The Biggest Problem Plaguing Every College Football Top 25 Team
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We're now entering the final weekend of the college football season, which means the much-anticipated bowl season is right around the corner.
After 13 weeks of action, we've finally gotten a good feel for what the strengths and weaknesses of the top teams in the nation really are. Even the best teams in college football have some noticeable flaws that can be exposed.
Here's a look at the biggest problem plaguing every Top 25 team as postseason play draws closer.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Problem: No True No. 1 Receiver
Notre Dame averaged over 250 passing yards per game in each of Brian Kelly's first two seasons. This year, however, the Irish have turned to the running game for offensive success, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they lack a true No. 1 wide receiver now that Michael Floyd is gone.
TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels are both solid pass-catchers, but they're more complementary receivers than true go-to targets. Tyler Eifert is one of the best tight ends in the country, but defenses have focused their attention on containing and neutralizing him this season.
If Georgia or Alabama is able to hold Notre Dame's ground game in check in the BCS championship game, it will be interesting to see if any Irish receiver can step up and create some big plays through the air.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Problem: Soft Secondary
The Crimson Tide had the top-ranked passing defense in the country last season when they allowed an average of just 111 passing yards per game. That's certainly not the case in 2012, however. The secondary has been exposed and lit up on a few different occasions this year.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel both proved that you can find plenty of holes in the Tide's pass coverage. It will be interesting to see if Georgia QB Aaron Murray can find those same windows to throw the ball into in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
The Problem: Freshman Kicker
Georgia hasn't played in many close games this season, which is why the Bulldogs haven't had to worry about sending freshman kicker Marshall Morgan onto the field for a crucial late-game field-goal attempt.
Morgan has attempted just 12 field goals this whole season, making eight of them. The bottom line is that he's yet to be faced with a true pressure-packed kick.
If the SEC Championship Game against Alabama ends up coming down to a late-fourth-quarter field goal, Georgia fans will definitely be biting their nails and hoping that Morgan can deliver when called upon.
4. Florida Gators
The Problem: Lack of a Downfield Passing Attack
Florida has somehow managed to win 11 games this season, even though it ranks 12th in the SEC in total offense.
That's a true testament to just how good the Gators defense and special teams have been in 2012.
While the team's running game, led by senior Mike Gillislee, has been pretty formidable, the same can't be said for the passing game. Florida is averaging just 143 passing yards per game this season, and it has the 118th-ranked passing offense in the country.
QB Jeff Driskel has yet to show that he can attack a secondary with a down-the-field passing attack.
5. Oregon Ducks
The Problem: Injuries in the Secondary
Oregon has lost two of its best defensive backs, safety John Boyett and cornerback Avery Patterson, for the season due to injury.
The Ducks are clearly shorthanded in the defensive backfield heading into the postseason. They have to be hoping that they won't have to face a team with a potent passing game in their bowl game.
6. Kansas State Wildcats
The Problem: Can’t Handle Shootouts
Kansas State likes to play a specific brand of grind-it-out football, in which the Wildcats basically take care of their own business and let their opponent beat itself. What we came to find out about the team in its loss to Baylor, however, is that Bill Snyder's squad is not properly equipped to handle getting into an offensive shootout.
QB Collin Klein may be one of the best running quarterbacks in the country, but he's certainly not one of college football's premier passers.
If Klein and the Wildcats have to square off with a team that can put up points in bunches in their bowl game, they better hope that the defense steps up and holds its ground, because the offense is just not built for shootouts.
7. LSU Tigers
The Problem: Offensive Inconsistency
Many LSU fans were hoping QB Zach Mettenberger could add a much-needed spark to the Tigers offense this season. However, he has not been able to give the unit the type of boost that many wanted to see.
LSU ranks just 54th in the nation in scoring offense and 79th in total offense, averaging 30 points and 387 yards per game.
The Tigers offense has plenty of talent, including one of the deepest backfields in the country and one of college football's most dangerous receiver duos, comprised of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. But for whatever reason, LSU has just struggled to find a true offensive identity in 2012.
8. Stanford Cardinal
The Problem: Untrustworthy Kicker
Jordan Williamson made the biggest kick of Stanford's season: a 37-yard field goal to upset Oregon 17-14 on the road in overtime back in Week 12. However, Williamson hasn't made many other kicks this year besides that one.
The sophomore kicker has made just 13 of his 23 field-goal attempts this season.
If the Pac-12 Championship Game comes down to Williamson's foot, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinal kicker can come through like he did in Eugene.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
The Problem: Not Good at Matching Up with Physical Teams
It's hard to find many flaws with Texas A&M. The Aggies are 10-2, and they've been one of the most impressive teams in the country this season.
What we did learn from the team's two losses to LSU and Florida, however, is that A&M does have some trouble matching up with very physical teams.
The Tigers and the Gators both showed that you can wear down the Aggies over four quarters and overpower them in key situations during a game.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
The Problem: No Marcus Lattimore
South Carolina has won all three of its games since losing star running back Marcus Lattimore to a horrific leg injury against Tennessee back on Oct. 27. But it's clear that the Gamecocks are not the same team without Lattimore, as they averaged less than three yards per carry against both Arkansas and Clemson.
South Carolina may have one of the best defenses in the country, but the Gamecocks are obviously a weaker team without their top impact offensive playmaker in the lineup.
11. Oklahoma Sooners
The Problem: Soft Against the Run
Many were surprised when Oklahoma gave up more than 200 rushing yards to UTEP back in Week 1. But what we've come to learn since then is that the Sooners' run defense just really isn't all that good.
Oklahoma has given up an average of 4.8 yards per carry in 2012. The Sooners' defensive front seven has been exploited by teams such as Kansas State, Notre Dame and West Virginia.
Hopefully, Oklahoma won't have to face a great running attack in the postseason.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Problem: Fumbling
Nebraska lost just 11 fumbles last season. However, the Cornhuskers are on pace to double that total in 2012.
The team has lost 20 fumbles this year, which is the second-highest total in the nation.
QB Taylor Martinez and the rest of the Nebraska ball-carriers have to make sure they secure the ball to avoid costly turnovers.
13. Florida State Seminoles
The Problem: Weak Punter
Florida State has one of the best kickers in college football, Dustin Hopkins, who is a finalist for the prestigious Lou Groza award. However, the Seminoles don't have nearly that same type of stability in the punting department.
Freshman Cason Beatty has been one of the least productive punters in college football this season, averaging just 37.9 yards per punt, which ranks 115th in the nation.
If the Seminoles get into a field-position battle in either the ACC championship or their bowl game, Beatty's struggles could really come into play.
14. Clemson Tigers
The Problem: Can’t Handle Big-Game Pressure
After starting off the 2011 season 8-0, Clemson fell apart down the stretch, losing four of its last six games to finish 10-4. Many felt the Tigers were simply too young to handle the spotlight. But the problem is, they haven't looked much more mature in big games this year.
Dabo Swinney's squad had to face just two ranked opponents this season: Florida State and South Carolina. But the Tigers ended up losing to both teams by double digits.
Judging from their disastrous defensive performance in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl last year and their losses to the Seminoles and Gamecocks in 2012, Clemson just does not seem to be a team that's ready to handle the pressure of playing in big games.
15. Oregon State Beavers
The Problem: Quarterback Questions
Oregon State has managed to compile an 8-3 record this season, even though the Beavers have been flip-flopping quarterbacks for the past two months.
Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have taken turns leading the offense this season, and both have had their fair share of ups and downs.
It will be Mannion who will get the call this weekend against Nicholls State, but it remains to be seen who coach Mike Riley will choose as the starter for the bowl game.
16. UCLA Bruins
The Problem: Pass Protection
Brett Hundley has put together a spectacular breakout freshman campaign in 2012. He's thrown for more than 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns, and he's led the Bruins to a division title and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
What makes the freshman signal-caller's performance even more impressive is that he's had to endure some heavy hits from opposing defenses this season. UCLA's offensive line has given up 43 sacks in 2012, which is the third-highest total in the country.
17. Kent State Golden Flashes
The Problem: No Passing Game
Kent State has one of the most powerful rushing attacks in all of college football. The Golden Flashes currently rank 11th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 241 yards per game.
The problem is, the team also has one of the weakest passing attacks in the country, averaging just 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
It will be very interesting to see how Kent State fares in the MAC Championship Game against a Northern Illinois defense that is giving up just 3.4 yards per carry this season. If the Golden Flashes can't establish a ground attack and control the clock, they could find themselves in a world of trouble.
18. Texas Longhorns
The Problem: Spotty Effort
Texas head coach Mack Brown may be great at getting highly ranked recruiting classes year after year, but one thing Brown clearly isn't all that great at is getting his players to stay focused and play hard on a consistent basis.
The Longhorns' inconsistent effort is a big reason why the former powerhouse has become just another also-ran in the Big 12 over the past few years.
That lackluster effort was on full display last week when Texas lost 20-13 at home to a TCU team that had a lot less future NFL draft picks on its sideline.
19. Michigan Wolverines
The Problem: Interceptions
For the second season in a row, Michigan is leading the Big Ten in interceptions thrown. The Wolverines have tossed 18 picks in 2012, which is the fifth-highest total in the country.
Regardless of whether it's Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner lining up at quarterback in the team's bowl game, whoever's behind center has to make sure that he makes good decisions and avoids foolish throws that will result in momentum-swinging turnovers.
20. Boise State Broncos
The Problem: No Elite Offensive Playmakers
Boise State has gained a reputation of doing more with less during the Chris Petersen era. But if you actually look back at some of the recent teams, you'll see that the Broncos actually had some great offensive talent.
QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin, WR Titus Young and WR Austin Pettis are all currently in the NFL, and all four of them were huge contributors during their time at Boise State.
This year's team has some solid offensive pieces, such as RB DJ Harper and WR Matt Miller, but the Broncos just don't have the same caliber of elite offensive playmakers that they've had in years past.
21. Northern Illinois Huskies
The Problem: Weak Schedule
Northern Illinois is 11-1 and the winner of the MAC West division, but it's hard to actually tell just how good the Huskies really are.
Since losing to Iowa in Week 1, the Huskies have reeled off 11 straight wins. However, it's not as if their schedule, which included matchups with "powerhouses" such as Tennessee-Martin, Army, Kansas, Buffalo, Akron, UMass and Eastern Michigan, was all that difficult.
If Northern Illinois beats No. 17 Kent State in the conference championship game on Friday night, it will definitely help strengthen an otherwise weak resume. However, it just doesn't look like the Huskies have done nearly enough to earn an at-large BCS bowl bid, even if they do finish 12-1.
22. Northwestern Wildcats
The Problem: One-Dimensional Offense
Northwestern has one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the country, led by QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark. The Wildcats are averaging 230 yards on the ground per game, and they rank 14th nationally in rushing offense.
The problem is, they're mostly a one-dimensional offense that relies heavily on establishing the running game for success.
If Northwestern faces a stout run defense in its bowl game, the Wildcats could have trouble producing points.
23. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Problem: Pass Defense
Oklahoma State has one of the top passing attacks in the country, averaging 332 yards through the air per game. However, the Cowboys also give up 284 passing yards per game as well, which obviously diminishes the advantage of having such a strong passing game.
The team's secondary isn't short on talent—cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown and safety Daytawion Lowe are all solid players—but the Cowboys still clearly have a problem slowing down opponents' passing games.
On paper, the numbers may look a little uglier than they actually are, however, considering the Oklahoma State defense faces an average of 42.8 passes per game, which is the most of any team in the country.
24. Utah State Aggies
The Problem: Penalties
Utah State has one of the best defenses and one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country in Chuckie Keeton. However, what the Aggies also have is a penalty problem.
The team has accumulated 852 total penalty yards this season, which is the sixth-highest total in the nation.
The Aggies can't afford to shoot themselves in the foot and needlessly give up yardage if they hope to win a bowl game against a quality opponent.
25. San Jose State Spartans
The Problem: Lack of Postseason Experience
San Jose State is 10-2 and likely headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2006. The Military Bowl or the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl are possible destinations. No matter where the Spartans end up, though, it will be interesting to see how they handle the postseason spotlight.
RB De'Leon Eskridge, a transfer from Minnesota, is the only player on the roster who has every played in a bowl game before. Coach Mike MacIntyre has coached in three Independence Bowls, but never as a head coach.
This is a program that has been to just eight bowl games in its history. Will the Spartans be able to handle the pressure of a bowl game?