Big Ten

Week 12 Big Ten previews: Buckeyes, Spartans in game we've been waiting for

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Week 12 Big Ten previews: Buckeyes, Spartans in game we've been waiting for

Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for.

No. 3 Ohio State hosts No. 9 Michigan State this weekend in the most anticipated game on the Big Ten schedule.

The Spartans' loss to Nebraska a few weeks back prevented this from being the most colossal of showdowns, but the stakes are still incredibly high, with both teams' Big Ten East title hopes, Big Ten title hopes and College Football Playoff hopes on the line.

A Michigan State win means all the Spartans have to do is beat Penn State in the regular-season finale, and they're into the Big Ten title game. An Ohio State win means all the Buckeyes have to do is beat Michigan in the regular-season finale, and they're into the Big Ten title game.

The schedule has done good, providing us with the most meaningful games here at season's end.

So let the fun begin.

Here's a look this weekend's games. All games on Saturday. All times Central.

Rutgers at Army, 11 a.m., CBS Sports Network

Nothing says late-season drama like a Big Ten team visiting Army, right? The battle between 3-7 Rutgers and 2-8 Army has little intrigue, especially with so many better games on the conference slate this weekend. But, to be fair, this game should be nice respite for the Knights, who have lost their last four — against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska — by a combined 183-47 score. Yeesh. With two wins in the final two games, Rutgers would reach 5-7, which is about what was expected in the preseason.

The pick: Rutgers

[MORE BIG TEN: Three Big Ten teams in top 10 in College Football Playoff rankings]

Purdue at No. 5 Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN 2

The Hawkeyes need just one win to officially punch their ticket to the Big Ten title game, and the Boilermakers provide a nice opportunity to do just that. This one will likely come down each team’s running capabilities (or lack thereof). Iowa has the Big Ten’s second-deadliest rushing attack, averaging 211.7 rushing yards per game, while Purdue’s rush defense is the conference’s worst, allowing 209.6 yards per game. Likewise, the Boilers have the league’s worst rush offense, gaining just 128.9 yards per game, while the Hawkeyes tout the league’s third-best run D, letting up just 104.6 a game. Bottom line: It’ll probably be a big day for the Iowa backs — again.

While this is expected to be a runaway for the Hawkeyes, it might need to be to keep them in the top five of the rankings. Sure, they allowed 35 points to Minnesota and only won by five last weekend and retained the No. 5 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. But with undefeated Oklahoma State playing some real impressive competition the next two weeks in the Big 12, Iowa really beating up on Purdue and Nebraska could hold off the Cowboys’ charge.

The pick: Iowa

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

The Hoosiers are in desperation mode over the season’s final two weeks, needing two wins to reach bowl eligibility. That looked like a near certainty after a 4-0 start that seemed to set up Indiana nicely for a run at its first bowl appearance since 2007 and just second since 1993. But that abysmal Hoosier defense has struck again, and Indiana is on a six-game losing streak. Two remaining games against Big Ten-worst Maryland and Purdue give the Hoosiers chances, but will a defense that’s allowing 511.7 total yards a game be able to buckle down long enough — or win a couple shootouts — to get to the postseason?

The Terps, meanwhile, have lost seven games in a row, so one of these long losing streaks is going to end. Maryland has been bad on both sides of the ball, so Indiana should be expected to again light up the scoreboard, but the Terps can also expect to have potentially their best offensive day of the year. That’s just how games with Indiana roll. Some good news for Maryland’s pick-happy quarterbacks? Indiana’s seven interceptions are tied for the Big Ten’s fewest. Some not so good news? Two of those have been returned for touchdowns.

The pick: Indiana

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' Connor Cook: 'I'm going to be ready to go' vs. Buckeyes]

Illinois at Minnesota, 11 a.m., ESPNEWS

The Illini need just one more win to reach a bowl game, but the offense just isn’t functioning properly at this point in the season. Bill Cubit has pointed to a ton of injuries on that side of the ball, and there have been a bunch. But a bigger contributor to an offense that seems to roll over and die the majority of games has been the defenses it’s played against. Illinois has lost four of its last five games, those four defenses being four of the top 15 teams in total defense in the country: Wisconsin (third), Ohio State (ninth), Penn State (13th) and Iowa (15th). Against Purdue, things were entirely different.

Minnesota’s defense isn’t elite like those mentioned above, but it’s still pretty good, ranking 31st in the country. It’s about the same as Illinois’ defense, which has also been good, ranking 36th in the FBS in total defense. Both these teams have had their offensive struggles this season, but the bad news for the Illini is that their struggles have come recently. The Gophers have proven quite capable on offense in recent weeks, scoring 35 points last week against Iowa and turning in respectable performances against Ohio State and MIchigan before that.

The pick: Minnesota

No. 12 Michigan at Penn State, 11 a.m., ABC

Michigan’s defense still ranks second in the country, allowing 268.7 total yards a game, but it’s not turning in the incredibly dominant performances it was earlier in the season. The Wolverines gave up a total of 14 points during a five-game winning streak. Then came the fluky ending against Michigan State, a game in which Michigan gave up 27 points, and that was followed by opposing point totals of 26, 16 and 41. That last one is probably an outlier against that ridiculous Indiana offense. The Wolverines could definitely get back to dominance this weekend, as Penn State ranks 12th in the conference in total offense.

The key will be whether Penn State can stop Michigan’s suddenly quite prolific offense. Against two bad defenses in Rutgers and Indiana, the Wolverines combined to score 97 points. Jake Rudock threw six touchdown passes last weekend alone. The Lions’ defense is a different animal, for sure, but the Wolverines have done a pretty good job scoring all season, scoring at least 28 points in all but two games, their two losses. Penn State’s offense just hasn’t been reliable on a week-to-week basis, particularly when going up against good defenses.

Plus, Michigan needs a win to stay alive in the Big Ten East race, a division crown possible with a win and an Ohio State win over Michigan State, setting up a division title game the following weekend between the Wolverines and Buckeyes.

The pick: Michigan

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Buckeyes gear right here]

No. 20 Northwestern at No. 25 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

With Iowa undefeated, only unexpected college-football madness would end in the Hawkeyes not winning the Big Ten West title. So that means this matchup of two ranked teams is for a shot at a 10-win regular season and a more glamorous bowl game. Both the Wildcats and Badgers sit at 8-2, and while two more wins for Wisconsin would mean the seventh double-digit win season in the last 11, two more wins for Northwestern would mean just the fourth double-digit win season in program history.

Both teams boast elite defenses, with Wisconsin ranking third in the country in total defense and Northwestern ranking 18th. The Cats excel at running the ball, and Justin Jackson has gone over 100 yards in each of the last two games after a three-game slump. But, of course, the Badgers are great at stopping opposing rushing attacks. Wisconsin, behind Joel Stave, is perhaps somewhat surprisingly adept at throwing the ball, boasting the fourth-best pass offense in the Big Ten. Northwestern, though, has an excellent secondary and strong pass defense.

So something’s got to give, right? Or it will just be a lot of punting and someone will score a defensive touchdown to win.

The pick: Wisconsin

No. 9 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State, 2:30 p.m., ABC

It’s time to see if the Big Ten’s game of the year can live up to the hype. Last season, as good as the Spartans were, the Buckeyes still won fairly easily. This season, Ohio State returns most of the same players who engineered that victory, plus the scene shifts to Columbus, plus Michigan State is not playing anywhere near as well as it did last year, at least not on a consistent basis.

Connor Cook’s shoulder injury might be fine, if you believe the quarterback and his head coach, but even with Cook, the conference’s best QB, at full strength, it’s going to be tough to do much against one of the nation’s top 10 passing defenses. The Buckeyes’ strong secondary ranks eighth in the FBS, allowing just 171.6 passing yards per game. Cook is obviously an experienced and winning quarterback, averaging 248.2 passing yards per game, and he did have success against Michigan, which ranks higher than Ohio State does in passing defense.

The difference will probably be on the other side of the ball, where J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott carved up the Spartans’ defense a season ago. That defense isn’t playing nearly up to the level it has in past seasons, injuries and inexperience taking their toll. Michigan State ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, 11th in pass defense. Though Michigan State is better at stopping the run, Elliott is running wild on a weekly basis, averaging 142.5 rushing yards a game and scoring 16 touchdowns this season. Barrett has accounted for multiple touchdowns in each of the last four games he’s played in.

The stakes are as high as they can be. If Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes remain undefeated and likely will play Michigan for a trip to the Big Ten title game the following weekend. If Michigan State wins, the Spartans will just need a win over Penn State in the regular-season finale to lock up a Big Ten title game appearance.

The pick: Ohio State

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.