Big Ten

The curious case of Ohio State: Buckeyes are Big Ten's best, future No. 2, but could miss out on conference title game

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The curious case of Ohio State: Buckeyes are Big Ten's best, future No. 2, but could miss out on conference title game

An absolutely insane Saturday in college football seemed to mean instant euphoria for one team in particular: Ohio State.

The Buckeyes entered the weekend as the No. 5 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, the first team to move into the much-desired top four in case one of those top-four teams tripped up some time in the regular season’s final three weeks.

Well it happened. Boy, did it happen. The Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams in the rankings all went down Saturday: previously unbeaten Clemson lost to Pitt, previously unbeaten Michigan lost to Iowa, and previously unbeaten Washington lost to USC.

So Ohio State won’t just inch forward in next week’s rankings. It should vault up to the No. 2 spot after taking care of its business, putting a 62-3 whooping on Maryland a week after beating a ranked Nebraska team by the exact same score.

The Buckeyes look deserving of that No. 2 spot, and while the regular-season finale against the aforementioned Wolverines remains titanic, wrapping the regular season at 11-1 should have Ohio State in a perfect position to earn one of those Playoff slots, right?

Well hold everything, because that’s not exactly the case.

The Buckeyes boast a stellar 9-1 overall record and are getting plenty of warranted love from the selection committee and others nationally. But it’s important to remember that one loss, a defeat that came at the hands of Penn State, a team also playing great football at the moment. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked 10th and will probably move up a few spots thanks to the chaos in the top 10 — two other teams, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 9 Auburn, lost in addition to the three teams in the top four.

But that loss means that Penn State holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Ohio State, so if the two teams tie at the top of the division standings at season's end, it’ll be the Lions, not the Buckeyes, playing for a conference championship in Indianapolis.

And that looks like a mighty possible scenario at the moment. If Ohio State wins out, it will beat Michigan State and Michigan, handing Michigan its second conference loss and knocking the Wolverines out of the current three-team tie at the top of the East. But if Penn State wins out, it will beat Rutgers and Michigan State — two teams with one combined Big Ten victory this season — and finish with one conference loss. If both those things happen, there’s a two-way tie between the Buckeyes and Lions, which the Lions win.

Obviously, if Michigan beats Ohio State in The Game, the Buckeyes won’t be competing for a conference title, either. Michigan plays Indiana next weekend, and should it win that one and the regular-season finale, it will finish with one conference loss, Ohio State will finish with two. Even if Penn State wins out in that scenario, Michigan goes to Indy because of the head-to-head tiebreaker owned by the Wolverines.

So the only way Ohio State plays for a conference championship is if Penn State trips up in its final two games. That’s possible, sure, but very unlikely considering the quality of the Lions’ final two opponents.

So after all that — Michigan losing to Iowa and two other top-four teams losing to boost Ohio State up to No. 2 in the rankings — the only team in the Big Ten East that still “controls its own destiny” is the Wolverines.

And it’s going to take a lot of luck for the No. 2 team in America and the highest-ranked team in its conference to reach its own conference championship game.

That’s a big deal. The Playoff has only been around for two years, but the eight playoff spots have all gone to conference champions. Obviously the day will come when a non-conference champ has a resume better than conference champs, or at least one worth considering. Maybe that day is rapidly approaching and that team is the Buckeyes.

But if the selection committee holds a conference championship as a prime criterion in determining Playoff worthiness, then Ohio State could be in real trouble. Despite being one of the two best teams in college football.

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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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.