Big Ten

Big Ten power rankings: Now the fun really starts out East

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Big Ten power rankings: Now the fun really starts out East

Now it's time for the fun to really start in the Big Ten East.

The final two weeks will determine who plays for a conference championship.

Michigan State visits Ohio State this weekend, and if the Spartans win, they'll be a win away from the title game. Same goes for the Buckeyes, but they would need a win over Michigan in the season finale to get in. And the Wolverines, by the way, are rooting for the Buckeyes this weekend, as they can still make the Big Ten title game, too, but not if Sparty is victorious in Columbus.

Iowa could also clinch the Big Ten West and a spot in that bout with a win this weekend with a win over Purdue.

It's fun time, now.

Here's how the teams stacked up in this week's Big Ten power rankings:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0)

Last week: 1

Continue to criticize if you wish, but the Buckeyes keep blowing out opponents and haven’t lost a game yet this season as the number of teams that can say that continues to shrink. The latest? A 28-3 thumping of Illinois. Now comes the hard part, as Ohio State faces Michigan State and Michigan in the final two regular-season games before a potential meeting with fellow undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten title game. Have the Buckeyes been America’s most dominant team this season? No. But wins in the next three weeks will make them as qualified for a College Football Playoff spot as anyone in the sport.

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes keep blowing teams out, so why the hate?]

2. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-0, 6-0)

Last week: 2

The Hawkeyes remain undefeated through 10 games after beating Minnesota on Saturday, and they got some help with four top-10 teams losing this weekend. It sets up Iowa perfectly for a spot in the College Football Playoff should it win out. That’s easier said than done, though. The Hawkeyes will need to avoid missteps against Purdue and Nebraska before a tough test in the conference championship game. But if it finishes undefeated, Iowa will be in the final four.

3. Michigan Wolverines (8-2, 5-1)

Last week: 3

The Wolverines might not have looked especially dominant in a thrilling, high-scoring, double-overtime win over Indiana, a team that’s yet to win a conference game. But whatever luster Michigan lost defensively, it gained on the offensive side, with Jake Rudock throwing for six touchdowns and this Jim Harbaugh team looking like an air-raid juggernaut. Indiana’s horrendous pass defense helped with that, but it showed the Wolverines have all the tools in the toolbox to make a run at the Big Ten East Division title, which they can still win.

[MORE BIG TEN: Week 11 upsets help Big Ten's College Football Playoff chances]

4. Michigan State Spartans (9-1, 5-1)

Last week: 4

Will Connor Cook be healthy for this weekend’s massive showdown against Ohio State? That’s really the only question that matters after the conference’s best quarterback hurt his shoulder in Michigan State’s win over Maryland. The Spartans can still win the Big Ten East, but a win over the Buckeyes is necessary to do that, so having Cook as close to full strength as he can be will be key. So will replicating Saturday’s defensive performance. Ohio State won’t have the same awful quarterback play as Maryland did. But still, a solid showing for a defense that’s struggled this season.

5. Northwestern Wildcats (8-2, 4-2)

Last week: 5

Winning by the skin of their teeth seems to be the Wildcats’ way here in the latter stages of the season. They needed a late field goal to get by Penn State. They needed a late touchdown to get by Purdue. Two wins in the final two regular-season games against Wisconsin and Illinois will give Northwestern one of its best seasons in program history, a silently terrific accomplishment for a team that’s not getting too much love around the conference and around the country. Wisconsin’s defense, though, will provide a serious challenge, especially considering there’s a bit of a quarterback controversy in Evanston. Stay tuned on that front.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern wins as Purdue can't capitalize on turnovers]

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

Last week: 6

The Badgers were off this past weekend, readying themselves for a final two weeks featuring a tough Northwestern team and a not-as-tough Minnesota team. Wisconsin’s defense should have little trouble slowing Northwestern’s offense, but the flip side should present problems for the banged-up Badgers offense. Few teams in the country can boast the “quality” losses the Badgers have, against Alabama and Iowa, but Wisconsin has also yet to beat a ranked team. That opportunity comes against Northwestern.

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

Last week: 7

Penn State also had the week off, and it’s season ends on a challenging couple of notes. Games against Michigan and Michigan State await, and the Lions will be going up against a pair of desperate teams. Why? The Wolverines need to win — and help from Ohio State — to set up a play-in game for the Big Ten title game. If Michigan State wins against Ohio State, though, the Spartans will face the Lions needing a win to clinch their spot in the conference title game. The Lions are going to get those two teams’ best. Can they handle it?

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini's Karras on Cubit: 'It's time to pop the interim tag off']

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

Last week: 10

A second straight win kept the Huskers’ bowl hopes alive ahead of their bye week, and it would be somewhat remarkable to think how this season could end for Nebraska. All these losses, six of them through the first nine games, and the final three games could feature wins to end undefeated seasons against Michigan State and Iowa and clinch a bowl game in the process. The first of those already happened. The opportunity for the second comes against the Hawkeyes in the regular season’s final week.

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-6, 1-5)

Last week: 8

The Gophers didn’t win this past weekend but looked good enough against undefeated Iowa to warrant some praise. An Iowa defense that’s stopped just about everyone it’s come across this season was successfully exploited by Minnesota, of all teams, the Gophers’ passing attack doing a remarkable job, throwing for more than 300 yards in a high-scoring 40-35 game. That’s three weeks in a row now in which the previously inept Gophers offense has challenged top-flight defenses. Unfortunately, all those games ended in defeat.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes up to 10-0 after winning Floyd of Rosedale back from Gophers]

10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-6, 0-6)

Last week: 9

It’s now must-win time for the Hoosiers. It was such a promising start to the season, a 4-0 beginning that took Indiana into conference play needing just a pair of wins to reach the program’s first bowl game since 2007 and just its second since 1993. But six Big Ten games have come and gone without a win, and now the Hoosiers need to win both to get to the postseason. It’s certainly doable, with the final games coming against Maryland and Purdue, the conference’s two worst teams. But Indiana’s defense has played abysmally during the league slate, meaning anything can happen.

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

Last week: 11

The Illini looked really, really bad against Ohio State, and perhaps it’s unfair to judge too much when facing the No. 3 team in the country. But the Illinois offense has for the most part been totally ineffective during Big Ten play. You can blame a large amount of injuries — as head coach Bill Cubit does — or a hard schedule or just poor play. Regardless, the Illini are going to have to figure something out on that side of the ball (because the defense continues to play well) at least once in the final two games against Minnesota and Northwestern if they want to reach a bowl game and perhaps turn Cubit into the permanent head coach.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini offense silent as Buckeyes get big day from Ezekiel Elliott in win]

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-7, 1-6)

Last week: 14

Another loss for the Knights this past weekend, this one coming to Nebraska. If not for Indiana, Rutgers would be winless in conference play. So why the bump up in the power rankings this week? Really, Purdue and Maryland are just that bad. Rutgers gets to face one of those teams — plus Army — for a chance to end up with a somewhat fine (for Rutgers) five wins this season.

13. Purdue Boilermakers (2-8, 1-5)

Last week: 13

Purdue had its chances against Northwestern, but the inability to capitalize on any of them landed the Boilers right back where they always are: in the loss column. The Wildcats turned the ball over three times but came away with zero points off those turnovers, going three and out twice. Meanwhile, the Cats turned the only Purdue turnover into a touchdown. Hence the difference in the game. The Boilermakers are likely to get trounced against Iowa before a potentially winnable game against Indiana.

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

14. Maryland Terrapins (2-8, 0-6)

Last week: 12

The Terps are just a mess this season, unable to do much of anything on either side of the ball. Maryland scored just seven points against a defense that’d been exploited by many teams it’d faced this season. Similarly, the Maryland defense couldn’t do enough to slow down a Michigan State offense that was without its leader, the best quarterback in the Big Ten. Plus, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe combined to throw three more picks, bringing the season total for Terps quarterbacks to 28, worst in the nation. Just not good.

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.