College Football: 5 Big Questions for Week 14
The bad news is that we’re nearing the end of the college football season. The good news is that this week gives us some of the game’s most heated rivalries with championships potentially on the line. Here are some of the big questions going into Week 14:
Is This the Biggest Iron Bowl Ever?
Alabama-Auburn is one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports. This year's Iron Bowl could be the biggest game in the series’ storied history, as the No. 1 Crimson Tide and No. 4 Tigers square off for a spot in the SEC Championship game and a possible national-title shot. Alabama controls its own destiny in its quest for a third straight national title, while Auburn would likely need some help in the form of a loss by No. 2 Florida State or No. 3 Ohio State. While Alabama blew out the Tigers, 49-0, in last year’s game, this year’s matchup appears to be a very different story. Alabama’s top-ranked defense has given up just four total touchdowns in its last nine games while the high-powered Auburn offense is averaging 47.5 points per game in its last six outings. Despite his many successes, Nick Saban's Achilles' Heel has long been Auburn—he is just 6-5 against the Tigers and 0-5 against Auburn teams that finish with 9-plus wins. This is just the second time in history (1971) that both teams have come into this game ranked in the Top 5.
Can Missouri Keep Its Title Hopes Alive?
Auburn is not the only one-loss SEC team still dreaming of a national championship. No. 5 Missouri can lock up a spot in the SEC title game and keep its title hopes alive against Johnny Manziel and the No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies. Manziel is coming off his worst game of the season (16-of-41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions) and will need to rebound against a Tigers defense that has given up just 30 total points in its last three games. Missouri quarterback James Franklin showed a bit of rust (12-of-19 for 142 yards and an interception) last week in his first start since missing four games with a shoulder injury. But he may have better luck against an Aggie defense that has given up 30 or more points seven times this season. Missouri ranks 115th nationally in pass defense, so look for Manziel to test them downfield.
Can Michigan Right the Ship Against the Buckeyes?
Michigan finds itself in a free-fall, needing a triple-overtime win against lowly Northwestern to avoid a four-game losing streak. And unfortunately for the Wolverines, they probably shouldn’t expect much pity from No. 3 Ohio State. As if this heated rivalry weren’t enough motivation for the Buckeyes, they know they need some BCS "style points" to possibly leapfrog No. 2 Florida State or hold off a BCS challenge from one of the one-loss SEC teams. The Buckeye offense—which ranks third nationally in scoring and fifth in rushing—has found another gear in recent weeks, averaging over 55 points per game in its last four contests. But it is their defense that should worry Michigan fans the most—the Buckeyes rank eighth nationally in scoring defense and will face a Wolverine offense that, after scoring 40 in three straight weeks to start October, has been going in reverse, averaging just 216.5 yards (32.5 rushing) per game. While weird things can sometimes happen in rivalry games, if Michigan can’t get its offense back on track, the Wolverines could be in for a long day.
Can Clemson Snap its Losing Streak to South Carolina?
The Palmetto State rivalry will have a little extra spice this year as both teams enter the game ranked in the Top 10, a first in the 111-game history of the series. Those lofty rankings mean that a lot more is at stake than just in-state bragging rights. No. 6 Clemson, which has not beaten South Carolina since 2008, is poised for a BCS at-large bid if it can win its fifth straight. The No. 10 Gamecocks are also poised for a big postseason—a win this week could push them into the BCS while a win combined with a Missouri loss would push them into the SEC title game. While it will be fun watching Clemson’s potent offense (10th nationally in scoring) against the stout Gamecock defense (giving up less than 16 points per game in its last six contests), all eyes will be on the individual matchup of Tiger QB Tajh Boyd against USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Boyd has struggled in three prior games against the Gamecocks (all losses), completing just 45 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions. If he hopes to end his stellar career with a win over over USC, he’ll have to avoid Clowney, who had 4.5 sacks in this game last year and would love to end his injury-plagued season on a high note.
Will Stanford Be Looking Ahead?
With Arizona’s upset of Oregon last week, No. 8 Stanford finds itself unexpectedly heading to the Pac-12 championship game for the second consecutive year. But before the Cardinal can take on Arizona State with a Rose Bowl bid on the line, it must first face longtime rival No. 25 Notre Dame. While the Irish have struggled at times and been plagued by injuries, they are finishing on a high note, winning five of their last six and averaging 29.7 points per game. However, if Stanford is focused, this could be a long day for a Notre Dame offense that struggles on the ground (78th nationally in rushing) and is facing the nation’s third-best rush defense. If Notre Dame cannot run the ball (and they have not scored a rushing touchdown against the Cardinal since 2008), quarterback Tommy Rees will have to have a big game and avoid the turnovers that have plagued him in recent weeks (five interceptions in his last three games).