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  • We'll know a lot more about the playoff picture by the end of this month than we do the morning after the committee's first rankings. These big November games will help get us there.
By Bruce Feldman
November 01, 2017

With the first playoff rankings of the year out and the calendar turning to November, we have a much better road map of the biggest potential turning points in final third of the regular season. Here’s a look at the 10 biggest games ahead this month before championship weekend solidifies the postseason picture in early December.

1. Georgia at Auburn, Nov. 11: The Bulldogs topped the initial rankings Tuesday night and are clearly the class of the SEC East. The question many of us have is can the SEC get two teams into the playoff? Georgia’s résumé is strong already with a win at Notre Dame and a four-touchdown demolition of 6–2 Mississippi State. Still, with Alabama lurking in the SEC title game, there isn’t much margin for error, and the trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium is the biggest hurdle on Georgia’s remaining regular season schedule. The Bulldogs have won five of the last six meetings in this series, holding the Tigers under 14 points in all five victories.

2. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Nov. 4: The Sooners have a rocky road to get to the playoff, starting with Bedlam in Stillwater this weekend. An upset win over the Cowboys would quiet a lot of folks who aren’t buying Oklahoma even with its Week 2 thumping of Ohio State. The Cowboys don’t have a win as impressive as Oklahoma’s in Columbus, but they still have a shot at the playoff if they can take down their archrival.

3. Notre Dame at Miami, Nov. 11: Some may scoff at seeing Notre Dame at No. 3, but the Irish have beaten three top-25 teams by an average of 25 points per game, and their lone loss of the year came by one point against a Georgia team that came in at No. 1 in the committee’s initial rankings. Win out and the Irish are almost a lock for the playoff. Miami is undefeated, but all of the Hurricanes’ résumé-defining games are ahead. If they can get by Virginia Tech on Saturday—a big if—the Canes will be in position to make a big jump up the rankings and potentially crack the top four after the Irish come to town.

4. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 25: The Iron Bowl rarely disappoints. As crazy as this may sound, if the Tigers can knock off Georgia and Bama, they would be in position to be the highest-ranked two-loss team and might be able to crash the party. If Alabama can’t survive this one, their résumé—even with a win over Georgia in the SEC title game—might not be strong enough to get them into the Final Four.

5. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 25: This game is higher on the list because it also has a lot of Heisman ramifications, with running backs Josh Adams and Bryce Love in hot pursuit of Saquon Barkley. It will also be the Irish’s last game to make a statement to the playoff committee, and it comes a week after they play Navy, which has been a stressful ordeal more often than not in the past decade. 

6. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 25: After rallying to beat Penn State last week, the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes get a big boost, but with the home loss to Oklahoma hanging over them, they still have work to do to impress committee members. The Wolverines are essentially out of the running for the top four, but Jim Harbaugh’s first win over the Buckeyes would change the complexion of this season after losing at home to Michigan State and getting hammered by Penn State.

7. Virginia Tech at Miami, Nov. 4: The road to the Coastal Division title and a potential matchup with Clemson in the ACC championship game is on the line in this one. Both teams are in the thick of the playoff hunt and need a victory over a top-15 opponent to get the committee’s attention.

8. TCU at Oklahoma, Nov. 11: The Horned Frogs fell from the ranks of the unbeaten at Iowa State, but they already have one big top-15 win on the road in the state of Oklahoma. If they can get another on their way to the Big 12 title game, they’d have a decent argument to be in position as one of the top one-loss teams. Meanwhile, the Sooners face a tough turnaround after going to Stillwater for Bedlam the previous week.

9. USF at UCF, Nov. 24: Scott Frost’s Knights are undefeated, while Charlie Strong’s Bulls have one loss. A New Year’s Six bowl slot may hang in the balance. Not to mention this figures to be the toughest test for UCF—a lot of ADs will be watching to see how Frost manages things.

10. Oklahoma State at Iowa State, Nov. 11: The Cyclones have defeated two top five opponents,and they’ll have a third marquee win if the Cowboys can defeat Oklahoma the week before A win here would put Iowa State in good position for the Big 12 title game.

Other Week 10 notes

• Defensive coordinator Mike Elko is the coaching addition that has generated the most buzz at Notre Dame this year, but offensive coordinator Chip Long deserves a lot of credit, too. Yes, the Irish have a terrific O-line, but the jump in the efficiency of their run game this year is staggering. Last year, they ranked 62nd in yards per carry at 4.47. This year, they trail only Stanford and Arizona, at 6.89 yards per carry—almost two and half yards a pop more. Notre Dame’s rushing stats stand out even further when you factor in that the run defenses of its opponents average a No. 57 national rank; Stanford’s opponents have an average rank of 70th and Arizona’s is 80th (and that’s just including the Wildcats’ seven FBS opponents; the eighth team they’ve played, Northern Arizona, ranks 103rd in FCS).

• Iowa’s All-America LB Josey Jewell almost ended up at Division III Luther College, just a few miles from his home in Decorah, Iowa. Jewell wasn’t a guy who went to a bunch of football camps to showcase his talents, choosing instead to finish out his high school baseball season, so Iowa offered him late in the process. He said back then he weighed about 195 pounds and ran about 4.8 or 4.9 in the 40.

Jewell thinks he would not have developed into the same type of player if he had gone the D-III route. "I wouldn’t have gotten as strong or as fast,” he says. “That goes to [Hawkeyes strength coach] Chris Doyle. I was skin and bones [when he arrived in Iowa City]. I wouldn’t have been able to have the confidence. Coach Doyle makes us.”

• The Butkus Award committee unveiled its 15-member semifinalist list earlier this week. One guy they snubbed is Iowa State QB/LB Joel Lanning. He’s sixth in the nation in tackles and has been instrumental in the Cyclones’ run to the top 15. The former prep wrestling champ also exudes toughness and would do Butkus proud.

• At 6' 10" and 280 pounds, Minnesota tight end Nate Wozniak is the tallest skill player in the FBS. He’s become a nice if little-used weapon for the Gophers, averaging 14.9 yards per catch, but don’t be surprised if he ends up as an offensive tackle in the NFL. The Minnesota coaches toyed with moving him to tackle when they first got there this offseason; offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarocca said if they had met Wozniak three years ago, he would’ve been a tackle. Gophers offensive line coach Ed Warriner said Wozniak reminds him of another tall tight end he coached back at Ohio State, Reid Fragle, who spent parts of the last five years as an offensive tackle in the pros.

• This year, six of the seven most-watched college football games involve Big Ten teams. Only two of the top seven involve an SEC team.

•​ Nebraska and quarterback Tanner Lee got off to a disappointing start this season, but keep an eye on the former Tulane transfer in the final month. In September, Lee threw nine interceptions and averaged 229 passing yards per game; in October he thew just one interception and averaged 332 yards per game.

• Stat of the Week: Lamar Jackson had six runs of 40-plus yards during his Heisman-winning 2016 season. Arizona’s Khalil Tate had eight such runs in the month of October alone.

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