Big Ten

Big Ten power rankings: Hawkeyes, Spartans on title-game collision course

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Big Ten power rankings: Hawkeyes, Spartans on title-game collision course

Welcome back, Sparty.

It was just two weeks ago that a loss at Nebraska bumped Michigan State down the power rankings, but the Spartans are back near the top following a terrific performance in an upset win over Ohio State.

The Buckeyes’ first loss of the season also allows the Iowa Hawkeyes to take over as kings of the Big Ten hill. Iowa’s still perfect at 11-0 and into the Big Ten Championship Game as the West Division champ.

Michigan State has the inside track to the East Division crown, needing just a win over Penn State to get there. But a loss would send the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game to the Big Ten title game instead.

There’s still a lot on the line with just one week to play in the regular season.

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

1. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0)

Last week: 2

The Hawkeyes ascend to the top of the rankings with Ohio State suffering its first loss of the season, but when you look back on the season’s first 11 weeks, despite an admittedly weaker schedule than many teams have played, has any team impressed more than Iowa? The margins of victory have been big, the play on both sides of the ball has been consistently strong and the signature win of the season — a 40-10 drubbing at Northwestern — looks better and better each week. Iowa will be in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings this week, and with good reason.

2. Michigan State Spartans (10-1, 6-1)

Last week: 4

Call it an implosion by Ohio State if you must, but Michigan State looked great in its all-important victory this weekend in Columbus. A Spartans defense that’s been scorched on a fairly regular basis snuffed out the Buckeyes to the tune of just 132 total yards, all 14 of their points coming on short fields off fumbles. And for Michigan State to do what it did without Connor Cook is downright amazing. The Spartans are a win away from a trip to the Big Ten title game, and a win there would figure to land them in the Playoff. Not a bad change of events for a team that lost to Nebraska two weeks ago.

[MORE BIG TEN: Left for dead after loss, Spartans right back in College Football Playoff race]

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1)

Last week: 1

It was an ugly showing for the Buckeyes on Saturday night. Perhaps Michigan State is a little better than most everyone assumed — and certainly played the Spartans played that way — but as Ezekiel Elliott said afterward, this was a game Ohio State should’ve won. The Buckeyes boast one of the best defenses in the country, were going up against a team without its senior quarterback and have Elliott, a now-former Heisman candidate, who was given just 12 carries. Ohio State isn’t quite dead yet, still technically alive for a spot in the Big Ten title game. But in its first true test of the season, the Buckeyes failed.

4. Michigan Wolverines (10-1, 6-1)

Last week: 3

Michigan’s defense looked as good as it’s looked all season in a win over Penn State, coming up with some huge stops against the Nittany Lions. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, though, Michigan State’s win means they’ll need help to sneak into the Big Ten title game. Michigan has probably looked better on a consistent, week-to-week basis than both Michigan State and Ohio State, but that insane loss to the Spartans on a fumbled punt will likely keep the Wolverines away from the conference championship and subsequently the Playoff. Still, the regular-season finale against the Buckeyes still will be a big deal.

[MORE BIG TEN: Ezekiel Elliott rips Buckeyes coaches, says he's off to NFL]

5. Northwestern Wildcats (9-2, 5-2)

Last week: 5

After a couple years of finding more and more ridiculous ways to lose football games, the Cats are finally benefitting from wacky endings. After strong finishes by the defense and good breaks led to three straight wins against Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue, Northwestern won Saturday after Wisconsin had six game-tying points wiped off the board twice in the final seconds. And that’s after a second-half punt-return touchdown for the Badgers was called back, too. The Cats avoided the embarrassment of losing a game in which they forced five turnovers, and now they have a shot at a 10-win regular season.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 5-2)

Last week: 6

The Badgers continued their 2015 tradition of losing when playing good teams, though they probably should have won this one, stripped of a game-tying touchdown not once but twice in the final seconds — not to mention the called back punt-return touchdown earlier in the second half. But a loss was certainly the deserved outcome in a game where they turned the ball over five times. Wisconsin has three losses, all to quality, ranked teams in Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern. Problem is, those are the only good teams it’s faced all season, meaning we still don’t really know how good the Badgers are.

[MORE BIG TEN: After ridiculous finish, Northwestern holds on to beat Badgers]

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3)

Last week: 7

It was a valiant effort by Penn State up against a strong Michigan defense on Saturday. But the Nittany Lions offense couldn’t capitalize on red-zone chances, settling for field goals at every turn, and because of it, the effort of the Wolverines’ defense was enough to prevent an upset. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is the end of the Christian Hackenberg Era, the regular-season finale against Michigan State perhaps his last regular-season game at Penn State. The real guys the Lions will be sad to see go, though, play on a monstrous defensive line. Can the Lions play spoiler against the Spartans?

8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-4)

Last week: 8

No game for the Huskers this weekend, a team that needed a bye with a bunch of nagging injuries to key players. After that embarrassing loss at Purdue that sent it to 3-6, Nebraska has won both its games since, upsetting Michigan State with nearly 500 yards of total offense and cruising past Rutgers. Undefeated Iowa is all that’s left on the regular-season schedule, and the Huskers will be playing for a trip to the postseason, while the Hawkeyes’ College Football Playoff hopes will be on the line. Can Nebraska shock the world again? The Huskers have the offensive firepower. The Hawkeyes better bring their A-game.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes at No. 3, five Big Ten teams ranked in AP poll]

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-6, 2-5)

Last week: 9

The Gophers got an important win over Illinois to keep their bowl hopes alive, requiring a win in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin to go to the postseason. Shannon Brooks tore up the Illini defense, and unsurprisingly, running the ball seems to remain the key for this Gophers offense, despite Mitch Leidner having some passing success in the season’s final month. Wisconsin’s defense is as good as they come, meaning a bowl-clinching victory in the Axe Game could be unlikely. But Minnesota has put itself in position, which is all you can ask for.

10. Indiana Hoosiers (5-6, 1-6)

Last week: 10

Don’t look now, but it looks like the Hoosiers could be heading to the postseason. After starting 4-0, six straight losses followed, but Indiana won the first of two must-win games this weekend, coming back from a 21-3 deficit with three straight touchdowns to overtake Maryland, then pouring on more to cruise to a 19-point win. There’s no doubting the always-dangerous strike power of the Hoosiers, it’s just whether they can stop their opponents. The Terps rolled over and died against the Hoosiers. Equally inept Purdue is all that stands between Indiana and a trip to its first bowl game since 2007.

[MORE BIG TEN: Gophers run past Illini, who need win in finale to reach bowl]

11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-7, 1-6)

Last week: 12

Congratulations, Rutgers, you beat Army in the least-anticipated November game featuring a Big Ten team maybe ever. The Scarlet Knights could still possibly go bowling if they beat Maryland and then there aren’t enough 6-6 teams to fill all the bowl slots. Beating Maryland seems like a pretty simple thing to do these days, so even Rutgers should manage to do so. There’s no doubt this has been a bad season for the Knights, but to be fair, a 5-7 finish wouldn’t be far off from what most predicted back in August.

12. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-6, 2-5)

Last week: 11

The Illini offense just can’t do a thing when it needs to, and when the defense is allowing big running days, that’s a rough combination. Wes Lunt looked as good as he has all season, and Josh Ferguson went over 100 yards on the ground, but where were the points to show for it? Red-zone offense has been a disaster for Illinois all season, and it was again in a loss to Minnesota. The Illini need a regular-season-closing win over Northwestern to reach bowl eligibility and potentially to keep Bill Cubit on as the permanent head coach. It’s tough to see a 5-7 finish earning Cubit a full-time gig, especially with his unit, the offense, struggling as it has.

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

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

Last week: 13

Purdue gave Iowa more of a scare than anyone anticipated, that’s for sure, but it didn’t come away with much to show for it, losing by 20. After going down, 20-0, early in the second quarter, quarterback David Blough was knocked out and replaced with ex-starter Austin Appleby, who led three straight scoring drives. Problem was, while all three drives reached inside the 10-yard line, two only produced field goals, keeping the Boilers down. And then the Hawkeyes woke up and pulled away. Purdue will need to beat Indiana in the season finale if it wants to avoid double-digit losses for the second time in three seasons under Darrell Hazell.

14. Maryland Terrapins (2-9, 0-7)

Last week: 14

Despite a monster of a day for Brandon Ross running the ball — 250 yards and three touchdowns — and zero interceptions thrown by its quarterbacks, Maryland was crushed by Indiana, letting a 21-3 lead turn into a 47-28 final score. The Terps’ defense totally fell apart, allowing Nate Sudfeld to throw four touchdown passes. There’s one game left, against Rutgers, before Maryland begins a new era under a new head coach. Good thing, too, because this season cannot end soon enough in College Park.

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.