Big Ten

Big Ten power rankings: How far do Spartans fall?

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Big Ten power rankings: How far do Spartans fall?

Michigan State’s loss to Nebraska took everyone by surprise.

The Spartans are no longer undefeated — though not dead yet, even when it comes to the College Football Playoff — and many argue that their first loss has been a long time coming the way they’ve narrowly won some games this season.

It means the Big Ten is down to two undefeateds. But it doesn’t do much to clear the conference title game picture, as Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan still have solid chances to win the East Division.

Stay tuned. As for now, here’s how the teams stack up in this week’s power rankings.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0)

Last week: 1

As could have been predicted, Ohio State’s undefeated record wasn’t really in jeopardy despite a one-game suspension for J.T. Barrett. Cardale Jones wasn’t exactly fantastic, but he helped lead the Buckeyes past Minnesota, throwing a touchdown pass and rushing in for a game-sealing score. Ezekiel Elliott was his typically excellent self, and the defense helped out with a pick six. Even when not firing on all cylinders this season, the Buckeyes have ended up in the win column. That’s what’s kept them the conference’s best team.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-0, 5-0)

Last week: 3

Michigan State’s loss is Iowa’s gain, as the Hawkeyes can now claim the title of the conference’s second-best team without argument. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that the Hawkeyes have perhaps the Big Ten’s most impressive team this season, typically defeating their opponents by sizable margins on a regular basis. This past weekend, Iowa staved off Indiana’s upset bid. The defense allowed an unusual amount of rushing success, but the Hawkeyes scored plenty with its stable of ball-carriers and got another interception from Desmond King, his eighth of the season.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini remove Mike Thomas to put end to months of 'distractions']

3. Michigan Wolverines (7-2, 4-1)

Last week: 4

Yes, I know the Spartans beat the Wolverines in fluky yet awesome fashion. But when you look at the entire season, Michigan has simply been better. That defense ranks among the best in the country, and every win has come in dominant fashion. Even the losses have impressed — coming against ranked Michigan State and Utah teams by a combined 13 points — and the Wolverines still have a way to win the Big Ten East and play for a conference title. Not a bad first year at all for Jim Harbaugh.

4. Michigan State Spartans (8-1, 4-1)

Last week: 2

Sparty went down on Saturday, and a loss to six-loss Nebraska is not what Michigan State needed in a season that already had it earning plenty of doubters. Wins haven’t been overly impressive — even if Connor Cook has — and now the team’s first loss came against a reeling group of Huskers who gave up 55 points to Purdue a week earlier. The Spartans aren’t dead yet, controlling their own destiny when it comes to a Big Ten title, but certainly they’d need some help if they want to make the College Football Playoff.

[MORE BIG TEN: Even after loss, Spartans still control own destiny in Big Ten]

5. Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2)

Last week: 5

The Cats continue to go about things in the most difficult way possible — don’t they always? — but their season to date looks pretty darn good. Northwestern’s schedule ranks among the toughest in the country, and the College Football Playoff selection committee certainly recognized that last week, ranking the Cats No. 21. That ranking should improve after a nail-biting win over seven-win Penn State, in which a game-winning field goal was needed in the final seconds despite a 20-7 halftime lead. Northwestern’s only losses have come against top-20 teams in Michigan and Iowa.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 5-1)

Last week: 6

Beating Maryland by a touchdown might not be anything to crow about, but Wisconsin’s winning ways just keep on coming. The Badgers have just two losses on the season, and they came against two top-10 teams in Alabama and Iowa. Other than that, even with a host of injuries on the offensive side, it’s been nothing but victories. The defense continues to play fantastic, ranking in the top four in the country in both scoring defense and total defense. Dave Aranda could be heading for a head-coaching gig with one of the nation’s elite defenses for the second season in a row.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern expects Clayton Thorson to play vs. Purdue]

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-2)

Last week: 7

Christian Hackenberg fell back to Earth in Penn State’s loss to Northwestern. After going six games without an interception, he had an ugly stat line last weekend, completing 21 of his 40 passing attempts with no touchdown throws and an interception. Saquon Barkley had a big day, but the loss came after the Lions took a lead in the fourth quarter. A typically dominant defense gave up 227 rush yards and couldn’t stop Northwestern’s backup quarterback from accounting for two touchdowns and making a huge play on the game-winning drive.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-5, 1-4)

Last week: 8

While the Gophers have lost both games they’ve played since Jerry Kill announced his retirement, they’ve been more competitive than they were expected to be against Michigan and Ohio State, two of the conference’s top teams. After a strong offensive showing against the Wolverines, the Gophers lost by just two scores to the highly ranked Buckeyes, with Mitch Leidner having another good game, with 281 passing yards and a couple touchdown tosses. Minnesota hasn’t exactly resurrected its season, but there’s noticeable improvement of late.

[MORE BIG TEN: Interim leaders have no answers on plan for next Illini head coach]

9. Indiana Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5)

Last week: 10

The Hoosiers showed off their trademark offensive capabilities against undefeated Iowa, even if it didn’t end in an Indiana win. Few teams have had as much success rushing against the Iowa defense as Indiana did, gaining 227 yards on the ground. Jordan Howard had a pair of long touchdown runs in the second quarter that actually had the Hoosiers in front for a short while. And a late touchdown pass had Indiana a recovered onside kick away from a potential game-tying drive. But that didn’t happen, and the Hoosiers have yet to win a conference game after starting the year 4-0.

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-6, 2-4)

Last week: 11

It was a huge win for Mike Riley and the Huskers in a season that seemed to be spiraling further and further out of control each week. The end was a controversial one, for sure, and maybe Nebraska shouldn’t have upset Michigan State in the final seconds. But it was a heck of an effort by Tommy Armstrong, exploiting a banged-up and under-performing Spartans secondary by going 91 yards in 38 seconds. The Nebraska defense is nowhere near fixed and still managed to give up almost 500 yards, but to follow up a loss at Purdue with an upset of a top-10 team was a big accomplishment.

[MORE BIG TEN: Report contains ugly details of Tim Beckman's behavior as Illini coach]

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-4, 2-3)

Last week: 12

What a way for the Illini to get back on track after three straight losses with a crushing of Purdue. Illinois got running back Josh Ferguson back, who not-so-coincidentally missed those three straight losses, and he ran wild, going for 133 yards. But backup back Ke’Shawn Vaughn had an even bigger game, rushing for180 yards and two touchdowns, the largest part of a monster 382-yard day on the ground and nearly 600-yard day of total offense. Yeah, it was Purdue, but now Illinois is just a win away from bowl eligibility.

12. Maryland Terrapins (2-7, 0-5)

Last week: 13

The Terps played surprisingly well against a stout Wisconsin defense, scoring 24 points and out-gaining the Badgers. But that doesn’t mean Maryland wasn’t still up to its same old tricks. The defense was exploited despite Wisconsin missing several offensive weapons including running back Corey Clement. Special teams were a nightmare, as the Badgers returned a kickoff for a touchdown and executed a fake punt to perfection. Plus, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe combined for two more interceptions, bringing the season total by Terps quarterbacks to 25.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Terps gear right here]

13. Purdue Boilermakers (2-7, 1-4)

Last week: 9

Unfortunately, it was back to normal for the Boilers a week after dropping 55 in a win over Nebraska. That win might’ve given Darrell Hazell another year of work in West Lafayette, but the following weekend his team looked far too familiar, getting blitzed by Illinois. The Illini gained nearly 600 yards of offense, including nearly 400 rushing the ball, trouble considering they were the Big Ten’s worst rushing team coming in. Purdue just couldn’t stop a thing and couldn’t do anything offensively, either.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-6, 1-5)

Last week: 14

Speaking of not being able to stop anything or do anything, meet Rutgers, which was blasted by Michigan to the tune of 49-16. The Knights allowed almost 500 yards of offense and barely eclipsed 200 themsleves. No Leonte Carroo meant nothing doing offensively, and it’s hard to see that turning around if Carroo stays on the sideline. Winnable games against Nebraska, Army and Maryland close out the season, but will Rutgers be able to figure anything out in time?

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.