Big Ten

Colossal late-game TD drive gives Spartans win over Hawkeyes in Big Ten Championship Game

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Colossal late-game TD drive gives Spartans win over Hawkeyes in Big Ten Championship Game

INDIANAPOLIS — After three quarters and not a touchdown to be found, two scores in the fourth quarter made for an exciting finish to Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game.

Iowa scored a touchdown on an 85-yard pass play on the first play of the fourth quarter, taking a 13-9 lead on Michigan State after the teams combined for 15 points on five field goals through three quarters. But the Spartans put together an incredibly lengthy, incredibly gutsy scoring drive late in the game that was capped by a remarkable effort on an LJ Scott touchdown run, stretching across the goal line for a score that proved the game-winner, as Michigan State bested Iowa, 16-13.

With the win, the Spartans not only earned a league title but in all likelihood punched a ticket to the College Football Playoff, where they will compete for a national championship.

Michigan State improved to 12-1 on the season with the victory. What game No. 14 will be remains to be seen. The Spartans will await the word of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which will announce Playoff seeding Sunday.

Iowa, meanwhile, suffered its first defeat of the season, dropping the record to a no-longer-spotless 12-1. The Hawkeyes could still make a New Year’s Six bowl game.

After nothing but field goals, things picked up at the start of the fourth quarter. The period’s first play was a downfield heave by Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, a pass that landed in the hands of a sprinting Tevaun Smith, who ran the rest of the way for the 85-yard score, the longest pass of Beathard’s career, that put Iowa in front, 13-9.

It took until the later stages of the quarter, but the Spartans dug deep to answer. Connor Cook appeared off much of the contest, perhaps bothered by the injury he suffered three weeks ago. Michigan State got the ball on its own 18-yard line with nine and a half minutes to play and engineered a methodical, 22-play march that featured a whole lot of Scott and a couple huge plays by Cook and receiver Aaron Burbridge.

After the Hawkeyes stuffed Scott on third and two from the five-yard line, Cook kept the ball on an option and picked up the first down at the three-yard line. After two more stops with goal to go, Scott stretched across the goal line for the touchdown, capping the 22-play, 82-yard drive that lasted more than nine minutes.

It was one heck of an ending for a team that’s made late-game scores the defining moments of its signature wins this season.

[MORE: Big Ten Championship Game puts program successes of Dantonio, Ferentz on display]

Defense dominated from the start in this one, each defense forcing a turnover early.

On just the third play of the game, Henry Krieger-Coble fumbled — which was determined after a review — to give the ball over to the Spartans at the Hawkeyes’ 27-yard line. Michigan State nearly squandered the opportunity when an offensive pass-interference flag moved it back to the Iowa 42-yard line. But Cook hit Felton Davis III for a 22-yard gain on third and 15, setting up first and goal. Still, the Spartans were forced to settle for a Michael Geiger field goal, giving them a 3-0 lead in a win for the Hawkeyes, who allowed just three points off the turnover.

The next time the Spartans had the ball, they had an equally bad turnover, with an under-pressure Cook throwing an interception right into the arms of Josey Jewell, and the Hawkeyes took over at the Michigan State 20-yard line. On third and six, Beathard took off and made it past the first-down marker to set up first and goal. But, just like the Spartans before them, the Hawkeyes couldn’t get into the end zone in three tries, and Marshall Koehn’s field goal tied the game at three, this time giving a win to the Spartans.

Iowa reached the red zone at the outset of the second quarter and faced a fourth and four from the 20. Kirk Ferentz decided to go for it, causing a Mark Dantonio timeout. Ferentz still went for it after the timeout, except the Hawkeyes were flagged for a false start. Koehn kicked and made his second field goal of the game, putting Iowa in front, 6-3.

Michigan State got inside the Iowa 30-yard line, but Cook took a sack on a third down for a loss of five yards, setting up a tricky 52-yard field-goal try for Geiger, who was barely wide left on the attempt.

After Beathard displayed some terrific elusiveness and got the Hawkeyes all the way to the five-yard line, a third-down pass to the end zone bounced out of the hands of George Kittle, off the shoulder of linebacker Riley Bullough and into the hands of Demetrious Cox for an interception. It was a remarkably wild play that kept the Hawkeyes from grabbing all the momentum with a score and gave the ball back to the Spartans, bailing out a Michigan State defense that was carved up for 60 yards.

The Spartans couldn’t turn the turnover into anything, punting back to the Hawkeyes. Shilique Calhoun nearly turned the game around with a sack of Beathard, which forced a fumble, but Iowa recovered. Michigan State got the ball back with half a minute till halftime, and Cook got the Spartans downfield enough for another 52-yard field-goal attempt. But Geiger missed that one, too, hitting the crossbar and keeping Michigan State down three heading into the break.

After a few uneventful series to start the second half, Michigan State took over at its own 42-yard line and went down the field, finally finding some success running the ball. Scott accounted for 30 yards on the drive, but again up close, the Spartans couldn’t get into the end zone, Cook’s pass on third down from the 11-yard line going way over the head of Macgarrett Kings Jr. Geiger kicked another field goal, this one from 29 yards out, to tie the game at 6.

Given good field position once more, the Spartans made it downfield on a 15-yard pass from Cook to Burbridge and a 12-yard London run. But a big offensive pass-interference penalty wiped out a first down, and once more Michigan State settled for a field-goal attempt. Geiger hit his third of the game from 46 yards out to give the Spartans a 9-6 lead.

Then came the fourth-quarter scores and Michigan State’s Big Ten championship.

The Spartans finished with 365 yards of offense, the Hawkeyes with 268.

Cook finished 16-of-32 for 191 yards, while Beathard was 18-for-26 for 216 yards and a touchdown. Scott was the game’s leading rusher with 73 yards on 22 carries.

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.