Big Ten

Week 13 Big Ten previews: Spartans into title game with win

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Week 13 Big Ten previews: Spartans into title game with win

Despite Michigan State’s big win last weekend, things aren’t quite determined yet in the Big Ten East.

The Spartans have to win this weekend against Penn State to clinch the division crown and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. If they don’t, the new No. 5 team in the College Football Playoff rankings won’t be competing for a conference title. That pleasure would instead go to the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game.

Iowa, meanwhile, already has a spot in the Big Ten title game, but the Hawkeyes need to win Friday against Nebraska if they want to stay on track for a spot in the Playoff. Because a one-loss Iowa team might have a pretty difficult time making the final four.

Enough drama for you? It ought to be a fun final week of the regular season.

Here’s a look at this weekend’s games. All games Saturday except Iowa-Nebraska, which comes Friday afternoon. All times still Central.

No. 4 Iowa at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Friday, ABC

The Hawkeyes haven’t lost yet, and they surely don’t intend to lose now with so much on the line. Yeah, Iowa already has a spot in the Big Ten title game clinched. But if it wants to stay in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff, it really can’t lose a game. So the stakes are in fact quite high in the regular-season finale.

The Hawkeyes should definitely be wary of the Huskers, who have already ended one Big Ten team’s undefeated season and won two in a row after suffering that embarrassing defeat against Purdue. Nebraska needs a win to get bowl eligible, but this game comes against a team that’s maybe impressed more than any other in the conference.

This game could actually be a pretty high-scoring affair, these two teams ranking in the top four in the conference in scoring offense, averaging more than 33 points a game. But there’s a distinct advantage in Iowa’s 16th-ranked-nationally defense. Nebraska ranks 81st.

The pick: Iowa

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes up to No. 4, Spartans up to No. 5 in Playoff rankings]

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 10 Michigan, 11 a.m., ABC

The first edition of The Game featuring Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh as opposing head coaches pits two top-10 teams against one another. Now, Michigan State will have to lose in order for the stakes to get really interesting — a spot in the Big Ten title game would be on the line if the Spartans go down. But this game’s played before that one, so it’ll just have to be a good, old-fashioned Ohio State-Michigan rivalry game with New Year’s Six bowl implications.

The Buckeyes failed last week in their first big test of the year, looking horrendous offensively in gaining just 132 yards against a Michigan State defense that has been exploited numerous times this season. Ezekiel Elliott’s small workload didn’t help, as one of the best backs in the country gained just 33 yards on the ground.

The Wolverines should have liked what they saw, as their conference-best defense could easily shut the Buckeyes down the same way the Spartans did. Michigan’s still allowing an average of just 263.1 yards per game, second in the country, and doing a tremendous job stopping the run.

The pick: Michigan

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten title game could serve as College Football Playoff play-in game]

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

The Bucket game actually has some real meaning this season, as Indiana needs a win to reach a bowl game. The Hoosiers started 4-0 but lost their next six games. They got one of the requisite wins last week in a comeback demolition of Maryland. They need another Saturday to make the program’s first bowl since 2007 and just the second since 1994.

One thing’s nearly guaranteed: Purdue’s defense will not be able to handle Indiana’s offense. The Hoosiers have had great success against the likes of Michigan and Ohio State this season, and the bottom-feeding Boilers won’t be able to slow down what those teams couldn’t. Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard are good bets for big days.

But, there’s another near guarantee: Indiana’s defense won’t be able to stop much, either. The Hoosiers have a habit of making even the most inept offenses look all-world, turning every game into a wild shootout. Indiana’s offense is significantly better than Purdue’s, but the Boilers have a 55-point game under their belts this season.

The pick: Indiana

[MORE BIG TEN: Tight finishes finally going Northwestern's way with 10 wins in sight]

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

There’s really nothing to get excited about in this game. Maryland will be playing its final game of the Mike Locksley Era. Rutgers could be playing its final game of the Kyle Flood Era. Neither team can capture bowl eligibility, and the only thing in question is whether the Terps can avoid going winless in Big Ten play.

The Knights can finish with a 5-7 record with a win, and that wouldn’t be too far off from what was projected in the preseason. Leonte Carroo will be playing in his final game at Rutgers, and despite missing four games and catching just 32 passes this season, he’s the conference leader in touchdown catches. He’ll go for double digits in that department Saturday.

Can Maryland’s quarterbacks avoid throwing 30 interceptions this season? They’re already at 28, and they’ll finish with the national lead in that category unless UCF or Hawaii throws eight picks this weekend.

Like I said, not a game to get super excited about.

The pick: Rutgers

[MORE BIG TEN: Report: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a 'strong candidate' for Terps' head-coaching job]

Penn State at No. 5 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m., ESPN

This is a big one for Michigan State, as it has the inside track to the Big Ten title game. Win this weekend, and the Spartans are in. Win that one, and it’s off to the College Football Playoff. But it starts with a win over the Lions this weekend, something that won’t be too easy, and a loss means no shot at a conference title or a Playoff spot.

What Michigan State team will we see? Will it be the one that played expert defensively last weekend in a win over Ohio State, holding the talent-packed Buckeyes to just 132 yards? Or will it be the one that was shredded for nearly 500 yards by Nebraska? Penn State has its playmakers, but if the Spartans’ defense can do what it did last week, then the ticket to the title game is as good as punched. If not, this could be the biggest drop yet in Michigan State’s roller-coaster season.

Penn State definitely has the capability to earn a win here, but success against good defenses hasn’t been easy. The Lions were snuffed out by Michigan and Ohio State. So a lot will depend on the type of game Michigan State’s defense turns in. But Christian Hackenberg and especially Saquon Barkley can definitely make things happen. Barkley is just 96 yards away from a 1,000-yard freshman year.

The pick: Michigan State

[MORE BIG TEN: Connor Cook looks to again be a game-time decision for Spartans]

Wisconsin at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

The Gophers’ offense has shown a lot of growth as the season has gone on. The unit couldn’t produce any points early in the season, but Minnesota has totaled 65 points in its last two games against two good defenses in Iowa and Illinois.

Wisconsin, of course, has an elite defense, leading the country in scoring defense by allowing just 12.4 points per game. Last weekend was a wacky one, as the Badgers probably deserved to lose a game in which they turned the ball over five times, but they also probably deserved to win a game that saw three touchdowns wiped off the board.

Minnesota needs a win to go to a bowl game, but Wisconsin’s defense is just too good. While the Badgers can’t seem to do much of anything offensively of late and the Gophers are trending upward in that area, the Badgers’ defense should win the day — and keep the Axe.

The pick: Wisconsin

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

No. 16 Northwestern at Illinois, 2:30 p.m., ESPN U

Illinois needs a win to go to a bowl game, and while it was previously thought that maybe a postseason appearance for the second consecutive season could take the interim tag off head coach Bill Cubit, that might happen regardless after reports this week indicated the Illini could give him a two-year deal.

Northwestern, meanwhile, could win its 10th game of the season this weekend. It would be just the fourth time in program history that’s happened. A win this week plus a win in the bowl game would be the first 11-win season in program history.

The Cats are excellent on defense, and against the at-times completely inept Illini offense, it should dominate. But Northwestern hasn’t been too terrific on offense this season either, and a good Illinois defense could have some serious success in stopping Clayton Thorson and Co. The key: Justin Jackson. Even against Wisconsin’s sterling defense a week ago, the Northwestern sophomore went over 100 yards. If Jackson can do that against the Illini, the Cats should find themselves with double digit wins and that delightful trophy of Abe Lincoln’s hat.

The pick: Northwestern

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.