Big Ten

Big Ten power rankings: Everything on the line for Hawkeyes, Spartans

kirk-ferentz-mark-dantonio-1130.png

Big Ten power rankings: Everything on the line for Hawkeyes, Spartans

It all comes down to this.

Stakes don't much higher than the ones on the line in Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game. Undefeated Iowa faces one-loss Michigan State. The winner wins a conference title and goes to the College Football Playoff (in all likelihood). The loser does neither.

Both teams have turned in great seasons and are riding terrific hot streaks. The Hawkeyes obviously haven't lost since January, while the Spartans have turned in back-to-back great games to beat Ohio State and Penn State.

These two are firing on all cylinders. Throw in the highest of stakes, and Saturday night ought to be a real fun one in Indy.

Here are this week's Big Ten power rankings:

1. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-0, 8-0)

Last week: 1

The Hawkeyes are still undefeated and a win away from a spot in the College Football Playoff. Unsurprisingly, it was defense and a strong rushing attack that got it done for Iowa in win No. 12 against Nebraska, as the Hawkeyes intercepted Tommy Armstrong four times and got two long touchdown runs from Jordan Canzeri. That kind of play will need to happen again if Iowa wants to shut down red-hot Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game this weekend.

2. Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 7-1)

Last week: 2

From dead in the water to one of the hottest teams in the conference, the Spartans followed up their defensive clampdown on Ohio State with an absolute mauling of Penn State, dropping 55 points in a game that saw back-to-back touchdowns by defensive tackle Malik McDowell and center Jack Allen. Yeah, that kind of beatdown. One more win over Iowa could not just mean a spot in the College Football Playoff, it could mean the Playoff’s No. 1 seed.

[MORE BIG TEN: Could Spartans earn No. 1 seed in College Football Playoff?]

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1)

Last week: 3

After looking absolutely terrible against Michigan State, the Buckeyes exploded for a crushing of rival Michigan. Ezekiel Elliott had 214 yards and two touchdowns. J.T. Barrett went for 252 total yards and four total touchdowns. The defense held the Wolverines to 13 points. It was a championship-level performance, but one that came a little too late. Ohio State might still have an outside chance of making the Playoff, but the Buckeyes should’ve played like this a week before.

4. Northwestern Wildcats (10-2, 6-2)

Last week: 5

For just the fourth time in program history, Northwestern is a 10-game winner, a feat secured with a win over Illinois to close the regular season. Pat Fitzgerald’s campaign for a New Year’s Six bowl game might not bear fruit, but he’s right in suggesting the committee needs to consider the Cats and respect their resume, as well as their style of play. This defense has been so terrific this season, it deserves every bit of praise it can get.

[MORE BIG TEN: Fitz wants committee to respect Northwestern's resume, identity]

5. Michigan Wolverines (9-3, 6-2)

Last week: 4

No doubt about it, the Wolverines were absolutely stomped in Jim Harbaugh’s first The Game as head coach. It was easily Michigan’s worst game of the season. But it’s generally been a very good Year 1 for Harbaugh & Co. A year after not qualifying for a bowl game, Michigan will be back in one of the Big Ten’s better postseason contests. Heck of a rapid turnaround with pretty much all the same guys who were a part of that five-win finish a year ago.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (9-3, 6-2)

Last week: 6

We never really got to find out exactly how good these Badgers were this season. They played three teams that will end up in the top 15 — Alabama, Iowa, Northwestern — and lost to all of them. Everyone else they played was pretty weak, and they beat all of them. Wisconsin has now won at least nine games in all but two seasons dating back to 2004. Had Corey Clement been healthy, it could’ve been double-digit wins. He should be back next year, so get ready.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5, 4-4)

Last week: 7

It wasn’t a pretty end to the season for the Lions, mashed by Michigan State in the regular-season finale to round out a season-ending three-game losing streak. Though Penn State is going bowling, there were a lot of red flags this year, as only one of those seven wins came against a team that finished above .500 (San Diego State). The Lions ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly every offensive category, costing offensive coordinator John Donovan his job Sunday.

[MORE BIG TEN: Purdue fires both coordinators; Penn State OC gone, too]

8. Indiana Hoosiers (6-6, 2-6)

Last week: 10

A great accomplishment for the Hoosiers to reach their first bowl game since 2007, second since 1993 and the first of the Kevin Wilson Era. As has been the case the past few years, the Indiana offense makes it able to compete with anybody, but the Indiana defense is a huge liability. That was evidenced again against Purdue. The Hoosiers scored 54 points but allowed 36 to the basement-dwelling Boilermakers. But Indiana’s in a bowl game. That’s huge.

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-7, 3-5)

Last week: 8

Mike Riley’s first season at Nebraska was a pretty big failure. There’s really no arguing that point. The Huskers fired a perennial nine-game winner, replaced him with someone who had limited success at his last stop and then that guy went on to have limited success in Lincoln. It’s not that black and white, of course, as Bo Pelini’s culture was a big reason he got the boot and Riley’s team lost a ton of close games this season. But next year is going to be a big deal for Riley.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes, Spartans, Buckeyes all in top six, Northwestern at No. 13 in latest AP poll]

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7, 2-6)

Last week: 9

Jerry Kill’s abrupt retirement will be the lasting memory of this season, one where the Gophers underachieved, if you’re of the opinion they were supposed to keep moving up the Big Ten ranks after back-to-back eight-win campaigns. The offense again sputtered — so badly that Minnesota was one of the worst scoring teams in the country the first half of the season — and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was fired because of it Sunday.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-7, 2-6)

Last week: 12

Bill Cubit did a pretty good job to win five games under trying circumstances, handed the interim coaching job a week before the season started. Now he’s the permanent head coach, and he’ll bring a positive attitude and visible passion to the gig. But will he do any better when it comes to winning games? His charge, the offense, struggled mightily this season, and the Illini didn’t play well against quality competition. Plus, just a two-year contract could hamper recruiting.

[MORE BIG TEN: It might not last long, but future is set for Bill Cubit, Illini]

12. Purdue Boilermakers (2-10, 1-7)

Last week: 13

It was another nasty season for Purdue, the second in three seasons under Darrell Hazell to end with double-digit losses. All in all, three Hazell seasons have yielded a 6-30 record and a 2-22 mark in Big Ten play. Hazell let both coordinators go Sunday after a season-ending loss to Indiana, but how much will that really change things?

13. Maryland Terrapins (3-9, 1-7)

Last week: 14

Terps fans couldn’t wait for this season to end, even though it ended in pretty fun fashion with a big comeback to beat Rutgers. Maryland is and surely has been fully focused on finding a new head coach, and that ought to at least bring a positive buzz to a program that looked miserable on both sides of the ball this year.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-8, 1-7)

Last week:  11

Kyle Flood lost his job after turning in just the first sub-.500 regular-season finish of his four-year tenure at Rutgers, but it was all the off-field headlines that did in both Flood and athletics director Julie Hermann. Flood’s attempt to secretly influence the grade of one his players — a player who was then among five arrested and kicked off the team — was the biggest off-field issue for the Knights this season, one where the play on the field wasn’t much better.

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

1121_baker_mayfield.jpg
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

1114_miami_hurricanes.jpg
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.