Big Ten

Penn State's big finish: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

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USA TODAY

Penn State's big finish: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

Anyone else still emotionally recovering from Saturday night's Penn State-Iowa game?

That ending was one for the ages, a signature win if not on the resume at least in memory for the Nittany Lions, who went into Kinnick — where highly ranked teams haven't fared too well recently — and miraculously pulled out a last-second victory.

Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley are the conference's stars of stars after that effort, and Iowa still managed to impress, even in defeat.

Of course there's plenty of Lions and Hawkeyes in the 10 big things from the weekend in Big Ten football.

1. McSorley magic

What. A. Finish.

You couldn’t have scripted a more entertaining final few minutes in Penn State’s incredible win over Iowa. The Hawkeyes blocked a field goal, then went 80 yards in three plays for a touchdown in less than a minute, only for Trace McSorley to lead the Nittany Lions right down the field and throw a game-winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. Amazing.

McSorley was the star of that final drive, completing seven passes for 68 yards and of course that insane final play, when he threaded a pass past three defenders and another one of his receivers before connecting with Juwan Johnnson. Those plays are the stuff legends are made of, and McSorley is becoming that kind of player in a hurry in Happy Valley.

The guy was by no means perfect Saturday, 31-for-48 for 284 yards, that touchdown and an interception. But is there any quarterback in the conference you’d rather give the ball to than McSorley? Of course it helps when you’ve got … 

2. Super Saquon

There is no better player in college football than Saquon Barkley. Period.

The Penn State running back is a freak of nature, he’s an unstoppable force that is impossible for opposing defenses to contain. Saturday night in Iowa City, when the Iowa defense actually did a decent job on the whole, allowing just one touchdown before the game-winner as time expired, Barkley racked up a jaw-dropping 358 all-purpose yards: 211 rushing yards on 28 carries, 94 receiving yards on 12 catches and 53 kick-return yards on three returns.

He’s impossible to tackle, weaving and bruising his way through defenses — and that’s without mentioning that the guy hurdles someone once a week!

Barkley has to be the Heisman favorite right now, up there with Big 12 quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. He’s racked up 853 rushing and receiving yards in just four games. He’s also just a thrill to watch.

Penn State didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch on Saturday. But they have two of the best players in the Big Ten, and because of it they could be in for a very special season.

3. Michigan’s dominating defense

It’s quite apparent that the Michigan offense is not very good. But the Michigan defense, on the other hand, is very, very good.

Watching the Wolverines try to score points against Purdue on Saturday was a challenge, even if they found some more success after Wilton Speight was injured and replaced by John O’Korn. But the defense is a completely different story, and it looks as if that side of the ball could allow Michigan to win any game for the remainder of the season.

Michigan allowed just 10 second-half yards to Purdue on Saturday. Think about that!

While you knew because of Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting success that a reload would be possible, it’s still kind of shocking that the unit is this good despite having to replace 10 starters from a year ago.

Michigan’s offense might not be inspiring any confidence in a run at a title, but the defense sure should be.

4. Impressive in defeat

Iowa’s defense looked a lot better than the final statistics indicated Saturday night against Penn State. The Hawkeyes allowed 579 total yards, so says the box score, but their defense played well enough to keep the Lions to one touchdown before that game-winner at the very end. Josey Jewell also picked off Trace McSorley and recovered a McSorley fumble, continuing his fantastic start to the season.

On the other side of the ball, Nathan Stanley threw two more touchdown passes and didn’t throw a pick. Akrum Wadley had 155 rushing/receiving yards and two total touchdowns, both coming in the fourth quarter. Iowa's doing work on offense this season, which is something I didn't think I'd be saying two months ago.

So, no the Hawkeyes didn’t win, and they lost in a pretty brutal fashion. But they still look like an impressive team to me, one that if it can hang with the typically explosive top-five team that is Penn State can hang with just about anyone else in the Big Ten.

5. Nebraska responds

The football-related turmoil ain’t going away any time soon for the Huskers, who saw their athletics director fired last week, the casualty after the team’s embarrassing home loss to Northern Illinois.

But this weekend’s win over Rutgers served as a bit of a bounce back, even if beating Rutgers by 10 isn’t the kind of thing that’ll turn down the heat on Mike Riley. This was no dominating performance against the Big Ten’s worst program, but it was a win nonetheless to move Nebraska from 1-2 to 2-2. And a win is what this program needed after back-to-back losses and the firing of Shawn Eichorst.

As mentioned, Riley’s job is nowhere near “safe,” and it’s hard to see some sort of epic midseason turnaround with the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State still on the schedule — plus losable games against plenty of other conference foes. Who knows what the magic number is to make a determination one way or the other on Riley?

6. Buckeyes back?

If only Ohio State could play Army and UNLV every week, right?

The Buckeyes sure had a great day of practice, if nothing else, in a 54-21 romp of UNLV. The offense that caused so much consternation after the season’s first two weeks was a well-oiled machine, with touchdown passes going to seven different guys, a Big Ten record. J.T. Barrett threw five of those scoring passes, and backup Dwayne Haskins threw two more, actually throwing for more yards than Barrett.

Ohio State could find its season back on track in a hurry with three games coming against Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska before a Halloween-weekend showdown with Penn State in Columbus that could determine the Big Ten East.

7. Not a big boy quite yet

Purdue’s gonna have to wait to rule the Big Ten, completely stifled in the second half of its loss to Michigan. As unpleasant as the Wolverines’ offense was to watch on Saturday, the Boilers’ wasn’t any better. Of course, that has a lot to do with the Michigan defense, which held the Purdue offense to just 10 yards after halftime, as you might’ve read in some other section of this very post.

Give Purdue props for winning at halftime and maintaining its status as “much better than last year.” The thought that the Boilers might’ve given Michigan a go will carry over into games against Minnesota, Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois and Northwestern. And maybe we see Purdue rack up some more wins than we’re used to seeing.

8. Knocked off the pedestal

Unfortunately Maryland’s reign as one of the kings of the Big Ten East is over.

The Terps were hammered in a 38-10 home loss to UCF, a Group of Five team that could be the real deal in 2017. Maryland lost another quarterback to injury, Kasim Hill, meaning it was going at it with the third guy on the depth chart, less than ideal. But the Terps’ rushing attack was also bottled up pretty well by the Knights, accumulating only 42 yards on the day.

9. Sparty smashed

You might not guess it looking at the numbers, but Michigan State was crushed in a home loss to Notre Dame.

Brian Lewerke had a monster day, throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 56 yards. Sparty racked up nearly 500 yards of offense. But Michigan State also turned the ball over three times, all three leading directly to first-half touchdowns.

10. Give Goldy the ball!

Did you see Goldy Gopher truck a kid during a mascot football game? No? Well here it is.

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.