Big Ten

Big Ten Power Rankings: Big divide between top and bottom halves

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Big divide between top and bottom halves

The top half of the Big Ten is playing well. The bottom half of the Big Ten is playing poorly.

Maybe that's not coming as much of a surprise, but it's the certainly the truth, as the gap between the Nos. 7 and 8 teams in the conference seems huge.

Obviously, the undefeated three at the top have a leg up on everyone. But the next four teams — each with two losses — all seem to be of decent quality.

It's hard to say the same for the bottom seven, all of which seem to be floundering on a weekly basis.

It's a league of haves and have nots at this point in the season.

Check out how the teams stacked up in this week's Big Ten power rankings:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0)

Last week: 1

It was an eventful bye week for the Buckeyes, as quarterback J.T. Barrett earned a one-game suspension after being cited for operating a vehicle while impaired. Barrett will miss this weekend’s game against Minnesota, meaning Cardale Jones will step back into the starting role after Barrett won the job for the first time all season last time out against Penn State. But Jones started the first seven games of the year, all wins for Ohio State, so this shouldn’t put the Buckeyes at much of a disadvantage.

2. Michigan State Spartans (8-0, 4-0)

Last week: 2

No game for Michigan State this past weekend, either, but things are still looking good for the undefeated Spartans. After a pedestrian start, Connor Cook has really found his stuff in recent games, looking like the best quarterback in the conference, which he was supposed to be before the season started. He leads the Big Ten with 2,070 passing yards, with 1,093 of them coming in the last three games. Struggling Nebraska is next, followed by struggling Maryland before the all-important showdown with Ohio State.

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes' J.T. Barrett cited for OVI, suspended for next weekend's game]

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0)

Last week: 3

The Hawkeyes continue to impress, taking care of business against Maryland over the weekend. With top running back Jordan Canzeri on the shelf with an injury, Iowa got rushing touchdowns from three different running backs in a team effort. But the biggest play came from Desmond King, who took an interception back 88 yards for a touchdown. King leads the country with seven interceptions. It’s all clicking right now for the undefeated Hawkeyes, who face four teams with a combined 13-20 record to close out the regular season.

4. Michigan Wolverines (6-2, 3-1)

Last week: 4

It was almost disaster for Michigan in the Twin Cities, as an emotionally charged-up Minnesota team had to make some critical late-game mistakes to allow the Wolverines to escape with the Little Brown Jug. Jake Rudock was injured, but backup quarterback Wilton Speight threw what proved to be the game-winning touchdown pass and got the two-point conversion. Then Michigan’s defensive line made the critical goal-line stop on the final play, stuffing a QB sneak that would’ve won the game for the Gophers.

[MORE BIG TEN: Behind backup QB and goal-line stop, Michigan grabs Little Brown Jug back from Gophers]

5. Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2)

Last week: 5

The Cats were on bye and still hold on to the No. 5 spot in these rankings despite hard pushes from Wisconsin and Penn State in recent weeks. The Badgers and Lions have looked really good of late, but the Cats have the better resume, with wins over Stanford and Duke that Wisconsin and Penn State can’t claim. This is a critical week for Northwestern, though, in proving it belongs here. The result of Saturday’s date with Penn State ought to settle the debate.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (7-2, 4-1)

Last week: 6

Wisconsin thumped Rutgers, 48-10, looking terrific in just about every facet. But the biggest thing was the return of star running back Corey Clement, who obviously infused something that was sorely missing while he sat out seven games with a sports hernia. Clement carried the ball just 11 times Saturday but gained 115 yards and scored three touchdowns. The Badgers’ defense was great, as expected. This team has two losses, both coming against top-10 opponents, Alabama and Iowa. Not bad.

[MORE BIG TEN: Corey Clement scores three TDs in return as Badgers blast Rutgers]

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1)

Last week: 7

Penn State beat up on Illinois, using defensive dominance and a strong day from Christian Hackenberg to run away with a 39-0 shutout win. The Lions’ defense held the Illini to a ridiculously low 167 total yards, snuffing out anything and everything that offense tried. Plus, Hackenberg, who looked mighty overhyped at season’s beginning, is rounding into form. In his last six games, he’s thrown for 1,415 yards, 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had a receiving touchdown Saturday. That’s pretty cool.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-4, 1-3)

Last week: 10

Saturday’s late-game decision making was certainly ugly, and it wiped away what could have been a remarkable story to cap an emotional week for the Gophers. Minnesota, after going down on a touchdown toss by Michigan’s backup quarterback, marched right down the field with huge third- and fourth-down conversions, only to fail to act quickly enough with precious seconds ticking away and fail to get any points when a field goal would’ve forced overtime. Sigh. It was a great showing against the nation’s best defense.

[MORE BIG TEN: Penn State defense dominates hapless Illini offense in blowout]

9. Purdue Boilermakers (2-6, 1-3)

Last week: 14

It’s pretty clear that Nebraska is in bad shape following Purdue’s 55-45 win, but let’s give the Boilermakers some credit, as even observers most sour of the Huskers couldn’t have seen this coming. Purdue quarterback David Blough was excellent, throwing for four touchdowns. Markell Jones had a pair of clutch fourth-quarter touchdown runs as Nebraska staged its comeback attempt. And the Boilers’ defense had four interceptions, three alone for Anthony Brown. Just Darrell Hazell’s second Big Ten win in three years was a big one.

10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-4, 0-4)

Last week: 11

The bottom half of the Big Ten really is a disaster, so the Hoosiers get points for not losing. Not that they could have, as they were on bye, but still. Indiana has the offensive weapons to give any team a run, with Nate Sudfeld playing well at quarterback and Jordan Howard showing great stuff at running back now that he’s back healthy. But the remaining schedule surely isn’t easy, with games against Iowa and Michigan next up.

[MORE BIG TEN: Purdue scores 55 points to send Huskers to their sixth loss]

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-6, 1-4)

Last week: 9

Though the problems Nebraska is starting at are big and there certainly is reason to wonder if the Mike Riley Era will get better any time soon, things could very easily be much different for this team this year. The only thing people care about is the win-loss record, but five of the Huskers’ six losses came by three points or fewer, an absurd situation. And they nearly came back to beat Purdue on Saturday, too, scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter to turn a 42-19 deficit into a 55-45 loss. No doubt things are bad, but maybe those six losses are a tad misleading.

12. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-4, 1-3)

Last week: 8

While the Illini remain just two wins away from bowl eligibility, the road to six wins is getting considerably steeper as time wears on. Injuries have plagued the offense, especially the one to star running back Josh Ferguson, as the run game has been virtually non-existent without him. Saturday against Penn State, a team Illinois beat last year, the offense was rendered useless, incapable of doing absolutely anything, punting 11 times, turning it over on downs twice and fumbling and throwing an interception.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]

13. Maryland Terrapins (2-6, 0-4)

Last week: 12

The Terps again looked fairly non-competitive against Iowa, somewhat expected considering the caliber of team they were facing. Perry Hills trew three more interceptions, and it’s just becoming laughable how many turnovers this team has. Maryland quarterbacks have now thrown 23 picks, the most in the nation and a whopping five more than the next closest team. The Terps are last in college football with a minus-16 turnover margin. With struggles on both sides of the ball and games against Wisconsin and Michigan State next, things don’t look good.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-5, 1-4)

Last week: 13

A 48-10 thumping at the hands of Wisconsin was not what Rutgers needed to get out of its rut. Leonte Carroo is clearly making all the difference, as his absence was glaring. Chris Laviano was ineffective without his star wideout, as was the entire offense. Rutgers has been outscored 97-17 in back-to-back losses. There hasn’t been an offensive touchdown since Oct. 17, and that doesn’t figure to change against Michigan.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.