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College Football 2013: 5 Big Questions for Week 12

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

As the weather turns colder and the college football season enters its home stretch, here are some of the big storylines to be watching this weekend:

Who Will Challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten?

No. 14 Michigan State can clinch a share of the Big Ten Legends division title with a win. But thanks to two improbable comeback wins the last two weeks, the Cornhuskers are still in the hunt as well. Nebraska will be without longtime starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, who will likely miss the remainder of his senior season with a foot injury. In his absence, freshman Tommy Armstrong has gone 5-0. However, the newcomer will face the toughest test of his young career against a Spartans defense that leads the nation in total defense and is third nationally in scoring defense. The winner of this game will only need to win one more contest to clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game. Nebraska is 7-0 all-time against the Spartans.

Who Will Chase Baylor?

While No. 5 Baylor has its sights set on a potential national championship, No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Texas still have hopes of upending the Bears and taking the Big 12 title. After struggling early in the season, OSU’s offense has found its groove in recent weeks, averaging nearly 51 points per game in its last three contests. This week, the Cowboys will face a Texas squad in the middle of a highly improbable conference-title bid. The Longhorns nearly imploded early in the season after being blown out in two of their first three games. Since then, however, Texas has turned a corner, winning six straight, upsetting archrival Oklahoma and remaining unbeaten in Big 12 play. Neither team has faced Baylor yet, though, and the winner of this game may be the last obstacle between the Bears and their first-ever Big 12 title.

Can Auburn Keep Its Sights Set on ‘Bama?

For all the preseason talk about Texas A&M, it might end up being No. 7 Auburn that has the best shot to upend intrastate rival Alabama in the SEC West. The Tigers have been getting it done on the ground, ranking third nationally in rushing and 18th in scoring. But the defense has been nearly as impressive, holding all but two opponents to 24 points or less. However, they’ll be tested this week by a Georgia offense that features quarterback Aaron Murray, the SEC’s career passing-touchdown leader, and a healthy Todd Gurley at running back. Auburn will have its hands full with the Bulldogs but will need to avoid looking ahead—after this weekend, the Tigers will have a bye week before going on the road to take on the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

Can Northern Illinois Crash the Party Again?

After breaking into the BCS last year, Northern Illinois is looking once again like a potential Cinderella, undefeated and ranked 15th in the BCS (which would qualify them for a bid should they finish ahead of an automatic-qualifying champion, AAC leader Central Florida is currently 17th). The Huskies are led by Heisman dark horse Jordan Lynch, who has thrown for 1,871 yards while leading the FBS in rushing by a quarterback with 1,150 yards on the ground. However, Lynch and the Huskies will face their toughest test of the season this weekend against 9-1 Ball State. The Cardinals rank 15th nationally in scoring and are riding a seven-game winning streak. Ball State is likely the last team remaining on the schedule that can potentially outscore the Huskies, so look for a high-scoring shootout with the winner wrapping up a spot in the Mid-American Conference title game.

Is Stanford a Title Contender?

The whole “one-loss team sneaking into the BCS title game” has worked out pretty well for Alabama the last couple of years. Now Stanford is hoping to duplicate the Crimson Tide’s success. After knocking off Oregon last week, the Cardinal now finds itself sitting at No. 4 in the BCS standings. While Stanford obviously needs some help in the form of an Alabama or Florida State loss, Stanford is already making a strong case that it, even with one loss, should be included ahead of Baylor or Ohio State. They’ll have another chance to build their résumé this week against a resurgent USC. After firing Lane Kiffin in Week 5, the Trojans have rebounded under interim coach Ed Orgeron, going 4-1 and holding their opponents to just 18 points per game.

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