Before we get started, let's establish this is as a baseline: While every season is a snowflake -- there are nine 2-loss teams in this week's top 15; in each of the past two seasons there were one -- the latest any of the eventual eight College Football Playoff teams lost in the regular season was on Nov. 7, in Week 10 of that season. It's now Week 11.
1. Does Washington need to beat USC to reach the Playoff? The method by which Washington has crushed teams to this point has been emphatic and inarguable. They're second in scoring and 11th in scoring defense. The problem for the Huskies? Hardly anyone has gotten to see them. Of Washington's nine games to date, five were shown on Pac-12 Network. Their two appearances on ESPN have come on a Friday night and in a #Pac12AfterDark performance. (They won those games by a combined 110-33). Saturday's USC game will be just their second primetime-or-daytime appearance on a broadcast network or ESPN to date this season. (Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson have had seven, and Michigan six.)
So it's a massive opportunity for Washington, and it comes against a dangerous opponent. Because since the calendar flipped to October, USC's performance has out-flanked its record and its ranking.
The Trojans are averaging 7.43 yards per play while allowing only 4.9. They beat Colorado -- No. 12 Colorado -- and won their four other outings by an average of 25 points per game. A win over this USC team should be treated as a victory over a top-10 team -- because that's how these Trojans are playing.
Now, for the question above. It's clear Washington is fighting a different fight than Alabama, Clemson and Michigan are asked to fight. That's partly due to perception, partly due to the fact that people simply haven't seen this Huskies club as much as the others, and partly due to a non-conference schedule that includes Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. Either way, there's a reason the committee picked Texas A&M over this undefeated conference leader and not the others last week.
A Washington team with wins over top-25 Utah, Washington State and either Colorado or USC in a presumptive Pac-12 championship game should be enough to get in. But I don't think it's certain.
2. The march continues for Ed Orgeron and Charlie Strong. The task for Orgeron moving forward is to prove that last week's loss to Alabama was more about Alabama than LSU. And to do that he needs to continue to do what he did in October -- prove that this LSU is different, more explosive than the team they've been in recent years, the team they appeared to be against Alabama.
This week's opponent won't make it easy. As detailed last week, Bret Bielema is 8-3 in November with five of those wins coming against ranked teams.
For Strong, one can argue West Virginia represents the swing game for how the Texas finish is received. Assuming a win over Kansas next week and Texas would be 7-5 at worst with wins in four of their final five games. Lose, though, and the season will point toward a finale against a TCU team that may finally be playing to its paper and has had UT's number each of the past two seasons.
Entering Austin Saturday will be a West Virginia defense that ranks among the Big 12's top four in scoring, yards per play, pass efficiency and rushing.
3. Will Muschamp returns to the Swamp. Muschamp wanted no part of questions this week about what South Carolina's visit to Gainesville means to him personally, but it means a lot to his team. A Gamecocks club that started 2-4 now has an outside chance at winning the SEC East. They've done so largely thanks to a quarterback that should be a high school senior that's playing like a college senior. Jake Bentley has completed 73 percent of his passes for 8.4 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and no interceptions over South Carolina's 3-game winning streak, good for a quarterback rating that would rank seventh nationally if applied over an entire season.
Florida's offense just replaced its starting quarterback and is considering pulling the redshirt off its own highly-touted freshman.
That defense, though, is still as nasty as ever, placing fifth in yards per play and second in pass efficiency defense. Opposing passers are completing just 41.7 percent of their throws and are almost twice as likely to throw an interception than a touchdown.
4. No matter what, the Sun Belt title runs through Troy. There are three undefeated teams left in Sun Belt play -- Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy. App State and Arkansas State don't play each other, but both will visit the Trojans in the next two weeks, starting with the Mountaineers on Saturday.
Both Appalachian State and Troy excel on defense and in winning the turnover battle. Saturday's victor will do both of those better than the other.