Big Ten

Big Ten Power Rankings: One play changes everything

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Big Ten Power Rankings: One play changes everything

The top portion of the rankings got a nice jumble thanks to the final 10 seconds in Ann Arbor.

A play that will go down in college football lore was more than just a big moment in the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry. It was a big moment in this season’s race for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Spartans stayed perfect and at 7-0 remain in a great position for one of those final four spots. The Wolverines, meanwhile, suffered their second loss of the season and are likely off the list of teams that still have a chance to play for a national title.

Squarely on that list, though, is Iowa, still undefeated at 7-0 with a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way.

Here’s how the teams landed in this week’s batch of power rankings.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0)

Last week: 1

Still the kings of the hill after another win — that’s 20 in a row, for those counting at home — the Buckeyes still look every bit a national-championship contender. That offense everyone’s so worried about has produced at least 34 points in every game but one this season, including in each of the last four. This weekend’s 38-10 crushing came against Penn State, which boasts one of the country’s best defenses. Ezekiel Elliott is dominant, and while everyone wants J.T. Barrett (four total touchdowns this weekend) to supplant Cardale Jones as starter, just realize that Urban Meyer might know what he’s doing.

[MORE BIG TEN: J.T. Barrett's big day sparks even more QB controversy for Buckeyes]

2. Michigan State Spartans (7-0, 3-0)

Last week: 5

Saturday’s win might have come in the most ridiculous fashion imaginable — Sparty scooped up a fumbled snap on a punt and returned it 38 yards as time expired to beat Michigan in an absolutely jaw-dropping manner — but there’s something to be said for still having a zero in the loss column. Michigan State’s defense played one of its best games of the season against its in-state rival. And Connor Cook aired it out in a strong performance. The Spartans aren’t showing any signs of breaking their habit of barely winning nail-biters, but who cares? They’re winning, at that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

[MORE BIG TEN: The guy who saved the day for Spartans ended up in the hospital]

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0)

Last week: 3

Speaking of winning, you know who’s done an awful lot of that? The Iowa Hawkeyes, who after a 40-10 shellacking of previously ranked Northwestern have a spotless record and the No. 12 ranking in the country. It’s much deserved, as Iowa seems to be firing on all cylinders, refusing to let injuries get in the way. A Drew Ott-less defense is playing great (held Northwestern to 61 rushing yards), a hobbled C.J. Beathard continues to carve up opposing defenses and after Jordan Canzeri went down with an injury, Akrum Wadley — the No. 3 running back — rushed for 204 yards and a school-record four touchdowns. Injuries be damned!

[MORE BIG TEN: Undefeated Hawkeyes up to No. 12 in AP poll]

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

Last week: 2

You really can’t blame Michigan for the final result in Saturday’s game, as it was due to one of the flukiest endings ever. The Wolverines defense is still playing incredibly well after limiting the Spartans to just 58 rushing yards. Michigan still boasts the No. 1 scoring defense in the land, holding opponents to an average of 9.3 points a game. You didn’t know how old-school modern-day college football could get until you saw Michigan play stunning defense and score multiple touchdowns with its full back. The College Football Playoff might be out of the picture after that second loss, but Jim Harbaugh still has Michigan looking great.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans shock Michigan with unbelievable game-winning fumble return]

5. Northwestern Wildcats (5-2, 1-2)

Last week: 4

Northwestern, on the other hand, does not look great after a second consecutive blowout loss. Through five weeks, the Cats’ sensational defense was limiting opponents to seven points a game and the team was No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing. The last two weeks, Northwestern has been outscored, 78-10, and rushed for a combined 89 yards in losses to Michigan and Iowa. The Cats sit fifth in these rankings thanks to the fact that those two losses have come against the current Nos. 12 and 15 teams in the country, and they won games earlier in the season against Stanford and Duke, currently Nos. 10 and 23, respectively. A tough schedule, but Northwestern needs to get things straightened out.

[MORE BIG TEN: After back-to-back blowout losses, what's happened to Northwestern?]

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

Last week: 6

Wisconsin took its turn beating up on Purdue this weekend, rolling to the tune of 24-7. The Badger defense is one of college football’s finest, ranking third in scoring defense (10.9 points a game) and seventh in total defense (272.3 yards per game). Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda should most definitely get head-coaching consideration this offseason. Wisconsin’s only losses have come against the current Nos. 8 and 12 teams, but as good as the defense has been, there isn’t an impressive victory to be found, with the best win of the season being … Nebraska? And that win required a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

[MORE BIG TEN: A slow start, but Badgers' defense powers win over Purdue]

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

Last week: 7

The Lions got thumped on their visit to Columbus, but should a loss to the No. 1 team in the country really earn much admonishment? Ohio State boasts a pretty prolific offense, which powered right past a typically stout Penn State defense. And a good Buckeye defense meant nothing doing for Christian Hackenberg and the Lions’ offense: Hackenberg completed just seven passes. But there was a bright spot in the return of Saquon Barkley, the freshman stud of a running back who missed the previous two games with an injury. Even against the nation’s top-ranked team, Barkley went for 194 yards. The kid is already one of the league’s best backs.

[MORE BIG TEN: J.T. Barrett has four total TDs as Buckeyes rout Penn State]

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

Last week: 9

No game this week for the Illini, but they move up a spot thanks to what everyone else did. Illinois needed this bye week, coming off a loss to Iowa, mostly because there are injury concerns all over the place. Running back Josh Ferguson missed the last game with a shoulder injury, and there’s still no telling when he’ll be back. Geronimo Allison — one of three Big Ten receivers with more than 600 receiving yards — was also battling an injury in the wake of the loss to the Hawkeyes. The Illini need to have those key offensive pieces healthy as a date with Wisconsin looms next.

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

9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2)

Last week: 11

It doesn’t matter how little he's seen the field, there’s no denying that Leonte Carroo is the Big Ten’s best wide receiver. For the third time this season, Carroo caught three touchdown passes in a game, helping Rutgers stage an incredible comeback victory over Indiana in which it erased a 25-point deficit and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. There were a lot of heroes in that game — Robert Martin had four touchdowns, Kemoko Turay came up with a huge scoop and score and Chris Laviano is quietly having one of the best quarterbacking seasons in the conference — but Carroo is an absolute star. Here’s hoping Carroo is at full strength for the next game.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rutgers goes down 25 but uses incredible comeback to beat Hoosiers]

10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-3, 0-3)

Last week: 8

The Hoosiers put on an offensive show, scoring 52 points before the third quarter was even over. Unfortunately, Rutgers stormed back for an incredible comeback win. For Indiana, it was an incredible fall-from-ahead loss. Nate Sudfeld made some critical turnovers that cost the Hoosiers the game, but there’s no doubting how important his return was to a team that struggled to produce points without him. With the starting quarterback back in the lineup, three different Indiana receivers had more than 100 yards and the Hoosiers had 627 yards of offense. But next time, maybe don’t get outscored, 22-0, in the fourth quarter, OK?

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-4, 1-2)

Last week: 12

Finally a dominating win for the Huskers. Boy, did they need a game like Saturday’s 48-25 whomping of Minnesota. Yes, the Nebraska defense again allowed 300 passing yards — this time to Mitch Leidner, not known for his prolific yardage totals — but it clamped down on the Gopher running game, limiting it to just 65 yards on the ground. Tommy Armstrong completed 69.2 percent of his passes, a major improvement over recent weeks, and threw three touchdown passes, while Terrell Newby went for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Nebraska is far from being back on track with four losses to its name, but this was one very positive performance.

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3, 1-2)

Last week: 10

Meaning it was not a good day for the Gophers, who fell back to Earth after smoking Purdue a week before. While Mitch Leidner threw for a career-high 301 yards, he also threw two late interceptions. But it was the running game that let down Minnesota’s again-struggling offense Saturday, amassing just 65 yards. Playing from behind had something to do with the Gophers’ unusual lean toward the passing game, and Shannon Brooks only got eight carries and fumbled on one of them. What’s happened to a once-strong Minnesota defense, though? The Huskers totaled 464 yards of offense.

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

Last week: 14

No game this past week for Maryland, which meant no loss. The upcoming date with Penn State will mark the first game since Randy Edsall was fired as head coach. Things are still bad in College Park — they’d have to be for a head coach to get a midseason axe. But with Purdue looking as bad as it has, the Terps get a one-spot boost in this week’s rankings.

14. Purdue Boilermakers (1-6, 0-3)

Last week: 13

The Boilers were handled again, losing to Wisconsin, 24-7. Purdue really had no chance in this one, despite trailing by just a field goal at halftime. Even with that small deficit at the break, the Badgers had a massive advantage in just about every category. After the break, it was all Wisconsin. Purdue couldn’t even hit 200 total yards on the day and allowed 322 passing yards to Badger quarterback Joel Stave. Purdue ranks 101st in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 32.9 points per game. It’s not the worst mark in the conference, though, that belongs to Indiana.

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.