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College Football Picks 2023: Week Eleven

J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Current Picks Record: 61-29

Upsets: 6-4

Superdogs: 6-4

Locks: 7-3

(#3) Michigan Wolverines @ (#10) Penn State Nittany Lions

Line: Michigan -4.5

O/U: 44.5

For all the controversy surrounding Michigan off-the-field, Jim Harbaugh's team remains in the driver's seat in the Big Ten. Sure, Ohio State may hold the top spot in the CFB Playoff rankings, but the Wolverines have looked like the better team, albeit against a much softer schedule. That changes this weekend, as Michigan faces what is truly their first significant test of the fall: a road trip to Happy Valley. At 8-1, Penn State has proven they are so much more than a third wheel to OSU and Michigan in the East, but can James Franklin finally topple a top team on the national stage?

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy might not have the gaudy stats of the West Coast quarterbacks, but remains in the thick of the Heisman race, coming in fourth on the current odds at this point in the season. It's a testament to how in control the signal-caller has been, leading an efficient and consistent Wolverine offense. Of course, it helps that he's supported by an elite offensive line, and one of the nation's top running back duos to take some pressure off him, in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. But, the Penn State defense offers a different test than these Wolverines have seen so far this fall. This is one of the best defensive fronts anywhere in the county, a group stocked to the brim with NFL talent. Not only are rushing lanes going to be hard to come by, Manny Diaz is going to be drawing up relentless pressure. Does that mean we will see McCarthy take more shots down the field in an effort to open things up? So far, the Michigan passing game has lived and died by the underneath stuff, primarily because it hasn't been necessary to do anything more. I suspect that won't be the case in this one, but even trying to throw agains the Nittany Lions is easier said than done; corner Kalen King leads one of the top secondaries in college football.

Speaking of elite running back duos, Penn State features their own in Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton. The pair has essentially split feature back duties right down the middle (Allen with 119 carries, Singleton with 121) and although the big plays haven't quite been there this year as they were in 2022, they've been awfully productive. There's little doubt Penn State will look to establish the run early and often, but that wasn't the issue in the Ohio State loss, it was the complete ineptitude of their passing attack. Sophomore QB Drew Allar is still experiencing growing pains and despite plenty of bright spots, this is going to be a tough matchup for him. Michigan is the type of physical, disciplined defense that makes offenses fight for every yard, and they excel on third down. That's bad news for an offense that went a staggering 1-16 on third downs against the Buckeyes last month. I'll be interested if there's any change in strategy from James Franklin and OC Mike Yurcich. Do they look to incorporate more gadget or screen plays in an effort to manufacture yardage? To be fair to Allar, it's not just his fault either that the passing game has lagged at times. This may be the worst receiver group of Franklin's entire tenure - beyond KeAndre Lambert-Smith, there's nobody that can get consistently open, and even Lambert-Smith is an iffy No. 1 option. That's a real concern and the past few weeks haven't seemingly alleviated those concerns, even if this group dropped 51 against Maryland.

A November game in the that will be in the 30s, featured two of the best defenses in the country? Yeah, this is going to be a Big Ten football game, alright. It's probably not going to be very pretty, a game where field position is at a premium and a turnover or special teams play could make all the difference. I still believe Michigan is the better football team but how do they respond to this level of test? The sign-stealing controversy makes them such a wild card to me - will it provide even more motivation or be the distraction that derails an otherwise special 2023? This Saturday will tell us quite a bit.

The Pick: Michigan, 24 Penn State, 17

(#9) Ole Miss Rebels @ (#2) Georgia Bulldogs

Line: Georgia -10.5

O/U: 58.5

Following Alabama's win over LSU last weekend, it's looking more and more like we will see another battle between the Tide and mighty Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. But, the 8-1 Ole Miss Rebels might have something to say about that, as they remain firmly in the SEC West mix, although the Tide do own the tiebreaker over them. Going into Sanford Stadium and pulling off the upset for the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs would be the ultimate statement from Lane Kiffin and company, and the Rebels have nothing to lose this Saturday.

Kiffin-coached teams have typically been known for their offense, but this year's Rebels team brings much more balance to the equation. They can still light up the scoreboard when necessary, but this is also one of the most improved defenses in the nation under coordinator Pete Golding. That will be crucial in any hopes of an upset bid, as they face a Georgia offense that has been surprisingly explosive all season. Quarterback Carson Beck has impressed in his first season as starter and he doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Missouri did an excellent job keeping him in check for most of the game last Saturday, but he still finished with 254 yards and two touchdowns, but that's not even the most important part - he simply doesn't turn the ball over. That's going to be important against an opportunistic Rebels defense that is going to play with reckless abandon in this one. Beck may be without his top target in tight end Brock Bowers, but the Bulldogs continue to find new weapons to emerge on the perimeter and the ground game seems to be getting better each and every week. Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton may not be the most fearsome tailback combo Kirby Smart and company have trotted out in recent years, but they have been effective enough to provide this team balance. With Beck making things happen through the air, even a serviceable ground attack has made this offense consistently excellent.

There's been good balance on the Rebel offense all season long, too, which hasn't always been the case for Lane Kiffin in Oxford. Quinshon Judkins looked well on his way to becoming one of the best running backs anywhere in the country, but he's instead been outshined by quarterback Jaxson Dart and a superb passing game. Dart has nearly 3,000 yards of total offense and 23 total touchdowns, while limiting turnovers and playing confident football. It has felt like a statement campaign for Dart, who watched Ole Miss add two notable QB transfers over the offseason in Spencer Sanders and Walker Howard, but beat them both out to hold on to his starting job. The emergence of a strong wide receiver trio in Tre Harris, Jordan Watkins, and Dayton Wade has also been a pleasant surprise. Harris, a former Louisiana Tech transfer, has been the big-play threat, while it's Watkins and Wade that can open things up horizontally and soften up defenses. I'm sure Lane will be eager to draw up something new and tricky for the challenge Georgia possesses, and I do think this offense is up for the challenge. The main concern I have? Dart, and this entire unit, have a real knack for struggling in big games like this. The Alabama game is a perfect example, with the Rebels managing just 301 yards and ten points in a losing effort. Is going on the road to face a stifling Bulldog defense going to flip the script?

I've picked against Ole Miss multiple times this season, but the Rebels just keep on winning, with the chance to vault themselves into the Playoff discussion with an upset. But, I remain skeptical that this is the team that is going to go into Sanford Stadium and break Georgia's 26-game win steak. It would take some extra Lane Kiffin magic and even that doesn't seem to always show up in these types of games.

The Pick: Georgia, 35 Ole Miss, 21

(#18) Utah Utes @ (#5) Washington Huskies

Line: Washington -9.5

O/U: 49.5

Sitting at 9-0 and with the Heisman frontrunner under center, Washington is in position to become the first Pac-12 to make the College Football Playoff since they achieved the feat all the way back in 2016. But, standing in their is a brutal end to their regular season, with Utah, Oregon State, and Washington State remaining on their schedule. First up is the Utes, who will travel to Seattle fresh off a 55-3 dismantling of Arizona State.

If you haven't had a chance to watch the Washington offense this fall, you're missing out. Penix is the figurehead, but he's far from the only playmaker, as the Huskies feature arguably the nation's top receiver corps and an underrated tailback in Dillon Johnson. With the unlimited arm strength of Penix, the Huskies haven't been afraid to take shots down the field, and play-caller Ryan Grubb is creative in how he opens up gaping holes in the defense. No unit has been able to slow them down this season, with the lone exception being an Arizona State team that got them the week after the exhausting Oregon victory. But, Utah does present an interesting challenge for Penix and company. This is one of the most consistent defenses you'll find anywhere in the country and the physicality they play with is just a grind. There are more talented defenses, sure, but the way the Utes play just has a way of grinding you down. They're particularly strong up front and should give the Washington offensive line a battle, although it's the back-end I'm curious about. Despite having Clark Phillips III, the Utes struggled to defend the pass a season ago, but have seen improvements this year. If they can hold Penix in check and potentially force a few turnovers, this game could get very interesting very fast.

To say that Utah plays a different brand of offense than Washington is an understatement. As compared to the Huskies, who boast the nation's top passing offense, the Utes rank 123rd and are led by backup signal-caller Bryson Barnes. Barnes has been solid, but it's the ground game that really makes the Utes go, spearheaded by the duo of Ja'Quinden Jackson and Jaylon Glover. Jackson is a key difference-maker; when he's on, Utah has been able to find a rhythm early and feed the passing game. But, the Oregon game was the perfect example of how the offense can struggle when he's taken out of the game. On the perimeter, Mikey Matthews and DeVaughn Vele have been effective and should give a mediocre Husky secondary difficulties. Then, there's the ultimate wild card of the offense: two-way weapon Sione Vaki, if we do indeed say him play both ways this week. Vaki looked like the next sensation during a monster two-week stretch in mid-November, but hasn't been deployed offensively in the last two weeks. It feels like the Ute offense may need an extra boost, and he Vaki is the type of weapon that can provide just that.

It's going to be a month of tests for Washington as they finish off November, but they still maintain a clear advantage in this matchup. Kyle Whittingham and staff have whipped up a magical season considering the circumstances, but going on the road to face an explosive Huskies team is a lot to ask this deep into the season. If Penix continues rolling and the Huskies contain Jackson and the Ute ground game, they should be able to reach the double-digit win mark.

The Pick: Washington, 38 Utah, 27

Other Picks

USC Trojans @ (#6) Oregon Ducks -- Alex Grinch may be gone, but I'm not convinced that will fix USC's defensive woes. Unless they completely transform within the span of a week, Bo Nix, Bucky Irving, and Troy Franklin are going to have a field day.

The Pick: Oregon, 48 USC, 31

(#13) Tennessee Volunteers @ (#14) Missouri Tigers -- In what essentially acts as the SEC East second place game, Tennessee goes on the road to face a Missouri team that gave Georgia a game last week. I remain extremely high on these Tigers, and they should come out on top in a game with significant shootout potential.

The Pick: Missouri, 42 Tennessee, 34

Miami Hurricanes @ (#4) Florida State Seminoles -- You never know in these types of rivalry games, but Florida State has answered the call each and every week of the season, and get the Hurricanes in Doak Campbell.

The Pick: Florida State, 31 Miami, 21

Upset: Texas Tech Red Raiders @ (#16) Kansas Jayhawks -- It's been a dream season for Lance Leipold and company, but the upset-minded Red Raiders have the capabilities to match them blow-by-blow in a classic Big 12 duel.

The Pick: Texas Tech, 38 Kansas, 35

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread): Baylor Bears (+21.5) @ Kansas State Wildcats -- Kansas State has played themselves into prime position in the Big 12 race, but this is rarely the type of offense to play away from folks early. The Bears could hang along long to cover this spread.

The Pick: Kansas State, 31 Baylor, 14

Lock of the Week: Alabama Crimson Tide (-11) @ Kentucky Wildcats -- Alabama seems to be getting better each week, and seems to be evolving into the monster that we've come to know them under Nick Saban. Going to Lexington will be an intriguing test, but a stifling Alabama defense shouldn't have too much trouble with a Kentcuky offense that has struggled to find a rhythm all year.

The Pick: Alabama, 34 Kentucky, 17

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