Big Ten

Top-five showdown between Ohio State and Oklahoma highlights Week 2 Big Ten previews and picks

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USA TODAY

Top-five showdown between Ohio State and Oklahoma highlights Week 2 Big Ten previews and picks

Ohio State. Oklahoma. Bring it on.

Last year's matchup in Norman ended in one of the Buckeyes' signature wins of the season. Coupled with the win over Michigan in the regualr-season finale, this game propelled Ohio State to the Playoff despite its lack of a conference championship. So the stakes are obviously high.

This time around it's a battle between two top-five teams, the second such game nationally in as many weeks. You've got to love that.

Ohio State had a shaky start against Indiana before figuring things out and running away in a second-half blowout win. Oklahoma pounded UTEP. So expect some points.

Who's going to win? My pick for that game and my picks for every other one of this weekend's contests featuring a Big Ten team are below. Read on and get ready for Week 2.

Friday, Sept. 8

Ohio at Purdue, 7 p.m., FS1

You’ve got to like the Boilers’ chances against this MAC opponent after what they showed in the season-opener against Louisville, holding a fourth-quarter lead on a top-20 team. But turnovers told the story of that game, for better and worse, with Purdue benefitting from a trio of Louisville fumbles and sealing its own fate with a trio of interceptions from the quarterbacking tandem of David Blough and Elijah Sindelar. Again, you’ve got to like the Boilers’ chances this week, but they’ve got to stop throwing so many interceptions.

The pick: Purdue

Saturday, Sept. 9

Cincinnati at No. 8 Michigan, 11 a.m., ABC

I’ll say it again: No Big Ten team looked better than Michigan in Week 1. The defensive performance was incredible considering the 10 new starters on that side of the ball. Yeah, Florida has been notoriously inept on offense in recent seasons, but I don’t think that should take away from what this reloaded group of Wolverines did. Former Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell is now helming Cincinnati, but the Bearcats only scored 26 points against and had just a six-point fourth-quarter lead on Austin Peay last week, so expect another big day for Jim Harbaugh’s boys.

The pick: Michigan

Florida Atlantic at No. 9 Wisconsin, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Lane Kiffin’s Owls will have more important things on their minds than football considering the hurricane hitting down in Florida. This game will be played in Madison, and after the Badgers ran off 59 unanswered after a shaky first half against Utah State, you’d figure that more of the same is coming. The Bradrick Shaw-Jonathan Taylor combo at running back is, as the kids say, fire.

The pick: Wisconsin

Northwestern at Duke, 11 a.m., ESPN U

I’d be mighty worried if I were Northwestern after both its own performance in the season-opener and the 60 points Duke dropped in its first win of the season. While the Cats’ 1-2 punch of Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson looked as good as ever, personnel changes didn’t prevent carry-over woes from seasons past such as missed field goals, dropped passes and the inability to cash in on some scoring chances. Northwestern was favored to beat Nevada by more than three touchdowns. Instead, they need two touchdowns in the final five and a half minutes to turn a three-point deficit into an 11-point margin of victory. And did I mention Duke dropped 60? Interesting note, though, Northwestern has beaten the Dukies in each of the past two seasons, including a 2015 trip to Durham.

The pick: Duke

Iowa at Iowa State, 11 a.m., ESPN 2

The last two meetings between the in-state rivals have been blowout wins for the Hawkeyes. But it was the Cyclones that took three of the previous four, with some ugly performances by Kirk Ferentz’s team in there. Anyone remember the 9-6 loss? Yuck. But Iowa showed a lot in its season-opening win over Wyoming, completely embarrassing Josh Allen, the Cowboys’ quarterback who’s getting hyped as a potential No. 1 draft pick. The Iowa defense destroyed him and his mates, keeping them out of the end zone completely. Iowa State dropped 42 in its season-opening win over Northern Iowa. But that Iowa defense though!

The pick: Iowa

Towson at Maryland, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

The Terps are riding incredibly high after that 51-point performance in the upset win at Texas. That result and the performance of Kasim Hill are helping to ease the blow of losing starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome for the season to a torn ACL. Hill wasn’t asked to do too much vs. the Horns, but he showed some flashes of brilliance. Getting his first full game in against Towson certainly helps.

The pick: Maryland

Pittsburgh at No. 4 Penn State, 2:30 p.m., ABC

This in-state rivalry is suddenly alive and kicking after last year’s instant classic, a 42-39 loss for the Nittany Lions. But Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley are a year older and already have the Penn State offense humming after last weekend’s beatdown of Akron. While Pat Narduzzi certainly has the ability to pull off another upset — his Panthers beat both Big Ten champ Penn State and eventual national champ Clemson last season — Pitt blew a 21-0 lead last weekend, needing overtime to beat FCS foe Youngstown State.

The pick: Penn State

Indiana at Virginia, 2:30 p.m., ESPN U

The Hoos have been one of college football’s worst Power Five programs for a very long time now, with just one bowl appearance since 2008. They went just 2-10 last season in Bronco Mendenhall’s first year coaching the team. That bodes well for an Indiana team on the rise. Despite getting run away from in the second half of last weekend’s season-opening loss to Ohio State, much of that game served as a demonstration of what the Hoosiers can do. Simmie Cobbs and the rest of the Indiana receiving corps made quarterback Richard Lagow look amazing, while the defense held the Buckeyes at bay for more than a half.

The pick: Indiana

Western Michigan at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Mark Dantonio’s team got an easy win in the season-opener, something that’s been a rarity over the last calendar year. Even last season’s Week 1 win against Furman came by just 15 points. But Sparty gets an immediate — if perhaps unexpected — test now against a Western Michigan team that gave USC everything it could handle last weekend. The Broncos, who figured to be far less fearsome without P.J. Fleck rowing the boat, were within four points of the Trojans in the game’s final five minutes. Things fell apart in the fourth quarter, USC scoring 28 points, but Western Michigan should still scare Michigan State, which had three turnovers against Bowling Green.

The pick: Western Michigan

Eastern Michigan at Rutgers, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

It’s been a while since praising Rutgers was en vogue, but that was a nice showing against a high-powered Washington team in the season-opener. The Knights didn’t get the win, but the defense looked great, limiting a team that went to last season’s Playoff to very pedestrian numbers. Rutgers will be favored against Eastern Michigan, a team that was actually well improved last year, winning seven games after totaling seven in the previous four seasons.

The pick: Rutgers

Nebraska at Oregon, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Take Oregon’s Week 1 pounding of Southern Utah with a grain of salt because, you know, it was Southern Utah. But the Ducks put up some Chip Kelly Era style numbers in that win, scoring 77 points and going over 700 yards of total offense. That ought to spook the heck out of the Huskers, who had a shaky defensive performance against Arkansas State in their Week 1 win, allowing 36 points and nearly 500 yards of offense. Nebraska can take pride in running back Tre Bryant, who rushed for 192 yards. But that defense would seem to be cruising for a bruising.

The pick: Oregon

No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., ABC

I don’t expect a repeat of the 2016 edition of this highly anticipated non-conference matchup, when Ohio State went off down in Norman and crushed Oklahoma. But that’s not to say it’s not possible. As great as the Sooners looked last weekend — Baker Mayfield was 19-for-20 for 329 yards and three touchdowns — the Buckeyes showed plenty in pulling away from Indiana with a huge second half. There might still be question marks about the Ohio State offense, and they’d be deserved. But those questions existed much of last season only for the Buckeyes to put up big numbers — just like they did in the season-opener.

The pick: Ohio State

Western Kentucky at Illinois, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

A win is a win, but the Illini did not look good in their season-opening victory over Ball State. The offense was mostly stuck in the mud — save some bright spots from Mike Dudek and Mike Epstein — and the defense was thoroughly marched on by Ball State. Western Kentucky no longer has Jeff Brohm at the helm, though it is coming off a conference-championship season. The Hilltoppers played and beat an FCS opponent in their first game, so it’s hard to say what they’ll do Saturday night. But the Illini will have to be better if they want to win, it would figure.

The pick: Western Kentucky

Minnesota at Oregon State, 9 p.m., FS1

P.J. Fleck’s first dip of the oars into the water didn’t look great, just a 17-7 win over Buffalo, but it was a victory nonetheless. The good news is that Week 2 opponent Oregon State is not very good. The Beavers appeared to have turned a corner by ending last season with surprising wins against Arizona and Oregon. But they got beat up bad in their first game of this season by Colorado State and narrowly edged FCS foe Portland State last weekend, bringing former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen’s record at Oregon State to a gross 7-19. Maybe the Fightin’ Flecks figure things out this time.

The pick: Minnesota

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.