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Biggest Questions Facing Each Top 25 Team Heading into Week 14

Sebastian LenaAnalyst INovember 27, 2013

Biggest Questions Facing Each Top 25 Team Heading into Week 14

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    Will the Tide be ready to handle their most difficult test of the season?
    Will the Tide be ready to handle their most difficult test of the season?Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    This Thanksgiving, college football fans can be thankful for a terrific slate of rivalry games in store for Week 14 action.

    Will Auburn finally put an end to Alabama’s reign and cement its status as 2013’s biggest surprise? Can USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron make a strong statement as to why he deserves to stay on in a more permanent basis? And after a November stretch from hell, where does Oregon go from here?

    These are the questions currently burning through the minds of fans all across the nation.

    With just one regular-season matchup remaining for the majority of teams, a lot will be on the line this weekend.

    So join B/R as we take a look at the biggest questions facing each Top 25 team heading into Week 14.

     

    Author's note: Top 25 rankings are based off the latest BCS Rankings

25. Notre Dame (8-3)

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    Can Rees get it together for one last game?
    Can Rees get it together for one last game?Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 25 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 8 Stanford (9-2), Nov. 30, 7 p.m. ET on FOX

    Biggest Question:
    Will Irish be able to put it all together and deliver a season-saving victory over the Cardinal?

     

    The Skinny

    Simply put, 2013 wasn’t exactly the kind of season Notre Dame was expecting.

    Coming off a BCS title appearance, and returning eight starters from the nation’s top scoring defense, the team was expected to make some noise this year. At the least, a 10-win campaign and a trip to a BCS bowl would be a worthy consolation prize.

    However, the Irish lost starting quarterback Everett Golson to suspension over the summer, the defense has been a shell of its former self and Tommy Rees has been consistently inefficient at the quarterback position.

    Aside from losses to Michigan and Oklahoma, the team suffered an embarrassing 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 9.

    Now, a matchup with Stanford offers Notre Dame a way out of the misery.

    The Cardinal have secured a berth into the Pac-12 title game, topped then-No. 3 Oregon a couple weeks ago and are currently ranked No. 8. Beating this team on the road would do a lot for the Irish.

    It would be a great way to toss aside the disappointment and end the season on a positive note.

    Lose and…well, we all know how that goes.

24. Duke (9-2)

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    Don't look now, but here come the Blue Devils.
    Don't look now, but here come the Blue Devils.Ellen Ozier-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 24 Duke (9-2) at North Carolina (6-5), Nov. 30, 12 p.m. on ESPN2

    Biggest Question: Can Blue Devils overcome pressure and a heated rivalry game on the road to make program history?

     

    The Skinny

    Where have we seen this story before?

    On Saturday, Duke will take on the Tar Heels with a shot at the ACC title hanging in the balance. Tempers are likely to flare up and don’t expect either team to be in the giving spirit.

    Only it will be settled on the gridiron…not the basketball court.

    That’s right. With a win this weekend, the Blue Devils will secure a berth to their first-ever ACC title game. The team will take on Florida State for an opportunity to win the school’s first conference title since 1989.

    And here we all prematurely dubbed Miami the surprise team of the ACC.

    Instead, we should all be praising a Duke squad that has won seven straight games, including wins against the Hurricanes and Virginia Tech. Furthermore, the Blue Devils are closing in on their first 10-win season in school history.

    Although the team should have no problems on Saturday, rivalry games are always closely contested no matter the records.

    It will be interesting to see if Duke can prove it can be successful on the football field as well.

23. USC (9-3)

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    Orgeron will be fighting for his job on Saturday.
    Orgeron will be fighting for his job on Saturday.Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 22 UCLA (8-3) at No. 23 USC (9-3), Nov. 30, 8 p.m. ET on ABC

    Biggest Question: Will Ed Orgeron add an exclamation point on his case to become the Trojans’ permanent head coach with win over Bruins?

     

    The Skinny

    There’s no doubt that USC has been a significantly better football team under the guidance of Orgeron.

    This team has successfully grown from a band of misfits who struggled on both sides of the ball into a group of brothers who have proven to be a legitimate threat to anyone on the football field. The Trojans have won five straight and six of seven under Orgeron.

    But no win displayed the team’s transformation more than a valiant 20-17 upset over then-No. 4 Stanford on Nov. 16.

    Next up, the team hosts a UCLA squad that has struggled over the last month. One that has been all crackle but no pop.

    With a win here, USC will successfully register a 10-win season in a year where hope seemed lost.

    How much bigger of a resume-booster could you ask for than that?

22. UCLA (8-3)

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    Playing without James has been difficult for the Bruins.
    Playing without James has been difficult for the Bruins.Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 22 UCLA (8-3) at No. 23 USC (9-3), Nov. 30, 8 p.m. ET on ABC

    Biggest Question: Can Bruins play spoiler to Trojans’ magical finish?

     

    The Skinny

    In the last five weeks, UCLA’s season has completely unraveled.

    The team has dropped matches convincingly to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State while struggling to put away Colorado, Arizona and Washington in between. It certainly doesn’t help that the Bruins have been without running back Jordon James for six of the last seven contests.

    But on Saturday, the team has the opportunity to spoil one of its biggest rivals’ season.

    Back in 2006, UCLA shocked then-No. 2 USC, 13-9, in the final game of the regular season. It was a loss that dropped the Trojans out of the BCS title game and made them settle for a trip to the Rose Bowl instead.

    That’s a feeling the Bruins will hope to replicate again. Except this time, USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s job, along with the fanbase’s optimism, will be on the line.

    If there was one way to make the pain of 2013 a bit easier for this UCLA squad, it would be a victory over the Trojans during their senior day.

    Doesn’t get better than that.

21. Texas A&M (8-3)

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    Is Manziel all but out of the running for Heisman?
    Is Manziel all but out of the running for Heisman?Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 21 Texas A&M (8-3) at No. 5 Missouri (10-1), Nov. 30, 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Biggest Question: Does a strong performance in an upset win over Tigers resurrect Johnny Manziel’s repeat bid for Heisman?

     

    The Skinny

    Manziel all but threw away his chances to win back-to-back Heisman Trophies with his performance in a 34-10 loss to LSU last weekend.

    The sophomore had arguably the worst game of his career, throwing for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 16-of-41 passing. He was also stifled on the ground, rushing for just 54 yards on 12 carries.

    Voters paid close attention and dropped Manziel down to the No. 4 spot in the latest ESPN Heisman Watch poll. 

    Fortunately, a road matchup with a Top 5 team is just the jump-start his Heisman candidacy needs.

    If Manziel registers a stellar performance against Missouri on the road, it’s hard to argue against his inclusion in the Heisman ballot. Beating a Top 5 team on the road is no easy task.

    With Heisman contenders dropping like flies in recent weeks, this is Manziel’s chance to jump back into the running.

20. Louisville (10-1)

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    What's caused Bridgewater to slip?
    What's caused Bridgewater to slip?Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: bye

    Biggest Question: What’s going on with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater?

     

    The Skinny

    Bridgewater has been in somewhat of a slump as of late.

    Over the Cardinals’ first eight games, the junior had thrown for 23 touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 319.6 yards. Since then, he has thrown just two touchdowns and an interception while averaging 237.0 yards over the team’s last three.

    The most surprising aspect of it all is the kind of teams Bridgewater has struggled against—1-9 Connecticut and 3-7 Memphis are two.

    Thankfully, he has a bye week to rest and regroup.

    Louisville plays 9-2 Cincinnati—winners of six in a row—on Dec. 5.

    It’s a matchup that will be a little bit more difficult. The Bearcats rank No. 9 in scoring defense (18.5 PPG) and No. 29 against the pass (210.8 YPG).

    Can Bridgewater get it together?

19. UCF (9-1)

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    Bortles has been phenomenal as of late.
    Bortles has been phenomenal as of late.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: South Florida (2-8) at No. 19 UCF (9-1), Nov. 29, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Biggest Question: Can quarterback Blake Bortles maintain his high level of play?

     

    The Skinny

    Bortles has played downright spectacular in recent weeks. 

    Over the Knights' last four games, the junior has thrown for 1,235 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception on 73.3 percent passing. He also added 111 yards and two scores on 32 carries.

    More specifically, if it weren’t for Bortles’ late-game heroics against Temple on Nov. 16, the team wouldn’t be in position to win the AAC title.

    Against the Bulls, he shouldn’t have any problems keeping up his hot streak. South Florida has already given up 15 touchdowns through the air while conceding 7.3 yards per attempt.

    It should be easy pickings for Bortles.

18. Oklahoma (9-2)

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    Knight (center) has really opened up the Sooners rushing attack.
    Knight (center) has really opened up the Sooners rushing attack.Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: bye

    Biggest Question: Did quarterback Trevor Knight do enough to earn the starting job versus Oklahoma State?

     

    The Skinny

    Last weekend, the Sooners walked out of Manhattan with a hard-fought victory, 41-31, over Kansas State.

    It was a win that wouldn’t have been possible without Knight.

    In his best game to date, the redshirt freshman threw for a career-high 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 14-of-20 passing while adding another 82 yards and a score on 14 carries. Furthermore, he came up big on third down, converting 9-of-15 opportunities.

    Using a good mix of his legs and arm, Knight made all the big plays when Oklahoma needed them. 

    He also seems to open up the team’s rushing attack. The Sooners racked up 301 yards on the ground a week after tallying 405 against Iowa State with Knight also under center.

    In fact, the team’s top four rushing performances all came with Knight under center for the majority of the game.

    While there has been no update on whether he will get the call against the Cowboys on Dec. 7, Knight has certainly done more than enough to show he’s worthy of it.

17. LSU (8-3)

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    Mettenberger has transformed greatly this season.
    Mettenberger has transformed greatly this season.Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

    Week 14 Matchup: Arkansas (3-8) at No. 17 LSU (8-3), Nov. 29, 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS

    Biggest Question: Will quarterback Zach Mettenberger save his best performance for last?

     

    The Skinny

    This has been quite the season for Mettenberger.

    Through 11 games, the senior has thrown for 2,926 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 65.0 percent passing. In the process, he has nearly doubled his total of touchdowns from a year ago and recorded career highs in yards and passer rating (176.1).

    It’s hard to believe that Mettenberger is the same quarterback that threw for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions on just 58.8 percent passing a year ago.

    Credit first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for his help, but a lot also falls on the shoulders of Mettenberger for making it work on the field.

    Although the Tigers aren’t playing for an SEC title or a BCS bowl, Mettenberger still has a lot to play for this Saturday. On senior day, in front of thousands of LSU faithful, the Watkinsville, Ga., native can show us all just how much he has grown.

    Against a Razorbacks defense that has given up 24 passing touchdowns and 7.9 yards per attempt, that shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

16. Fresno State (10-0)

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    The Bulldogs hope to be celebrating a BCS berth come December.
    The Bulldogs hope to be celebrating a BCS berth come December.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 16 Fresno State (10-0) at San Jose State (5-6), Nov. 29, 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network

    Biggest Question: Can Bulldogs score enough style points to jump Northern Illinois for automatic BCS bid?

     

    The Skinny

    For much of the season, Fresno State has ranked ahead of the Huskies in the poll. That’s important because even if both schools finish in the Top 16 of the BCS Rankings, only the higher-ranked team gets the automatic BCS berth.

    However, in the latest rankings, Northern Illinois pulled ahead by two spots.

    Now, it simply comes down to which team looks better in its wins.

    The Bulldogs have proved they have no problem running up the score. The team ranks No. 5 in the nation in scoring, averaging 48.6 points.

    Most recently, Fresno State hung 69 on New Mexico with quarterback Derek Carr throwing for 522 yards and seven touchdowns on 27-of-37 passing. 

    This weekend, against a Spartans squad that allows more than 33 points and 440 yards per game, the Bulldogs and Carr will need to pour it on. At this point, sportsmanship should be thrown out the door.

    Even 80 points may not be enough.

15. Wisconsin (9-2)

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    What's happened to Gordon?
    What's happened to Gordon?Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: Penn State (6-5) at No. 15 Wisconsin (9-2), Nov. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Biggest Question: Has Melvin Gordon hit a rough patch?

     

    The Skinny

    Gordon was arguably one of the best running backs in the nation a month ago.

    Over the Badgers’ first seven games, the sophomore rushed for at least 140 yards and a touchdown in all but one contest. Furthermore, he found the end zone 11 times in that span.

    Since then, Gordon has topped the century mark just once and scored only one touchdown in the team’s last four games.

    Part of it has to be the play of senior running back James White—120 yards or more and a touchdown in four consecutive games. But part of it is Gordon not making the most of his carries like he did earlier in the season.

    The Nittany Lions aren’t the strongest of foes, but if Wisconsin wants to make a case for the BCS, the team needs Gordon at his best.

14. Northern Illinois (12-0)

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    Lynch has to prove he can do more than just run.
    Lynch has to prove he can do more than just run.Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: W 33-14, vs. Western Michigan

    Biggest Question: What happens when Jordan Lynch is forced to pass?

     

    The Skinny

    We’ve seen Lynch’s impressive rushing ability all season.

    On Tuesday, the senior broke the FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback—set by him earlier this year—by racking up 321 yards on the ground. He also found the end zone three times on the night.

    That gives Lynch 20 rushing touchdowns on the season, making him just the fifth quarterback in FBS history with 20 passing scores and 20 rushing scores in the same season. Three of those other four wound up winning the Heisman.

    Unfortunately, Lynch’s passing ability—or lack thereof—will be his ultimate weakness.

    Against the lowly Broncos, Lynch only threw for 39 yards and a touchdown on 5-of-17 passing.

    Sure, that kind of effort will prove to be no problem against MAC opponents. However, what happens when the Huskies face a team that can actually stop him on the ground?

    Take last year in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.

    Lynch was held to just 44 rushing yards on 23 carries (1.9 YPC). Furthermore, he was shut down through the air, only throwing for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 15-of-41 passing.

    Until Lynch can prove he can throw successfully, Northern Illinois is nothing more than a stepping mat for whoever draws the team in a BCS bowl game.

13. Oregon (9-2)

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    Where do the Ducks go from here?
    Where do the Ducks go from here?Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: Oregon State (6-5) at No. 13 Oregon (9-2), Nov. 29, 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1

    Biggest Question: What now?

     

    The Skinny

    It’s been a lousy month for the Ducks.

    After starting November with a berth in the BCS title on the horizon, the team will most likely be shut out of the BCS entirely. Losses to Stanford and unranked Arizona made Oregon’s bed.

    The loss to the latter was the most crushing of all. The Ducks lost a lot in that match—their pride, their shot at the Pac-12 title and quarterback Marcus Mariota’s shot at a Heisman Trophy.

    So where does the team go from here?

    Right now, it’s all about regaining back some of that respect. With a win over the Beavers on Saturday, it will give Oregon’s seniors a 4-0 record against their hated in-state rivals.

    Most importantly, it will move the team to 10 wins and just maybe an at-large berth into a BCS bowl could be waiting.

12. Arizona State (9-2)

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    The Sun Devils are playing some of their best football as of late.
    The Sun Devils are playing some of their best football as of late.Harry How/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: Arizona (7-4) at No. 12 Arizona State (9-2), Nov. 30, 9:30 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network

    Biggest Question: Can Sun Devils put Pac-12 ambitions to the side and take care of business against the Wildcats?

     

    The Skinny

    Believe it or not, Arizona State will be playing for the Pac-12 title in two weeks.

    But right now, the team must forget winning the conference and focus on beating Arizona.

    The worst thing that could happen to the Sun Devils is a sloppy performance. The team has won six in a row and another win would just help Arizona State enter the Pac-12 title game with all the momentum in its favor.

    However, the Wildcats won’t make it easy.

    Just last weekend, the team put a whooping on then-No. 5 Oregon, 42-16. That outburst was led by running back Ka’Deem Carey, who rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on a ridiculous 48 carries.

    Entering Week 14, the junior has rushed for 1,559 yards and found the end zone 16 times while topping the century mark in all 10 games he’s played.

    Will the Sun Devils’ No. 19-ranked run defense (123.4 YPG) be up to the task?

     

11. Michigan State (10-1)

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    Can Langford (right) keep up his stellar play?
    Can Langford (right) keep up his stellar play?Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: Minnesota (8-3) at No. 11 Michigan State (10-1), Nov. 30, 12 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network

    Biggest Question: Is it plausible to expect Jeremy Langford to keep carrying Spartans offense?

     

    The Skinny

    For much of the season, Michigan State has relied on the shoulders of its defense.

    And who could blame it? Entering Week 14, the unit ranks in the top five in several categories, including scoring, total defense and rushing defense.

    But lately, the Spartans have been sparked by the play of Langford in the backfield.

    Through 11 games, the junior has rushed for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns on 224 carries. That includes topping the century mark over the team’s last six contests while finding the end zone 11 times in that span.

    Against a Golden Gophers run defense that has given up 15 scores on the ground on 4.43 yards per carry, Langford’s streak should continue.

    But against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, he’s going to need some extra help from his teammates.

10. South Carolina (9-2)

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    Spurrier will have to keep his team focused on Saturday.
    Spurrier will have to keep his team focused on Saturday.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), Nov. 30, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2

    Biggest Question: Can the Gamecocks keep eyes on the Tigers and off the scoreboard?

     

    The Skinny

    South Carolina has a lot on the line on Saturday.

    For starters, with a win on Saturday, the team will clinch its third straight 10-win season. Furthermore, if Missouri loses to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks will wrap up the SEC East and a berth into the SEC title game.

    Unfortunately for the team, the Tigers and Aggies kick off just 45 minutes after South Carolina.

    Head coach Steve Spurrier would be lying if he said his Gamecocks wouldn’t be keeping a close eye on the score of that one.

    However, the team can’t afford a letdown against a very good Clemson team. If you recall, a loss to Florida State—a team that has dominated everyone in its path—is the only blemish on the Tigers’ 2013 season.

    South Carolina’s defense will have its hands full with Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and an offense that is averaging 42.3 points and 516.5 yards per game.

    Let the crowd worry about the score of the Missouri game.

9. Baylor (9-1)

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    Petty and the Bears fell flat on their face last weekend.
    Petty and the Bears fell flat on their face last weekend.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 9 Baylor (9-1) at TCU (4-7), Nov. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2

    Biggest Question: Will Bears be able to overcome road woes?

     

    The Skinny

    Depending on the venue of the game, Baylor is a completely different team.

    In six home games, the team averages 65.7 points and 715.2 yards while allowing opponents just 14.0 points and 282.7 yards per games. Conversely, in three contests away from home, the Bears average 37.0 points and 547.3 yards while conceding 30.5 points and 450.3 yards per game.

    At home, the team made Oklahoma look out of place. On the road, Baylor struggled against Kansas State and was severely outmatched, 49-17, by Oklahoma State.

    This weekend, another road matchup awaits against TCU.

    Although it is a game that the Bears should have no problem winning, it will all rely on whether the team can shake the recent setback from memory and put its road woes aside.

     

8. Stanford (9-2)

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    Can Stanford build some momentum heading into Pac-12 title game?
    Can Stanford build some momentum heading into Pac-12 title game?Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 25 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 8 Stanford (9-2), Nov. 30, 7 p.m. ET on FOX

    Biggest Question: Can the Cardinal gain some momentum heading into Pac-12 title game?

     

    The Skinny

    It was just a week ago that Stanford was coming off a shocking loss to unranked USC. A game that not only took away the team’s hopes for a Pac-12 title but also made a BCS bowl all but out of the question.

    Fortunately, Oregon seemed to be in the giving mood with the holidays approaching and gifted the Cardinal the division in a stunning loss to Arizona last weekend. All that was missing was the wrapping.

    Now, Stanford will look to build on an impressive victory over Cal, 63-13. A game in which quarterback Kevin Hogan looked lethal, tossing for five touchdowns and 329 yards on 17-of-26 passing.

    If the Cardinal can add a victory over a sixth ranked opponent by toppling the Irish this weekend, all the momentum will be on the team’s side in the Pac-12 title game.

7. Oklahoma State (10-1)

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    Chelf is getting hot at the right time.
    Chelf is getting hot at the right time.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: bye

    Biggest Question: Was Clint Chelf’s big game against Baylor a fluke?

     

    The Skinny

    The Cowboys recorded the biggest win of their season last week against Baylor.

    Behind the stellar play of Chelf, the team racked up 594 yards of offense, converted 9-of-17 third-down opportunities and held the ball for a little more than 35 minutes. It was an all-around dominating display by Oklahoma State.

    For his part, Chelf threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-25 passing. He even scrambled for a score.

    After a slow start, the senior seems to finally be coming into his element at quarterback. He has now thrown for an average of 277.3 yards while accounting for 11 touchdowns and just one interception over the Cowboys' last three games.

    With the Big 12 title in sight and the Bedlam game against Oklahoma coming up on Dec. 7, Chelf couldn’t pick a better time to be playing his best football.

6. Clemson (10-1)

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    The Tigers have a chance to get back in the nation's good graces on Saturday.
    The Tigers have a chance to get back in the nation's good graces on Saturday.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), Nov. 30, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2

    Biggest Question: Can Tigers restore credibility to their 2013 campaign with big win over Gamecocks?

     

    The Skinny

    An embarrassing loss to Florida State, 51-14, on Oct. 19 has left Clemson flying under the radar.

    Many forget that just a week before that game, the Tigers were the darlings of college football. The team was ranked No. 3 in the polls and quarterback Tajh Boyd was one of the favorites to win the Heisman.

    Should a loss to the still undefeated Seminoles really be the undoing of Clemson?

    Following the defeat, the team has won four consecutive games, averaging 51.5 points during that stretch. That includes topping 50 points in the last three.

    As for Boyd, the senior has thrown for 1,005 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two touchdowns on 78.3 passing over the last three contests. He’s also found the end zone twice on the ground in that stretch.

    However, with the Tigers' four opponents having a combined record of 20-25, not much has been taken from the team’s performance.

    That could all change with an impressive win on the road against a Top 10 opponent.

    An at-large berth into a BCS bowl pretty much depends on it.

5. Missouri (10-1)

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    Is Franklin (left) ready to lead the Tigers to SEC glory?
    Is Franklin (left) ready to lead the Tigers to SEC glory?Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 21 Texas A&M (8-3) at No. 5 Missouri (10-1), Nov. 30, 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Biggest Question: Will James Franklin be ready to outgun Johnny Manziel?

     

    The Skinny

    Entering Week 14, not too many quarterbacks have been able to get the better of the Aggies’ Manziel.

    Through 11 games, the sophomore has thrown for 3,537 yards, 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 69.1 percent passing. He’s also added another 665 yards and eight touchdowns on 122 carries.

    The Tigers will counter with Franklin.

    In seven appearances, the senior has tossed 14 touchdowns and four interceptions for 1,719 yards on 67.3 percent passing. He’s also displayed some mobility, racking up 332 yards and finding the end zone three times on 73 carries.

    With a berth into the SEC title on the line, Missouri will need to hope Franklin can bounce back from a subpar performance against Ole Miss last weekend and put up points on the scoreboard.

    Given that both teams’ defenses slack off against the pass, we could easily be in store for at least 80 combined points.

    Those are generally the type of games that favor Manziel and Texas A&M.

    Can Franklin and the Tigers break the mold?

4. Auburn (10-1)

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    Can Marshall prove his critics wrong?
    Can Marshall prove his critics wrong?Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 1 Alabama (11-0) at No. 4 Auburn (10-1), Nov. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS

    Biggest Question: Can Nick Marshall step up in the biggest game of his career?

     

    The Skinny

    Thus far, the Tigers have made a living off running the ball.

    The team enters Week 14 with the No. 2-ranked rushing attack, averaging a little more than 320 rushing yards per game. Running back Tre Mason (208 CAR, 1,153 YDs, 17 TDs) has been a large part of that.

    But against a Crimson Tide defense that has only allowed five rushing touchdowns and 91.3 yards per game on 3.01 yards per carry, rushing yards will come at a premium.

    That’s all the more reason for Marshall to finally step up as a passer.

    On the season, the junior has thrown for 1,530 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions on 58.4 percent passing. Although he limits the mistakes, Marshall has only tossed multiple touchdowns and completed more than 60 percent of his passes just three times this year.

    That’s not going to get it done against the top-ranked team in the nation.

    If Auburn wants to beat Alabama and earn an improbable berth to the SEC title game, the team needs Marshall at his best.

    The pressure is on.

3. Ohio State (11-0)

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    Can Hyde (34) keep his run going for the Buckeyes?
    Can Hyde (34) keep his run going for the Buckeyes?Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 3 Ohio State (11-) at Michigan (7-4), Nov. 30, 12 p.m. ET on ABC

    Biggest Question: Does Carlos Hyde have a couple more big performances left in him?

     

    The Skinny

    Ever since his return from suspension, Hyde has easily been the Buckeyes’ biggest weapon on offense.

    Through eight games, the senior has rushed for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns on 138 carries. That includes topping the century mark in Ohio State’s last six contests, scoring all of his touchdowns in that span.

    Most recently, he rushed for 246 yards and four scores on 24 carries to help lead the Buckeyes to a dominating victory over Illinois, 60-35, on Nov. 16.

    Now, the team will be calling on Hyde to keep it going against the rival Wolverines. It’s a game that stands in the way of Ohio State’s bid to complete back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

    After that, a date with surging Michigan State awaits in the Big Ten title game.

    As always, expect the Buckeyes to lean heavily on Hyde.

     

2. Florida State (11-0)

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    Can Winston remain focused among the distractions?
    Can Winston remain focused among the distractions?Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 2 Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7), Nov. 30, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Biggest Question: Can Jameis Winston battle past both outside distractions and the Gators secondary?

     

    The Skinny

    For much of the season, Winston’s name has been plastered all over the news for his play on the field. Most specifically, for the poise and experience he has displayed under center in leading the Seminoles to an undefeated season through 13 weeks.

    However, just last week, Winston was linked to a possible sexual assault case, via ESPN’s Mark Schlabach

    It casts an unfortunate shadow on a truly wonderful season put together by the redshirt freshman.

    But Winston will have no time to get lost in his thoughts as a road trip to take on rival Florida is up next.

    Sure, the Gators appear to be a lost cause and have dropped six consecutive games. However, winning this game would make the team’s season.

    Not to mention, Florida does happen to boast one of the best secondaries in the nation.

    Through 11 games, the unit ranks No. 3 against the pass (157.7 YPG). Furthermore, the Gators have allowed a nation-low six passing touchdowns while conceding just 6.0 yards per attempt.

    It will be incredibly important that Winston maintains his composure amidst the distractions surrounding him.

    Florida State can’t afford a letdown now.

1. Alabama (11-0)

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    McCarron has accomplished it all in Tuscaloosa.
    McCarron has accomplished it all in Tuscaloosa.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Week 14 Matchup: No. 1 Alabama (11-0) at No. 4 Auburn (10-1), Nov. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS

    Biggest Question: Will this be the game we all remember AJ McCarron for?

     

    The Skinny

    In his fifth year at Tuscaloosa, McCarron has accomplished things every quarterback can only dream of.

    The senior has a 36-2 record as a starter, has three BCS championship rings and owns several school records. Not to mention, he’s on pace to record an unprecedented third straight BCS title and earn a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony in a couple weeks.

    This weekend, McCarron has a chance to cement his legacy as not only one of the best quarterbacks in Tide history, but also in all of college football.

    On the road, in a hostile environment and against a Top 5 opponent, the formula for failure is right in front of his face. But as he’s done in previous years, McCarron has typically found a way to come up big.

    He’s already put in sensational performances in big games this season, throwing for 334 yards and four touchdowns against Texas A&M and tossing for another 179 yards and three touchdowns versus rival LSU.

    If he can pull off another big victory, Alabama will be in the SEC title game and one win away from the BCS title game.

    But most importantly, it will cement McCarron’s status as a big-game quarterback.

     

    All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.

    For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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