Big Ten

Win and they're in? Hawkeyes on the cusp of College Football Playoff

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Win and they're in? Hawkeyes on the cusp of College Football Playoff

Iowa made some of the biggest headlines in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, jumping up from No. 9 to No. 5, putting the undefeated Hawkeyes on the cusp of landing a spot in the sport’s final four.

But here’s the big question: With Iowa’s very own big movement in the rankings this week, should we assume the Hawkeyes are in if they win out, or should we expect the rankings — and Iowa’s place in them — to be this volatile week to week?

Here are the facts. Iowa is one of five undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences, along with No. 1 Clemson, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 6 Baylor and No. 8 Oklahoma State. Ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes, however, are a pair of one-loss teams in No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame. One-loss teams like Stanford, LSU, Florida and Oklahoma lurk not too far behind.

The big key to the whole thing is going to be strength of schedule. The committee didn’t seem impressed with Iowa’s eight wins a week earlier, when the Hawkeyes debuted as the No. 9 team in the first rankings of the season, even though road wins over Northwestern and Wisconsin are looking better as the season goes on, bolstering Iowa’s resume. But however the committee feels now that Iowa has nine wins, it’s doubtful victories in the remaining regular-season games against Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska will change that opinion.

[MORE BIG TEN: Buckeyes stay at No. 3, Hawkeyes up to No. 5 in Playoff rankings]

Surely, no matter what plays out, many of the other teams ranked ahead and around Iowa will have better wins by the end of the regular season. That’s what makes the Big Ten Championship Game so important. No matter who the Hawkeyes play — and of course we’re assuming that Iowa will beat all those sub-.500 teams left on the regular-season schedule and win the Big Ten West — it will be their biggest game and best opponent of the season. Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan can all still win the Big Ten East.

Only three of those aforementioned five undefeated teams can possibly finish their seasons undefeated. Even if Iowa and Ohio State win out in the regular season, they’ll square off in the Big Ten title game. And the two undefeated Big 12 teams are set to meet on Nov. 21.

So if Iowa wins out, are they one of the four teams to make the Playoff?

You’d have to think the answer is yes, but it’s not as obvious as “undefeated Big Ten champ” sounds at first blush.

If you’re going by the current rankings, the Hawkeyes would slide into the place vacated by the Buckeyes should they beat them in the Big Ten title game. But if one-loss Alabama wins out, the SEC-champion Tide probably wouldn’t drop below the Hawkeyes.

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

What about Notre Dame? Would wins over Stanford, Navy and Temple and a loss to Clemson be better than Iowa’s wins over Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin with no losses? I don't think so. If Iowa wins out and Notre Dame wins out, I think the Hawkeyes would jump the Irish.

But the Big 12 could be a different story. If either Baylor or Oklahoma State wins out, that team will boast wins over not just the other but TCU and Oklahoma, as well. That would probably be enough to leapfrog the Hawkeyes. The debate about whether the Big Ten or Big 12 is the better conference is moot because even if the Big Ten is the better league, Iowa would have only played one of the three best teams from the Big Ten East, while an undefeated Big 12 champ would have played — and beat — all the good teams in the conference.

So, to recap, if the teams currently ranked in the top six all win out — with the exception of Ohio State losing in the conference title game — the College Football Playoff could look like this: No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Baylor, with Iowa and Notre Dame fighting for the No. 4 spot. The Hawkeyes, once gaining a win over the Buckeyes, would likely have a better resume and a slight edge over the Irish, who have the nation’s most “quality” loss, to Clemson.

So, if the Hawkeyes do nothing but win, are they in? It seems likely.

But as Michigan State taught us last weekend, winning games you’re supposed to win isn’t always the easiest thing. And, oh yeah, Ohio State is pretty darn good, too.

All a team can ask for, however, is the opportunity to control it’s own destiny. Iowa appears to have that opportunity. Now it’s about seizing it.

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?