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Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry scrambles against Tulane during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Annapolis. Navy won 41-38. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry scrambles against Tulane during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Annapolis. Navy won 41-38. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (Julio Cortez/AP)

This weekend has a lot to live up to after the start-to-finish drama of Week 11, but there’s plenty of weighty matchups that have major ramifications for the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowl games.

Here are the most intriguing questions for Week 12:

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Can Navy go to the Cotton Bowl?

The No. 23 Midshipmen face No. 16 Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend with a chance to pick up their fifth win over the Fighting Irish this decade. It’s the first time the teams will meet as ranked opponents since 1978, and with those rankings come major bowl implications.

If the Mids win, they’ll not only have a good chance to win the AAC, but go to a major bowl game for the first time since 1963.

The College Football Playoff committee’s final rankings determine which Group of 5 team receives an at-large bid to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. If Navy, led by star quarterback Malcolm Perry, finishes the season with a win over Notre Dame and a conference title, it will almost assuredly be the highest ranked G5 team.

But the Mids need some help. Memphis, which beat Navy earlier in the season, has to lose a second conference game, and the Mids would have to beat SMU, Houston and the AAC East champ (likely Cincinnati).

Navy can still win the AAC with a loss to Notre Dame, but its Cotton Bowl hopes would be dashed. With a possible 12-1 Mountain West champion Boise State and 12-1 Sun Belt champion Appalachian State (with wins over North Carolina and South Carolina) looming at the end of the season, a win over the Irish would go a long way toward convincing the committee that the Mids are the best in the G5.

Saturday’s game could be the difference between a great season and an historic one for Navy.

Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) looks to throw against TCU during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) looks to throw against TCU during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Is Oklahoma vs. Baylor a playoff elimination game?

The College Football Playoff committee clearly doesn’t respect the Bears’ 9-0 start, dropping Baylor to No. 13 in the latest rankings after another win. But Saturday night offers a chance for a signature victory that would go a long way toward proving that the Bears belong in the playoff conversation.

No. 10 Oklahoma enters Waco, Texas, with a head-scratching loss to Kansas State, forcing the Sooners to win out to have a realistic chance of getting a spot in the semifinals. Oklahoma has one of the nation’s best offenses, led by star quarterback Jalen Hurts, but the defense has taken a step back after showing improvement under new coordinator Alex Grinch, allowing at least 40 points in the past two games and nearly blowing a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter last week against Iowa State.

With LSU, Ohio State and Clemson looking like virtual locks to make the playoff field, the Big 12 champion will have to put its resume up against a potential 12-1 Pac-12 champion and 11-1 Alabama, among others, for the final spot. For Baylor to get in, they’ll probably need to go undefeated (and likely beating Oklahoma in a rematch in the Big 12 title game). For Oklahoma to get in, that probably requires winning out (and likely beating Baylor twice).

The loser of Saturday’s game can still win the Big 12, but a chance at a national title would all but fizzle out.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) celebrates after running back D.J. Williams (3) scored a touchdown during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) celebrates after running back D.J. Williams (3) scored a touchdown during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) (Butch Dill/AP)

Will No. 12 Auburn cause some playoff chaos?

After a loss to South Carolina seemed to put Georgia’s playoff hopes on life support, the Bulldogs have won three straight and vaulted into the final playoff spot in the latest CFP rankings. Just in time for a date with one of the sport’s biggest agents of chaos.

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Auburn’s history of stunning victories is well documented, with upsets so iconic that they have their own names — the “Kick Six” and the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare.” Will there be another one Saturday?

The Tigers have the talent — particularly on defense — to give the Bulldogs a hard time, especially considering how difficult it has been for Georgia to move the ball against mediocre defenses. But Auburn’s offense under true freshman quarterback Bo Nix has had its own troubles, which makes for a low-scoring, grind-it-out game Saturday that could go either way.

A Georgia loss wouldn’t knock the Dawgs out of the SEC title game (UGA owns the tiebreaker over Florida), but it would open the door for another team to jump into the final playoff spot.

And Saturday might just be the beginning. Two weeks later, Auburn hosts Alabama. Could we see two SEC playoff contenders fall victim to the Tigers’ chaotic ways?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 09: Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the fourth quarter at TCFBank Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 09: Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the fourth quarter at TCFBank Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

Will No. 5 Alabama and No. 9 Penn State bounce back?

The Crimson Tide and Nittany Lions both nearly stormed back from big early deficits to win last weekend, but came up short. Those rallies might have kept their playoff hopes alive, though there’s plenty of work left to do.

That work starts this weekend. Alabama heads to Starkville to face a Mississippi State team that, while 4-5 this season, is capable of giving the Tide a battle, especially after Bama suffered such an emotional loss to LSU. It’s a similar situation for Penn State, which hosts a hungry 7-2 Indiana squad a week after the Nittany Lions saw their No. 4 playoff ranking and perfect season go up in smoke against Minnesota.

It will be a big coaching challenge for Nick Saban and James Franklin to get their teams ready and motivated, but that’s what they’re paid so highly to do. Fortunately, they both still have the goal of winning a national title to dangle as motivation.

Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman (13) runs the ball in the end zone for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman (13) runs the ball in the end zone for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs) (Stacy Bengs/AP)

Can No. 8 Minnesota and No. 1 LSU avoid letdowns?

On the flip side of the two biggest games last weekend are the Golden Gophers and Tigers, who each earned one of the most important wins in recent program history.

Riding that kind of high could be dangerous, especially for Minnesota, which is in uncharted territory under P.J. Fleck as it prepares to play at No. 20 Iowa on Saturday. No longer plucky underdogs, the Gophers now face high expectations as the presumed Big Ten West champion. How will they respond against the Hawkeyes, who don’t allow big plays and will make Minnesota work for every inch of field position?

For LSU, the challenge will simply be staying focused and healthy the next three weeks before the SEC title game, starting Saturday night at Ole Miss. The Tigers’ biggest concern should be giving their starters some much-needed rest down the stretch. After beating Alabama, they don’t need any more style points.

Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman (12) runs for a touchdown against North Carolina State in the first half an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman (12) runs for a touchdown against North Carolina State in the first half an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) (Nell Redmond/AP)

Some smaller questions worth asking

Can Wake Forest at least make No. 3 Clemson work for it? Chances are slim, considering the Demon Deacons’ top wideout Sage Surratt is out for the season. Wake Forest appeared to be the only team left on Clemson’s schedule that could offer any resistance, but with the Deacs’ down one of their best players, an upset seems unlikely (the Vegas line has swelled to Clemson by 34). Still, it will be fun to watch quarterback Jamie Newman and his strange, patient zone reads go up against one of the best defenses in the country. Well, at least for a half.

No. 7 Utah and No. 6 Oregon are safe … right? Both are at home against inferior opponents (Utah hosts UCLA, Oregon hosts Arizona), but we’ve seen enough head-scratching results in the Pac-12 season that anything is on the table. UCLA and Arizona are at least capable of putting up points, which might make for some tense moments Saturday night.

Is No. 25 Appalachian State a serious Group of 5 contender? With Georgia State’s starting quarterback out with a knee injury, a possible trap game in Atlanta no longer seems so intimidating. Still, this is a Mountaineers team that lost to Georgia Southern a few weeks ago. For App State to realistically have a chance of going to the Cotton Bowl, it needs to win out — and win handily — and hope for some carnage in the AAC and Mountain West. They should be able to handle the part they can control, but they need some luck, too.

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Could we see a shake-up at the top of the AAC? No. 18 Memphis (at Houston) and No. 17 Cincinnati (at South Florida) should be able to take care of business this weekend, but what if they don’t? Navy, as outlined above, is looming as conference title contender, and SMU, seemingly left for dead after a loss to Memphis, is still sitting pretty at 9-1 entering a bye week. The Tigers and Bearcats are on track for a huge meeting in the regular-season finale, but they’ll have to avoid some upsets first.

Is No. 15 Michigan a serious threat to end Ohio State’s perfect season? There’s still three weeks to go before we figure that out, but the Wolverines can take another step toward salvaging what was thought to be a lost season Saturday by beating a reeling Michigan State team coming off a deflating loss to Illinois. For all the hand-wringing over Jim Harbaugh’s inability to compete in the Big Ten East, Michigan has a chance to be 9-2 heading into that game against Ohio State in Ann Arbor. Ruining the Buckeyes’ season and perhaps jumping into a New Year’s Six bowl game at 10-2 would be a nice way for Harbaugh and Co. to head into the offseason.

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