Big Ten

Even after loss, Spartans still control own destiny in Big Ten

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Even after loss, Spartans still control own destiny in Big Ten

Is this how Michigan State’s quest for a berth in the College Football Playoff ends?

Are hopes officially dashed and chances zeroed out because of a last-minute upset Saturday night in Lincoln?

Not really, no.

It’s easy to look at the 39-38 defeat against Nebraska and write the Spartans’ obituary. But the truth is that they still control their own destiny in the Big Ten and that Nov. 21’s big-time showdown with Ohio State is still just as meaningful as it was before.

It won’t be a matchup of two undefeated teams, a potential play-in game of sorts for the College Football Playoff. But it will still be a game that determines who wins the Big Ten East because if Michigan State wins — and takes care of business against Maryland and Penn State — the Spartans are going to the Big Ten title game. They’ll hold the head-to-head tiebreakers over both Michigan and Ohio State, rendering the outcome of The Game meaningless.

[MORE BIG TEN: The controversial TD that propelled Huskers to upset of Spartans]

Now, taking care of business is a much bigger “if” than it was 24 hours ago and not something that really should be taken for granted. Taking care of business is exactly what Michigan State was supposed to do on Saturday night against Nebraska. The Spartans were big favorites considering the Huskers already had six losses and lost the week prior in embarrassing fashion, allowing 55 points to conference doormat Purdue.

But the Big Ten East race hasn’t been impacted as dramatically as the outcome Saturday made it seem. The Spartans still can play in the Big Ten title game, and it means they can still make the College Football Playoff as a one-loss conference champion. What it did was eliminate the possibility of a three-way tie between three one-loss teams. Michigan State can only finish with one loss if it beats Ohio State, and if the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet as two one-loss teams, one of them will have two losses by the end of the day. There can still be a three-way tie, sure, but it would involve more unexpected losses to lesser teams.

Saturday's loss means the Spartans also can't simply win out and be in the College Football Playoff. The selection committee will need to give them a hand, as will a bunch of other teams around the country that haven't lost yet or have lost just once to a quality opponent. It means there are resumes to compare. A ticket can no longer simply be punched thanks to an undefeated finish.

It also means the margin for error is now zero.

One loss does not eliminate a team from playoff contention. Ohio State and Alabama both made last year’s field of four with a loss to their names, and this season’s inaugural rankings had a one-loss Alabama team ranked ahead of several undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences, including Michigan State.

But two losses probably does eliminate a team from playoff contention.

The most important thing is a conference championship, and the good news for the Spartans is that that is still on the table.

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

It will take work, though, and that means tightening up a defense that while plagued by injuries this season has not played up to the standards Michigan State set in back-to-back seasons that ended in big-time bowl victories. These last two seasons, ending in wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl, have been the highlights of the Mark Dantonio Era, and they’ve been trademarked by stellar defensive play.

That hasn’t necessarily been the case this season. With former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi now the head coach at Pitt, perhaps more than a little has been lost. The Spartans ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total defense coming into Saturday, allowing an average of 356.5 yards per game. That number will rise after a poor defensive showing Saturday, when the Huskers gained 499 total yards. Three hundred twenty of those came through air, and the Michigan State secondary that used to call itself the “No Fly Zone” is now mediocre at best, though also affected by injuries, currently ranking 90th in the country.

Connor Cook has played stellar this season, probably better than any quarterback in the Big Ten. He added 337 more passing yards and four more touchdown passes to his totals Saturday, moving ahead of Kirk Cousins for the most TD tosses in Michigan State history. His wide receivers have played well, the offensive line is finally healthy and the running backs have shown they’re capable.

The Spartans do still control their own destiny following Saturday’s loss, but they have to win every game they play from here on out. That means being better than they were Saturday and better than they've been much of the season.

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?