Biggest Question Mark for Every Favorite in Conference Championship Week

Sebastian Lena@SP7988Analyst IDecember 6, 2013

Biggest Question Mark for Every Favorite in Conference Championship Week

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    Can the Buckeyes clinch a BCS title berth on Saturday?
    Can the Buckeyes clinch a BCS title berth on Saturday?Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    College football fans rejoice! Conference championship weekend is finally upon us.

    Over the next two days, 12 teams will take the field to duke it out for six conference crowns. Not only that, but berths into the BCS title game and BCS bowl games will also be on the line.

    Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Arizona State, Auburn, Ohio State and Florida State all come in as favorites. But does each one have what it takes to put it all together on the field?

    Join me as I take a closer look at all six favorites and the biggest question facing each team.

Northern Illinois

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    Lynch will need to assert himself as a passer on Saturday.
    Lynch will need to assert himself as a passer on Saturday.Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 15 Matchup: MAC title—Bowling Green (9-3) vs. No. 14 Northern Illinois (12-0), Dec. 6, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2

    Spread: Northern Illinois (-3.5)

    Biggest Question: Can quarterback Jordan Lynch prove he can have success throwing the ball?

     

    The Skinny

    There’s a reason Lynch is recognized as a top-two candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

    Through 12 weeks, the senior has thrown for 2,457 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions on 64.4 percent passing. He’s also added another 1,755 yards and 20 scores on 248 carries.

    But in the Huskies' most recent outing, Lynch struggled to move the ball against lowly Western Michigan—5-of-17 for 39 yards and a touchdown.

    Against a Falcons secondary that specializes in stopping the pass, he’s going to have to do more.

    Thus far, the unit ranks No. 4 against the pass (165.8 YPG). Bowling Green has allowed just 10 passing touchdowns and has intercepted 19 passes.

    Furthermore, the team has limited opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate of 47.4 percent.

    Lynch will need to be on the top of his game if he hopes to secure a second straight BCS berth for Northern Illinois.

Fresno State

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    Carr (center) has got to be upset with the play of his defense.
    Carr (center) has got to be upset with the play of his defense.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 15 Matchup: MWC title—Utah State (8-4) at No. 23 Fresno State (10-1), Dec. 7, 10 p.m. ET on CBS

    Spread: Fresno State (-3.5)

    Biggest Question: Will the Bulldogs offense be able to make up for the shortcomings of their defense?

     

    The Skinny

    Behind the sensational play of quarterback Derek Carr (70.3 CMP%, 4,462 YDS, 45 TDs, 5 INTs, 163.3 RAT), Fresno State has boasted one of the nation’s top offensive units.

    Through 11 games, the team ranks No. 2 in total offense (580.6 YPG) and No. 4 in scoring. Furthermore, the Bulldogs have topped 40 points in all but two games this season.

    Last Friday, the team put up 52…and lost.

    That’s because, as good as Fresno State’s offense is, the defense is just as bad. The unit conceded 62 points to a pedestrian San Jose State squad.

    Thus far, the Bulldogs rank No. 101 in total defense (436.9 YPG) and No. 85 in scoring (30.2 PPG).

    That could be a problem against the Aggies, who are a lot better than the Spartans.

    Entering Week 15, Utah State is averaging a little more than 430 yards and 33 points per game.

    Can Fresno State’s defense finally make a stop?

Arizona State

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    Can the Sun Devils be crowned Pac-12 champs on Saturday?
    Can the Sun Devils be crowned Pac-12 champs on Saturday?Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 15 Matchup: Pac-12 title—No. 7 Stanford (10-2) at No. 11 Arizona State (10-2), Dec. 7, 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN

    Spread: Arizona State (-3.5)

    Biggest Question: Can the Sun Devils put revenge aside and focus on winning their first outright conference title since 1996?

     

    The Skinny

    It’s easy for Arizona State to think about redemption.

    Back on Sept. 21, the team strolled into Stanford Stadium and left with an embarrassing loss, 42-28.

    But don’t let the score fool you. It was 39-7 entering the fourth quarter.

    Now, the Sun Devils will get another shot at the Cardinals. But instead of revenge, the team needs to think about securing a berth to its first Rose Bowl in nearly 20 years.

    The last time Arizona State accomplished the feat, the majority of the squad was still in diapers.

    But it’s not like it’ll take much to get the Sun Devils going. The team has won seven straight and is playing some of its best football of the year.

    Meanwhile, Stanford has continued its up-and-down season. The team has looked dominant at home and shaky on the road.

    Fortunately for Arizona State, this one will be played at Sun Devil Stadium.

Auburn

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    Will Malzahn (right) be heading to the BCS title game or settle for the Sugar Bowl?
    Will Malzahn (right) be heading to the BCS title game or settle for the Sugar Bowl?Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Week 15 Matchup: SEC title—No. 5 Missouri (11-1) vs. No. 3 Auburn (11-1), Dec. 7, 4 p.m. ET on CBS

    Spread: Auburn (-1.5)

    Biggest Question: Would an SEC title win be enough to jump an undefeated Ohio State?

     

    The Skinny

    You don’t need to remind Auburn to stay focused.

    This is a team that has been an underdog since the moment head coach Gus Malzahn took over. After winning just three games last year, the Tigers are one win away from being crowned SEC champions, and maybe more.

    That “maybe more” depends on several variables.

    Entering Week 15, Auburn came in as No. 3, just behind undefeated Ohio State in the latest BCS rankings. Although the team has one more loss than the Buckeyes, the gap is a little too close for comfort.

    Believe it or not, with a win over Missouri, the Tigers would have a strong case to jump Ohio State—regardless if the Buckeyes win or not.

    That’s because the win would move Auburn to 5-1 against Top 25 opponents in 2013. Furthermore, the team would have its second win against a foe ranked in the Top Five.

    In comparison, with a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, Ohio State would just have three.

    Unfortunately, a win alone won’t be enough for the Tigers. The team would most likely have to crush Missouri, and the Buckeyes would need to struggle immensely in putting away the Spartans.

    Of course, the easiest solution would simply be hoping for an Ohio State loss.

Ohio State

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    Can Hyde (right) find cracks in the armor of the Spartans' defense this weekend?
    Can Hyde (right) find cracks in the armor of the Spartans' defense this weekend?Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 15 Matchup: Big Ten title—No. 10 Michigan State (11-1) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (12-0), Dec. 7, 8:17 p.m. ET on Fox

    Spread: Ohio State (-5.5)

    Biggest Question: Can the Buckeyes solve the Spartans' defense?

     

    The Skinny

    There’s no doubt that Ohio State will be favored to win this Big Ten title tilt. However, Michigan State’s defense won’t make matters easy.

    Through 12 games, the unit ranks No. 3 in scoring (11.8 PPG), No. 1 in total defense (237.7 YPG), No. 9 against the pass (172.9 YPG) and No. 1 against the run (64.8 YPG). Furthermore, the Spartans have allowed a total of just 16 touchdowns all season—five rushing, 11 passing.

    Entering this weekend’s play, the Buckeyes are the third-highest scoring offense in the nation (48.3 PPG).

    Running back Carlos Hyde (165 CAR, 1,290 YDS, 14 TDs) will be the key to cracking Michigan State’s defense.

    The senior has been on a tear ever since returning from a suspension. He’s topped the century mark in seven consecutive games now and rushed for 225 yards or more in two of the last three.

    Will the Spartans continue their defensive dominance—they held Michigan to a school-low negative-48 rushing yards earlier this season—or will Ohio State prove why it deserves a spot in the BCS title game?

Florida State

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    Can Winston and the Seminoles remain focused?
    Can Winston and the Seminoles remain focused?Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Week 15 Matchup: ACC title—No. 20 Duke (10-2) vs. No. 1 Florida State (12-0), Dec. 7, 8 p.m. ET on ABC

    Spread: Florida State (-28.5)

    Biggest Question: Can the Seminoles avoid a monumental slip-up and clinch the BCS title berth?

     

    The Skinny

    Florida State has tossed aside each and every opponent with absolute ease this season.

    In fact, the team has won its 12 games by a margin of 42.7 points. Only Boston College has come within 20 points of the Seminoles this year.

    With an ACC title in sight and a berth into the national championship within its grasp, Florida State’s biggest enemy right now is itself.

    This is a game that the Seminoles should win. No doubt about it.

    But over the years, we’ve seen our fair share of favorites crumble in the final weeks.

    An undefeated Oklahoma State team faltered to lowly Iowa State late in the 2011 season. Before that, West Virginia crumbled to unranked Pittsburgh with a BCS title game berth on the line. Going all the way back to 2003, Oklahoma—considered one of the most dominant teams in college football history at the time—was blown out by unranked Kansas State in the Big 12 title game.

    Although it’s easy to peg Florida State in the BCS title game automatically, crazier things have happened.

    It’s up to head coach Jimbo Fisher to keep his team composed.

     

    All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.

    For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.