Big Ten

Big Ten Power Rankings: Who's No. 1? Buckeyes or Spartans?

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Who's No. 1? Buckeyes or Spartans?

The Big Ten boasts the two top teams in the AP rankings, but which of those two teams is better?

The AP voters say Ohio State, but I’m not so sure. Michigan State certainly has the better resume in 2015, with that big win over Oregon accompanied by two other victories in which the Spartan offense looked stellar. Ohio State, meanwhile, still has the talent to repeat as national champion but is coming off a concerning win over Northern Illinois in which the Buckeye defense was terrific but the Buckeye offense was ghastly.

Both teams, though not without their flaws, look capable of contending for a national title. If both teams keep winning ahead of their late-November matchup in Columbus, this will be the hottest debate in college football this season.

For now, though, there’s a change at the top of the Big Ten Power Rankings:

1. Michigan State Spartans (3-0, 0-0)

Last week: 2

I’m not ready to count Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff just yet, but through three games this season, Michigan State is the team that deserves this top spot right now. The Spartans are the team with the top-10 win on its resume. The Spartans are the team throwing touchdown pass after touchdown pass against weak competition, what it should be doing. The latest display was a 35-21 win over Air Force in which Connor Cook matched a career-high with four touchdown tosses, three of which were hauled in by Aaron Burbridge, who’s quickly establishing his star status. Not everything is rainbows in East Lansing. Defensive back Vayante Copeland is out for the season, unfortunately joining Ed Davis as a defensive starter lost for the year. And that defense, while good, has not exactly snuffed out every opponent, allowing an average of more than 24 points per game and at least 21 points a game in all three games. It’s a razor-thin margin between the Spartans and Buckeyes. But right this second, the Spartans just deserve it more.

[MORE BIG TEN: Aaron Burbridge scores three TDs as Spartans best Air Force]

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0, 0-0)

Last week: 1

There’s no doubt that the Buckeyes have some issues right now. Still the No. 1 team in the country, a shaky 20-13 win over Northern Illinois does an awful lot to ding the confidence of many that Ohio State is an unstoppable juggernaut. Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett turned in a pair of poor performances, and the offense as a whole was unable to do much of anything, turning the ball over five times. But while all the talk this week will surely be of how the Buckeyes are in disarray, recognize that that only applies to one side of the ball. The Ohio State defense played exceptionally well against Northern Illinois, intercepting two passes, holding the Huskies under 200 total yards and coming up with the game’s biggest play: Darron Lee’s 41-yard interception-return touchdown that proved to be the difference in the game. As bad as the Buckeyes’ offense was, the defense was that good. So while there’s plenty of reason to be shocked over what happened Saturday, the long-term outlook is still, for the time being, pretty good.

[MORE BIG TEN: Defense keeps Buckeyes unbeaten, but offense struggles in win vs. NIU]

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

Last week: 3

Northwestern has the best defense in the country. That’s the truth, and it was showcased again this weekend in another gigantic non-conference victory, this one over Duke in Northwestern’s first road game of the season. Despite an offense stuck in the mud, the Cats’ defense was simply remarkable, coming up with three takeaways and holding the Blue Devils to just 10 points. The touchdown-less streak is over, but even that score can be excused, coming on an incredibly short field after a Clayton Thorson interception. Anthony Walker was again amazing, probably the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after three games. He recorded 19 tackles against Duke. Dean Lowry had a terrific tipped interception. Godwin Igwebuike had a strip and recovery of his own forced fumble. There’s no better defense right now. And even the special teams got in on the fun, with Solomon Vault returning the opening kickoff of the second half for the go-ahead touchdown. The Cats have allowed just 16 points and one touchdown through three games. It’s why they’re currently the best team in the Big Ten West.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern stays perfect with big non-conference win over Duke]

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

Last week: 4

Wins don’t get more fun than the one Iowa had Saturday. After a go-ahead touchdown drive, Pitt responded with its own game-tying score with under a minute to play. But C.J. Beathard got the Hawkeyes to the Pitt 39-yard line, and Marshall Koehn hit a booming 57-yard field goal for a walk-off win. What a game, what a finish and what a kick. It’s another great win for Iowa, which is experiencing a complete 180 from last season. A lot of that can be attributed to Kirk Ferentz’s quarterback switch, picking Beathard over Jake Rudock (now at Michigan). Beathard, in three games, has completed 64 percent of his passes for 684 yards and four touchdowns and has ran in for an additional three touchdowns on the ground. He passed for a season-high 258 yards Saturday. But credit others, too, such as Jordan Canzeri, who ran for two touchdowns, and the Iowa defense, which held Pitt to just 55 rushing yards. Oh, and credit Koehn and his super-human leg.

[MORE BIG TEN: Marshall Koehn's 57-yard FG gives Hawkeyes walk-off win over Pitt]

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1, 0-0)

Last week: 5

While Minnesota’s offense is enough to drive any football fan completely insane, the Gophers’ defense has been pretty sensational. A 10-7 win over Kent State should be enough to drop this team — certainly a “worse” win than what the Buckeyes did — but the Gophers’ defense was good enough Saturday and was good enough in games against TCU and Colorado State to keep the 2-1 Gophers in this spot. I mean, Kent State managed just 142 yards against this Minnesota defense, a defense that wasn’t even on the field when Kent State got its lone touchdown on an 80-yard fumble return. That fluke TD only looms so large because the Gophers’ offense has been so inept through three games and because it was particularly inept Saturday, scoring just 10 points against a defense that Illinois scored 52 points against just two weeks earlier. Jerry Kill admitted he has no magical answer to fix the offense but that he has to find one. Yeah, he does, otherwise Minnesota isn’t going to be taking that next step this season.

[MORE BIG TEN: After ugly win, Gophers still looking for answers on offense]

6. Wisconsin Badgers (2-1, 0-0)

Last week: 6

Wisconsin has followed up an upsetting season-opening loss to Alabama with back-to-back easy wins over Miami (Ohio) and Troy, winning those games by a combined 86-3 margin. Joel Stave continues to be great, another 200-yard day on Saturday. And the Badgers’ running game managed 199 yards while once again without Corey Clement. The defense was strong against a weak opponent. There still seems to be much to learn about this team, though. The Badgers have beat up on teams they should have beat up on, but they were crushed by the Tide. Can Wisconsin still storm through a Big Ten schedule? How does it compare to Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota? Those are difficult questions to answer considering the schedule thus far, and next week’s game against Hawaii shouldn’t be much help in figuring that out. The Badgers open Big Ten play with the Hawkeyes and Huskers, two games that should give us a far better indication of what these guys are actually like.

[MORE BIG TEN: Who's the quarterback? Buckeyes don't seem to know]

7. Michigan Wolverines (2-1, 0-0)

Last week: 9

Crushing UNLV was to be expected. But what has been surprising from these Wolverines has been the rushing attack, which seems to be completely reborn under Jim Harbaugh. That could be a result of facing Oregon State and UNLV in back-to-back weeks, but any sort of rushing success is reason for celebration after how the past few seasons have gone on the ground in Ann Arbor. Saturday, the team totaled 254 rush yards, led by the 114 of USC transfer Ty Isaac, most of which came on a 76-yard touchdown run, the longest rush by a Michigan running back since 2009. Offensive line struggles and talent not living up to expectations in the backfield have made Michigan’s run game almost non-existent in the recent past. But if the Wolverines can do this against Big Ten opponents on a regular basis, then look out.

[MORE BIG TEN: Ty Isaac breaks off 76-yard TD run as Michigan thumps UNLV]

8. Penn State NIttany Lions (2-1, 1-0)

Last week: 10

That loss to Temple might have just been a fluke. That is, if Saquon Barkley has anything to say about it. Forget about Christian Hackenberg and how NFL scouts like his tools. Barkley is producing actual results at Penn State right now, and in two games the true freshman has already elevated himself to be the Lions’ best offensive player. He got 21 carries Saturday in a rout of Rutgers, going for 195 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the last two games, he’s totaled 310 yards and three touchdowns. Keep giving him the ball because it’s working, providing a big-time spark to a Penn State offense that just two weeks ago couldn’t do a thing against Temple. Maybe Buffalo and Rutgers have provided the competition to have such success, but Hackenberg has been lackluster against those defenses, too.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rise of Saquon Barkley continues as Penn State blasts Rutgers]

9. Indiana Hoosiers (3-0, 0-0)

Last week: 10

Indiana deserves a lot of credit for being undefeated to this point, but it doesn’t really seem like a sustainable success, what with the Hoosiers routinely competing in shootouts and winning those games simply by out-gunning the opponents. That’s worked against Southern Illinois, Florida International and now Western Kentucky — but it’s barely worked. Games against SIU and WKU were won by a combined four points. Kudos to the Indiana defense, though, which was thrashed by Southern Illinois, for having a better day against a very good Western Kentucky offense. But allowing 400 passing yards and 500 offensive yards a week doesn’t seem like a winning strategy in the long run. Especially with Ohio State and Michigan State on the schedule. We’ll see.

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern jumps up to No. 17 in AP poll]

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-2, 0-0)

Last week: 8

After what could be described as a fluke loss to a very good BYU team with that Hail Mary finish and a rout of South Alabama, Nebraska was beaten pretty bad by Miami … or was it? The Huskers were down 33-10 five minutes into the fourth quarter. But then came a ludicrous comeback, with Nebraska scoring three touchdowns in the final eight and a half minutes to send the game to overtime, where it lost on a field goal after throwing an interception on the extra period’s first play. So what can you say about this game? It was a terrific comeback, though kind of embarrassing to be in such a hole in the first place. Certainly outside of nine minutes, Nebraska was dominated. But those nine minutes count, too. A big measurable problem is the defense’s continued woes. It allowed 511 yards of offense to Miami, and that side of the ball can’t seem to allow the playmakers on offense enough room to do what they do. Fix the defense, and you’ll fix this Nebraska team.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' Aaron Burbridge the frontrunner for catch of the year]

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1, 0-0)

Last week: 7

Well, we wanted to find out what the Illini were really like. We never said the answer was going to make everyone happy. Illinois was absolutely throttled Saturday, crushed in a 48-14 loss at North Carolina. The torching was absolutely the opposite of Week 1 and 2 wins over Kent State and Western Illinois, illustrating that Illinois clearly benefitted from the weak competition. Saturday, the defense didn’t look anywhere near the dominant unit it was during those two wins, allowing North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams to pass for 203 yards and three touchdowns and rush for an additional 105 yards. The Illini passing game couldn’t do much of anything, dropped passes plaguing the attack as Wes Lunt passed for just 140 yards and threw an interception. And as the game went on, things got worse as the defense tired, with the Tar Heels scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns — including on an 85-yard punt return — in a five and a half minute span. Middle Tennessee State might provide a reprieve in Week 4.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini fail first true test, crushed by North Carolina]

12. Maryland Terrapins (2-1, 0-0)

Last week: 14

For all the uproar over Caleb Rowe’s trio of interceptions Saturday — and it was deserved — the new No. 1 quarterback also led Maryland to a sizable win over USF and threw four touchdown passes in the process. That surely doesn’t excuse all those turnovers, but it’s not all gloom and doom for Rowe and the Terps. Perhaps against a better team than the visiting Bulls, those three picks would’ve buried the Terps. But Saturday, Rowe had a pretty good day in spite of those turnovers. He guided an offense that seemed to function far better than it did under Perry Hills, and the nearly 300 passing yards are a good indication of that, as are the terrific receiving contributions Levern and Taivon Jacobs, the two brothers having big days against USF. Things get much tougher with West Virginia, where those interceptions could actually be the difference.

[MORE BIG TEN: Touchdowns and turnovers: Mixed bag for Caleb Rowe in Terps' win]

13. Purdue Boilermakers (1-2, 0-0)

Last week: 11

So much for that Purdue winning streak. The Boilermakers brief moment of victory against an FCS opponent was quickly forgotten thanks to a Week 3 thrashing at the hands of Virginia Tech, the Hokies routing the Boilers by a 51-24 score. Austin Appleby struggled a week after throwing four touchdown passes against Indiana State, completing just nine passes and throwing a pair of interceptions to bring his season total to six picks in three games. Purdue was out-gained, 471-265. That’s a bad sign for this defense heading into a Week 4 game against Bowling Green, which has one of the hottest offenses in the country right now. The Falcons have scored 119 points in three games, and quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for 1,358 yards and 12 touchdowns. That includes a 48-27 pounding of Big Ten team Maryland. It’s not looking promising for Purdue in Week 4.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rutgers suspends Kyle Flood for three games for violating school policies]

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1)

Last week: 13

Speaking of not looking promising, the off-field madness now matches the on-field ineptitude in Piscataway. The Knights were plastered, 28-3, in the Big Ten’s opening game of conference play, unable to do a thing against the Penn State defense. Now, the Lions’ defense is a good one, and struggling there wouldn’t have been that bad if not for defensive struggles as well, the Knights allowing Penn State to gain 471 yards of total offense, including 330 on the ground. Meanwhile, Rutgers couldn’t run at all, gaining just 43 rushing yards. Chris Laviano threw two picks and the Knights lost a fumble in the first game of Kyle Flood’s three-game suspension. From off-field issues to on-field struggles, nothing’s going right at Rutgers.

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?