Biggest Question Facing Each Top 25 Team Heading into Week 13

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent INovember 22, 2013

Biggest Question Facing Each Top 25 Team Heading into Week 13

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    Baylor QB Bryce Petty
    Baylor QB Bryce PettyRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    We're at the point in the 2013 college football season now where most teams have just one or two games remaining on their schedules.

    Any major improvements that need to be made probably won't happen until the offseason, and the national title race is full of drama and suspense as a number of teams still have a hat in the ring.

    Add in a bevy of wide open conference races and some major national awards currently up for grabs and you're smack dab in the middle of your regularly-scheduled November in the college football world.

    Let's take a look at the biggest question facing each team in the Top 25 as we head into Week 13.

    All stats via ESPN. Teams based on current BCS standings.

25. Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Minnesota QB Philip Nelson
    Minnesota QB Philip NelsonHannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can the Golden Gophers slow down Wisconsin's rushing attack?

    Minnesota is already having an extremely successful season with a sparkling 8-2 record, but it can become something truly noteworthy if the Golden Gophers can take down Wisconsin on Saturday.

    The question isn't exclusive to Minnesota, because many are probably wondering if anyone can slow down the Badgers' rushing attack, which is averaging over 300 yards per game. Against Indiana, head coach Gary Anderson's team rushed for 554 total yards.

    This contest takes place on Senior Day for Minnesota, and you can be sure the players, along with the crowd, will be fired up. But if the Badgers can move the ball early behind the legs of Melvin Gordon and James White, the party could be spoiled before it really gets going.

24. Ole Miss Rebels

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    QB Bo Wallace
    QB Bo WallaceWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can Ole Miss spoil Missouri's special season?

    With a 3-3 record in conference play, Ole Miss doesn't have a chance to play for a conference title. But the Rebels can still play the role of spoiler when it comes to their matchup with Missouri on Saturday.

    After three consecutive losses to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, Hugh Freeze's team has won four straight which includes a 27-24 victory over LSU. Needless to say, the talent is there. and the squad is capable of playing with anybody.

    Missouri's regular-season finale is against Texas A&M, and looking ahead may prove fatal for the Tigers' SEC East hopes. The Rebels will hope for another solid effort from Bo Wallace on Senior Day, where a win would make it Ole Miss' second of the season over a Top 10 team.

    It would also extend the Rebels' chances for a ten-win season should they then go on to defeat Mississippi State and win their bowl game.

23. USC Trojans

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    USC QB Cody Kessler
    USC QB Cody KesslerJeff Gross/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Will the Trojans bring energy and enthusiasm to Colorado?

    The USC Trojans have seen a remarkable turnaround in 2013.

    After beginning the year 4-3, which included an embarrassing 10-7 loss to Washington State at home, interim coach Ed Orgeron brought some new life and energy to the team, and it responded with three straight victories following a loss to Notre Dame.

    Most notable, of course, was the 20-17 win over Stanford on Nov. 16. It brought legitimacy to a program in dire need of direction following Lane Kiffin's unfortunate tenure, and it gives the Trojans an outside shot at the Pac-12's South Division title.

    But with that prospect beyond the team's control, its biggest remaining goal has to be a victory over crosstown rival UCLA, because it would signal to the city, state and country that, even in a down year, the Trojans still own the Bruins.

    But none of that will matter if quarterback Cody Kessler and company can't bring their A-game to Colorado, which is coming off its first conference win of the season over Cal.

    Which USC team will we see on Saturday?

22. LSU Tigers

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    LSU coach Les Miles
    LSU coach Les MilesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can the Tigers' defense slow down QB Johnny Manziel?

    With losses to Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, there isn't a lot left for LSU to play for. But the Tigers can still make some noise with a win over quarterback Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

    For the better part of two seasons now, no one has been able to slow Manziel, and the Aggies are enjoying wild success on offense. While the Tigers might not be in national-title or even BCS-bowl discussions, an impressive performance against A&M will be remembered well into the offseason.

    Against Alabama, the defense had its moments but was ultimately worn down by T.J. Yeldon and the Tide's brutal rushing attack. Still, this is an athletic group that took down Manziel in 2013. Can LSU do it again, perhaps putting an end to the quarterbacks' bid for a second-straight Heisman Trophy?

21. Louisville Cardinals

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    QB Teddy Bridgewater
    QB Teddy BridgewaterAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can the team play to its potential in the final two regular-season games?

    It's the same story every week with Louisville: With little to play for in the way of a BCS berth, the 2013 season is all about getting better and maximizing each performance.

    A 20-13 win over Houston doesn't exactly show much in the way of improvement, and it's the kind of effort that leaves many wondering if this team is even close to the 2012 version that beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

    Saturday is Senior Day at Louisville, and it comes against Memphis, a team with just one win in the conference. This is the time for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to play his best game of the season from start to finish and give the home crowd an excellent performance by which to remember him.

20. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Coach Bob Stoops
    Coach Bob StoopsBrett Deering/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can the Sooners use Kansas State game to build momentum for Bedlam?

    With the ever-dwindling odds of winning the Big 12 conference, Oklahoma's only real chance to end the season on a positive note is to upset Oklahoma State in their annual rivalry game on Dec. 7.

    But a trip to play the pesky Kansas State Wildcats stands in the way and despite a dominant performance over Iowa State, these Sooners have a lot of questions heading into their final two games.

    If Bob Stoops can somehow get his team to play a complete game against the Wildcats, it will build confidence for the contest with the Cowboys. On the other hand, a dismal effort Saturday could drain any and all hope of winning at Oklahoma State.

19. Wisconsin Badgers

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    RB Melvin Gordon
    RB Melvin GordonMike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Wisconsin Badgers: With nation starting to pay attention, can Badgers continue to deliver?

    After a 31-24 loss at Ohio State, Wisconsin was widely dismissed by the public since, barring an epic collapse by the Buckeyes, the Badgers hopes for a BCS bid at the end of the season were mostly dead.

    It was also the second loss of the season, but Gary Anderson's team has reeled off five straight victories since then, with the closest being a 27-17 victory over BYU. Now, people are starting to take notice, with Sharon Katz of ESPN even posing the question: "Is Wisconsin the most underrated team in the country?"

    Piling up over 550 yards against an opponent, as the Badgers did in a 51-3 win over Indiana, will usually get people to notice. With expectations now mounting for this team outside of Madison, will running backs James White, Melvin Gordon and the rest of this team continue to deliver in a tough road game at Minnesota?

18. UCF Knights

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    QB Blake Bortles
    QB Blake BortlesSam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Was the close shave against Temple an aberration, or is there real cause for concern?

    If UCF wins its final three games, it will be crowned champion of the AAC and find itself in a BCS bowl come January. The Knights have controlled their own destiny throughout the season, but it was hard to believe they'd make a BCS bowl.

    That was before their victory over Louisville.

    Out of their last three opponents, only Rutgers, at 5-4, has a winning record on the season. For a team with big dreams, none of their remaining contests should even be close. But Saturday's 39-36 win over Temple proved that even great teams can stumble without the right amount of focus.

    Moving forward, the biggest question has to be whether the squeaker over the Owls was simply a matter of not bringing their best effort, or if the Knights really do have some glaring holes that could result in a loss before the end of the season.

17. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    ASU QB Taylor Kelly
    ASU QB Taylor KellyRalph Freso/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can Sun Devils play their best game of the season at UCLA?

    It all comes down to this if you're Arizona State: a game against UCLA with the right to play for the Pac-12 championship on the line. Of course, if UCLA wins, it'll still have to conquer USC. But the Sun Devils can take the South on Saturday night with a victory.

    Todd Graham's team has played pretty good football recently after dropping a neutral-site contest against Notre Dame on Oct. 5. Arizona State has won five in a row, with the only close call being a 20-19 come-from-behind win at Utah.

    But with just a 2-2 record outside of Tempe, you have to wonder if quarterback Taylor Kelly and company can bring their A-game to Los Angeles.

    If not, winning the division will be out of their control.

16. Northern Illinois Huskies

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    QB Jordan Lynch
    QB Jordan LynchKirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Will Northern Illinois bring energy to season-finale against Western Michigan?

    Quarterback Jordan Lynch is the heart and soul of the Northern Illinois Huskies, but even without the dual-threat dynamo, the team would probably walk all over Western Michigan.

    The Broncos have just one win on the season, so after impressive performances against Ball State and Toledo, you could understand if the energy level for the Huskies is toned down a bit in the next game.

    But Northern Illinois has to maintain a reputation of being the clear-cut best non-BCS team, and anything less than a blowout win over the Broncos will hurt that. It's Senior Day, and Lynch is sure to experience a variety of emotions before, during and after the contest.

    Can he and the Huskies keep up their dominant play?

15. Fresno State Bulldogs

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    QB Derek Carr
    QB Derek CarrTroy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: After bye week, are the Bulldogs ready to close out the season in style?

    It's pretty much the same story every week with Fresno State, as the Bulldogs are still undefeated and looking at a potential BCS berth come bowl season.

    To do so, however, they may have to continue to win in style, and that means no letdowns against either New Mexico or San Jose State. The ace in the hole, of course, is quarterback Derek Carr who remains must-see television.

    But late-season bye weeks can be funny sometimes, and while you'd hope it will energize and rejuvenate a group with a lot to play for, it can also help collect rust.

    Will we see a BCS-ready Bulldogs team on Saturday, or will Carr and the rest of his squad look out of sorts?

14. UCLA Bruins

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    QB Brett Hundley
    QB Brett HundleyKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: With Myles Jack experiment a success, will the offense bring it all in a must-win situation?

    If UCLA drops its game against Arizona State, there will be no Pac-12 South Division title. There will be no conference championship game, and BCS bowl hopes will be out the window entirely.

    Fortunately, in advance of such an important game, the Bruins seem to be hitting their stride, especially on offense. With the emergence of Myles Jack at running back, the backfield suddenly has a host of weapons to alleviate the pressure on quarterback Brett Hundley.

    At times, Hundley has looked erratic and unsure of himself, but success over the last few weeks should give him the confidence he'll need against the physical front seven of Arizona State.

    Will we see the offense put together a quality effort against a great defense? Or, will the Bruins that showed up at Stanford and Oregon reappear?

13. Michigan State Spartans

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    Coach Mark Dantonio
    Coach Mark DantonioBruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Can the Spartans lock up the Legends Division on the road?

    With a victory over Northwestern on Saturday, Michigan State will officially earn a ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game. A loss, however, coupled with a Minnesota victory, would set up a winner-take-all showdown next week.

    The defense against Nebraska last Saturday wasn't quite what we're used to seeing from Michigan State, but the Spartan offense appears to be hitting its stride, especially behind running back Jeremy Langford and the ground attack.

    Northwestern has taken a serious tumble since losing to Ohio State, but the Wildcats are still a pretty talented team with a rowdy home environment. If the Spartans aren't careful, they'll drop a game they probably shouldn't before facing a tough situation in the season finale. Or, they can play lockdown defense and take the pressure off of next week's visit from the Golden Gophers.

12. Texas A&M Aggies

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    QB Johnny Manziel
    QB Johnny ManzielScott Halleran/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Can quarterback Johnny Manziel have a signature performance in Death Valley?

    There aren't too many teams in the SEC that have solved quarterback Johnny Manziel.

    The super sophomore is the only player to wreak havoc on Alabama this season, and nobody else has done much to slow him down either.

    But LSU boasts one of the best home environments, not just in college football, but in all of sports. While Manziel doesn't seem like the type to get rattled on the road, this will be a new challenge against yet another fantastic defense.

    The secondary, in particular, holds up the reputation of "defensive back U" and won't allow wide receiver Mike Evans to bail out his quarterback. Can Manziel and the Aggies capture a rare victory in Death Valley, or will the Tigers' defense find a way to do what few else have done and slow down Kevin Sumlin's frenetic offense?

11. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier
    South Carolina coach Steve SpurrierStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Biggest Question: Will South Carolina work out kinks in time for Clemson?

    Up next for South Carolina is a visit from the mighty Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina, and barring complete and utter chaos, Steve Spurrier's team is going to come away with a win.

    But last Saturday's 19-14 victory over Florida was much tougher than expected for South Carolina, and the Gamecocks didn't then look like a team ready to take on a quality opponent such as Clemson.

    Fortunately, their date with the Tigers is still a week away, and Coastal Carolina will give this team a chance to work on some things in a low-pressure situation. But if the running game looks rusty and the quarterbacks are unable to find a rhythm, it'll be hard to feel optimistic about the team's chances against Clemson next Saturday.

10. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Head coach Mike Gundy
    Head coach Mike GundyStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Oklahoma State: Are the Cowboys poised to score one of the season's biggest upsets?

    In what is clearly the game of the weekend, Oklahoma State hosts Baylor with a chance to put a firm grip on the Big 12 crown. A win would mean the Cowboys only have to slip past Oklahoma to win the conference and earn a trip to a BCS bowl game.

    A loss takes away all of that. And you can be sure that Baylor knows what's at stake too, as the Bears are in the thick of the national title hunt.

    After a narrow victory over Kansas State on Oct. 5, Mike Gundy's team has won five straight, each by at least two touchdowns.

    Are they ready to slay the offensive monster that is Baylor? Can the offense keep up with a Bears team that will undoubtedly put points on the board?

    We'll find out Saturday if the Cowboys are truly ready to put together their best performance of the season and notch a major victory that would reverberate throughout the sport.

9. Stanford Cardinal

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    Head coach David Shaw
    Head coach David ShawKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Is Stanford in the right mindset to take out its frustration on Cal?

    As lopsided as Stanford's game with Cal appears to be, you just never know what will happen in a rivalry game. And though the history between the teams should be enough to motivate the Cardinal to bring their a-game, the fact that a Pac-12 title is out of their control may suck some of the juice out of their preparation.

    Even with a lackluster effort, David Shaw's team probably wins this one by two or three touchdowns. But Cal still features a high-flying passing attack that can hurt teams if they're caught napping. There's no way to take back what occurred at USC last Saturday. But the Cardinal can turn the page by laying a proper beatdown on their rivals.

    Will we see the kind of physical effort Stanford is known for, or will the Cardinal snooze their way into the second half, allowing this game to stay close?

8. Missouri Tigers

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    Coach Gary Pinkel
    Coach Gary PinkelMark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Can Missouri take care of business against Ole Miss without looking ahead to Texas A&M?

    Between Ole Miss and Texas A&M, you have to figure the Aggies will provide the stiffer challenge to the Tigers' hopes of winning the SEC East.

    But the Rebels, with four straight wins and a victory over LSU in their back pocket, are not to be overlooked in the slightest. Factor in the road environment and the Tigers are looking at a pretty difficult test on Saturday.

    Missouri has played excellent football of late, and if it can control the line of scrimmage as it has been doing, this could turn into a comfortable win. But if players' minds are already turned toward next Saturday's showdown with Johnny Football, the Tigers could stumble and lose control of the division race.

7. Clemson Tigers

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    QB Tajh Boyd
    QB Tajh BoydJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Can the Tigers maintain momentum without looking lazy against Citadel?

    If South Carolina has a few kinks to work out in anticipation of a visit from the Tigers, Clemson must simply keep on keepin' on against Citadel before traveling to face the Gamecocks.

    After losing to Florida State, Dabo Swinney's team has looked as polished as ever in blowout victories over Maryland, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has regained his early-season form, particularly in the victory over the Yellow Jackets, and this once again looks like a BCS-worthy team.

    But a bid to one of college football's elite bowl games won't happen if the Tigers drop their season finale against Steve Spurrier's team. Against Citadel, Clemson must simply sustain the momentum it has built over the past month, so it can be prepared for next Saturday's tilt with the Gamecocks.

6. Auburn Tigers

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    QB Nick Marshall
    QB Nick MarshallShanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Can the Tigers ignore Iron Bowl headlines and get the most out of their bye week?

    Because Alabama goes up against mighty Chattanooga on Saturday, many have already begun looking at the Iron Bowl matchup taking place on Nov. 30. It will be one of the biggest games of the 2013 season, and a loss by either team will have major ramifications in the national title race.

    It would be pretty easy for Auburn players to get caught up in the headlines in anticipation of the game, but this week is critical to having success against the Crimson Tide. It's this bye week where the Tigers must rest up and get in the right mindset to play the top-ranked team in the country.

    It's also an important week for staying sharp, because if Auburn doesn't prepare like it needs to and players begin to read their own press clippings, they're going to have a tough time when Alabama rolls into town next Saturday.

5. Oregon Ducks

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    QB Marcus Mariota
    QB Marcus MariotaScott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: What will the Ducks do to slow down running back Ka'Deem Carey?

    You might think the biggest question for the Ducks would involve the larger picture, such as their attitude about getting a BCS bowl or their hopes of squeaking into the national title game. But with the Stanford loss, the only thing that matters now is winning. And because the team already dropped the game to the Cardinal, getting complacent isn't likely.

    Therefore, we turn to Oregon's tilt down in the desert against Arizona, where the Wildcats boast one of the nation's best running backs in Ka'Deem Carey. The outstanding junior has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season, save for the opener in which he was suspended. In fact, his lowest yardage total came against Colorado, and he still had 119 yards and four touchdowns.

    The whole country saw the Ducks' defense get blown off the line of scrimmage repeatedly against Stanford, so the challenge is now stopping an elite running back, albeit one who's running behind a worse offensive line than the Cardinals.

    Can Oregon answer the call?

4. Baylor Bears

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    QB Bryce Petty
    QB Bryce PettyMatthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: How prepared is Baylor for the biggest game of the season on the road?

    In looking at Baylor's schedule, you'll come across an interesting bit of information. The Bears have played two—just two—road games so far in 2013. The first was a 35-25 victory over Kansas State and the second, a 59-14 win at Kansas.

    It hardly seems fair to have the luxury of playing seven out of your first nine games at home, but it also makes this week's trip to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State that much more difficult.

    It certainly begs the question: Are the Bears truly ready for the environment they'll be playing in Saturday?

    We know how talented Art Briles' team is, and that it scores over 60 points per game. But the Cowboys have begun to hit their stride, and a loss by the Bears will end any title hopes and may even eliminate a shot at a BCS bowl.

    It's unfair to say that Baylor hasn't been tested, because it's passed every test so far, even the more difficult ones. But Oklahoma State easily presents the toughest challenge to date, so it'll be interesting to see what kind of Baylor team shows up.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
    Ohio State QB Braxton MillerBradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Are the Buckeyes capable of playing a complete game several weeks in a row?

    Just when it seemed like Ohio State had hit its stride with dominating wins over Penn State and Purdue, the Buckeyes gave up 35 points to Illinois and were in a bit of a battle in the second half.

    Look, it's very apparent that this team can play football as well as any team in the country. We've seen it on several occasions, and we've seen quarterback Braxton Miller make defenses look absolutely silly.

    But we haven't seen any of it on a consistent basis.

    Up next is a visit from Indiana, which just lost 51-3 to Wisconsin. Anything less than a dominant performance from beginning to end is going to raise questions about whether this team will ever put it all together. If the Buckeyes do manage to stomp all over the Hoosiers, people will still ask the same thing in advance of their game against Michigan.

    The next two weeks are huge for Ohio State, and Urban Meyer's team needs to play like it wants a piece of the national title game.

2. Florida State Seminoles

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    QB Jameis Winston
    QB Jameis WinstonMelina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Can Florida State avoid distractions and close out the season strong?

    We won't delve into the specifics of the situation at Florida State, but with ongoing news surrounding quarterback Jameis Winston, it's clear that a number of distractions could prevent the Seminoles from playing their best football.

    So the biggest question for Jimbo Fisher's team is an easy one: How can it avoid these distractions and continue to play good football?

    A terrible effort against Idaho probably still wouldn't even result in a close game, but Florida will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity one week later to ruin its rival's season.

    We've seen the Seminoles dominate virtually every quarter of every game this season. Amidst a media storm, can they continue to do so?

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    QB AJ McCarron
    QB AJ McCarronSpruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Biggest Question: Can the offense get back on track before the Iron Bowl?

    Admittedly, it isn't easy to come up with a serious question about Alabama. The Crimson Tide continue to roll right along in 2013, and despite a less-than-impressive 20-7 win over Mississippi State, you can fully expect Alabama to look crisp once again when it takes on Chattanooga.

    Still, while you can count on the defense to always look good, the offense does have a few question marks. The running game has been known to struggle a little against massive defensive fronts, and quarterback AJ McCarron isn't always able to get in rhythm with his receivers.

    That said, these issues are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. But you can bet that Nick Saban will be looking for efficient play from his offense this Saturday, so the Tide can be ready for another monster Iron Bowl a week later.