The biggest question remaining for each Top 25 college football team

What is the biggest question for each Top 25 team as it hits the home stretch of the season? From injuries to depleted defenses to weak schedules, each contender has something it needs to answer.

No. 1 Alabama: Can Tua stay healthy?
The youth on defense took a back seat the moment quarterback Tua Tagovailoa rolled his ankle against Tennessee. Surgery will sideline him only one week, according to coach Nick Saban, but that feels awfully optimistic. Even with a bye week after Saturday’s Arkansas game, he has only three weeks to recover in time for the Tide’s Nov. 11 showdown with No. 2 LSU. And remember, Tagovailoa had the same procedure done to his other ankle last season, and it sidelined him for four weeks. He could certainly play at less than 100 percent, but would that be enough to beat LSU in a game that could decide the winner of the SEC West? — Alex Scarborough

No. 2 LSU: Can the defense — yes, the defense — pick things up?
The Tigers’ retooled offense has been great, but it doesn’t come without a price — they’re not quite as dominant on defense as they have been. The run defense has been fine, but the Tigers have been surrendering more in the air, as Power 5 opponents have thrown for an average of 297 yards, 7.4 yards per attempt and a 57.9% completion rate. All those numbers are higher than they have been in the past five years. Sure, some of that can be attributed to trailing teams trying to throw their way back into the game, but even in the close games (Texas, Florida), opposing teams have produced in the air. The most eye-opening number here? Power 5 teams are converting 45.7% of third downs on pass plays (seventh worst among Power 5 teams). — Sam Khan Jr.

No. 3 Ohio State: Can this year’s team avoid a 2018 Purdue repeat?
The only question about this team at this point is whether it’s going to have its 2018 Purdue moment and get tripped up along the way to the conference championship game and a potential playoff berth. The Boilermakers took down No. 2-ranked Ohio State 49-20 in the eighth game of last season, which ultimately kept the Buckeyes out of the playoffs. Ohio State is currently 7-0, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and once again looking like a playoff contender. However, this eighth game is against Wisconsin, which is coming off a bad loss to Illinois and potentially looking for redemption and a bounce-back to prove it is the top team in the conference. — Tom VanHaaren

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No. 4 Clemson: What will the ACC’s struggles do to Clemson’s CFP chances?
Trevor Lawrence knows he needs to make better decisions and cut down on the interceptions — he has eight right now, more than he did a year ago — and had another slow start last week against Louisville. But the biggest question mark might be something the Tigers have no control over, and that is the way the ACC is playing. For three straight weeks, the Tigers have won their games but dropped in the polls. The first time, they played a closer-than-expected game against North Carolina. In the next two, Clemson won by 30-plus points but was jumped by another SEC team. Although the polls don’t matter when it comes to the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings, strength of schedule does, and with the ACC struggling so badly, it’s reasonable to assume its schedule strength won’t look great when the committee sits down to evaluate. That could have a direct impact on its seeding, especially if there are more than four undefeated teams when the first rankings come out. — Andrea Adelson

No. 5 Oklahoma: Can the offensive line find continuity?
There aren’t many issues on this Oklahoma squad — the offense is potent as usual and the defense has been significantly improved under Alex Grinch — but if there’s one thing to keep an eye on, it’s the offensive line. It has played well overall but has had a lot of shuffling up front for various reasons, including injuries. The Sooners went through a stretch of five games with five different starting lineups, but have finally had two consecutive weeks with the same starting five. If they can keep that unit — which has four new starters this season — together consistently, it would bode well for the offense. — Khan

No. 6 Penn State: Can the offense diversify?
What happens if a team figures out how to stop KJ Hamler? The versatile receiver has accounted for seven of Penn State’s 17 passing touchdowns and has been a huge part of the success on offense. Despite that success, Penn State’s offense over the past few seasons has been at its best with a dynamic running back to complement the passing game. Quarterback Sean Clifford has done a nice job running the ball, but the Nittany Lions haven’t settled on an actual running back, rotating Journey Brown and freshman Noah Cain, among others. Penn State still has Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio State on the schedule, all with defenses capable of putting up great performances. The offense has already had a lot of success, but if those defenses adjust and key in on Hamler, someone else is going to need to step up. — VanHaaren

No. 7 Florida: Can the defense get healthy?
The Gators absolutely have to have Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga either at or close to full strength if they want to maximize their chances of winning the SEC East. And while they are expected to play against Georgia on Nov. 2, no one knows how effective they will be. Zuniga has been hampered most of the season by a high ankle sprain, and without him, Greenard stepped up to lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss. But Greenard also suffered an ankle injury against Auburn and was unable to play against LSU and South Carolina, and the Gators’ pass rush struggled. There is no question he was playing at an All-America level before the injury, so how he looks when he returns remains the biggest question mark for this team. — Adelson

No. 8 Notre Dame: Can the Irish get the CFP chaos they need?
The Irish (5-1) need plenty of help in their quest for consecutive playoff appearances. Although they performed admirably at Georgia, they weren’t helped by the Bulldogs’ loss to South Carolina, or a schedule that lacks signature win opportunities. Notre Dame delivered USC its third loss. The Irish visit a two-loss Michigan team this week. Coach Brian Kelly should get his first win at Stanford, but the banged-up Cardinal are 3-4. Notre Dame is a very good team, but it needs Oklahoma to lose at least once, Oregon to lose again, chaos in the SEC and Big 12, and for some of its opponents, past and future, to impress the selection committee. — Adam Rittenberg

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