Burning questions for CFB’s biggest Week 12 games

By Matt Johnson
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A week after college football delivered its most exciting weekend of action this season, Week 12 offers the chance for fans to enjoy more entertaining matchups.

While this weekend’s games might not offer the caliber of clash we saw in Tuscaloosa between LSU and Alabama, Saturday’s games will greatly impact the College Football Playoff rankings.

Of course, Week 12 is even better because it’s rivalry weekend. Between the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and Notre Dame’s battle against Navy, this weekend offers everything the heart desires.

The slate of compelling matchups will provide plenty for football fans to enjoy. Now let’s examine the burning questions that will help determine the outcomes of Week 12’s biggest games.

Will Spartans’ offense find a way to compete with Michigan?

While this year’s in-state clash for the Paul Bunyan Trophy might have lost some of its luster due to Michigan State’s struggles, a rivalry game can never be slept on. We’ve seen some surprises when Michigan’s two best teams clash and it can happen again on Saturday.

The Spartans are coming off an epic collapse in a loss to Illinois and haven’t won a game since Sept. 28. If they want to avoid another crushing loss, quarterback Brian Lewerke must step up. The senior is completing fewer than 56 percent of his passes this season and is coming off a three-interception game. The Spartans need his best on Saturday, otherwise, the Wolverines’ defense will crush them.

Can Notre Dame’s defense contain Navy’s triple-option attack?

Notre Dame comes in as the clear favorite and feeling a little better after trouncing Duke. But this isn’t a great football team. The Fighting Irish narrowly escaped with wins over USC and Virginia Tech and got obliterated by Michigan. Now the Fighting Irish must face Navy’s dangerous triple-option attack.

Navy’s duo of fullback Nelson Smith and running back Jamale Carothers, who have combined for 15 rushing touchdowns, are difficult to stop. What makes this year’s team special is quarterback Malcolm Perry. He’s rushed for 100-plus yards in five consecutive wins, averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season with 21 total touchdowns this year. If Notre Dame’s defense doesn’t execute, Perry will drop 150-plus yards, score three touchdowns and knock off the Fighting Irish.

Will Jake Fromm elevate his play and take down Auburn’s defense?

Fromm came into 2019 with a chance to push the Bulldogs to a championship and make his case to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. While Georgia’s playoff hopes are very much alive, Fromm’s NFL stock could weigh heavily on this game.

He isn’t playing like a top quarterback. It started with his four-turnover game against South Carolina. He followed it up with a 35-yard game against Kentucky and completed only 13-of-29 attempts against Missouri. Auburn’s defense is sharp and will pressure Fromm. If he keeps making mistakes, whether the throws are to opponents or simply missing open receivers, Georgia’s playoff chances will evaporate and Fromm’s shot at being a first-round pick will be gone.

Does No. 8 Minnesota avoid a let down in Iowa City?

Life is golden in Minnesota with the Gophers skyrocketing to No. 8 in the rankings thanks to an undefeated season. This team can climb even higher with a win on Saturday, but it could also be in danger of a potential let down.

Road games after a program-defining win are difficult and the game taking place in Iowa City makes it even more challenging. Iowa’s defense kept games close against Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin, but this is the best offense it faces all year. If the Golden Gophers avoid mental mistakes and execute their plays, they can climb in the CFB Playoff rankings. If not, the dreams will fade away in Minnesota.

Will Baylor’s defense find a way to contain Jalen Hurts?

While Oklahoma’s defense is the glaring concern for the team, it will be Baylor’s ability to contain Jalen Hurts and the passing attack that will determine one of this weekend’s biggest games.

Baylor’s defense enters allowing the 12th-fewest passing yards per attempt (6.0) and the 11th-lowest passer rating allowed (111.4). Meanwhile, its defense leads the conference with 18 total turnovers. Oklahoma’s offense is a far different beast than anything the Bears have faced before. If they can put a cap on the explosive plays, an immense challenge given Hurts’ talent, Baylor can maintain its undefeated record and be king of the Big 12.