Big Ten

Big Ten Power Rankings: Michigan closing in on Buckeyes

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Michigan closing in on Buckeyes

What will it take for Michigan to catch Ohio State?

It's hard to argue that any team has been more impressive through six weeks than the Wolverines. Michigan is charging hard following its third straight shutout win and looking like one of the nation's most formidable forces. But how will the Wolverines unseat the Buckeyes?

Ohio State, for all its supposed woes, has rediscovered its offensive firepower and still boasts the country's most talented roster. The Buckeyes have yet to lose, also, a key point.

Michigan might be the flavor of the last month and a half, but Ohio State hasn't lost a game since last September. Jim Harbaugh's team can make a huge statement this week against Michigan State — as if a 38-0 whitewash of Northwestern wasn't a statement enough.

For now, though, the Buckeyes remain No. 1.

See where all the teams line up in the latest Big Ten Power Rankings.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0)

Last week: 1

While perhaps no team has looked more impressive than Michigan halfway through the season, Ohio State has somewhat quietly affirmed its national championship contender status. Say all you want about the seemingly weekly early struggles that cause mass panic on social media, but the Buckeyes' once-shaky offense is now piling on points, having scored 121 of them over the past three weeks. And Urban Meyer might have finally fixed his quarterback conundrum by rotating Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett depending on situation.

2. Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 2-0)

Last week: 5

It’s hard to keep the Wolverines out of the top spot, really, that’s how terrific they’ve played. Three straight shutouts is unbelievable, especially considering that two of them came against ranked opponents. Saturday’s 38-0 domination of Northwestern was an absolute clinic, with the defense shutting things down completely, allowing just 168 total yards. The rushing attack went over 200 yards again, and special teams chipped in with a 96-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. A huge showdown with Michigan State awaits, and Michigan is rightfully favored.

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 2-0)

Last week: 4

How about this Iowa offense? After Wisconsin’s defense did a nice job shutting things down in the conference opener, the Hawkeyes returned to form against Illinois. C.J. Beathard had a pair of touchdown passes, but it was Jordan Canzeri starring with his 256 rushing yards on a school-record 43 carries. While the Illini defense came up with some big stops, Iowa still managed almost 500 yards of offense. This revamped offense is looking the exact opposite of last year’s slow-moving bunch, and it will meet it’s biggest test yet next against a strong Northwestern defense.

4. Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1)

Last week: 2

While nothing really went right for Northwestern on Saturday at the Big House, it’s hard to fault the Cats too much for a loss against a Wolverines team playing as well as it is. It’s one of those “quality” losses that mean far more in college hoops than college football, but the term still applies. That being said, the previous No. 1 scoring defense was handled early by Michigan’s offense, and an offense that’s struggled to score behind a freshman quarterback obviously produced no points. Still, this is one of the country’s better defenses, and a bounce back should be expected.

5. Michigan State Spartans (6-0, 2-0)

Last week: 3

Maybe it’s unfair to keep dropping an undefeated team for continuing to win, but the Spartans find a new way to fail the eye test every week, even though there’s still a zero in the loss column. This week, it was a near defeat at Rutgers that required an LJ Scott touchdown with 43 seconds left to take the lead. On Rutgers. A banged-up Spartan defense was shredded by the Knights’ star wideout, Leonte Carroo, who caught three touchdown passes. Injuries are wreaking havoc on Michigan State, but is that an excuse to be nearly losing winnable games? Sparty survived against Purdue and Rutgers. Against Michigan?

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

Last week: 6

Missed field goals aren’t good, and Rafael Gaglianone has missed a lot of kicks this year for the Badgers. He missed two more Saturday before nailing the game-winner with four seconds left to give Wisconsin a big road win at Nebraska. Still, Gaglianone, after going 3-for-5 Saturday, is just 9-for-15 on the season. Yuck. But there was some good news for Wisconsin’s point-scoring people, as Joel Stave threw for 322 yards and Dare Ogunbowale rushed for 117 yards. Life without Corey Clement hasn’t been easy, but the Badgers are right in the thick of the Big Ten West race.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1, 2-0)

Last week: 7

Still no Saquon Barkley or Akeel Lynch, but a date with an Indiana team missing both its starting quarterback and starting running back meant a pretty easy win for Penn State. Christian Hackenberg had a huge day, accounting for four total touchdowns. He passed for 262 yards and a pair of scores and rushed in for two more touchdowns. Long term — or immediately considering the Lions play No. 1 Ohio State this weekend — those running backs are going to need to get healthy.

8. Indiana Hoosiers (4-2, 0-2)

Last week: 8

And speaking of those Hoosiers, there could be some real trouble brewing despite that great 4-0 start. Hopefully Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard are back soon because things didn’t go so well without them. Indiana’s typically high-powered offense mustered just seven points against Penn State, with the team gaining just 234 total yards, only 79 on the ground. Backup quarterback Zander Diamont was knocked out of the game with his own injury. Backup running back Devine Redding rushed for just 32 yards. Those injured stars need to come back if the Hoosiers are going to get the two more wins they need to be bowl eligible.

9. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2, 1-1)

Last week: 9

A costly fourth-quarter fumble looms largest in the Illini’s loss to the Hawkeyes this weekend, but the bad result didn’t mean a bad day for the orange and blue. Wes Lunt passed for 317 yards, and Geronimo Allison — the Big Ten’s leading receiver — added 148 yards and a touchdown to his impressive 2015 totals. But it’s the Illinois defense that continues to impress. Yeah, the Illini allowed 29 points, but they made a couple impressive goal-line stops and forced field goals when Iowa looked primed for touchdowns. Illinois ranks in the top 35 nationally in scoring and total defense.

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

Last week: 12

Was it Minnesota figuring things out or Purdue being awful? Whatever it was, the Gophers will take it. Jerry Kill’s crew entered Saturday’s game second to worst in the country in scoring offense, but it dumped 41 points on the Boilermakers, looking unstoppable in the process. The Boilers have that effect on people. But let’s give credit where credit is due, and that’s to Shannon Brooks, the freshman back who rushed for 176 yards. He kickstarted a 28-point third quarter with a 71-yard touchdown run. The Gophers offense might not be fixed, but it least had one good day.

11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-3, 0-2)

Last week: 13

In the least surprising news of the college football season, Rutgers is much better with Leonte Carroo than it is without him. The All-Big Ten wideout returned from suspension Saturday and caught seven passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns. He now has six touchdown catches in just 10 quarters of play. The Knights, on the other hand, lost again, though this time they led Michigan State on multiple occasions and almost won, with the Spartans scoring in the final minute to win the game. Almost usually isn’t good enough, but at least Rutgers played better than it normally does. Fun fact: Chris Laviano has the Big Ten’s highest quarterback rating at 153.9.

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-4, 0-2)

Last week: 11

Nebraska can’t stop losing in the final seconds of games. After getting beat by a BYU Hail Mary, losing in overtime at Miami and falling to Illinois on a game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left just last week, Wisconsin handed the Huskers their latest incredible loss, kicking a game-winning field goal with four seconds left. Seriously. It’s not all flukes, though, as this week, Tommy Armstrong completed just 11 passes and the Nebraska defense allowed its fifth 300-plus-yard passer of the season. Four losses already for the Huskers, that’s just not good.

13. Purdue Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2)

Last week: 10

Speaking of not good, Purdue couldn’t follow up its near upset of Michigan State with a win or anything remotely resembling a competitive performance, getting throttled by Minnesota, 41-13. That’s a Minnesota team, by the way, that was averaging 15.7 points a game coming in. The Boilers couldn’t stop the Gophers at all and did a good deal to add to their big day, with David Blough throwing three interceptions. He now has five in three games. A trip to Camp Randall Stadium to next face the Badgers big, bad defense likely won’t help things.

14. Maryland Terrapins (2-4, 0-2)

Last week: 14

Though the Terps fought valiantly in their loss to the No. 1 Buckeyes, scoring four touchdowns and having the game tied in the third quarter, when you fire a head coach in the middle of a season, your program can’t be in too good of shape. Randy Edsall’s tenure at Maryland is over, and his 22-33 record is surely to blame. Edsall’s teams never finished better than .500 in conference play. This season, poor offense, poor defense and a never-ending drama surrounding the quarterback situation meant it was time for Edsall to go. After a bye week, the Terps’ schedule is brutal: Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State. Oof.

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.