Week 11 is a little bit lacking in terms of marquee matchups, but if last week taught us anything, it’s that good teams can see their playoff aspirations get dashed if they don’t take care of business against lesser opponents (I swear I don’t hate Texas A&M). The most intriguing matchup of the weekend will take place in Seattle, where Washington will be hosting a newly ranked USC team that is riding high on a five-game winning streak. As always, there are plenty of lesser-hyped matchups that carry fantasy intrigue. Let’s take a look at who to start and who to sit in Week 11.
PLAYERS TO START
Ke'Mon Freeman, RB, Southern Methodist (@ East Carolina): SMU has had plenty of attrition at running back this season and Saturday’s game against Memphis marked a new low after Braeden West exited the contest with an injury. West’s injury opened the door for more opportunities for Freeman, who gained 83 yards on 16 carries. Freeman’s utility as a fantasy option this week hinges on West’s availability, but if West is out, Freeman makes for a great plug-and-play option against East Carolina. The Pirates routinely get gashed on the ground, allowing 5.1 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Again, West’s status will need to be monitored throughout the week, but if he’s out, Freeman is a high-upside sleeper with a plus matchup.
Daniel Jones, QB, Duke (vs. North Carolina): North Carolina’s defense has shown some cracks against mobile quarterbacks, and Jones’ dual-threat abilities could present some matchup issues for the Tar Heels. Jones can be a bit uneven as a passer, as evidenced by his 148-yard outing through the air last week against Virginia Tech. However, he will be facing a defense that could be worn out on a short week after going against Georgia Tech’s triple option last week. In any case, Jones has repeatedly shown that he can put up double-digit fantasy points as a runner alone, so if he can have some passing success Thursday, he’ll reward owners with a strong overall output.
Cameron Batson, WR, Texas Tech (@ Oklahoma State): Batson’s been flying under the radar as a touchdown machine relative to his catch total this season, racking up eight touchdowns on 51 catches. The 51 catches, which averages out to just under six catches per game, also make him a valuable commodity in PPR formats. He draws an excellent matchup this week against an Oklahoma State defense that’s given up 10 passing touchdowns in six conference games. While Jonathan Giles gets most of the headlines among Red Raiders receivers, Batson is a viable second-tier weapon to get into your lineups this week with a favorable matchup on the docket.
DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue (vs. Northwestern): The Wildcats play a solid brand of defense and their offense has allowed them to hang close with some of the bluebloods of the Big Ten this season. In fact, there may be a perception that Northwestern’s defense would be one to avoid if possible. Not so fast, my friend. Northwestern ranks 99th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game this season, which could mean trouble Saturday against Purdue’s high-volume passing attack. Yancey is the leader of that group as the most explosive option in the Boilermakers’ receiving corps. He’s averaging just over 20 yards per reception and he’s had at least one catch of 50 or more yards in four straight games. Even if he only grabs four or five receptions against Northwestern, the odds are that at least one of them goes for a big gain and possibly a touchdown.
Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP (@ Florida Atlantic): Jones has been consistently excellent all season and he cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career thanks to a 228-yard outburst against Houston Baptist last week. There aren’t many weeks where Jones should find his way onto your bench, but I’m using him as my starter in this space to underline the idea that he might put up the biggest numbers of any running back in the nation this week. Jones has the potential to go for 200 or more yards any given week, and with a matchup against FAU on tap, he might reach that mark for the third time this season. FAU ranks near the bottom in nearly every major run-defense category, but the most eye-popping stat that underlines the Owls’ ineptitude in that area is the 26 touchdowns they’ve given up on the ground. Jones is a virtual lock for a multi-touchdown outing Saturday, and he should be able to rack up an excellent yardage total as well.
Gus Ragland, QB, Miami (OH), (@ Buffalo): Ragland has been impressive since taking over for the injured Billy Bahl, leading the RedHawks to four consecutive wins. He’s accounted for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions over that span, remarkable for a player that had 29 career passing attempts coming into the season. Not only are Ragland’s overall numbers impressive, but he’s coming off his best start (13-for-21, 218 yards, 4:0 TD:INT). This week he gets to face a Buffalo defense that’s giving up 34.6 points per game in conference play.
Marcus Kemp, WR, Hawai’i (vs. Boise State): Kemp was on the other end of this article last week, when he drew a tough matchup against San Diego State, and he was held in check to the tune of five receptions for 34 yards. Although he’s facing a more prominent program this week with Boise State coming to Hawai’i, this is actually a much more favorable matchup for Kemp. The 6-4 wideout is far and away the top receiver for Hawai’i, as he has more than twice as many yards as any of his teammates. What’s more, Kemp’s size will create a matchup nightmare for Boise State’s secondary, which has been pedestrian this season, ranking 10th in the conference in passing yards allowed per game. Also, trips to Hawai’i can be problematic for road teams, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boise State put forth an underwhelming performance Saturday. With that, look for Kemp to revert to his October form, when he averaged 6.4 catches and 104.6 yards per game. Also, as Nick Grays notes in his Waiver Wire article, Michael Gallup of Colorado State is absolutely worth a spot in starting lineups this week.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC (@ Washington): Last week Darnold was highlighted to emphasize just how impressive he had been through his first five starts. This week’s write-up is more of a statement that Darnold can handle a tough matchup. Going up to Washington for a game with major playoff implications is going to be the toughest test of Darnold’s young career, but the redshirt freshman does not seem like any moment is too big for him. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers against Oregon last week, tossing just two touchdowns after back-to-back outings with five TD passes. Darnold did, however, complete 70 percent of his passes for 309 yards. Again, it’s going to be difficult to move the ball through the air on Washington, but if there’s any quarterback in the Pac-12 outside of Luke Falk that can do it, it’s Darnold. Also, Washington will be without Joe Mathis, who Pro Football Focus rates as the nation’s top edge defender. While Mathis’ absence will be felt by Washington, the Huskies still have a tremendous amount of talent everywhere else on the defense. Darnold may not be able to rack up five touchdowns on the Huskies the way he has against softer Pac-12 defenses, but he’s not the obvious bench candidate that most quarterbacks would be against Washington.
Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt (@ Missouri): The Tigers have been routinely shredded on the ground by SEC competition, which does not bode well for them with one of the conference’s best backs coming to town Saturday. To be clear, Webb has been slowed a bit in recent weeks against Georgia and Auburn, but Missouri’s run defense is several tiers beneath those units. There’s also the issue of the 235-pound Khari Blasingame vulturing some scoring opportunities from Webb. That said, when a player of Webb’s caliber gets to go against a defense that’s allowing 5.7 yards per carry to SEC opponents, fantasy owners need to find a way to get him into their lineups. Kentucky’s Benny Snell is also an interesting starting option this week with the Wildcats taking on a banged-up Tennessee squad.
Larry Rose III, RB, New Mexico State (@ Arkansas State): Rose hasn’t set the Sun Belt on fire this season the way he did in 2015, but missing the first three games of the season to recover from sports hernia surgery can understandably lead to a slow start for a running back. His YPC mark is down to 4.5 from his 6.9 in 2015, but he’s coming off a bye after ripping off 6.4 YPC against Texas A&M. He’s facing an Arkansas State run defense that’s middling by Sun Belt standards, giving up 181 yards per game on the ground. Look for Rose to notch his second 100-yard performance of the 2016 campaign.
PLAYERS TO SIT
Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis (vs. South Florida): Ferguson is coming off one of his best games of the season, a four-touchdown outing with no interceptions in a rout over SMU. Even though SMU has a respectable secondary in its own right, South Florida’s defense is playing at a different level than the Mustangs, ranking in the top 20 in the nation in terms of Passing Down S&P+ (according to SB Nation’s Bill Connolly), and it’s also excellent at getting off the field on third downs. What’s more, South Florida can get to the quarterback and Memphis’ line has done a horrible job protecting Ferguson this season, giving up 28 sacks through nine games. Ferguson will likely be frequently under duress Saturday and USF’s defense should be able to slow down Memphis’ passing attack.
Syracuse receivers* vs North Carolina State: The catch here is that starting quarterback Eric Dungey suffered an injury against Clemson and it’s unclear if he’ll be cleared in time to play Saturday against the Wolfpack. Dungey’s replacement, Austin Wilson, was efficient against the Tigers but he could not move the ball downfield whatsoever, as he went 17-for-27 for just 116 yards (4.3 YPA) and two interceptions. That’s a major concern if you own studs like Amba Etta-Tawo or Ervin Philips, who have a combined 143 catches for 1,780 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. If Dungey is sidelined Saturday, the vertical element of Syracuse’s offense could go by the wayside, which would especially cut into Etta-Tawo’s upside.
Terence Williams, RB, Baylor (vs. Oklahoma): Williams has been Baylor’s most impressive back this season, as he’s pushed former star Shock Linwood to the backburner. The sophomore has racked up eight touchdowns on the year and gets about 15 carries per game. In general, there aren’t many things about the Oklahoma defense that would scare you off, but when you dig into the numbers a bit, the Sooners have been tremendous against the run since conference play began, holding opponents to just 3.6 yards per carry and 109 YPG overall on the ground. Toss in the fact that Oklahoma’s offense should shred Baylor’s defense, and we could see a situation where Baylor needs to abandon the run game entirely. Williams will certainly be worthy of a start in your lineups later in the month, but as far as Saturday is concerned, he should be on the bench.
Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana (vs. Penn State): The 6-3 sophomore has been a revelation in the Indiana passing game, filling in for the injured Simmie Cobbs with essentially no drop-off in production. He’s up to 41 receptions for 708 yards (17.3 YPR) on the year, both of which are tops on the team. However, that type of production is sure to draw plenty of attention from Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who will take aim at neutralizing Westbrook and making Indiana turn to Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige. Furthermore, Penn State sports an excellent secondary that ranks just behind LSU in terms of passing yards allowed per game (197.8). The inconsistent play of quarterback Richard Lagow combined with Penn State’s strong secondary will likely result in a tough day for the talented Westbrook.
Jeffrey Wilson, RB, North Texas (@ Western Kentucky): Wilson has turned in some strong efforts this season with four multi-touchdown outings, but a matchup this week against Conference USA’s best run defense makes it tough to start him in nearly any format. He’s run for 109 yards on 34 carries over his last two outings against UTSA and Louisiana Tech, and neither of those teams have quite the same caliber of run defense. The Hilltoppers are holding opposing runners to 3.8 yards per carry in conference play and they’ve allowed a team to average more than 4.0 YPC in just one game this season. Even if Wilson is one of the top backs in the conference, Saturday will be a day to leave him on the bench.
Jordan Johnson, RB, Buffalo (vs. Miami (OH)): For the second straight week, Johnson gets the nod for my MAC player to bench due to the limited player pool following the Tuesday games. He was held in check by Ohio’s defense last week, going for just 59 yards on 17 carries just one week after his 282-yard outburst against Akron. This week he faces a Miami defense that is holding MAC opponents to just 2.8 yards per carry and 94.8 yards/game on the ground. Johnson will likely see over well over 15 carries again Saturday, but Miami’s defense should be able to hold him in check.
James Butler, RB, Nevada (vs. San Diego State): Butler is just 11 yards away from notching his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, and while he’ll likely get there Saturday, San Diego State is unlikely to budge much more than that this week. The Aztecs are holding opponents to just 86 yards per game with a YPC of just 2.8. Unfortunately for Butler, the Aztecs will key in on neutralizing him in order to force sophomore quarterback Ty Gangi to beat them through the air. While Butler is certainly talented enough to have success against almost any defense, San Diego State may just stack the line of scrimmage too much for him to have any room to run Saturday.
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State (vs. Utah): Ballage has the uncommon combination of size, speed, and athleticism that makes him a threat to take it to the house on any given play. His seven-touchdown outburst against Texas Tech earlier this season exhibited just how big a home-run threat he can be. However, he’s only scored four touchdowns since that monstrous outing and this week he gets to face one of the nastiest defenses in the Pac-12. The Utes can make any running back look pedestrian, and that’s the expectation this week when they face Ballage. Another pitfall for Ballage is Arizona State’s lack of a passing threat, which allows opposing defenses to load up to stop him. Manny Wilkins (shoulder) reportedly returned to practice Sunday, and while that would help add some balance to the Sun Devils offense, it likely won’t be enough to help take the pressure off of Ballage.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (vs. Auburn): It’s been a frustrating season for Chubb, who started the year off with a bang by running for 222 yards and two scores against North Carolina in a triumphant return from last year’s devastating knee injury, only to see his role fluctuate and his production dwindle. Chubb has just one 100-yard game since the season opener and he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry after averaging well over 7.0 YPC in his first two seasons. Meanwhile, Georgia has started to shy away from using Chubb as a workhorse and has instead gone with a deeper committee that gets Sony Michel and Brian Herrien involved. Not only is Chubb not running effectively with the carries he is getting, he has an extremely tough matchup this week against an Auburn team that is playing suffocating defense. The Tigers have given up just one rushing touchdown to SEC competition this season, which spells trouble for Chubb when Georgia is already going to have trouble getting to the red zone Saturday.
Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State (@ Troy): Cox is finally back to being healthy after a nagging injury kept him on the sidelines for four games. He’s got back-to-back 100-yard games, but Troy’s run defense represents a significantly tougher challenge than the likes of Georgia Southern or Texas State. Troy is allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground this season and is holding opponents to under three yards per carry. Additionally, Jalin Moore played well enough in Cox’s absence to where he’ll still see double-digit carries Saturday. Owners of either Cox or Moore may want to steer clear this week in what could be a muddled rotation against a tough run defense.