Big Ten

Crisis in Columbus? Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

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USA TODAY

Crisis in Columbus? Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

Things aren't going so hot in Columbus right now.

The Buckeyes were beaten by Oklahoma over the weekend in a highly anticipated matchup that did not at all go Ohio State's way.

The offense is stuck in the mud. The defense is getting thrown all over. What's Urban Meyer going to do?

Read all about the Buckeyes' woes and everything else that happened with these 10 big things from the weekend in the Big Ten.

1. Ohio State ain’t dead … but boy are they ailing

Saturday’s most-anticipated game turned into a real clunker for the Buckeyes, who were blasted by Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners. Mayfield looked like a Heisman winner carving up the Ohio State pass defense, which believe it or not is statistically college football’s worst.

But the greater share of attention will go to the Buckeyes’ offense, which looked ghastly against the Sooners, only reaching the end zone once. J.T. Barrett looks a far cry from his redshirt freshman season, when he was breaking records and running a well-oiled machine of an offense. That’s nowhere near the case through the first two weeks of this season, and he continues to look out of sync with his receivers, who certainly deserve as much blame as he does for this mess. Urban Meyer said he’s going “fix the damn thing” and even fielded questions about making a potential quarterback change — his answer, unsurprisingly, was a short “no.”

Of course, none of this means Ohio State has been eliminated from Playoff contention. The Buckeyes could still run the table in the Big Ten and wind up back in the final four. But the confidence level is dropping like crazy as this team has played uninspiring football for six of the eight quarters in this 2017 season.

The Buckeyes aren’t out of this by a long shot. But panic is starting to set in, and it looks, at the moment, somewhat justified.

2. The greatest battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy of all-time!

Has there ever been a more entertaining rivalry game between Iowa and Iowa State? A quick look at the rivalry history digs up a triple-overtime win for the Cyclones way back in … 2011. But still, Saturday’s battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was electric.

And it made a star out of new Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley, who became the first Iowa quarterback with more than 300 passing yards and five touchdowns in 30 years. Stanley was terrific in the overtime victory, and the rest of Iowa offense shone along with him. Receivers Matt VandeBerg and Ihmir Smith-Marsette made remarkable diving catches in the end zone. And Akrum Wadley was sensational, rushing and receiving for 190 total yards and two touchdowns, the more spectacular of which was the play of the game: a 46-yard catch and scamper in the final 90 seconds in which he broke three tackles and dragged a fourth would-be tackler into the end zone.

The Hawkeyes haven’t played the greatest competition in the world through the season’s first two weeks, but they’ve definitely exceeded expectations, first silencing Wyoming’s star quarterback, Josh Allen, and now scoring 44 points and winning a shootout with a quarterback starting just his second game. Crank up that Victory Polka!

3. Jonathan Taylor Touchdowns

Wisconsin has another star running back. Ho hum.

While it’s no shock that the Badgers would keep their running back factory humming at top speed, you can’t help but be wowed by the latest highlight-reel ball-carrier up in Madison. Meet freshman Jonathan Taylor, who has already been given a JTT-style nickname: Jonathan Taylor Touchdowns. In Saturday’s win over Florida Atlantic, he racked up an astonishing 223 yards and scored three touchdowns (hence the nickname).

But it wasn’t just the numbers. Watch the touchdown runs:

Impressive, right?

Wisconsin’s running back legacy is absolutely incredible, and of course it goes hand in hand with a great tradition along the offensive line. There’s no reason that should be any different in 2017, and, per usual, there’s depth, too. Chris James also had a 100-yard day as the No. 2 running back. And that’s with Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal out with injuries. Never change, Wisconsin.

4. Penn State has no problem with Pitt

Last year’s rivalry bout between Penn State and Pitt was an instant classic — and a loss that might have been the reason the Nittany Lions couldn’t get a spot in the Playoff. This year? No such trouble. The Penn State defense had a great afternoon and made sure it was an easy day for James Franklin’s team in a 33-14 win.

The number weren’t as huge as we’ve come to expect on the offensive side of the ball. Saquon Barkley didn’t hit 100 yards rushing (he was at 123 overall if you throw in his receiving yards), and Trace McSorley threw three touchdowns but only passed for 164 yards and threw an interception. The reason? Well, two of the team’s four touchdown drives were less than 10 seconds in length. McSorley is a home-run hitter, after all.

But the defense was the star of the show, keeping Pitt to just 14 points despite the fact that the Panthers had the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. The Lions took the ball away three times. After Michigan’s somewhat shaky day at the office Saturday and Ohio State’s loss, it looks like Penn State — right this second — is the king of the Big Ten hill after a pair of easy wins.

5. Feature back emerges for Michigan?

Watching Michigan’s win over Cincinnati and reading the box score from Michigan’s win over Cincinnati were two dramatically different experiences this weekend. As a viewer, it sure seemed like the Wolverines didn’t look too dominant against a team that barely beat Austin Peay the week prior. As a reader, the Wolverines had more than double the yards, came away with two interceptions and had a balanced offensive attack.

Regardless, the one story both digestions of this game told is that there might be a feature back emerging from the committee of carriers in the Michigan backfield: Ty Isaac. The Chicagoland area native and USC transfer, Isaac has looked great in the first two games of the season, and he really broke out Saturday, carrying the ball 20 times for 133 yards. There are obviously an abundance of options on the depth chart, as Jim Harbaugh showed last season. But Isaac got a heavy workload Saturday, perhaps a signal that Harbaugh & Co. have picked out a true feature back.

6. Maryland is invincible!

The Terps lost their starting quarterback in Week 1. But that didn’t stop them at all from following up their 51-point performance at Texas with a 63-point blowout of Towson, bringing the grand total to 114 points through eight quarters of football. Any room at the top of the Big Ten East for the Fightin’ Turtles?

Kasim Hill was great in his first collegiate start, completing 13 of his 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and that D.J. Moore fellow is pretty good, too, catching seven passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. But as they were last season, the Terps are about that ground game and they showed it Saturday. Maryland churned out 367 rushing yards, with Ty Johnson’s 124 yards and two scores leading the way.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s Towson. Who cares?” But look how improved this Maryland team, look how capable it is compared to just two years ago when Randy Edsall was fired in the middle of that gross 3-9 season. DJ Durkin doing work.

7. Cats crushed

Ohio State had a high-profile loss and didn’t look good doing it, but there were worse days in the Big Ten. One of them belonged to Northwestern, which was absolutely dominated down in Durham in a 41-17 pounding at the hands of Duke. The Dukies have put up more than 100 points through the first two weeks of the season and are perhaps better than the experts think. But this was a disastrous day for the Cats, who are banged-up on defense, a partial explanation for Duke quarterback Daniel Jones cutting them up all day long.

But what’s going on with this offense? The 1-2 punch of Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson helped overcome a bad-looking day in the Week 1 win over Nevada, but they didn’t do much of anything against Duke. Jackson was supposedly also a little dinged up, as Pat Fitzgerald explained after the game. He had to be real bothered to only get seven carries and rush for just 18 yards. Northwestern as a team had just 22 rushing yards! And Thorson wasn’t much better, throwing two interceptions compared to zero touchdowns.

The high hopes of the preseason seem like a long time ago at this point, as the Cats have turned in two underwhelming performances to kick off what was supposed to be a season in which they could compete for a Big Ten West title. It sure doesn’t look that way right now.

8. Does anyone in Nebraska want to play defense?

The revamped defense under new coordinator Bob Diaco is off to an awful start for the Huskers. After allowing 36 points in Week 1’s home win over Arkansas State, Nebraska was run out of Eugene, the Oregon Ducks dropping 42 points and racking up 566 total yards.

That needs to come with the qualifier, of course, that the Ducks didn’t score a point after halftime and spent the second half turning the ball over and missing a field goal. But this game was well over by the half, when Oregon led 42-14 and was doing absolutely anything it wanted against this Nebraska defense. The first half featured the Huskers surrendering touchdowns on six of eight drives including each of the final three. Tanner Lee’s pair of first-half interceptions surely didn’t help.

But man this transition is going anything but smoothly, with Diaco’s defense demolished in each of the season’s first two weeks. You wonder how much of that will be blamed on Mike Riley, who had to revisit the demons of Autzen Stadium from his days at Oregon State. And if the blame is laid at Riley’s feet, how much longer before the patience runs out in Lincoln?

9. Illini look much better

Things went much better for Lovie Smith’s group in Week 2 than they did in Week 1, when the Illini somewhat miraculously pulled out a comeback win to beat Ball State. Against pass-happy Western Kentucky, Illinois' defense looked much better, shutting down the Hilltoppers and taking advantage of turnovers. After getting consistently marched on by Ball State, the Illinois defense allowed just two third-down conversions to Western Kentucky and had a pick six.

The offense still left a bit to be desired, scoring just one touchdown and barely reaching triple digits in passing yardage. But Mike Dudek had more catches in this one, and Mike Epstein continues to be the season’s bright spot. The freshman once more got the bulk of the carries, rushing 21 times for 111 yards.

10. All aboard the Purdue train!

Following up that strong performance against Louisville in the season-opener, Purdue was excellent in Week 2, crushing Ohio. David Blough and Elijah Sindelar teamed up to throw four touchdowns, and Tario Fuller broke out as a ball-carrier, rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown. All in all, the Boilers racked up 558 total yards.

Now, no, Ohio is no powerhouse. But that’s now two great efforts in as many weeks for a Purdue team that hasn’t been able to do that in some time.

And the rest!

— Do we have a quarterback competition on our hands in Indiana? The Hoosiers used Peyton Ramsey an awful lot in the win over Virginia, and he delivered with three total touchdowns.

— Michigan State beat Western Michigan, a good sign considering the points the Broncos produced a week earlier at USC. Sparty’s D came to play, holding Western under 200 yards.

— Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers. A week after a great showing against a top-10 Washington team, the Knights lost to Eastern Michigan, giving that program its first-ever win over a Power Five team. Smh.

— There’s that boat-rowing we were promised! P.J. Fleck’s boys broke out the oars and rowed right through Oregon State, beating that lowly program by five touchdowns.

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.