NCAAF Teams 347d

Biggest question mark down the stretch for each top 25 team

College Football

While five top 25 teams remain undefeated, no one is perfect. Whether a team is competing for a playoff spot, a New Year's Six bowl or a conference championship, there is something that can derail each team during the final month of the season. From injuries to shaky defenses to quarterback play, here are the question marks for each Top 25 team down the stretch.

 1. Georgia

Jake Fromm has shown he's a winning quarterback, but can he carry the Georgia offense if called upon? Thus far, he's been a mostly passive part of the offense, attempting 15 or fewer throws in six of the nine games he's played. Down the stretch, against better defenses like Auburn and Alabama's, he'll likely have to prove he can do more. -- Alex Scarborough

 2. Alabama

The grind may be catching up with Alabama. After starting linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton's season-ending knee injury, there are suddenly serious questions about this team's health. Mack Wilson, a reserve inside linebacker, is out 4-6 weeks, and outside linebackers Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller are still recovering from injuries from Week 1. If Minkah Fitzpatrick's pulled hamstring worsens or another key player goes down, it might be panic time in Tuscaloosa. -- Scarborough

3. Notre Dame  

Being the No. 3-ranked team means there are usually very few question marks. Notre Dame's offense did without star running back Josh Adams against Wake Forest and still put up 710 yards on offense, so that doesn't seem to be of any concern. The only thing going forward for the Irish would be that the defense gave up more than 20 points for the first time this season against Wake Forest. Miami hasn't scored less than 24 points in a game all season, so the Notre Dame defense is going to need to rebound quickly if it wants to stay in the playoff picture -- Tom VanHaaren

 4. Clemson

Dabo Swinney called Kelly Bryant's performance against NC State the worst of the young QB's season. Still, Clemson won. That's the good news. But there are some legitimate questions about how successful this Tigers' passing game can be. Bryant is 64th nationally in passer efficiency, has struggled with pocket awareness at times, and has completed just 1 of his last 18 throws of 15 yards or more downfield. Clemson will need a more dynamic downfield attack if it's going to make a third straight national championship game appearance. -- David M. Hale

5. Oklahoma

Can the Sooners get enough defensive stops to run the table? QB Baker Mayfield and the OU offense have been historically good, but the Sooners can't count on Mayfield to keep bailing them out, can they? -- Jake Trotter

6. TCU

QB Kenny Hill had been one of the most improved players in college football before returning to his previously turnover-prone ways in the loss two weeks ago at Iowa State. Can Hill keep the chains moving in Norman this weekend without committing the devastating turnover? -- Trotter

7. Miami

Mark Richt talked on Tuesday about his offense's inability to sustain drives, something he wants his team to improve on during this final stretch run. Miami ranks No. 120 in the nation in time of possession and No. 117 in third-down conversion percentage. -- Andrea Adelson

8. Wisconsin

One of the biggest question marks for Wisconsin comes in the form of depth. The Badgers are likely headed to the Big Ten championship game, but the team has taken a hit in terms of health and injuries. If Wisconsin can get healthy by the time the championship game rolls around, they will have a shot at going undefeated and a berth in the College Football Playoff, but there are still three regular season games to make it through to get to that point. -- VanHaaren

9. Washington

Will Jake Browning make the big plays when he has to? There's no question Browning has been solid all season and he probably doesn't get enough credit. But in the Huskies' loss to Arizona State, Browning was sacked five times. Overall, he's completed more than 50 percent of his passes in a game while under duress only three times this season. -- Edward Aschoff

10. Auburn

Jarrett Stidham is completing a ridiculous percentage of his passes and showed a good deep ball against Texas A&M. But he's struggled in the Tigers' two losses. Against Clemson, he struggled in the face of pressure, and in the second half against LSU he was a non-factor. There's a lot to like about Stidham but starting Saturday against Georgia we'll find out whether he can lead this team to a playoff run. -- Scarborough

11. USC

Which Sam Darnold will we see in the next two games? Early on, Darnold's biggest issue was forcing passes to an inexperienced group of pass-catchers. But over the last five games, the Darnold that supposed to be a top NFL draft pick has led the Trojans under center. His receivers are getting healthier and so is their chemistry with Darnold. Still, it's tough to tell where Darnold's head is in games at times. -- Aschoff

12. Michigan State

After throwing for 400 yards against Penn State, the question for Michigan State is if quarterback Brian Lewerke can keep improving to help with one of the biggest turnarounds this program has seen. From going 3-9 last season to having a chance at the Big Ten championship game, the Spartans are going to need the offense and Lewerke firing on all cylinders against Ohio State to make it happen. If he has another outstanding performance, the Spartans could be staring down an 8-2 record with Maryland and Rutgers remaining. -- VanHaaren

13. Ohio State

The biggest question mark right now is if Ohio State can bounce back from a terrible loss to Iowa, and stay alive in the Big Ten race, with a surging Michigan State team coming to Columbus this weekend. The Spartans have ruined Ohio State's season before and a loss here would put Michigan State in first place in the divisional race down the stretch. Before the Iowa game, it seemed as though Ohio State had hit another gear, beating Penn State in a top-10 matchup, but now it's not so certain that the Buckeyes will make it to the Big Ten championship game, let alone the playoffs. -- VanHaaren

14. Penn State

The schedule remaining for Penn State isn't very difficult with Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland left, so the biggest question is likely out of the Nittany Lions hands. The biggest question is if they can get help from other teams to push them back into the Big Ten championship game. With two conference losses to both teams ahead of them in the division, Michigan State and Ohio State, they're going to need some help from other teams to knock those two off in order to get back to Indianapolis to defend their title. -- VanHaaren

15. Oklahoma State

Despite the Bedlam loss, the Cowboys are still alive for a New Year's Six bowl and even the Big 12 title. But can the secondary put the pieces back together for the stretch run after getting completely torched by Mayfield? -- Trotter

16. Mississippi State

Nick Fitzgerald has proved he can move the football with his feet, but does he have the weapons around him to help him move it through the air consistently? Against average defenses, State's offense has thrived. But put a good defense like Georgia's or Auburn's out there and the Bulldogs' lack of playmakers at receiver comes to the forefront and neither Fitzgerald's legs or arm can save him. -- Scarborough

17. Virginia Tech

The biggest question to start the season remains the biggest one today for Virginia Tech -- the running game. The Hokies rank 59th among Power 5 offenses in yards-per-rush (4.24, not counting sacks), and that number is even worse in ACC play (3.76, worst in the conference). In losses to Clemson and Miami, the Hokies ran 71 times for 190 yards (2.78 per carry). -- Hale

18. UCF

Scott Frost's crew has made believers out of every team it has faced this year, winning all eight of its games by an average margin of 28 points. Only Alabama is better. But the big question is whether that's enough, given UCF's relatively weak schedule in the American Athletic Conference, to warrant a playoff invite if the Knights win out. Right now, ESPN's Strength of Record metric -- which measures the likelihood an average top-25 team could have the same record against that schedule -- ranks UCF 11th, behind four one-loss teams and two two-loss teams. Will the playoff committee be able to ignore a weak schedule in favor of a dominant team? -- Hale

19. Washington State

Can the Cougars run the ball? We thought Wazzu would have an improved running game, but right now, the Cougars are last in the Pac-12 in rushing (85.7 yards per game). Wazzu also has just four rushing touchdowns in conference play. Over the next two games, the Cougars face the conference's No. 4 rush defense in Utah (156 yards per game) and end the season against the top rushing defense in Washington (91.1). -- Aschoff

20. Iowa

Is the offense we saw against Ohio State the real Iowa offense? The Hawekeyes put up 55 points against the Buckeyes, and while the defense has played well all season, the offense has not seen that type of production. If that's what we're going to see out of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and this Iowa offense, they could play spoiler to Wisconsin's undefeated season. If Iowa can build off of that win and offensive performance, it could have some momentum going into next season. -- VanHaaren

21. Iowa State

Despite the loss to West Virginia, Iowa State still controls its own destiny to the Big 12 title game, holding the tiebreaker over the loser of OU-TCU. But can walk-on senior QB Kyle Kempt hold on to his magic and out-duel Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph this weekend? -- Trotter

22. Memphis

Riley Ferguson and the Tigers have shown they can score with anyone, but on the other side of the ball, there are some real question marks, particularly against the run. Memphis has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns -- 99th nationally -- including at least two against all but one FBS opponent this year. In its lone loss, to UCF, Memphis' D was shredded to the tune of 350 yards (and more than 7 yards per carry). Every team they've played has topped 100 yards rushing against the Tigers, with eight exceeding 150 yards (not counting sacks). Only six FBS teams have allowed more 150-yard games. If the Tigers are going to make a real push for a top-tier bowl and a top-25 ranking at the end of the year, they'll need to find some answers to slowing down opponents' ground games.

23. NC State

Nyheim Hines got hurt against Notre Dame, then played sparingly against Clemson. The Wolfpack lost both games. Without him, they lost the ability to make game-changing runs out of the backfield. A healthy Hines makes a dramatic difference for this offense. -- Adelson

24. LSU

The Troy loss was ugly, but LSU has rebounded nicely under Ed Orgeron. The question is whether playing a competitive game with Alabama last Saturday was the peak of the Tigers' season. Can Orgeron make that another building block toward a better bowl game and a brighter future, or does LSU run out of gas nearing the finish line of a season that nearly went completely sideways? -- Scarborough

25. Northwestern

The biggest question mark for Northwestern has been its pass defense, which currently ranks 112th in pass yards per game. Luckily for the Wildcats, they are facing a Purdue team who just saw its starting quarterback go down, a Minnesota team that has struggled in the pass game and Illinois who ranks 97 in pass yards per game. If the defense can't keep Northwestern in these games to help finish out the season undefeated, that is a big problem considering the opponents left on the schedule. -- VanHaaren

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