Big Ten

Which Big Ten contender has best chance to make College Football Playoff?

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Which Big Ten contender has best chance to make College Football Playoff?

The Big Ten placed five teams in the 2015 season’s inaugural College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week, a good showing for the league.

But, really, there are only three teams that are contenders for a spot in the sport’s final four: the undefeated triumvirate of No. 3 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 9 Iowa.

It’s possible the conference could grab multiple spots in the field. And it’s possible the conference could be left out of the field completely. But let’s go with the idea that at least one Big Ten team will have an opportunity to play for a national championship. Which one has the best chance at grabbing a spot?

The Buckeyes, somewhat obviously, seem to have the best chance. They’re already ranked third despite the fact that they haven’t faced much in the way of competition. Their best win came against two-loss Penn State. Their next best win came against ... Northern Illinois? Indiana? And they almost lost those two games.

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes No. 3, five Big Ten teams in first College Football Playoff rankings]

While the No. 3 ranking might have come as a disappointment to some who thought it should’ve been more like the No. 1 ranking Ohio State has had in the AP poll all year long, it’s actually a pretty good sign. The selection committee ranked the Buckeyes that high despite a weak schedule so far, but games remain against No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan. If Ohio State wins those games — the last two regular-season games on the docket — it’s strength of schedule is suddenly fine. Plus those two wins would mean a date in the Big Ten Championship Game, and we all know what a good performance there can do.

Basically, it means the Buckeyes can only go up if they keep winning. Sure, other things could get in the way — like a bunch of current undefeated teams staying undefeated and muddying the top of the rankings — but if Urban Meyer’s team keeps winning, a spot in the Playoff should await.

So who has a better shot between Michigan State and Iowa? That’s a tougher question to answer.

Like Ohio State, if either team finishes undefeated and claims a Big Ten championship, a spot in the Playoff should be a pretty safe bet. Michigan State has one hurdle to climb as opposed to the two Ohio State has. The Spartans already have a road win over Michigan, and should a road win over the Buckeyes get added to their resume, a jump into the top four should follow. If that’s still not enough to impress the committee — and it’s strange to think that it somehow wouldn’t be — a matchup with an undefeated Iowa team in the conference title game would provide another opportunity to do so.

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

The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, have no real more challenges between now and the Big Ten title bout, as they should be heavily favored in their final four games against Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska — teams with a combined 13-20 record. That’s a good thing in that an undefeated finish is more likely, but there are no real chances to impress the committee. An undefeated, Big Ten champion Iowa team would figure to be included in the Playoff, especially with a win against either Ohio State or Michigan State. A one-loss, Big Ten runner-up Iowa team would probably be low on the list of one-loss contenders for a Playoff spot because the schedule just isn’t that strong.

The case with any of these three teams is that finishing with zero losses and winning a conference championship should equal a spot in the Playoff. The more interesting conversation comes when hypotheticals get thrown around. Like what if Iowa is the undefeated Big Ten champ and Michigan State or Ohio State is a one-loss runner-up with two quality wins and one quality conference loss? Or what if Ohio State or Michigan State finishes as an undefeated conference champ and the other has just the one quality loss?

And this is all without mentioning the rest of college football’s Playoff contenders outside the Big Ten. And there are many, making the possibilities practically countless.

The Big Ten, at this stage in the season, seems positioned to be represented in the College Football Playoff. Which team — or teams — will be representing the conference remains to be seen.

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.