Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Preseason projections and All-Big Ten teams

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Big Ten preview: Preseason projections and All-Big Ten teams

College football begins this week, a wonderful thing to finally get to say.

CSNChicago.com has been previewing the 2015 season throughout the month of August, but now it's prediction time.

How will the season pan out for Big Ten teams? Well, while it's really impossible to see the future or predict it, it's worth a shot, right? When it turns out I got it wrong, I'll go back and make sure Marty McFly's parents get together, and hopefully that will set everything right.

Here are my projected Big Ten standings:

Big Ten East

1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 12-0 (8-0)

A no-brainer. Ohio State is the first unanimous No. 1 in the history of the AP preseason poll. The Buckeyes are one of the more-hyped defending champions in recent memory, and it's because they're loaded at every spot on the field. They've got a preseason Heisman contender in running back Ezekiel Elliott, two top-flight quarterbacks in J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, arguably the best offensive line in the country, studs at linebacker and safety and the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in defensive end Joey Bosa. Oh, and the best coach in America in Urban Meyer. The schedule-makers did us all a favor and put Michigan State near the end of Ohio State's schedule, setting up a potential de facto CFP play-in game between two potentially undefeated super teams on Nov. 21. But the Buckeyes look like too much of a juggernaut right now, and an undefeated finish, a win in the Big Ten Championship Game, a return trip to the Playoff and a second straight national title — fairly or unfairly — are not all just possibilities, they're expectations.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Can anyone stop the Buckeyes on road to repeat?]

2. Michigan State Spartans, 11-1 (7-1)

For as great as Ohio State is, Michigan State is right there. The Spartans have earned the right to be called one of the true contenders for the College Football Playoff this season after finishing in the top five nationally in each of the past two years and coming off back-to-back wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl. Quarterback Connor Cook is among the tops in the nation, the O-line is one of college football's best and defensive end Shilique Calhoun could finally take home Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors after posting two remarkable seasons in 2013 and 2014. But there are question marks, including an inexperienced running game and how Michigan State will overcome a season-ending injury to linebacker Ed Davis. But if Mark Dantonio has taught us anything, it's that double-digit wins should be expected from this bunch. The Spartans will be favored in a high-profile Week 2 game against Oregon n East Lansing. Win that, and it could set up a de facto CFP play-in game on Nov. 21 against Ohio State. While the Spartans might not be able to take down the Buckeyes in Columbus, they might get another chance — a one-loss Michigan State team would figure to have a very good chance of still reaching the Playoff.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Spartans have earned status as national-title contenders]

3. Penn State Nittany Lions, 9-3 (5-3)

The Nittany Lions had one of the best defenses in America last season and should have another quality unit this season. Where things need to get better is one the offensive side of the ball, where hyped quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw more interceptions than touchdowns and a sieve-like O-line had its quarterback constantly under pressure and was part of the reason the Lions' run game was practically non-existent. All signs point to Hackenberg being better, as it's a mission at Penn State to keep the guy who was sacked 44 times last season upright. He's got a terrific target in DaeSean Hamilton, and running back Akeel Lynch is working to make that run game a lot better. Thanks to a pretty easy start to the schedule — Temple, Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana — Penn State could quite realistically be 6-0 before its Oct. 17 trip to Ohio State, and while no one's expecting the Lions to take down the Buckeyes, they came closer than anyone else (save Virginia Tech) last season. But the games against tougher opponents will hinge on that offense and whether it can overcome the myriad troubles it had last season. Games against teams with particularly stingy defenses — Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and even Northwestern — will provide Penn State with many challenges.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Can Penn State compete with big boys in Big Ten East?]

4. Michigan Wolverines, 7-5 (3-5)

Seven wins is a conservative pick in the first year of the Jim Harbaugh Era because we don't really know which way things will go. It's possible Harbaugh can get these guys to flip a switch and find something they didn't have for the past two seasons. This is an extremely talented crop of running backs that has yet to produce behind a shaky O-line, and both Jake Rudock and Shane Morris have yet to prove they're capable of leading a powerful, explosive offense. Michigan's defense was among the nation's finest a season ago, and that could keep the Wolverines in a lot of games this fall. A couple teams from the Beehive State, Utah and BYU, could provide non-conference hurdles, but a strong start is certainly possible with the Harbaugh buzz still cranked up to 11. Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and even Northwestern have defenses capable of shutting down the Michigan offense, should it still not jell under Harbaugh. But if @CoachJim4UM shows up with a vastly different and more productive offensive unit than we've seen, then look out Big Ten.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Will Jim Harbaugh buzz equal wins for Michigan in 2015?]

T-5. Indiana Hoosiers, 5-7 (2-6)

Getting Nate Sudfeld back under center is huge for this team. His injury last year took the Hoosiers from the Big Ten's top passing team in 2013 to its worst in 2014. If Sudfeld can return with even just most of the same electricity he brought to the Indiana offense two years ago, then the Hoosiers will find themselves in a lot more games than perhaps their bottom-of-the-barrel status in the conference would indicate. Add in UAB transfer Jordan Howard at running back, and Kevin Wilson could have another explosive offense on his hands. And though the final two games are on the road, they come against Maryland and Purdue and provide the opportunity for a couple of season-ending wins against teams that won't be able to defend an offense in high gear. Of course, the problem for Indiana, as it has been, will be stopping opponents, and so high-powered offenses will likely run right past the Hoosiers, hence the six Big Ten losses.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Will Nate Sudfeld return Hoosiers to 2013 passing numbers?]

T-5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 6-6 (2-6)

There are a lot of things about Rutgers that should have Scarlet Knights fans excited. Running back Paul James is back from the injury that derailed his promising 2014 season, and the entire running back corps is deep and solid. Leonte Carroo is probably the conference's best wide receiver and will provide one heck of a set of training wheels for new quarterback Hayden Rettig, should it be Rettig once Chris Laviano's suspension ends during halftime of the season-opener. Darius Hamilton is a stud on the defensive side of the ball, and you just know Rutgers is going to block a bunch of kicks. But the problem is the schedule. Not only does Rutgers play in the Big Ten East — meaning Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan are going to appear every season — but like last year, the opponents from the Big Ten West are Wisconsin and Nebraska. Those four games are tough ones to win for the Knights, even though they did beat Michigan last season and probably should've beat Penn State. When the schedule is that daunting, it's hard to build momentum. Rutgers has a little after winning its bowl game last season, and there could be four more wins in the non-conference slate. But the Big Ten gauntlet doesn't appear to allow much wiggle room for the Knights.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Is Rutgers' Leonte Carroo the Big Ten's best wide receiver?]

7. Maryland Terrapins, 2-10 (0-8)

Sorry, Terps. The things that worked on offense for the Terps last season are gone. Maryland lost its four top receivers and another top target this offseason, as well as its long-time starting quarterback C.J. Brown. With a running back that didn't have much going on last season, things could be grim on that side of the ball in 2015. Perry Hills was a surprise winner of the team's quarterback battle this month. He has some experience. But it's hard to spot where production will come from. Will Likely is a terrific return man and defensive back, and he'll surely make an impact. But a return man and defensive back can only do so much. Throw in tough non-conference games against Bowling Green and West Virginia, plus the rigors of the Big Ten East gauntlet, and it's also hard to see where the wins will come from for this team.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Kicking machine Brad Craddock is Terps' greatest asset]

Big Ten West

1. Wisconsin Badgers, 11-1 (8-0)

The Badgers probably won't be as good as they were a season ago, but that might not matter in the Big Ten West. Don't judge Wisconsin by what you see Week 1 because new head coach Paul Chryst is transitioning this program while losing All-America running back Melvin Gordon and trying to cobble together an offensive line plagued by injuries this August. And oh yeah, Wisconsin's Week 1 opponent is Alabama. So it could be a very problematic season-opener on Saturday night. That being said, the Badgers have a terrific replacement for Gordon in Corey Clement, return defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and several big-time playmakers form last season's top-of-the-line defense and have a very experienced quarterback in Joel Stave. Those things will all work in their favor when the schedule lightens: Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii round out the non-conference schedule, and even with its issues, Wisconsin shouldn't be afraid of Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers or Maryland on the Big Ten slate. So the games to circle are Oct. 10 at Nebraska, Nov. 21 vs. Northwestern and Nov. 28 at Minnesota. None of those teams have all-world offenses, meaning Wisconsin's D should be able to stop them, allowing just enough wiggle room for its own questionable offense to sneak through. The regular-season finale against Minnesota could be another Big Ten title game play-in. Just tell me: How is Mitch Leidner going to beat this Wisconsin defense?

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Paul Chryst seems like a Badgers coach who's here to stay]

2. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 9-3 (6-2)

Jerry Kill's continued ascendance up the Big Ten should continue behind a solid defense this season, but there are just too many mysteries on the offensive side of the ball for it to be a Playoff-caliber season in Minnesota. A tough schedule is partially to blame, as the Gophers must face both the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country, Ohio State and TCU. But Mitch Leidner has yet to prove himself a quarterback capable of consistent production and reliability, and the offense's two biggest weapons, running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, are now playing on Sundays. The Minnesota secondary is the conference's best and could be one of the tops in the nation, and the Gophers' defense in general should make up quite a bit for its continued lack of offense in many of this team's games. But when Ohio State, TCU and Wisconsin come knocking, there will be no room for the offense to remain unproductive. Kill's doing great things — and Big Ten West opponents should keep the wins coming — but without knowing if the offense is going to be able to get in the end zone against quality competition, it's hard to predict the Gophers will reach the next level.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: To reach next level, Gophers need to beat Badgers]

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

There's a new coach in town in Mike Riley, who takes over for Bo Pelini. Pelini was fired after not winning the games that mattered, though he still managed to win an awful lot of football games in his seven seasons. Will Riley win the games Pelini couldn't? BYU and Miami are tough non-conference tests to start the Riley Era, an era that begins without star running back Ameer Abdullah, who's off to the NFL. Tommy Armstrong looked like a quarterback ready to take the next step, but he's now running a brand-new offense and is without Abdullah and top target Kenny Bell. Jordan Westerkamp should still provide some fireworks — and maybe another Westercatch — but the Huskers will be without star return man De'Mornay Pierson-El for at least a month. It's a lot to put on Armstrong's shoulders. But mostly, a Nebraska defense that has been lackluster the past two seasons needs to improve. Games against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State won't be easy, particularly if Armstrong is shut down by those defenses.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Can Mike Riley do what Bo Pelini couldn't with Huskers?]

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

Northwestern should have a great defense that will keep it in a lot of ballgames. But staying in ballgames has never been a problem for the Cats. Finishing them off has been. A talented defense could help with that. The secondary should be particularly good with experienced players Nick VanHoose, Traveon Henry and Matt harris taking the lead. Anthony Walker has reportedly improved his play and leadership after an impressive freshman season. Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry are anchors on the D-line. But what of the offense? Clayton Thorson is a redshirt freshman and will see his first collegiate action against a perennially tough Stanford team. The O-line had tons of question marks a season ago. Christian Jones is coming back form an injury as the team's top receiver. Thank goodness, then, for Justin Jackson, who was terrific as a true freshman running back last season. With the legion of legendary Big Ten backs that moved on to the NFL, there's no reason Jackson can't be one of the conference's best in 2015. Team success will depend on whether that offense can get things together in a hurry. The schedule is stacked with the likes of Stanford, Duke, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin, and while many of those games are winnable, will the offense be able to get things done? That's the question. That and will Northwestern be able to avoid the usual college football craziness that always seems to bite them.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: How can Northwestern return to winning ways?]

5. Iowa Hawkeyes, 8-4 (4-4)

It doesn't look like Iowa will be able to escape its perennial mediocrity, and that's because the team is pretty mediocre. C.J. Beathard taking over as the full-time starting quarterback will be the season's biggest storyline, but he's one of the surer things for this group. There are a couple huge holes to fill on the offensive line, the running game is a mystery and there's a lot of uncertainty on defense. With a schedule that features games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern, where does the production come for the Hawkeyes against those quality defenses? And while the offenses at all four of those programs don't strike a whole bunch of fear at the moment, how Iowa will stop them isa perfectly valid question. Thankfully the non-conference schedule brings winnable games against Illinois State, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and North Texas, and Indiana, Maryland, Purdue and Illinois will see games where Iowa is favored. But while the program needs excitement, it's difficult to find any on this schedule.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Can Hawkeyes escape rut of mediocrity?]

6. Illinois Fighting Illini, 4-8 (1-7)

The Illini were thrown into turmoil a week before the season-opener with the firing of Tim Beckman. It's forced interim head coach Bill Cubit and the team into the rare and unenviable position of having to quickly pick up the pieces and get ready for the season. Wes Lunt should be better now that he's healthy and has another year of experience under his belt. Unfortunately for him, though, his top wide receiver, Mike Dudek, could miss the whole season after tearing his ACL in the spring. There are other targets for Lunt, and against weaker competition, he should have no trouble finding them. But as talented as Josh Ferguson is, the Illinois running game hasn't taken off in recent seasons, and the Illini defense still remains one of college football's worst, particularly at stopping the run. That's problematic in the Big Ten. Injuries have also ravaged the Illini's depth this summer. There's not a lot working in Illinois' favor heading into 2015, though there are winnable games against Kent State, Western Illinois, North Carolina, Middle Tennessee State, Iowa and Purdue. And don't forget that last season the Illini beat Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern en route to a bowl appearance. While things are gloomy in the wake of Beckman's firing and the schedule doesn't seem to allow for too many wins, a fresh start sans Beckman, a good leader in Cubit and a positive season from Lunt could end with a couple more surprises.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Does Wes Lunt still have something to prove for Illini?]

7. Purdue Boilermakers, 1-11 (0-8)

Another year, another grim outlook for the Boilermakers. Purdue has only won one Big Ten game in two seasons under Darrell Hazell, and it's hard to see where the second will come from in Year 3. Austin Appleby won the team's quarterback competition this month, though the trend of the past two seasons has had Purdue starting quarterbacks losing their jobs midway through the year. The team's pair of lightning-quick running backs are gone, leading one to wonder if the offense has any explosive capabilities at all. The defense was one of the Big Ten's worst a season ago. Plus, it's going to be hard to establish any kind of in-conference momentum with the schedule the Boilers have been handed: They open the conference slate with games against Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Ouch. A four-game finish of Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana could help Purdue climb out of the basement, but at this point it looks doubtful.

[BIG TEN PREVIEW: Can Purdue get out of the Big Ten's basement?]

Preseason All-Big Ten Teams

First Team

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

RB: Corey Clement, Wisconsin

WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers

WR: Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

TE: Jake Butt, Michigan

OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State

OT: Jack Conklin, Michigan State

C: Jack Allen, Michigan State

OG: Dan Feeney, Indiana

OG: Pat Elflein, Ohio State

 

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State

DT: Maliek Collins, Nebraska

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State

LB: Josh Perry, Ohio State

LB: Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

CB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota

CB: Eric Murray, Minnesota

S: Tyvis Powell, Ohio State

S: Vonn Bell, Ohio State

 

K: Brad Craddock, Maryland

P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota

RS: De’Morany Pierson-El, Nebraska

 

Second Team

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State

RB: Justin Jackson, Northwestern

RB: Paul James, Rutgers

WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State

WR: Michael Thomas, Ohio State

TE: Nick Vannett, Ohio State

OT: Justin Spriggs, Indiana

OT: Keith Lumpkin, Rutgers

C: Dan Voltz, Wisconsin

OG: Josh Campion, Minnesota

OG: Kyle Kalis, Michigan

 

DE: Drew Ott, Iowa

DE: Kemoko Turay, Rutgers

DT: Austin Johnson, Penn State

DT: Darius Hamilton, Rutgers

LB: Joe Bolden, Michigan

LB: Mason Monheim, Illinois

LB: Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland

CB: Will Likely, Maryland

CB: Nick VanHoose, Northwestern

S: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

S: Jordan Lucas, Penn State

 

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin

P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State

RS: V’Angelo Bentley, Illinois

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.