia's going to get a real test from somebody this season and why that can't be the Volunteers? They at least have the offense to make things interesting, but their terrible defense erodes any upset chances.

(#15) Ole Miss, 42 (#11) Texas A&M, 34 -- Can A&M keep their magical run going? Even though Ole Miss isn't fully healthy, I still think Matt Corral gives them a clear upper hand, as does getting the Aggies in Oxford.

(#18) Wisconsin, 24 Northwestern, 10 -- Don't look now, but Wisconsin looks like they're going to play themselves back into another Big Ten West Title. The 3-6 Wildcats officially lose out on a bowl with a road loss here.

(#20) Iowa, 21 Minnesota, 13 -- Fresh off a frustrating loss to Illinois, can the Gophers rebound? Iowa's not exactly playing good football right now, but they've absolutely owned this series for some time now. I just don't see this Gopher team going into Iowa City and flipping the script.

Upset: Penn State, 31 Michigan, 28 -- This might not be much of an upset, but I like the chances of a fully healthy Sean Clifford leading Penn State to a win over sixth-ranked Michigan. These are the types of games Jim Harbaugh has lost too often at Michigan, and it's in Happy Valley.

Superdog (covers > 21 spread): South Alabama +22.5 @ Appalachian State -- Kane Wommack has had a solid debut campaign with South Alabama, who is off to a 5-4 start and searching for bowl eligibility. They won't go into Appalachian State and pull off the upset, but they should be able to keep it close deep into the second half.

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