Big Ten

Big Ten Power Rankings: Big divide between top and bottom halves

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Big divide between top and bottom halves

The top half of the Big Ten is playing well. The bottom half of the Big Ten is playing poorly.

Maybe that's not coming as much of a surprise, but it's the certainly the truth, as the gap between the Nos. 7 and 8 teams in the conference seems huge.

Obviously, the undefeated three at the top have a leg up on everyone. But the next four teams — each with two losses — all seem to be of decent quality.

It's hard to say the same for the bottom seven, all of which seem to be floundering on a weekly basis.

It's a league of haves and have nots at this point in the season.

Check out how the teams stacked up in this week's Big Ten power rankings:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0)

Last week: 1

It was an eventful bye week for the Buckeyes, as quarterback J.T. Barrett earned a one-game suspension after being cited for operating a vehicle while impaired. Barrett will miss this weekend’s game against Minnesota, meaning Cardale Jones will step back into the starting role after Barrett won the job for the first time all season last time out against Penn State. But Jones started the first seven games of the year, all wins for Ohio State, so this shouldn’t put the Buckeyes at much of a disadvantage.

2. Michigan State Spartans (8-0, 4-0)

Last week: 2

No game for Michigan State this past weekend, either, but things are still looking good for the undefeated Spartans. After a pedestrian start, Connor Cook has really found his stuff in recent games, looking like the best quarterback in the conference, which he was supposed to be before the season started. He leads the Big Ten with 2,070 passing yards, with 1,093 of them coming in the last three games. Struggling Nebraska is next, followed by struggling Maryland before the all-important showdown with Ohio State.

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes' J.T. Barrett cited for OVI, suspended for next weekend's game]

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0)

Last week: 3

The Hawkeyes continue to impress, taking care of business against Maryland over the weekend. With top running back Jordan Canzeri on the shelf with an injury, Iowa got rushing touchdowns from three different running backs in a team effort. But the biggest play came from Desmond King, who took an interception back 88 yards for a touchdown. King leads the country with seven interceptions. It’s all clicking right now for the undefeated Hawkeyes, who face four teams with a combined 13-20 record to close out the regular season.

4. Michigan Wolverines (6-2, 3-1)

Last week: 4

It was almost disaster for Michigan in the Twin Cities, as an emotionally charged-up Minnesota team had to make some critical late-game mistakes to allow the Wolverines to escape with the Little Brown Jug. Jake Rudock was injured, but backup quarterback Wilton Speight threw what proved to be the game-winning touchdown pass and got the two-point conversion. Then Michigan’s defensive line made the critical goal-line stop on the final play, stuffing a QB sneak that would’ve won the game for the Gophers.

[MORE BIG TEN: Behind backup QB and goal-line stop, Michigan grabs Little Brown Jug back from Gophers]

5. Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2)

Last week: 5

The Cats were on bye and still hold on to the No. 5 spot in these rankings despite hard pushes from Wisconsin and Penn State in recent weeks. The Badgers and Lions have looked really good of late, but the Cats have the better resume, with wins over Stanford and Duke that Wisconsin and Penn State can’t claim. This is a critical week for Northwestern, though, in proving it belongs here. The result of Saturday’s date with Penn State ought to settle the debate.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (7-2, 4-1)

Last week: 6

Wisconsin thumped Rutgers, 48-10, looking terrific in just about every facet. But the biggest thing was the return of star running back Corey Clement, who obviously infused something that was sorely missing while he sat out seven games with a sports hernia. Clement carried the ball just 11 times Saturday but gained 115 yards and scored three touchdowns. The Badgers’ defense was great, as expected. This team has two losses, both coming against top-10 opponents, Alabama and Iowa. Not bad.

[MORE BIG TEN: Corey Clement scores three TDs in return as Badgers blast Rutgers]

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1)

Last week: 7

Penn State beat up on Illinois, using defensive dominance and a strong day from Christian Hackenberg to run away with a 39-0 shutout win. The Lions’ defense held the Illini to a ridiculously low 167 total yards, snuffing out anything and everything that offense tried. Plus, Hackenberg, who looked mighty overhyped at season’s beginning, is rounding into form. In his last six games, he’s thrown for 1,415 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had a receiving touchdown Saturday. That’s pretty cool.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-4, 1-3)

Last week: 10

Saturday’s late-game decision making was certainly ugly, and it wiped away what could have been a remarkable story to cap an emotional week for the Gophers. Minnesota, after going down on a touchdown toss by Michigan’s backup quarterback, marched right down the field with huge third- and fourth-down conversions, only to fail to act quickly enough with precious seconds ticking away and fail to get any points when a field goal would’ve forced overtime. Sigh. It was a great showing against the nation’s best defense.

[MORE BIG TEN: Penn State defense dominates hapless Illini offense in blowout]

9. Purdue Boilermakers (2-6, 1-3)

Last week: 14

It’s pretty clear that Nebraska is in bad shape following Purdue’s 55-45 win, but let’s give the Boilermakers some credit, as even observers most sour of the Huskers couldn’t have seen this coming. Purdue quarterback David Blough was excellent, throwing for four touchdowns. Markell Jones had a pair of clutch fourth-quarter touchdown runs as Nebraska staged its comeback attempt. And the Boilers’ defense had four interceptions, three alone for Anthony Brown. Just Darrell Hazell’s second Big Ten win in three years was a big one.

10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-4, 0-4)

Last week: 11

The bottom half of the Big Ten really is a disaster, so the Hoosiers get points for not losing. Not that they could have, as they were on bye, but still. Indiana has the offensive weapons to give any team a run, with Nate Sudfeld playing well at quarterback and Jordan Howard showing great stuff at running back now that he’s back healthy. But the remaining schedule surely isn’t easy, with games against Iowa and Michigan next up.

[MORE BIG TEN: Purdue scores 55 points to send Huskers to their sixth loss]

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-6, 1-4)

Last week: 9

Though the problems Nebraska is starting at are big and there certainly is reason to wonder if the Mike Riley Era will get better any time soon, things could very easily be much different for this team this year. The only thing people care about is the win-loss record, but five of the Huskers’ six losses came by three points or fewer, an absurd situation. And they nearly came back to beat Purdue on Saturday, too, scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter to turn a 42-19 deficit into a 55-45 loss. No doubt things are bad, but maybe those six losses are a tad misleading.

12. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-4, 1-3)

Last week: 8

While the Illini remain just two wins away from bowl eligibility, the road to six wins is getting considerably steeper as time wears on. Injuries have plagued the offense, especially the one to star running back Josh Ferguson, as the run game has been virtually non-existent without him. Saturday against Penn State, a team Illinois beat last year, the offense was rendered useless, incapable of doing absolutely anything, punting 11 times, turning it over on downs twice and fumbling and throwing an interception.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]

13. Maryland Terrapins (2-6, 0-4)

Last week: 12

The Terps again looked fairly non-competitive against Iowa, somewhat expected considering the caliber of team they were facing. Perry Hills trew three more interceptions, and it’s just becoming laughable how many turnovers this team has. Maryland quarterbacks have now thrown 23 picks, the most in the nation and a whopping five more than the next closest team. The Terps are last in college football with a minus-16 turnover margin. With struggles on both sides of the ball and games against Wisconsin and Michigan State next, things don’t look good.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-5, 1-4)

Last week: 13

A 48-10 thumping at the hands of Wisconsin was not what Rutgers needed to get out of its rut. Leonte Carroo is clearly making all the difference, as his absence was glaring. Chris Laviano was ineffective without his star wideout, as was the entire offense. Rutgers has been outscored 97-17 in back-to-back losses. There hasn’t been an offensive touchdown since Oct. 17, and that doesn’t figure to change against Michigan.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.