Big Ten

Week 1 Big Ten previews: Let the games begin

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Week 1 Big Ten previews: Let the games begin

Happy days are here again.

College football is back, everyone. Thursday night, the 2015 campaign gets underway, and just an hour or so into the football season, the Big Ten slate starts up in earnest, with Michigan traveling to play Utah and Minnesota hosting TCU.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

And it means that you’re going to need to get prepped on this weekend’s Big Ten action. And make no mistake, it is a weekend-long event, with multiple games Thursday, Friday and, of course, Saturday and one game apiece on Sunday and Monday.

Things get started with the debut of Jim Harbaugh as the new head man at Michigan. And there’s no better finale than the defending-champion Buckeyes seeking revenge at Virginia Tech.

CSNChicago.com has everything covered, too, with live coverage from Northwestern’s season-opener against Stanford in Evanston and everything else you need to know from Week 1. Be sure to follow @CSNBigTen if you’re not already for links to all posts and updates throughout the weekend.

Got it? Good. Without further ado, your Week 1 Big Ten previews. And as always, all times are Central.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Preseason projections and All-Big Ten teams]

Michigan at Utah, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Fox Sports 1

Harbaugh’s debut will dominate the headlines as it has for the past … well, it’s seemed like an eternity that we’ve been talking about Harbaugh coming to Michigan. Fox even has dressed a giant bus up as the former Michigan quarterback to promote this game. As far as this game goes, Michigan has a good defense. As for the offense? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. We likely won’t know who’s starting at quarterback until the Michigan offense takes the field, and the offensive line is still a pretty sizable question mark after its poor play over the past two seasons. The Wolverines have a stacked running back corps, but will it succeed on a consistent basis? Another mystery. Michigan has had the talent in the past few seasons, it just hasn’t played up to its quality. Harbaugh could be the guy to fix all that. The defense will need to have a big day, which it’s certainly capable of doing, against running back Devontae Booker and fourth-year starting quarterback Travis Wilson. Maybe I’m buying into the hype, but while Michigan has all the same players it’s had over the past two underachieving seasons, Harbaugh has inserted freshness and excitement, enough of it for a perhaps surprising Week 1 win.

My pick: Jim Harbaugh and his BFF walrus

[MORE BIG TEN: Michigan depth chart: De'Veon Smith starting RB, still no starting QB]

No. 2 TCU at Minnesota, 8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN

The Golden Gophers are a good football team and one that has won a bunch of games over the past two seasons. But they’ve got a couple gigantic tests in front of them this season, playing both the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 teams. No. 2 TCU is up first, and if what happened last season in Fort Worth is any indication, things won’t be easy for Minnesota, which was soundly defeated — blown out, really — 30-7. That was a different season and a different team, of course, but the Gophers are faced with a lot of the same problems from years past that have kept them from a division title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. Most notably, those issues are on offense, where even big-time playmakers David Cobb and Maxx Williams couldn’t make Minnesota a point-producing machine. Those two guys are gone now, placing a lot of pressure on the shoulders of quarterback Mitch Leidner, who has yet to really consistently impress since assuming the starting job. The Gophers do have one of the country’s finest secondaries, which will hopefully stem the tide of plays being made by preseason Heisman favorite Trevone Boykin. But while the Gophers still try to figure out things on the offensive side of the ball in Year 4 of the Jerry Kill Era, the Horned Frogs — the Big 12 favorites and favorites for a spot in the College Football Playoff — will likely prove too much.

My pick: URBAN-REPELLING SUPERFROG!!!

[MORE BIG TEN: Fitz surrounded by cats highlights hilarious new BTN ads]

No. 5 Michigan State at Western Michigan, 6 p.m. Friday, ESPN U

While Western Michigan is one of the better MAC teams, finishing 8-5 last season under rising coaching superstar P.J. Fleck, Michigan State’s biggest test will be not looking past the Broncos ahead of a Week 2 showdown with Oregon. But first comes Western Michigan. This one is expected to be over in a hurry as Connor Cook leads the Spartans high-powered offense. In three non-conference games last season against Jacksonville State, Eastern Michigan and Wyoming, Michigan State scored a total of 174 points. Friday should provide an opportunity to check out the new starters, including redshirt freshman No. 1 running back Madre London, who’s tasked with replacing Jeremy Langford.

My pick: Italian accordion-playing Tom Izzo

[MORE BIG TEN: Vayante Copeland, Spartans tasked with filling holes in secondary]

Kent State at Illinois, 8 p.m. Friday, Big Ten Network

It’s been utter chaos in Champaign after Illinois fired head coach Tim Beckman a week before the season-opener. The move is one that certainly illustrates the unfortunate state of the program but also one that has detrimental effects on the football team. Getting rid of Beckman, per the details of the investigation released by athletics director Mike Thomas, was the right thing to do. But the timing can’t be easy for the players and remaining coaches. Thankfully for the Illini, the season-opening opponent is one they should be able to beat, regardless of the effect Beckman’s dismissal will have. Opponents the same caliber of Kent State allowed quarterback Wes Lunt to shine during last season’s non-conference schedule, and Lunt needs to be big this season if the Illini are going to surprise and make a run at a second straight bowl game. Illinois has plenty of issues and plenty of injuries, but it can worry about that down the road. Kent State should provide a great opportunity for a season-opening win.

My pick: The Galloping Ghost

[MORE BIG TEN: Bill Cubit hoping to inspire a much-needed rally for Illini]

No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN

There’s a chance for a marquee victory right out of the gate with No. 21 Stanford coming to Evanston on Saturday. Northwestern has a defense full of playmakers, with a very strong secondary, two stalwarts at defensive end and a promising young linebacker in Anthony Walker. On the offensive side of the ball, Justin Jackson has the ability to be one of the Big Ten’s best running backs, and new quarterback Clayton Thorson takes over the job with a lot of hype. But for all the positives, Stanford presents some real challenges. The Cardinal typically boast one of the strongest defenses in the country, and this season should be no different. That could make life really hard for Thorson in his first career game. Plus, as good as the Wildcats’ defense is, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan is a fourth-year starter and knows how to pick defenses apart. While Northwestern provides plenty of reason for optimism and belief in a successful 2015, Stanford might just be too much to handle right off the bat.

My pick: “The Trees” by Rush

[MORE BIG TEN: Calm, cool, collected: Clayton Thorson ready to lead Cats]

Illinois State at Iowa, 11 a.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network

This is a trickier opener than it might seem for the Hawkeyes, who are looking to avoid the close calls that plagued them during last year’s non-conference schedule. Iowa beat Northern Iowa by eight, Ball State by four and Pitt by four and lost to Iowa State by three. And though Illinois State is an FCS foe, the Redbirds are one of the FCS’ best, playing in last year’s FCS national championship game. Illinois State dominated its competition last year, holding opponents to just barely 120 rush yards a game. But as good as Illinois State was last season, it did play exclusively FCS teams. C.J. Beathard seemed the right choice at quarterback for Iowa as Jake Rudock — now at Michigan — couldn’t get the offense really humming last season. The Hawkeyes are far from a well-oiled machine, but they should at least be able to squeak out a home win to open the season.

My pick: Kirk Ferentz in a giant bird’s nest

[MORE BIG TEN: New faces take over for Hawkeyes' inconsistent run game]

Richmond at Maryland, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN U

There’s not too much to be excited about in College Park this season, which could perhaps be the reason why #BeatRichmond is a thing. Can’t imagine too many tweeters will be throwing that hashtag around. With a couple tricky non-conference games against Bowling Green and West Virginia, this opener against an FCS foe should allow the Terps a moment of glory. And it will be our first chance to see the new and improved Perry Hills, who surprisingly won this offseason’s quarterback competition. Maybe Brad Craddock will hit a 75-yard field goal or something.

My pick: #BeatRichmond

[MORE BIG TEN: Jihad Ward listed as probable for Illini season-opener]

Norfolk State at Rutgers, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPNEWS

Rutgers is a stone-cold mess heading into the season-opener. Head coach Kyle Flood is being investigated for potentially violating university rules by contacting a professor regarding the academic eligibility of one of players. Five Scarlet Knights, including wide receiver Leonte Carroo and quarterback Chris Laviano, are suspended for the first half for disciplinary reasons. Defensive lineman Darius Hamilton, perhaps the team’s best defensive player, is out with an injury. And on top of all that, the starting quarterback competition has yet to be 100-percent resolved, as Hayden Rettig will start with Laviano suspended but Flood saying it’ll be a halftime decision as to who starts from there. Thankfully for Rutgers, the Week 1 opponent is Norfolk State.

My pick: BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!

[MORE BIG TEN: Suspensions, injury, QB decision and investigation have Rutgers in chaos for Week 1]

Penn State at Temple, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN

In the matchup between these two teams last year, Penn State had an outlier of a day running the ball, amassing a whopping 254 yards on the ground, an oddity for a team that rarely got its rushing attack going in 2014. A similar day would obviously be a very good thing to kick off 2015, as it would provide a confidence boost out of the gate for running back Akeel Lynch and a much-maligned offensive line. The Penn State defense was also sensational in that game — as it was much of last season — limiting Temple to just 61 rushing yards. But Christian Hackenberg had a day to forget, completing just 12 passes for 112 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, this game should draw an awful lot of Nittany Lion fans, creating a homey atmosphere.

My pick: Anthony Zettel nearly killing someone

[MORE BIG TEN: Nathan Scheelhaase to become Illini's RB coach]

BYU at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC

This one will come down to the Nebraska defense and whether it can stop Taysom Hill, BYU’s all-purpose king of a quarterback. Sure, the Huskers have plenty of intriguing aspects on the offensive side of the ball, like how good Tommy Armstrong looks in the new offense and how the running game will fare without Ameer Abdullah. But the defense’s ability — or inability — to stop Hill will be the determining factor. With a couple of players missing due to suspensions and injuries and an offense in its first game under Mike Riley, the Cougars could be a much bigger test than the Huskers bargained for. But Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp should be able to come up with a couple well-timed big plays.

My pick: Remember this guy?

[MORE BIG TEN: Back to the MAC? Speculating who could be next Illini coach]

Southern Illinois at Indiana, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPNEWS

Two seasons ago, a healthy Nate Sudfeld led one of the Big Ten’s best, most explosive offenses. Last season, with Sudfeld injured, the Hoosiers couldn’t keep their passing numbers at the same level. Well, Sudfeld is back, and the challenge is to be explosive all over again. Against Southern Illinois, that shouldn’t be a problem. Sudfeld has a new weapon, too, in UAB transfer running back Jordan Howard, who should run all over this SIU defense and make himself look like a reincarnated Tevin Coleman. (Tevin Coleman is not dead, FYI, just on the Atlanta Falcons.) The Hoosiers’ biggest task this season should again be stopping anyone in any possible fashion, and the defense might again struggle with that. But not against the Salukis.

My pick: John Cougar

[MORE BIG TEN: With Beckman fired, what does future hold for Illini AD Mike Thomas?]

No. 20 Wisconsin at No. 3 Alabama, 7 p.m. Saturday, ABC

Back-to-back season-openers against the SEC’s best are good opportunities for Wisconsin to get into the College Football Playoff conversation early. But, of course, a win is necessary to do that. Last year, things started well against LSU before the Badgers fell apart in the second half. Things might not get that far this time against No. 3 Alabama. Wisconsin is likely going to have another successful season, but with a lot of question marks along the offensive line and in the wide receiving corps, the Tide’s strong defense might keep the Badgers’ offense in check. Wisconsin has a very good defense that could certainly keep this one low-scoring. But unless Corey Clement has an overly amazing debut as starter behind a beat-up O-line, the No. 3 Tide should, well, roll.

My pick: Nick-Saban-riding-an-elephant wedding cake

[MORE BIG TEN: Inexperience, injuries make Badgers O-line a question mark vs. Alabama]

Purdue at Marshall, 2 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1

Rakeem Cato might be gone, but Marshall is still kind of a tough opening-game opponent for a Purdue team that has yet to show it’s capable of consistently winning football games. Austin Appleby will be at quarterback for the Boilermakers, and you have to wonder how long this season’s quarterback leash is after midstream changes at the position the past two seasons. Appleby needs to take care of the ball against the Thunder Herd to hold off backup David Blough, as the No. 1 threw more picks than touchdowns last season. If this game was in West Lafayette, it’d be one thing, but a road game against a defending conference champ isn’t what Purdue Pete ordered.

My pick: Matthew McConaughey

 

[MORE BIG TEN: Urban Meyer's ETA on Buckeyes QB announcement: 'When the first guy takes the snap']

No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. Monday, ESPN

Football coaches and players always, without a doubt, downplay the idea of revenge. But with Urban Meyer returning a startling number of players from last season’s national championship team, if you think revenge won’t be on the Buckeyes’ mind when they run into the only team to beat them last season, you’ve got to be crazy. Virginia Tech prevented a perfect campaign last season for Ohio State, and that was mostly Ohio State’s fault, with a yet-to-jell O-line allowing J.T. Barrett — in his second career game — to be sacked seven times. Everything’s changed for the Buckeyes since then, and they’re the heavy favorites to repeat as national champs. With months to prepare for the Hokies, the Buckeyes should be more ready than ever. There’s drama to be found in the quarterback situation and whether it will be Barrett or Cardale Jones under center. There’s slight intrigue with Joey Bosa suspended. There’s wondering if Ezekiel Elliott can keep his 200-yard game streak going. But when it comes to the outcome, there are far too many reasons for the Buckeyes to be beyond focused and execute to perfection.

My pick: The trophy

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.