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College Football 2013: 5 Big Questions for Week 13

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It’s a big week in college football, with several important Saturday games carrying conference-title implications. Here are the big story lines as we come down the homestretch of the college football season:

Who Wins the Game of the Year in the Big 12?

No. 10 Oklahoma State was the preseason pick to win the Big 12, but to meet those expectations, the Cowboys will have to hold serve against undefeated No. 4 Baylor. The Bears offense has been off the charts this year, averaging nearly 685 yards and over 61 points per game, both tops in the nation. But Oklahoma State might be the one team in the Big 12 with a chance to outscore Baylor. After a shaky start, the Cowboys offense has rounded into form and now ranks 14th nationally in scoring, after averaging 47.5 points in its last four games. Additionally, an opportunistic defense that leads the nation in interceptions could help keep the Baylor offense on the sideline. However, OSU will still face an uphill battle against a steamrolling Baylor offense that has been held under 60 points just twice this season. The atmosphere in Stillwater should be electric for a night game, with ‘College Gameday’ in town and the first sellout in Boone Pickens Stadium history.

Can the Spartans Punch Their Ticket?

No. 13 Michigan State locked up a share of the Big Ten Legends division title with a road win at Nebraska last week. This Saturday, they can clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game with a win over a reeling Northwestern squad that has lost six straight, the last four all coming by three points or in overtime. While Michigan State has improved offensively in recent weeks, it is a terrific defense that has turned the Spartans into title contenders. MSU leads the nation in total defense and is fourth nationally in scoring, having given up more than 17 points in a game just twice this season. The Spartans should be able to stifle a Northwestern offense that has struggled with injuries and that has averaged less than 18 points per contest during its current six-game losing skid.

Can Missouri Keep Its SEC Title Hopes Alive?

The No. 8 Tigers know they must win out against No. 24 Ole Miss and No. 12 Texas A&M to keep their SEC championship-game hopes alive. They should get a boost this week by the return of quarterback James Franklin, the longtime starter who has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury. In his absence, Mizzou went 3-1, but that one loss—a fourth-quarter collapse against South Carolina—could prove costly, as it has left the Tigers no margin for error. Franklin will face a tough test in his first game back, against an Ole Miss team that has won four straight, including a victory over then-No. 6 LSU. While much of the focus will understandably be on Franklin’s return, the game could well hinge on the play of the Missouri defense. The Tigers rank last in the SEC in pass defense (274.9 yards per game) and will now have to slow down Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace, who is fourth in the conference with 266.4 yards per game. However, despite giving up big passing numbers, the Missouri defense leads the conference in both sacks and interceptions. They have forced a turnover in a nation’s-best 40 consecutive games and will likely need to win the turnover battle against Ole Miss to keep their SEC title dreams on track.

Can the Sun Devils End UCLA’s Pac-12 Title-Game Streak?

No. 17 Arizona State is riding a five-game winning streak—the Sun Devils’ longest since 2007—and is now just one game away from clinching the Pac-12 South. However, to do so they’ll first need to get past No. 14 UCLA. Since suffering back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon, the Bruins have rebounded with three straight wins in which they’ve averaged 39 points per game. The story for UCLA’s offense the last two weeks has been freshman linebacker Myles Jack who, due to injuries to Bruins running backs, has been playing both ways. He has rushed for 180 yards and five touchdowns while also recording 13 tackles and a fumble recovery as the Bruins’ starting outside linebacker. Jack will need to have another big game on both sides of the ball against an Arizona State unit that ranks 17th nationally in rush defense and 10th in scoring offense. Arizona State would lock up a spot in the Pac-12 title game with a win this week. But a loss would complicate their path—the Sun Devils would need to win next week against Arizona and have USC knock off UCLA. The Bruins know they also control their own destiny—win the next two games and they will be back in the conference championship game for the third consecutive year.

What’s With All the Cupcakes?

Alabama vs. Chattanooga? Florida State vs. Idaho? Clemson vs. the Citadel? South Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina? When did this trend of scheduling creampuff nonconference games late in the season become a thing? C’mon, guys. November is for turkey. September is for cupcakes.

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