Big Ten

Eight Big Ten thoughts at the conclusion of the NFL Draft

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USA TODAY

Eight Big Ten thoughts at the conclusion of the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is over and done with, and while a flurry of undrafted free agent signings are announced, here's a look at eight Big Ten takeaways from this year's selection bonanza.

1. Michigan has an awful lot to replace

It was a great few days for Jim Harbaugh's team as he watched a program-record 11 players get selected in this draft. But in sending so many players to the pros, it's an unnerving signal for the upcoming campaign, in which Michigan will have replace a whole host of talent. That includes the majority of what was one of the best defenses in college football last season. Four members of the Wolverines' 2016 secondary, three defensive linemen and one linebacker were chosen in the draft, as were three pass-catchers (two receivers and a tight end). A high number of players picked obviously shows how strong Michigan's program is, and it shouldn't be a surprise to see them reload again — just like Ohio State did this past season after last year's draft exodus — but it's a lot of work to do for Harbaugh & Co.

2. Should be a big year for Penn State

The flip side of what happened to Michigan is what happened to Penn State. The Nittany Lions, the reigning Big Ten champs, had just one player picked in seven rounds: wide receiver Chris Godwin. It's a good indication of why James Franklin's team is going into the 2017 as one of the favorites to win the national championship. Not hearing many names called this weekend means those names are all in Happy Valley, ready to work toward what could be an even better campaign than last year's 11-win stunner. Running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki and a host of others could be in this position a year from now. But the lack of Nittany Lions mentioned this weekend means you'll hear a whole lot about them this fall.

3. Ohio State is DBU

The first three Big Ten products off the board in Thursday night's first round were Ohio State defensive backs. Even as injuries and off-the-field issues raised some red flags, these three guys were the best Big Ten players from wire to wire in the leadup to the draft. Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley are going to go make a ton of money after brief college careers. The first two of those three were just one-year starters in Columbus. That speaks to the defensive back factory Urban Meyer has going at Ohio State. Eli Apple was a top-10 pick a season ago, and Vonn Bell was a second-round pick. The year prior, it was Doran Grant getting picked, and Bradley Roby and Christian Bryant were selected in 2014. The Buckeyes might not have the No. 1 defense each and every season, but it's a good bet that offenses will be going up against future pros every single down.

4. Illinois is DLU

While Illinois isn't the type of program Ohio State is by a long shot, it does have an incredible track record when it comes to sending defensive linemen to the NFL Draft. Dawuane Smoot was a third-round pick this year, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 68. He was the sixth Illini D-lineman taken in the draft since 2011, joining Corey Liuget, Whitney Mercilus, Akeem Spence, Michael Buchanan and Jihad Ward. Four of those guys, Smoot included, are defensive ends. And Carroll Phillips, another pass-rushing defensive linemen, was expected to be drafted this year but ended up an undrafted free agent. The Illini haven't found wins easy to come by in recent seasons, but they have a terrific track record of NFL guys to sell to recruits, something that should carry even more weight coming from Lovie Smith.

5. Interesting future for bowl games

Michigan tight end Jake Butt made some of the biggest headlines this weekend after he fell to the fifth round. Butt was one of the best tight ends in college football the past couple seasons but suffered a serious leg injury in the Orange Bowl. An insurance policy means Butt will get more than half a million dollars after his fall down the board, but it ties into the bigger question of the future of stars playing in bowl games. Star running backs Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette were first-round picks this weekend, and both sat out their bowl games back in the winter. Michigan played in a high-profile Orange Bowl, but even that game had significantly less juice after the Wolverines were left out of the College Football Playoff. It seems to show that future NFL stars could start sitting out of non-Playoff bowl games en masse. But we'll see how things play out.

6. Where was Austin Carr?

There were plenty of head-scratchers this weekend, but how on Earth did the Northwestern wideout not get selected? Carr is a former walk-on and might not have the size and/or flash of your prototypical NFL receiver, but there were few pass-catchers in all of college football better than Carr last season. The Big Ten's Wide Receiver of the Year, he hauled in 84 passes for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the conference in all three categories and getting named one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, honoring the best receiver in the country. Carr ended up signing with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent — a somewhat predictable landing spot considering he looked like a stereotypical Tom Brady target all along — but you have to imagine his future is bright enough that he should have warranted a draft pick.

7. Is there a quarterback in the house?

Just one Big Ten quarterback was drafted this year, and it was Iowa signal-caller C.J. Beathard, who in his most recent game threw three interceptions in a 30-3 Outback Bowl loss. It's now been 22 years since a Big Ten quarterback was drafted in the first round — Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995 — and we have to start to wonder if the conference is ever going to boast a quarterback good enough to be someone's first-round, franchise choice. Looking ahead to next season, the pickings remain slim. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is the least pro-style quarterback you might be able to think of. Northwestern's Clayton Thorson has the style, but will he be good enough or even want to leave school with a season of eligibility remaining? Penn State's Trace McSorley made a lot of big plays last season, but is he NFL material yet? And pretty much every other Big Ten team needs to figure out who's even going to play quarterback before assessing an NFL future.

8. Draft lays out Big Ten power structure

The two Big Ten schools with the most players picked this weekend? Michigan and Ohio State. The two Big Ten schools with no players picked this weekend? Maryland and Rutgers. And the rest of the conference falls in line much like you'd expect. The NFL Draft effectively laid out the Big Ten's power structure in glaring fashion, with the dominant programs obvious and the weak ones obvious. Multiple selections for the likes of Michigan State and Wisconsin. Just one selection for the likes of Illinois and Purdue. There were some irregularities. As mentioned, Penn State only heard one name called. Same for Nebraska. But if you want to know the healthiest Big Ten programs, look at which ones had multiple draft picks this weekend. It also shows the uphill climb facing newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.

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.