Big Ten

Big Ten Power Rankings: Buckeyes, Northwestern open with a bang

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Buckeyes, Northwestern open with a bang

One week of college football is already in the books.

The Big Ten had a not-so-great opening effort, getting terrific performances from Ohio State and Northwestern but also high-profile losses from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as a flat-out embarrassing loss by Penn State.

Here's how the teams stack up:

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

The Buckeyes entered the season projected by many to repeat as national champions, and after an eye-popping showing in their season-opening win at Virginia Tech, there’s ample reason to believe they’ll do just that. Ohio State just has an unending list of playmakers capable of dominating a game. Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott each had their turns in Week 1, but it was Braxton Miller who came back for his first game in 20 months and owned the spotlight. The quarterback-turned-wideout had two touchdowns of 50-plus yards, a great catch and run up the sideline and a ridiculous run complete with the spin move to end all spin moves that you’ll surely see over and over again. The Buckeyes don’t have another significant challenge until November and ought to get real comfortable at the top of these rankings.

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes stay atop latest AP poll, Badgers drop out]

2. Michigan State Spartans (1-0, 0-0)

The biggest threat to Ohio State’s grip on that No. 1 spot, Michigan State didn’t exactly blow the doors off Western Michigan in its season-opening win, but Connor Cook and the Spartans still won the game they were supposed to win. Cook threw for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Michigan State’s running back by committee got off to a good start, too, going for 196 yards and three touchdowns. It was a mixed bag for the Spartan defense, which held the Broncos to an incredibly low 18 yards rushing but at the same time allowed 365 passing yards. There’s stuff to fix in a secondary where the departures of big-time players in recent seasons seems to be catching up with Michigan State. This week brings Oregon to East Lansing in one of the season’s most-anticipated games. It’s just Week 2, but Sparty’s Playoff destiny could be on the line.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans open season with win at Western Michigan]

3. Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0)

Will Northwestern finish the season as the third best team in the Big Ten? Maybe. But after one week, the conference’s most impressive win outside of Ohio State came in Evanston, where Northwestern knocked off No. 21 Stanford. The Wildcat defense was outstanding, holding the Cardinal to just six points, keeping them out of the end zone entirely. Stanford rushed for just 85 yards against the Northwestern defense, which also forced a pair of turnovers. Anthony Walker is the conference’s newest defensive superstar after his amazing game in which he recorded 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, half a sack and a fumble recovery. Oh, and first-time starting quarterback Clayton Thorson dashed 42 yards for a touchdown. The Cats still have some question marks on offense — Thorson wasn’t especially impressive as a passer — but if the defense keeps this up, a spot this high in the rankings will be continually deserved.

[MORE BIG TEN: Stuff to clean up, but Clayton Thorson leads Cats to 'W' in first start]

4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-1, 0-0)

While on the topic of defense, Minnesota was great on the defensive side of the ball in a Week 1 loss to TCU. Problem was the offense was nowhere to be found. The Gophers did a remarkable job keeping high-scoring TCU off the scoreboard and Heisman-candidate quarterback Trevone Boykin from doing too much damage. But while the defense came up with one big stop after another, the offense kept stalling out. Mitch Leidner has yet to prove himself capable of leading a championship-caliber offense, something that he’ll need to do if Minnesota is going to reach the next level. That being said, there were some decent flashes in the running game, namely Rodney Smith, who went for 88 yards and a touchdown. The Gophers should get a bit of a pass here, though, as they were up against one of the best teams in college football and lost by just six. Plus that defense was stellar. But you need to score points to win football games.

[MORE BIG TEN: Gophers defense excellent, but offense sputters in loss to TCU]

5. Iowa Hawkeyes (1-0, 0-0)

Typically, only knocking off an FCS opponent by 17 wouldn’t be worthy of much praise, but Iowa’s win over Illinois State wasn’t a win over any old FCS foe. The Redbirds played for a national championship last season, and the Hawkeyes — though it might not show on the scoreboard — were dominant in this one. Iowa out-gained Illinois State by 200 yards, 421-221, including a massive 210-35 edge in rushing yardage. And this was a 31-0 game until the final five and a half minutes, when Illinois State scored a pair of touchdowns to make that final score look awfully different. But it was a heck of a debut for the two new No. 1s on offense. Quarterback C.J. Beathard passed for 211 yards and a touchdown — rushing in for two more touchdowns — and running back LeShun Daniels rushed for 123 yards, while No. 2 running back Jordan Canzeri rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown and racked up 90 additional yards receiving. An impressive showing for an Iowa team that struggled to do much last season.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes start things right with dominant win over Illinois State]

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-1, 0-0)

Yeah, things aren’t very cheerful in Lincoln right now following perhaps the eeriest example of college football karma ever. Nebraska’s 2013 Hail Mary win over Northwestern — a.k.a. “The Westercatch” — was practically recreated in Week 1 of this season, only this time the Huskers were on the incredulous losing end. It was a fluke ending like that shouldn’t color the opinion of this team for the rest of the season and isn’t a good indication of how it looked in that game against BYU. Despite plenty of criticism over how Tommy Armstrong played, he finished with 319 passing yards, second in the Big Ten in the season’s first week only to Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld, and three touchdown passes. But just as it’s been in recent seasons, the Huskers defense’s inability to hold up its end of the bargain cost them. Nebraska allowed BYU to amass 511 yards of offense, and even the injury to star quarterback Taysom HIll couldn’t slow the Cougars. It was backup QB Tanner Mangum who threw for 111 yards and completed that Hail Mary pass.

[MORE BIG TEN: BYU's miracle last-second Hail Mary shocks Huskers]

7. Wisconsin Badgers (0-1, 0-0)

While things should turn around in a hurry after an ugly Week 1 loss to Alabama — the Badgers’ schedule eases up tremendously and doesn’t feature anymore Nos. 3 teams in the country — there is plenty of reason to be concerned in Madison. Against Alabama, the always-reliable Wisconsin run game vanished. Inexperience and inexperience playing together on the offensive line as well as a groin injury to running back Corey Clement had the ground attack stuck in the mud. That was hardly the case for the Tide, who scorched the Badger defense for 238 rush yards and four rushing touchdowns, three of which went longer than 35 yards. The good news for Wisconsin, though, came in the form of Joel Stave, the quarterback who’s been aggressively mediocre in two seasons looked good in the opener, passing for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If Stave can complement a sure-to-fix-itself running game with a reliable passing attack, the Badgers will be well on their way back up the Big Ten.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rare absence of run game leads to Badgers loss vs. Alabama]

8. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-0, 0-0)

Kent State is a bad football team. Very bad. But this Illinois team needed every bit of the 52-3 throttling it doled out in the season-opener. Tim Beckman’s firing was followed by an hours-long weather delay that pushed the game from Friday night to Saturday afternoon. But none of it seemed to affect the Illini, who ended this one in the first quarter with four touchdowns before 15 minutes had passed. Great play by the Illinois defense and special teams — as well as a few Kent State mistakes — set the Illini offense up with prime field position nearly every time it touched the ball, and the offense obliged with lightning-quick scoring drives. Illinois’ first five touchdown drives lasted a combined three minutes and 28 seconds. In fact, the repeated short fields meant the Illini’s statistics weren’t all that impressive. Wes Lunt, for example, only threw for 162 yards but still had four touchdown passes. Another easy week against Western Illinois should allow the Illini to keep building confidence under interim head coach Bill Cubit.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini respond to tough week with absolute rout of Kent State]

9. Michigan Wolverines (0-1, 0-0)

It wasn’t an ideal start to the Jim Harbaugh Era, but the main thing to remember is that this was hardly a disaster. Michigan wasn’t expected to win at Utah, if you believe the oddsmakers. The Utes proved themselves a very good team, and even though the Wolverines defense did a decent job of slowing Devontae Booker — the Heisman candidate had just 69 yards rushing — quarterback Travis Wilson cut apart the Michigan D at times. But the backbreaking part of the Harbaugh debut was the Michigan debut of Iowa transfer Jake Rudock at quarterback. A too-little-too-late touchdown drive made Rudock’s number look fine (279 yards, two touchdowns), but none of that could erase the three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. The immense amount of talent in the backfield still refuses to produce, with the Wolverines rushing for a combined 76 yards. No matter how much buzz Harbaugh brought with him to Ann Arbor, the new Michigan looked a lot like the old Michigan in Salt Lake City.

[MORE BIG TEN: Harbaugh's newness can’t keep Michigan from looking the same in season-opening loss]

10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-0, 0-0)

The good for Rutgers was the 63 points it hung on Norfolk State. Leonte Carroo caught just three passes, but each one went for a long touchdown, totaling 118 yards. The Scarlet Knights rushed for a jaw-dropping 291 yards, with four of the team’s touchdowns coming on the ground. Both Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano played well at quarterback. Janarion Grant returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown. The Rutgers defense held Norfolk State to negative three rush yards. But it is just Norfolk State. Even still, what’s happening inside the lines is sadly secondary in Piscataway right now as the investigation into Kyle Flood continues and five players were dismissed from the program minutes before kickoff after midweek arrests. The Knights’ brutal schedule in the Big Ten East will likely keep them middling throughout the season.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rutgers dismisses five arrested players]

11. Maryland Terrapins (1-0, 0-0)

Regardless of how this season plays out for the Terps, we can all agree that Will Likely is amazing. Maryland’s do-it-all playmaker broke a 70-something-year-old conference record with 233 punt-return yards in a 50-21 beatdown of FCS opponent Richmond, with one of those punt returns going for a 67-yard touchdown. Likely had another TD called back on a penalty, too. Why teams would even bother kicking to him is a legitimate question. Otherwise, it was a generally unimpressive debut for Perry Hills as the new No. 1 quarterback, but the Terps have to be thrilled with a 341-yard day on the ground after an offseason of trying to improve the rushing attack. Brandon Ross alone went for 150 yards and a touchdown. Establishing a run game would be huge with a new QB and a depleted receiving corps. But we’ll chalk the big day up to facing off against Richmond and wait to see what a Week 2 game against Bowling Green has in store.

[MORE BIG TEN: Terps' Will Likely breaks Big Ten record with 233 punt-return yards]

12. Indiana Hoosiers (1-0, 0-0)

Great news! The Hoosiers scored 48 points and ran up 595 yards of total offense. Wow! Unfortunately, the Indiana defense is just as bad as it’s always been, letting an FCS team coming off a .500 season to score 47 points and rack up 659 yards of total offense. In fact, the only reason Southern Illinois didn’t take a lead on Indiana with fewer than 20 seconds remaining in the game was a botched attempt at a two-point conversion in which a Saluki receiver dropped a pass on the goal line. The Hoosiers appear well on their way to another season of explosive offense between the 349-yard day of quarterback Nate Sudfeld and the 145-yard, three-touchdown day of running back Jordan Howard. Unfortunately, they also appear well on their way to another season of miserable defense, especially in pass coverage, where they were eviscerated by the Southern Illinois quarterback to the tune of 411 yards and four touchdowns. Yikes.

[MORE BIG TEN: Same as it ever was: Hoosiers O great, D bad vs. Southern Illinois]

13. Purdue Boilermakers (0-1, 0-0)

Is this a step in the right direction for Purdue or just another loss? The Boilermakers somewhat surprisingly had a good offensive day in the season-opener against Marshall and had a lead in the game’s final three minutes. But then came the collapse, as Marshall scored with under three minutes left to take a lead and sealed the game with a pick six of Austin Appleby. The “almost” of a win for Purdue had some bright spots. The Boilers out-gained the Herd, 454-397, with edges in both passing yardage and rushing yardage. Running back D.J. Knox rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown. But Appleby threw a whopping four interceptions, proving his turnover woes from a season ago aren’t yet gone, and two of those were returned for touchdowns, the difference in the game. Darrell Hazell has now lost 21 of his first 25 games as the Purdue head coach.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hackenberg sacked 10 times as Penn State stunned by Temple]

14. Penn State Nittany Lions (0-1, 0-0)

Happy Valley is anything but happy following an embarrassing 27-10 loss to Temple in the season-opener. Penn State scored 10 first-quarter points then froze, watching Temple streak by with 27 unanswered. The struggle to protect Christian Hackenberg drew all the attention, as the supposed NFL Draft dreamboat was dropped 10 times. But truth is that nothing went right in this one. Hackenberg mustered just 103 pass yards and an interception. The Lions ran for only 80 yards. They were just 2-for-13 on third down. The yards-per-pass difference was 7.3 to 2.9 in favor of Temple, a team that scored its first win over Penn State in 41 years. The biggest worry, though, in all of it was that these are the same issues that bothered the Lions last season — only much worse. The porous offensive line allowed Hackenberg to be sacked 41 times last season. They’re already a quarter of the way to that total after one game. Already, the Lions are one of the three worst rushing teams in the conference — and the two teams ranked below them went up against Utah and Alabama, not Temple. This was supposed to be one of the easiest games on the Penn State schedule.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

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?