BCS Rankings: The Biggest Question Mark for Each Top 25 Team

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIOctober 30, 2012

BCS Rankings: The Biggest Question Mark for Each Top 25 Team

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    As Week 10 approaches, there are discussions swirling faster and faster around each of the Top 25 teams. Some are about bowl eligibility, while others are about individual players or coaching issues.

    November is the most important month of the college football season, as losses in this month are very tough to recover from. Especially if those losses come later in the month, like Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State last year.

    With bowl season looming and a tough slate of games ahead of most teams in the Top 25, what are the major questions surrounding each ranked team?

25. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    Can Colby Cameron go through an entire season without an interception?

    Cameron is one of the best quarterbacks in FBS football. He has played against teams from major conferences, and he's beaten most of them. The lone loss of the season came to SEC-newcomer Texas A&M by two points.

    The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have four games left in the regular season against UTSA, Texas State, Utah State and San Jose State. While all those teams are likely to fall to the offensive powerhouse that is Louisiana Tech, a few of them have talent in the secondary to break Cameron's streak.

    He has broken the NCAA record for consecutive attempts without an interception, and he continues to set that bar higher with each pass that doesn't fall into enemy hands. Can he make it through the whole season with his streak still intact?

24. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Can Wes Lunt stay healthy?

    Oklahoma State has a four-game streak against ranked opponents starting in Week 10. This presents both a problem and opportunity for the Cowboys. While any win will be tough to get, if they do get a win, it will be an impressive one for the program.

    Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma are the four ranked opponents that they will face, followed by an unranked Baylor squad that has the seventh-best scoring offense in the land.

    Lunt will need to be healthy if OSU wants to end up with a few wins during this stretch. The great news for Okie State fans is that, when healthy, Lunt can already hang with some of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12.

    He's a freshman, so you can look forward to many opportunities to watch him carve defenses in the future. If Lunt can continue to improve throughout this season, there's no reason to doubt that the Cowboys could contend for a conference title next year as well. Plus, Collin Klein and Geno Smith won't be in the way in 2013.

23. Texas Longhorns

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    Is Mack Brown going to pick a quarterback?

    David Ash was having issues in Week 9 against the Kansas Jayhawks, and he got pulled in favor of Case McCoy. While that seems to make a lot of sense, McCoy is a junior and Ash is a sophomore.

    McCoy looked great against the Jayhawks late, but that doesn't really mean anything. Under no circumstances should a Big 12 quarterback look less than great against Kansas.

    Here's where the issue lies: If you pull a quarterback every time he struggles, you teach him that there will always be someone to bail him out. He learns that until you put him in a situation when there is nobody to bail him out. At that point, he doesn't know how to buckle down and do it himself.

    Right now, Ash doesn't know what it feels like to lose to the conference's worst team. That's because McCoy won the game. Mack Brown has been "rebuilding" year after year since Colt McCoy left after the 2009 national championship appearance.

    If Brown never commits to developing the players, nothing will ever really get built at Texas. Most of the time, you have to sacrifice a season to build a championship team. Mack Brown has been half-sacrificing seasons for over two years. If he stops doing that, Texas can quickly become a legitimate national title threat in short order.

22. Arizona Wildcats

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    Will Arizona make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game?

    Arizona has lost to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford in 2012. Those losses originally put the Wildcats out of control of anything other than a moderate bowl game. However, Arizona redeemed itself by upsetting then-No. 9 USC in Week 9.

    Now, all Arizona needs to do to get to the conference title bout is to beat UCLA, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State. If the Wildcats can do that, then UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona will all have three losses.

    The only other team currently ahead of Arizona in the divisional race is USC, and the Trojans have two losses already. If the Trojans lose to Oregon in Week 10, that would give the Wildcats the edge over USC in the standings.

    If four teams in the Pac-12 South Division finish the season with three losses apiece, then Arizona would win the head-to-head tiebreaker between each one of them.

    This question remains: Will that happen?

21. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Has Geno Smith been neutralized for good?

    Smith may not be the Heisman favorite anymore, but there's plenty of season left for everyone else to screw their chances up.

    Smith has already lost two games this season to Texas Tech and Kansas State. In all fairness, everyone that's played Kansas State so far has lost. (Most have lost big.)

    Smith is more than talented enough to rebound from those losses. With TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas left on the schedule, it's easy to see five wins if Smith returns to Heisman form quickly.

    Most of those games will turn into shootouts, which West Virginia rarely loses. The only question is about attitude. Did Kansas State and Texas Tech neutralize Geno Smith, or did they fire him up?

20. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Was a move to the Big Ten a good idea?

    The implosion of the Big Ten in 2012 has raised some interesting questions. Most questions are around Ohio State and its current perfect season that will end on Nov 24 against Michigan (because of ineligibility, not because Michigan will beat OSU).

    Other questions are regarding Notre Dame's schedule strength. Is the Big Ten this weak, or is Notre Dame really this good? (The Irish's Week 9 win in Norman settled the Notre Dame part of that discussion for most.)

    The Big Ten struggled with cross-conference games right out of the gate, with Nebraska's fall to UCLA and Wisconsin's fall to Oregon State. Now, entering Week 10, the conference has only one team in the BCS Standings: Nebraska at No. 20. (Yes, Ohio State would be fifth if it were eligible.)

    Nebraska's move to the Big Ten was supposed to give it a better chance at national title contention, especially with the official championship game going on at the end of the season. As it stands, even the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes would be behind Kansas State of the Big 12.

    The Big 12 may not have been as good of a fit for other reasons, but Nebraska football isn't benefiting from the conference switch yet. For instance, even if the 'Huskers win the conference championship game, they could easily still be ranked lower than Boise State.

    If Nebraska can't make it through a weakened version of the Big Ten, what is it going to do when the perennial powers are powerful again?

19. Boise State Broncos

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    Can Boise dig deep and win the tough games that are coming?

    Boise is facing a slate of four conference games to finish out the season. Two games will be brutal and the other two will be tough.

    San Diego State and Nevada are still contenders for the conference title, and Boise State stands in their way. (Nevada also faces the other team ahead of it, Fresno State, before the end of the season.)

    Boise State will need to establish dominance early in these games. The Broncos have what it takes to come from behind and earn hard-fought victories, but the secondary hope of a BCS bowl will hinge on their moving up the rankings and not being jumped by Nebraska.

    Boise can win the Mountain West Conference title and finish the season with only a four-point loss to Michigan State in Week 1, but it will take every bit of intestinal fortitude that the players can muster.

18. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Is this potential 10-win regular season a sign of things to come?

    Texas Tech has not only held its own in the Big 12, but it has defeated two of the better teams along the way (West Virginia and TCU). Texas Tech has a defense that could rival the best in the conference on a good day.

    Will Tommy Tuberville continue his improvement of the Red Raiders? Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor remain on the schedule. Three of those teams' offenses will give his defense fits if it is not well-prepared.

    If Tuberville can navigate that four-game stretch without a loss, Texas Tech will be on the radar next year as a preseason contender for the Big 12 title. Landry Jones, Collin Klein and Geno Smith will all be gone, so Texas Tech could be a potential conference favorite in 2013.

    If the coaches can get quarterback Michael Brewer up to speed and the defense playing to its potential before next season starts, the conference is the Red Raiders' to lose.

17. USC Trojans

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    Is USC even going to win the Pac-12 South Division anymore?

    As pointed out earlier, if Arizona wins out, USC can only win the division by beating Oregon. What USC needs to do is forget about what Arizona does and win every game it can.

    Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA remain on the schedule as far as conference opponents are concerned, and three wins there would clinch the division for USC regardless of what Arizona is able to do.

    So, with its destiny in its own hands, what will USC do under pressure against the Oregon Ducks? Last year, the Trojans walked out of Autzen with a win. This year, the Ducks are still in national championship position.

    Can USC pull off the upset and get a much-needed win in its own backyard? If so, the Pac-12 South Division is still USC's to lose.

16. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Will Johnny Manziel improve his decision-making against Mississippi State?

    The Aggies are a scant eight points away from having wins against two of the SEC's best teams (Florida and LSU).

    There are a few issues that need to be fixed for the Aggies to contend in the brutal SEC West Division. One is defense. The Aggies do just fine until the fourth quarter, but they tend to run out of gas against the top SEC powers. That can be addressed by a strength and conditioning program, but it will take an offseason or two to close the current gap.

    The other major issue is the quarterback's lack of experience with SEC defenses. Manziel threw three interceptions in the Aggies' five-point loss to LSU. Two of those interceptions turned into touchdowns for the Tigers.

    Manziel was not the only one at fault, as there were also two A&M fumbles recovered by LSU in that game. Yes, Manziel is a freshman and isn't expected to blaze a trail to the conference title game in his first SEC season. However, with Mississippi State looming, he needs to get a handle on his game.

    Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay will be in the secondary waiting for the ball. If Manziel isn't careful, he can complete more passes to them than his own men. Banks and Slay will be in the NFL soon and the Aggies need to be very aware of where they are on the field at all times.

    If the Aggies can manage that, this game is very winnable for them.

15. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    How good are they?

    Mississippi State started the season off with a 7-0 record before falling victim to No. 1 Alabama in Week 9. The Bulldogs now face Texas A&M in Week 10 followed by No. 5 LSU.

    Traditionally, Mississippi State has been missing the offensive power to make a true run for the SEC title game over the top-tier teams from the SEC West Division.

    That seems to have gone away in 2012, and Mississippi State has performed well against everyone it's played. With two more chances to prove that it's legitimate, Mississippi State is still not out of the Sugar Bowl equation.

    Yes, the Bulldogs would have to win every game on their schedule, but that is possible. Not many teams have the secondary that Mississippi State has, and that advantage is not to be underestimated. How good are the Bulldogs? Well, we're all about to find out over the next two weeks.

14. Stanford Cardinal

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    Can David Shaw recruit talent to make Stanford a national title contender again?

    If Andrew Luck were the sole reason for Stanford's success last year, the Cardinal would not be off to a 6-2 start in 2012. With a new quarterback and many other patches on the plumbing that is Stanford's football team, a 6-2 start to this season is better than expected.

    Can Shaw back all this up with a solid recruiting effort that closes the gap between Oregon and everyone else?

    This story will really start to pick up steam in November, with National Signing Day approaching quickly. Shaw's recruiting efforts will have to be top-notch because the Cardinal are directly competing with Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division.

    Oregon is a great university, and the Ducks have a decided football advantage at this time. However, a degree from Stanford is still one of the nation's most coveted. If Stanford can use its academic advantage over the Ducks in recruiting, the Stanford vs. Oregon game can become just as meaningful (and popular) as the Alabama vs. LSU and the USC vs. Oregon matches.

13. Clemson Tigers

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    Where is Sammy Watkins?

    Watkins is one of the most talented wideouts in the nation, but he has been conspicuously absent from the passing game for most of the season. Yes, Sammy is a target that opposing defenses specifically target, and that definitely affects his stats quite a bit.

    Last season, he amassed 1,219 yards on 82 receptions with 12 touchdowns. This season, as of Week 10 (six games), he has only accrued 404 yards on 32 receptions, and 202 of those yards were gained against Wake Forest in Week 9.

    The good news is he's coming off his best game of the season. The bad news is that is was against an opponent that is not known for its stout defense. The Tigers are going to need Watkins to step up to make it through Duke, Maryland, NC State and especially South Carolina on rivalry weekend.

12. Oklahoma Sooners

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    What is the deal with "Choklahoma"?

    Oklahoma came into 2012 as the preseason No. 4 team in the AP Poll. In Week 3, the Sooners faced their first ranked team and fell to the Kansas State Wildcats by five points. Everyone remembered that "Choklahoma" tends to do that on occasion.

    The Sooners dropped from No. 5 to No. 16 because of that loss. After that, Oklahoma defeated a Texas Tech squad that we now know is a lot better than we thought. In the Red River Rivalry, Oklahoma laid down the law against Texas to the tune of 63-21. A quick victory over Kansas brought Oklahoma to a 5-1 record and the No. 8 ranking in the BCS Standings.

    But then the Sooners dropped another nationally televised game, this time to Notre Dame.

    With Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU left, Oklahoma doesn't have another game on the schedule that would match the hype of its previous games (and eventually losses) to Kansas State and Notre Dame.

    The Sooners won the Fiesta Bowl back in 2010 and appeared in the national championship game in 2008. However, there is something not quite right about a team that loses the major showdowns. Whatever the deal is, Bob Stoops needs to find a way to buck the trend.

    Oklahoma is too good to be finishing consistently below its capability.

11. Oregon State Beavers

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    Will Cody Vaz start for the rest of the season?

    The Oregon State Beavers faced the Keith Price-led Washington Huskies in Week 9 and lost a tough game that was undecided until the Beavers' last pass landed incomplete in the fourth quarter.

    Sean Mannion was the starting quarterback, and he was fresh off missing two straight games after sustaining an injury in the Washington State game. Mannion proceeded to score zero points in the first half against the Huskies, and he threw four interceptions before finally being pulled in favor of Cody Vaz.

    Vaz had deftly handled both BYU and Utah in Mannion's absence by completing a combined 36 passes for 506 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the two games.

    After Mannion threw his fourth interception, Vaz took over and almost completed the comeback against Washington. While he was finally called upon in that game, the call came a few minutes too late. Nobody knows for sure what would have happened if he was used for the entire second half, but it would have been nice to see.

    According to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com), Vaz is slated to start against the Arizona State Sun Devils this week, and the Beavers may yet be able to earn a spot in the Pac-12 title match. (It's a long shot for the Beavers to take down Oregon, but it's a lot more believable than it would have been last year.)

10. Louisville Cardinals

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    Is Teddy Bridgewater ever going to get on the Heisman list?

    Bridgewater orchestrated a huge comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats in Week 9. A lot of credit goes to Louisville's defense for shutting down the Bearcats a bit in the second half, but Bridgewater is the one who found a way to fight through and send the game into overtime.

    Even as Cincinnati found a way to score and put the Cardinals behind repeatedly, Bridgewater never looked like he was at all concerned that Louisville might lose. He looked almost peaceful under center as he led his team through the comeback, into overtime and to victory.

    There are four quarterbacks on the Heisman list that have taken at least one loss. Bridgewater should have been there by now.

9. Florida State Seminoles

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    How likely is it that the Seminoles beat the Florida Gators?

    All Florida State needed to do after beating Clemson was maintain focus and play to its full potential to be considered for the national championship. (With four remaining undefeated teams, it looks like that would have been unlikely anyway.)

    Now, the Seminoles are almost eliminated from the conversation. One way they could still make it in is if all the teams ahead of them take a November (or December) loss. That's assuming that the Seminoles can beat Florida during rivalry weekend.

    Florida has shown that it is capable of shutting down almost any offense. Allowing 12.8 points per game, Florida's scoring defense ranks fourth in the nation. The Gators' offense is a paltry 69th nationally, so offense is a clear advantage for Florida State.

    Florida State's offense is ranked fourth in the nation, and its scoring defense is third. Florida State hasn't played against the defenses that the Gators have, but the Seminoles are quite capable of beating Florida.

    Of course, the Seminoles are much better than NC State, and we all know how that game ended. Florida State may not be headed toward a national championship, but it is clearly capable of as much as a 13-win season after the bowl season is finished.

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Is Marcus Lattimore going to play football again?

    There are millions of things happening at any given moment that can put football into perspective quite instantaneously. Sometimes, those things happen right on the field. Lattimore's injury during the Tennessee game was one of those moments.

    Watching his eyes dart around the field and into the stands while his face looked completely at peace, as if some part of him had already seen into the future beyond the rehab, was etched in the nation's mind on Saturday.

    The big picture is that he will walk again. According to this release by GamecocksOnline.com, Lattimore is already mentally preparing for a return to football. (It does not specify whether that return is expected to be to the NCAA or the NFL.)

    While there have been no reliable reports of anything but a possible return, images of Willis McGahee and Tyrone Prothro are in the backs of all our minds. Without more information, there is still a college football nation holding its breath and waiting.

7. Florida Gators

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    Has Will Muschamp seriously built a national championship contender already?

    The Florida Gators were expected to return to national relevance eventually. Nobody expected the 2012 season to feature them sitting at BCS No. 2 at all, much less for two weeks in a row. By beating the then-No. 4 LSU Tigers, Florida broke into the national discussion.

    After taking down South Carolina the following week, Florida stayed at No. 2 until it was upset by the Georgia Bulldogs in Week 9. Muschamp has built the foundation of a dynasty at Florida in the amount of time that most coaches take to build one recruiting class.

    Taking a team from barely bowl-eligible to potentially having only one loss in a matter of two years sounds a lot like another coach we know: Nick Saban. That's not to say that Muschamp is as good as Saban, but there's still plenty of reason to believe that the Florida vs. Alabama SEC title game may become an annual event pretty soon.

    There are still questions about Jeff Driskel and his ability to lead an offense through the air, but Florida's potential return to Tim Tebow-type success is certainly one of the biggest talking points of the season in the SEC.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Will Aaron Murray rise to the occasion down the stretch?

    Aaron Murray is certainly the biggest question mark of the Georgia Bulldogs squad. One minute he's a Heisman candidate, and the next minute he's getting his butt handed to him by South Carolina.

    Don't get me wrong, Williams-Brice Stadium has a degree of difficulty that rivals some of the toughest stadiums in the nation. However, there's no reason that Murray should ever get held to seven points.

    Murray is capable of playing as well as any quarterback in the nation. At some point this season, he's going to have to do that, though. Unless Georgia loses to Ole Miss or Auburn, Murray and the Bulldogs are heading to Atlanta to take on either Alabama or LSU.

    If the Heisman-caliber Murray doesn't show up in Atlanta, that game is going to be depressing for Bulldogs fans to watch...again.

5. LSU Tigers

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    Will Zach Mettenberger make plays against Alabama?

    Zach Mettenberger's job at LSU was to make Tigers fans forget about the Jordan Jefferson/Jarrett Lee fiasco of 2011. Mettenberger is LSU's biggest question mark. (Well, that and, "Will anyone else be suspended before the season is over?")

    So far, he's only failed to come away with a win in one game. That was a road game against Florida in The Swamp. For a quarterback taking his first meaningful snaps this season, he is right at par for the course.

    LSU's defense is holding up its end of the bargain, but Mettenberger needs to stand tall and toss some completions against Alabama in Week 10. If not, then LSU can go ahead and scratch "Atlanta" off the calendar on Dec. 1.

4. Oregon Ducks

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    Will Oregon's schedule strength improve enough to bump the Ducks to BCS No. 2?

    Oregon doesn't have a whole lot of question marks surrounding the program in 2012. Marcus Mariota is doing a great job of leading this team to a perfect record that has Pac-12 champion written all over it.

    While that should have been enough to push the Ducks into the national title game, there are other factors involved in that calculation that are currently out of Oregon's hands. USC's ranking has been screwed up by losses to both Stanford and Arizona.

    Oregon can still beat USC, but the Ducks had nothing to do with where the Trojans are ranked now. The same can be said of Oregon State at the end of the regular season. The Beavers' ranking when Oregon plays against them can either help the Ducks, but Oregon State could also drop a game or two before the Civil War.

    Based on what's happened so far, Oregon may need Kansas State and Notre Dame to lose to get into the national championship game. Hopefully the computers can catch up with the human polls and allow an undefeated Oregon a shot at whoever else makes it to Miami in January.

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Is there anything the Irish can do to get into the national championship?

    If Notre Dame wins out, its best win of the season will be over the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. If Kansas State finishes undefeated, then that exact feat was accomplished as well.

    If Oregon were to finish out the season undefeated, it would have gone through the USC Trojans both on the road and at home. (The home victory would be for the conference championship, assuming USC wins the Pac-12 South.) Notre Dame would then have defeated USC on the road, but Oregon would have that second triumph as a trump card.

    While Notre Dame's schedule looked like one of the toughest in the nation, the Big Ten implosion really screwed the Irish over in a big way. If Michigan were really somewhere around its preseason No. 8 ranking right now, the Irish would look really good for beating it.

    Oklahoma, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, BYU and USC have all lost more games than they were supposed to have lost in 2012. That has hurt the Irish to the point that there is nothing they can do but keep winning.

    The Kansas State Wildcats will have to take a loss or USC will have to beat Oregon this week for Notre Dame to have a shot at the title. (Assuming Notre Dame manhandles USC like it has every other major factor on its schedule.)

    Notre Dame has to win out to have a shot, but that alone would probably not get the Irish in over undefeated conference champions.

2. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Can Kansas State's defense hold up through November?

    Kansas State has already defeated Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech. That's three teams that have quarterbacks with household names.

    While the Wildcats have already passed many tests against high-flying offenses, there are still some left. Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas have the nation's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-best scoring offenses respectively.

    The Wildcats have already proved themselves against some of the nation's best offenses. Can they pass the test of three more top-10 offenses in five weeks? At least the Wildcats have that second bye week between Baylor and Texas. That will certainly help them out a bit.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Is Blake Sims ready to take over at quarterback if necessary?

    AJ McCarron suffered a minor injury again in this past week's game against Mississippi State. This marks the second time in three weeks that McCarron has had a brush with catastrophe.

    Yes, his knee ended up being perfectly fine, as did his back. The question remains whether Sims is ready to assume the responsibility of leading the nation's best team should McCarron go down with a more serious issue.

    The Tide's previous backup quarterback is now playing for the Virginia Cavaliers, so the current backup was originally the third-string game manager last season.

    Sims is one bad sack away from being the starter for the defending national champions. He's only had one turnover this year in limited playing time, and that was on a miscommunication between him and his running back.

    Other than that, he's hit all three of his passes for a total of 50 yards and no touchdowns. That's not nearly enough information to make a legitimate call as to his readiness. Hopefully, this is not a question that actually needs to be answered.

    It's certainly a question Tide fans are asking, considering the bruised back McCarron's dealing with right now.