Big Ten

Big Ten power rankings: Buckeyes, Spartans looking the part

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Big Ten power rankings: Buckeyes, Spartans looking the part

For much of the season, Ohio State and Michigan State have held rightful spots near the top of the AP top 25. But questions have popped up fairly often about whether or not these two teams really look like national-championship contenders.

Well, this weekend’s wins might have come over Rutgers and Indiana, but they were the blowout wins the Buckeyes and Spartans needed to pass the dreaded eye test and firmly establish themselves as deserved undefeateds and deserved College Football Playoff frontrunners.

The Buckeyes blew out the Scarlet Knights, 49-7, with J.T. Barrett shining in his first start of the season. The Spartans crushed the Hoosiers with an avalanche of fourth-quarter points, with Connor Cook having a monster afternoon.

All eyes are still on Nov. 21, when Ohio State and Michigan State meet in Columbus.

Here’s how the teams line up in this week’s power rankings.

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

Last week: 1

J.T. Barrett’s 2015 debut as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback went pretty good, I’d say. Barrett went off for five total touchdowns as Ohio State destroyed Rutgers, 49-7, a game that would’ve been a shutout if not for a Knights touchdown in the game’s final seconds. Joining Barrett in huge offensive days were Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas, and the defense turned in a stellar performance, as well. The Buckeyes never stopped being national-title favorites — No. 1 in the AP poll all season — but this win and the fashion it came in ought to cement that status moving forward.

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

Last week: 2

Speaking of cementing statuses, Michigan State proved it continues to belong in the CFP discussion with its first true blowout victory of the season, wiping the floor with Indiana, 52-26. Connor Cook was excellent, throwing for 398 yards and four touchdowns. The Spartans racked up 540 yards of total offense The size of this win — thanks to 24 fourth-quarter points — was a great sign following the narrow escapes against Purdue, Rutgers and Michigan, three wins that came by a combined 14 points. Michigan State has a bye week this week, then games against Nebraska and Maryland before the big showdown with Ohio State.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans finally get their blowout win thanks to huge fourth quarter vs. Hoosiers]

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0)

Last week: 3

No game this week for the undefeated Hawkeyes, but it was a winning one nonetheless, as losses elsewhere in the top 10 of the AP poll moved Iowa to the No. 10 ranking in the country. Iowa has a very favorable schedule to finish out the regular season: Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska. Should the Hawkeyes win all those games — and they should be favored rather heavily in all five — it’d set up a (likely) battle of undefeateds in the Big Ten Championship Game with Iowa having as good a shot as anyone to reach the College Football Playoff.

4. Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 2-1)

Last week: 4

The Wolverines were also on bye this weekend. With the College Football Playoff likely out of play for Jim Harbaugh’s team, it’ll have to focus on getting the best bowl slot it can get, and that shouldn’t be too difficult, considering how good Michigan has looked so far this season. After Week 8, the Wolverines boast the country’s best defense, No. 1 in scoring defense (9.3 points allowed per game) and total defense (210.6 yards allowed per game). Michigan should be favored in its next four games (Minnesota, Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State) before the season-ending bout with Ohio State.

[MORE BIG TEN: QB change goes swimmingly for Buckeyes as J.T. Barrett goes off]

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

Last week: 5

A big win this weekend for the Wildcats, going into Lincoln and walking out with a 30-28 win. Nebraska is struggling, but it was a major bounce back for Northwestern, which was flattened in two straight games by Michigan and Iowa. Clayton Thorson was terrific, going for 303 yards combined passing and rushing and accounting for two total touchdowns. The Cats’ defense was back on track, too, getting a huge pick six. It’ll be tough for Northwestern to make the Big Ten title game, what with Iowa rolling and the Cats already saddled with a pair of conference losses. But they’re bowl eligible already for the first time since 2012.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1)

Last week: 6

The Badgers picked up an impressive win Saturday, not necessarily because Illinois is an overly impressive opponent but because a flood of injuries couldn’t stop Wisconsin. Already without top two running backs Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal, the Badgers lost starting quarterback Joel Stave early and starting wide receiver Robert Wheelwright and starting center Dan Voltz in the second half. But Wisconsin still pulled out a 24-13 win and remains close to Iowa in the West standings. The injuries are troubling moving forward, but it was a heck of a display of resiliency in Champaign.

[MORE BIG TEN: Joel Stave, other key offensive pieces go down in Badgers' win]

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-1)

Last week: 7

It was a big day for Christian Hackenberg as things almost became disastrous for Penn State in a one-point win over lowly Maryland. Hackenberg and his receivers teamed up for a bevy of big plays, providing enough offense to outlast the Terps. Considering Maryland quarterback Perry Hills turned the ball over five times, it probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. But it was a win for Penn State, nonetheless, and the Lions — despite the first rough day running the ball for Saquon Barkley — still remain just one game back from Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten East race.

8. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-3, 1-2)

Last week: 8

The Illini didn’t look good Saturday, but no one in the bottom half of the conference did. Illinois’ defense looked terrific the first few series against Joel Stave, but once Wisconsin’s starting quarterback was knocked out, backup Bart Houston carved up that defense and marched the Badgers down the field on nearly every possession. The Illini are being plagued by their own injuries, unable to run the ball without Josh Ferguson and missing a ton of passing targets, too. Still, Illinois has the nation’s No. 33 total defense ranking, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

[MORE BIG TEN: Banged-up Illini can't keep up with banged-up Badgers in loss]

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-5, 1-3)

Last week: 11

It’s tough to vault up two spots for losing your fifth game of the season, but that’s what the Huskers did because Rutgers and Indiana looked that bad. There were positives for Nebraska in yet another razor-thin loss, this one coming by just two points to Northwestern. Tommy Armstrong threw for nearly 300 yards and scored three total touchdowns. And the Huskers rush defense played well outside of two quarterback dashes that totaled 117 yards. The Cats gained just 39 yards on the ground outside of those two runs. But those are merely the silver linings from a game that has furthered how bad things are getting in Lincoln.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3, 1-2)

Last week: 12

No game for the Gophers this weekend meant no opportunity for us to see just how embarrassing that offense is. Minnesota ranks 101st in the country in total offense and is tied for 110th in scoring offense. It gets even uglier when you realize the only time this season when that offense has looked overly capable was against Purdue. And the schedule the rest of the way is brutal: Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa — three top-15 teams — then Illinois and Wisconsin to finish things off. Four of those five teams have defenses ranking in the top 13 in the country. That’s insane. Will the Gophers even hit 30 points combined over their last five games?

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern holds off Huskers to end two-game skid]

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

Last week: 10

Poor Indiana. It’s back to its old terrible-defense self. After an exciting 4-0 start that had the Hoosiers two games away from their first bowl trip since 2007, it’s been four straight losses to open conference play. The fourth quarter has been Indiana’s downfall in each of the last two games against Rutgers and Michigan State, getting outscored in those two periods a combined 46-0. Yikes. Nate Sudfeld has lit up the scoreboard and stat sheet since returning from injury, but he’s also getting a little too turnover-prone. He’s got three picks in the last two games after just one through his first five.

12. Maryland Terrapins (2-5, 0-3)

Last week: 13

In the first game since the firing of Randy Edsall, Maryland almost got a signature upset win over Penn State for the second year in a row. The Terps came within a point, but five turnovers from Perry Hills wrecked any chance of a win. Hills threw three more interceptions Saturday, bringing the total for Terps quarterbacks to 20 on the season. In seven games. Goodness. Maryland gets deserved props for being a point away from toppling Penn State, but it gets few props after that.

[MORE BIG TEN: Christian Hackenberg throws three TDs as Penn State edges Terps]

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-4, 1-3)

Last week: 9

It was supposed to be a blowout when Rutgers hosted No. 1 Ohio State, and maybe dropping the Knights this low for an expected outcome is a little unfair. But if not for a touchdown with 13 seconds left, it would’ve been a 49-0 thumping, and that’s just not OK on any level. Rutgers couldn’t even muster 300 total yards, all while letting Ohio State run over the defense like a truck, surrendering 528 total yards and seven touchdowns. It’s pretty clear that a not fully healthy Leonte Carroo made for an ineffective offensive attack. That or Ohio State’s top-15 defense. Things don’t get any easier with upcoming road trips to top-10 defenses in Wisconsin and Michigan.

14. Purdue Boilermakers (0-3, 1-6)

Last week: 14

Purdue didn’t play, so it didn’t lose. There is some opportunity against its next two opponents, as Nebraska and Illinois are clearly struggling. But even still, the Boilers have played and lost (badly) to struggling teams already this season. After those two games, road trips to top-20 defenses in Northwestern and Iowa shouldn’t go well for Purdue ahead of the annual season-ending rivalry game with Indiana. One more loss, and Purdue is officially eliminated from bowl eligibility.

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.