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Biggest Questions Facing Each Top 25 Team Heading into Bowl Season

Sebastian LenaAnalyst IDecember 13, 2013

Biggest Questions Facing Each Top 25 Team Heading into Bowl Season

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    Can anyone stop Winston and Co.?
    Can anyone stop Winston and Co.?Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    With college football’s bowl season quickly approaching, each Top 25 team will have limited time to answer some of their biggest concerns.

    How will USC respond after Ed Orgeron's departure? Can Stanford and Michigan State win it through the air? Who will win the matchup between Auburn's rushing attack and Florida State's run defense?

    These are just a few of the thoughts each team will have going through their heads.

    Join B/R as we take a look at the biggest questions facing each of the Top 25 teams.

25. USC

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    How will the Trojans respond in the first game under the Sarkisian era?
    How will the Trojans respond in the first game under the Sarkisian era?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) vs. No. 25 USC (9-4), Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC (Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl)

    Biggest Question: How will Trojans play in first game since Ed Orgeron resigned?

     

    The Skinny

    Following USC’s hiring of Steve Sarkisian as the new head coach, former interim head coach Orgeron was so fed up that he decided to hand in his resignation, via ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

    Although Sarkisian’s arrival should bring about positive change to the university, it will be tough for the players to get acquainted with their third coach this year—especially with a tough bowl matchup on the horizon.

    It’s no secret that the Trojans loved playing for Orgeron. After starting 3-2, the team won six of its next seven with Orgeron at the helm.

    Backed by improvement on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, USC was able to upset then-No. 4 Stanford, 20-17, on Nov. 16.

    But now, it’s unclear who will be calling the plays for the team when it takes on a tough Bulldogs squad.

    More importantly, it’s unknown how exactly the Trojans will respond in their first game without the beloved Coach O.

24. Duke

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    The Blue Devils will look to close out an impressive 2013 strong.
    The Blue Devils will look to close out an impressive 2013 strong.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 24 Duke (10-3) vs. No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4), Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN (Chick-fil-A Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can the Blue Devils secondary rebound against Johnny Manziel and the Aggies?

     

    The Skinny

    After eight consecutive wins, Duke’s magical run to the ACC title game came to a crashing halt in a loss to Florida State, 45-7, last weekend.

    The defense was gashed for 569 yards and gave up five touchdowns. Furthermore, it was the most points the Blue Devils have conceded since a Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh, 58-55.

    Now, after getting a first-hand look at Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston, the team will look to rebound against another finalist.

    Manziel and Texas A&M enter the bowl season averaging 43.6 points and 538.2 total yards of offense per game. The team has made scoring look easy, topping the 40-point mark in 10 of 12 games.

    Fortunately, the Aggies seem to be on a bit of a slump. The team has only scored 31 points over the last two games—both losses.

    Can Duke put last week’s struggles in the past and help continue those of Texas A&M’s? Or will Manziel expose the Blue Devils as pretenders?

23. Northern Illinois

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    Lynch will have to put his arm to the test in this one.
    Lynch will have to put his arm to the test in this one.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: Utah State (8-5) vs. No. 23 Northern Illinois (12-1), Dec. 26, 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can Jordan Lynch prove he can throw?

     

    The Skinny

    Yes, we've all been impressed by the rushing ability of Lynch. His success on the ground trumps that of some of the best running backs in the nation.

    But as a quarterback, the senior has come under fire for his ability—or lack thereof—to throw.

    Take Lynch’s performance against Western Michigan a couple weeks ago. He only threw for 39 yards and a touchdown on 5-of-17 passing.

    Sure, the weather was difficult, but what’s the excuse for Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell nearly quadrupling Lynch’s total, throwing for 139 yards on 13-of-26 passing?

    Then there’s Lynch’s stinker in the MAC title game against Bowling Green, where he only completed 21 of 40 passes and tossed two critical interceptions—one took away a scoring chance for the Huskies, while the other led to a touchdown for the Falcons.

    Against an Aggies defense that specializes against the run—No. 10 in the nation (107.38)—Lynch will have to win this game through the air.

    The only question is if he can accomplish that or not.

22. Georgia

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    The burden has increased on Gurley's (3) shoulders.
    The burden has increased on Gurley's (3) shoulders.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: Nebraska (8-4) vs. No. 22 Georgia (8-4), Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN2 (TAXSLAYER.com Gator Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Will Todd Gurley be enough to carry Bulldogs?

     

    The Skinny

    In a season full of injuries, the biggest blow to Georgia’s season came when quarterback Aaron Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky.

    That forces the team to turn to Hutson Mason under center. And although the junior performed quite admirably in his first career start—22-of-36, 299 YDS, 2 TDs, 1 INTthe Bulldogs will need a lot more than that to defeat the Cornhuskers in January.

    Look for Gurley to help pick up the slack.

    In nine games, the sophomore has racked up 903 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 144 carries. That includes a spectacular performance against Georgia Tech last weekend in Murray’s absence.

    Gurley rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while catching four passes for 36 yards and another score.

    With Nebraska ranking just No. 62 against the run, it’s important for Georgia to keep feeding Gurley the ball.

21. Texas A&M

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    Manziel has been in bit of a slump as of late.
    Manziel has been in bit of a slump as of late.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 24 Duke (10-3) vs. No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4), Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN (Chick-fil-A Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can Johnny Manziel break out of his slump?

     

    The Skinny

    The Aggies have lost two straight games and Manziel hasn't done much to help the team's cause.

    On Nov. 23, during a 34-10 loss to LSU, the sophomore had one of the worst games of his career, throwing for 224 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on 16-of-41 passing. He was also held to just 54 yards on 12 carries.

    The following week, Manziel struggled once again in a 28-21 loss to Missouri. He threw for 195 yards and a touchdown on 24-of-35 passing while being held to just 21 yards on 11 carries.

    That's nowhere near the production that we've become accustomed to seeing from Manziel this season.

    Fortunately, the Blue Devils' No. 70-ranked pass defense could be just the remedy.

    Then again, the unit has had success forcing turnovers—16 in the last six games—so Manziel will have to be extra careful with his throws.

20. Fresno State

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    Carr will be a huge key for the Bulldogs offense.
    Carr will be a huge key for the Bulldogs offense.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) vs. No. 25 USC (9-4), Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC (Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Will Bulldogs expose Trojans secondary?

     

    The Skinny

    On paper, the matchup between the Fresno State passing attack and the USC secondary looks like a good one.

    Entering bowl season, the Bulldogs rank No. 1 in passing offense (409.8 YPG) and have scored 48 touchdowns through the air this season. Conversely, the Trojans rank No. 32 against the pass (214.5 YPG) and have held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 114.0.

    However, everything hasn't been all roses and dandelions for the USC secondary.

    In fact, the unit has already been exposed three times on the season. Arizona State, Arizona and Cal all gashed the Trojans through the air for 351, 363 and 293 yards, respectively, while combining for 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

    Expect Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr to take note.

19. Wisconsin

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    Gordon (left) has propelled the Badgers running game to high peaks.
    Gordon (left) has propelled the Badgers running game to high peaks.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. No. 9 South Carolina (10-2), Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC (Capital One Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can Badgers get rushing attack back on track?

     

    The Skinny

    For much of the season, Wisconsin dominated opponents with a crushing ground game.

    With a one-two punch of running backs Melvin Gordon and James White, opposing defenses stood no chance. The duo combined for 2,803 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season.

    However, in a loss to Penn State, 31-24, on Nov. 30, the Badgers were held to just 120 yards and a season-low 4.00 yards per carry. Furthermore, the team was kept out of the end zone on the ground for the first time all season.

    In a tough matchup with the Gamecocks, Wisconsin will need its run game to be clicking if it has any hope for victory.

    Thus far, South Carolina ranks No. 32 against the run (142.3 YPG). Although the team limits the yardage, the Gamecocks have given up 16 rushing touchdowns and concede a generous 4.05 yards per carry.

    If ever Gordon and White had to step up, this is that moment.

18. Louisville

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    The Cardinals will need strong play from their defense in this one.
    The Cardinals will need strong play from their defense in this one.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: Miami (9-3) vs. No. 18 Louisville (11-1), Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN (Russell Athletic Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can Cardinals regain their swagger on defense?

     

    The Skinny

    For most of the season, Louisville featured one of the top defenses in the nation.

    Over the team's first eight games, only three teams managed to score 10 points or more. In the four games since, every opponent has accomplished that feat against the Cardinals. 

    Whatever the case is, the lapse in defense has forced Louisville to win three straight games decided by seven points. In fact, just last Thursday, the team needed overtime to power pass Cincinnati, 31-24.

    Against a Hurricanes squad that has the potential to put up points, it's vital that the Cardinals defense buckles down early.

17. UCLA

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    Hundley (17) will need his offensive line to step up.
    Hundley (17) will need his offensive line to step up.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-3), Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET on CBS (Hyundai Sun Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can the offensive line protect Brett Hundley?

     

    The Skinny

    Although Hundley has had a solid 2013 campaign, the sophomore hasn't been as effective as he would like.

    A lot of that falls on the poor performance of the Bruins offensive line.

    Through 12 games, the unit ranked No. 109 in the league in sacks allowed (34.0). UCLA has coughed up 2.8 per game while losing 192 yards as a result.

    That’s something the team must avoid against a Hokies defense that is very good at bringing down the quarterback.

    Thus far, the unit ranks No. 9 with 37.0 sacks on the season. Three different players on Virginia Tech have recorded 5.0 sacks or more while six have got to the quarterback at least 4.0 times.

    Hundley might be seeing a lot of the turf if the offensive line doesn’t step up.

16. LSU

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    This is easily the biggest game of Jennings' career.
    This is easily the biggest game of Jennings' career.Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Bowl Matchup: Iowa (8-4) vs. LSU (9-3), Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN (Outback Bowl)

    Biggest Question: What will Anthony Jennings do for an encore?

     

    The Skinny

    A spectacular 2013 campaign was ended prematurely for Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

    However, in a relief appearance against Arkansas in the season finale, Jennings stepped in and led LSU on a game-winning drive capped off by an impressive touchdown toss. 

    The freshman finished the day 4-of-7 for 76 yards and a touchdown while adding another 26 yards on three carries.

    There's not much video on the Marietta, Ga., native, so it's hard to predict what the Tigers might see in their bowl game. But he definitely adds a bit of mobility to the position that the team didn't have with Mettenberger under center.

    Going up against a Hawkeyes defense that ranks No. 10 against the pass (182.4 YPG), Jennings will certainly be tested.

    Look for LSU to turn to the run game early to try and open up the passing attack for him. 

15. UCF

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    The Knights will need their defense at its best.
    The Knights will need their defense at its best.Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 15 UCF (11-1) vs. No. 6 Baylor (11-1), Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Tostitos Fiesta Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can the Knights defense bottle the Bears offense?

     

    The Skinny

    Almost nobody has been able to put up points and yards like Baylor this season.

    Through 12 games, the team is averaging 53.3 points and 623.8 yards per game. Both averages rank tops in the nation.

    That will be a test for a UCF defense that ranks No. 13 in scoring (19.6 PPG) and No. 19 in total defense (346.3 YPG).

    But while the Knights defense has impressive numbers, the unit has never faced an offense quite like the Bears. The team can take advantage of you through the air and also on the ground.

    Then again, Baylor hasn't been all too spectacular away from home.

    The team's only loss came on the road and the Bears have struggled to put away teams such as TCU and Kansas State—combined 11-13 in 2013.

    UCF will certainly have that factor working to its advantage. But it’s imperative that the team’s defense also shows up to play.

    Otherwise, this one could get out of hand fast.

14. Arizona State

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    The Sun Devils will be exited to see Grice back on the field.
    The Sun Devils will be exited to see Grice back on the field.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 14 Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN (National University Holiday Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Will Marion Grice be able to contribute at a high level?

     

    The Skinny

    Throughout the season, nobody has been a bigger contributor on offense for the Sun Devils than Grice.

    In 11 games, the senior rushed for 996 yards and 14 touchdowns on 191 carries. He also caught 50 passes for another 438 yards and six scores.

    Grice’s dual-threat ability has kept opposing defenses guessing and opened up plays for the rest of the offense.

    Arizona State won't likely admit it, but being without Grice was a large factor in the team’s loss to Stanford, 38-14, in the Pac-12 title game last weekend. It was a game in which the Sun Devils only accounted for 311 total yards.

    Will three weeks be enough for Grice to be at his best against the Red Raiders on Dec. 30?

13. Oklahoma State

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    Chelf will need to step it up against Missouri.
    Chelf will need to step it up against Missouri.Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 8 Missouri (11-2), Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX (AT&T Cotton Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Which Clint Chelf will the Cowboys be getting?

     

    The Skinny

    Oklahoma State is never sure on what kind of play it will be getting out of Chelf at quarterback these days.

    On one hand, there’s the quarterback who was dominant in convincing victories over Texas and Baylor, throwing for a total of 567 yards, five touchdowns and an interception on 74.5 percent passing while adding another 75 yards and three scores on 18 carries.

    Then there's the quarterback who threw for just 78 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 10-of-26 passing against Iowa State. There's also the one who came up short against Oklahoma, throwing for 200 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 19-of-35 passing.

    Against a Tigers team that will likely put up points, the Cowboys need Chelf at his best.

12. Clemson

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    Beasley (right) and the rest of the Tigers defense needs to be ready to step up to the challenge.
    Beasley (right) and the rest of the Tigers defense needs to be ready to step up to the challenge.Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 12 Clemson (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1), Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Discover Orange Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Will Tigers run defense be able to contain Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller?

     

    The Skinny

    There was a time when Clemson ranked among the nation’s best in stopping the run. In fact, the team held four of its first eight opponents under 100 yards on the ground.

    That includes being one of three teams to hold Heisman finalist Andre Williams without a touchdown.

    However, since then, the Tigers have closed out the season conceding an average of 169.5 rushing yards over their last four games while giving up seven touchdowns on the ground.

    That could be a major issue with the nation’s No. 4-ranked rushing attack coming up next.

    Backed by running back Carlos Hyde (183 CAR, 1,408 YDS, 14 TDs) and quarterback Braxton Miller (153 CAR, 1,033 YDS, 10 TDs), the Buckeyes average 317.5 rushing yards per game. Furthermore, the team has rushed for 240 yards or more in eight consecutive games.

    Clemson will have to be at its best to slow these guys down.

11. Oklahoma

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    Will Knight (center) get the start against Alabama?
    Will Knight (center) get the start against Alabama?Brett Deering/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. No. 3 Alabama (11-1), Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Allstate Sugar Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Will it be Trevor Knight or Blake Bell at quarterback?

     

    The Skinny

    If gearing up to face the back-to-back national champions isn't tough enough, the Sooners also have to make a decision on who will be starting at quarterback.

    The team has gone back and forth with each guy under center this season. Both Knight and Bell have had their highs, and they've each certainly had their lows.

    But you can’t keep rotating quarterbacks and hope to be successful in college football.

    In 11 appearances, Bell has thrown for 1,648 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions on 60.1 percent passing. He’s also added 255 yards on 75 carries.

    Conversely, in seven appearances, Knight has thrown for 471 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions on 52.2 percent passing while adding another 438 yards and two scores on the ground.

    Both seem poised to lead this team, but head coach Bob Stoops will need to settle on one.

10. Oregon

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    Thomas will be ready to tear it up.
    Thomas will be ready to tear it up.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 10 Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4), Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN (Valero Alamo Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can De'Anthony Thomas take some of the pressure off of Marcus Mariota?

     

    The Skinny

    Mariota has been flustered as of late.

    After helping the Ducks race out to an 8-0 start, the sophomore has struggled. The team has lost two of their last four games and needed a last-second touchdown to avoid losing a third.

    For his part, Mariota has struggled too, throwing four interceptions in the last two contests—he threw none in Oregon's first 10 games.

    A lot of that can be credited to a drop-off in the running game.

    During the first eight games, the Ducks rushed for 200 yards or more in every game. The team has only accomplished the feat once over the last four contests.

    Thomas will be leaned on to take off some of that burden on the ground.

    Against a Longhorns run defense that was gashed for a school-record 550 rushing yards earlier in the season, expect Thomas to get back to his early-season surge.

9. South Carolina

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    Davis has been a force in the ground game.
    Davis has been a force in the ground game.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. No. 9 South Carolina (10-2), Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC (Capital One Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can Mike Davis solve the Badgers pesky run defense?

     

    The Skinny

    Davis has been an integral part of the Gamecocks offense.

    Through 11 games, the sophomore has rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns on 194 carries. He’s also caught 32 passes for 342 yards.

    However, after beginning the season by topping the century mark in six of South Carolina’s first seven games, Davis has failed to reach the mark in three of the last four.

    It will be even tougher to reach the mark against a Wisconsin run defense that ranks No. 6 against the run (101.3 YPG).

    If the Gamecocks want to add another 11-win season to their resume, Davis will have to be at his best.

     

8. Missouri

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    Sam (center) has been a tremendous asset on defense for the Tigers.
    Sam (center) has been a tremendous asset on defense for the Tigers.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 8 Missouri (11-2), Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX (AT&T Cotton Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can the Tigers defense regroup after being gashed by Auburn?

     

    The Skinny

    Missouri entered the SEC with one of the better defenses in the nation. The team left with a 59-42 pounding and several questions regarding the unit.

    In that game, the Tigers were burned for 677 total yards of offense—545 in the ground game alone.

    It was a game that saw the team drop drastically in several defensive categories.

    Now, Missouri will have to regroup before facing another offense that can put points up in bunches. The Cowboys average 39.8 points per game.

    If not, it will be a long day in January.

     

7. Ohio State

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    Hyde (right) and the Buckeyes aren't playing in the BCS bowl they were hoping for.
    Hyde (right) and the Buckeyes aren't playing in the BCS bowl they were hoping for.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 12 Clemson (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1), Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Discover Orange Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can the Buckeyes avoid a Big Ten title hangover and take care of business?

     

    The Skinny

    This wasn't how it was supposed to go down for the Buckeyes.

    The team was supposed to be celebrating yet another Big Ten title. But more importantly, Ohio State was supposed to be gearing up for a trip to the BCS title game.

    Unfortunately, Michigan State had other plans, and it tossing the Buckeyes aside, 34-24, in the conference title game last weekend.

    Now, the team must prepare to face the Tigers in the Orange Bowl.

    Although it may seem like a consolation prize, Ohio State should see it as an opportunity to showcase the team’s strength on the national showcase. Not only that, but it will also go a long way in regaining respect for the Big Ten.

    Clemson isn't Florida State, but the Buckeyes should quickly put the disappointment behind them.

6. Baylor

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    Can Petty and the Bears perform on the road?
    Can Petty and the Bears perform on the road?Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 15 UCF (11-1) vs. No. 6 Baylor (11-1), Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Tostitos Fiesta Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Can the Bears perform away from home?

     

    The Skinny

    It's the biggest question on the minds of Baylor fans.

    At home, the team has tossed aside each and every opponent that’s crossed its path. Not only do the Bears win, but they also do it in convincing fashion—20 points is the smallest margin of victory for the team.

    However, away from home, it’s an entirely different story.

    Thus far, Baylor has struggled against Kansas State and TCU on the road—teams with a combined 11-13 record—and had a slow start against Texas Tech on a neutral site. And who could forget the 49-17 thrashing the team received at the hands of Oklahoma State in Stillwater?

    On paper, the Knights might not look to be too much of a test, but that could end up being the Bears’ undoing.

    The team can’t afford another letdown away from home. 

5. Stanford

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    The pressure will be on Hogan (center).
    The pressure will be on Hogan (center).Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 5 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1), Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN (Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio)

    Biggest Question: Will Kevin Hogan be able to win it through the air?

     

    The Skinny

    Running back Tyler Gaffney may have carried the Cardinal to this point, but it will be Hogan who will have to help deliver the team a Rose Bowl.

    That's because the Spartans run defense is just that good. 

    Through 13 games, the unit ranks No. 1 (80.8 YPG). Michigan State has given up just seven rushing touchdowns while conceding a meager 2.7 yards per carry.

    Already this season, the team held Michigan to a school-low negative 48 rushing yards.

    Needless to say, you don’t want to try and run against these guys.

    Thus far, Hogan has thrown for 2,487 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 61.4 percent passing. Furthermore, he has only topped 280 yards twice on the year while tossing three or more touchdown passes just three times.

    Can Hogan really deliver for Stanford? 

4. Michigan State

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    Cook proved he could perform under pressure.
    Cook proved he could perform under pressure.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 5 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1), Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN (Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio)

    Biggest Question: Can Connor Cook do it again?

     

    The Skinny

    All season long, the Spartans offense has been carried by the rushing attack.

    But with the season on the line, Cook showed that the team could also pass it pretty well.

    The sophomore threw for 304 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 24-of-40 passing to help Michigan State top Ohio State, 34-24, in the Big Ten title game. The 304 passing yards serves as a career high.

    Against a Cardinal run defense that ranks No. 3 against the run (91.6 YPG), expect Cook to be called on again.

     

3. Alabama

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    Can Saban get his squad pumped up for this one?
    Can Saban get his squad pumped up for this one?John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    Bowl Matchup: No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. No. 3 Alabama (11-1), Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Allstate Sugar Bowl)

    Biggest Question: Will the Tide get up for this game?

     

    The Skinny

    Only a 109-yard, last-second field-goal return touchdown stands in the way of Alabama playing for the BCS title.

    Now, as rumors are circulating about the future of head coach Nick Saban, the team must settle for playing the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl, and the Tide have opened as two-touchdown favorites, via Vegas Insider.

    How can the players possibly be excited for this one?

    Win the game and they’ll just be doing what everyone expected; lose and the backlash would be indescribable.

    It's really a lose-lose situation for Alabama.

2. Auburn

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    Marshall (center) will have to do a lot more throwing against Florida State.
    Marshall (center) will have to do a lot more throwing against Florida State.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowl Matchup: No. 1 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Auburn (12-1), Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Vizio BCS National Championship)

    Biggest Question: Can the Tigers prove they can pass too?

     

    The Skinny

    All season long, Auburn has simply pounded the ball. 

    So much so, that the team currently boasts the No. 1-ranked rushing attack in the nation (335.7 YPG). The Tigers have found the end zone on the ground 46 times—more than any other team in college football.

    But against the Seminoles, the team might have to look for a backup plan.

    Through 13 games, the team ranks No. 14 against the run (116.5 YPG). Florida State has allowed five rushing touchdowns—the fewest in the nation—while conceding just 3.14 yards per carry.

    Which means Auburn will likely have to keep the Seminoles honest be passing the ball.

    That could be an issue.

    Thus far, the team ranks No. 109 in passing (169.6 YPG). Quarterback Nick Marshall has only thrown 12 touchdown passes and has just a 60.4 percent completion rate.

    If the Tigers want to lift up the BCS title, Marshall will have to prove he can throw too.

1. Florida State

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    Winston has been making a couple of mistakes a little too frequently as of late.
    Winston has been making a couple of mistakes a little too frequently as of late.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Bowl Matchup: No. 1 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Auburn (12-1), Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (Vizio BCS National Championship)

    Biggest Question: Can Jameis Winston rediscover his accuracy in time for BCS title game?

     

    The Skinny

    There's no doubt that Winston is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

    He's thrown for 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 67.9 percent passing. If you recall, this is the same guy who began his collegiate career by throwing more touchdowns (six) than incompletions (five) over the first two games of the season.

    But lately, that pinpoint accuracy has been missing.

    Over the Seminoles' last seven games, Winston has thrown seven interceptions and completed less than 62 percent of his passes five times. He threw just three interceptions and failed to top 62 percent passing just once during the team’s first six games.

    In a game that will likely be decided by who has the ball last, Winston can’t afford any of those mistakes.

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