To say ‘The Game’ delivered on its hype would be quite the understatement — Double-overtime instant classic with a full-blown officiating controversy that puts the College Football Playoff committee under enormous pressure because nobody can agree on anything? Sign me up.
The Big Ten was the spotlight of the college football world this weekend and they did not disappoint. Much like the committee, our panel of seven can’t agree on much besides how awful Purdue and Rutgers are but one thing is clear. If you have a strong opinion about Ohio State or Michigan, you can be willing to bet someone thinks you’re insane.
Things were more or less as expected elsewhere around the conference with a weird scheduling quirk that saw the three atrocious amigos of the Big Ten play the triplets looking for their sixth wins and bowl eligibility. The results were quite predictable. Ohio State’s less than convincing victory over Michigan sends Penn State to the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin and if that’s a match-up you predicted in September, you should probably keep it to yourself, lest people start thinking you’re a time traveler or psychic. There were about zero football reasons to expect a season like this from the Nittany Lions, yet here they are with a real, albeit slim chance to crash the playoff as warm-up fodder for Alabama.
Like always, individual rankings can be found in the graphic at the bottom of the page. Enjoy.
(Indicates 1st place votes) [Avg Rank]
1. Ohio State(5) [1.6] Record: 11-1 (8-1) Previous Rank: 1
Ohio State is assuredly in the playoff and they get the week off to enjoy their spoils, no conference championship necessary. A thrilling comeback against Michigan in the fourth quarter led to an incredible escape in overtime number two but had even one of many questionable calls gone the other way, what a different story we’d be talking about today. Senior kicker Tyler Durbin would probably have a mailbox full of death threats right now but such is the razor thin margin between success and failure. J.T. Barrett was far from his best behind an offensive line that got battered and abused the entire afternoon but in the end, the Buckeyes were victorious and will be gearing up for a run through the College Football Playoff.
2. Michigan (2) [2.0] Record: 10-2 (7-2) Previous Rank: 2
Jim Harbaugh sufficiently summed up Wolverine nation’s feelings during his presser after The Game. Bitter disappointment is the only way to truly encapsulate letting such a game slip away through a myriad of mistakes and bad breaks that may keep Michigan out of the playoff despite clearly and unequivocally being one of the best four teams in the country. Such things are to be expected in a landscape where neither of the two clear cut best teams in the Big Ten will be partaking in the conference championship. Wilton Speight will be yearning for an opportunity to redeem himself but never has a potential trip to the Rose Bowl felt so disappointing. The only sure thing about where Michigan goes from here is that nobody wants to face this defensive line. J.T. Barrett is still shaking and sailing passes in his nightmares.
3. Wisconsin [2.6] Record: 10-2 (7-2) Previous Rank: 3
A shaky first half that saw the Badgers fall behind 17-7 put a serious scare into Wisconsin’s playoff dream. A 24-0 second half alleviated any concerns. Alex Hornibrook left after a hard hit in the second quarter but back up Bart Houston was solid in relief and Corey Clement shouldered the Badger offense without much trouble. Picking off Mitch Leidner four times in the second half went a long way to helping that cause and Wisconsin looks like the favorite to win the Big Ten as of now but would it be enough to get them into the playoff with losses to both Ohio State and Michigan?
4. Penn State [3.9] Record: 10-2 (8-1) Previous Rank: 4
Shaky first halves were all the rage on Saturday as the Nittany Lions found themselves down 12-10 at the break against the Spartans in the comfy confines of Happy Valley. Maybe is was nerves after seeing Michigan fall in Columbus, a spot in the Big Ten championship was on the line after all. Whatever it was disappeared in the second half. Even with an ineffective Saquon Barkley who would leave with a leg injury, Penn State ripped off 35 straight points behind a near-flawless Trace McSorely while shutting down Michigan State after halftime. A performance like that in the Big Ten championship could mean bringing home some serious hardware to Happy Valley and maybe even a shocking trip to the playoff. Maybe.
5. Iowa [5.3] Record: 8-4 (6-3) Previous Rank: 6
Oh, hey, there’s the Hawkeye team we expected most of the year. Better late than never I suppose. C.J. Beathard managed the game to perfection while LeShun Daniels Jr. ran all over the free-falling Cornhuskers. That gives Iowa their second win over a ranked opponent in three weeks and a jump back into the top 25. Where was this all season when the Hawkeyes were losing to the likes of FCS North Dakota State?
6. Nebraska [6.6] Record: 9-3 (6-3) Previous Rank: 5
Nebraska’s 7-0 start feels as if it was from another time. In reality, the Cornhuskers can beat the bad to average teams and fall to good teams. They couldn’t get anything going, ground or air in Iowa City Saturday but they should land a solid bowl venue after racking up nine wins against lesser competition. They should be thankful for avoing Penn State and Michigan in conference play.
7. Minnesota [6.7] Record: 8-4 (5-4) Previous Rank: 7
The Golden Gophers ten-point lead at halftime felt wonderful but who really thought it would last against the Badgers? Mitch Leidner threw the ball 26 times, about 20 more than he should in any game Minnesota expects to win and with all those attempts came a complete second half collapse. Four interceptions later, Wisconsin was chilling on easy street en route to the Big Ten championship game.
8. Northwestern [8.1] Record: 6-6 (5-4) Previous Rank: 9
Northwestern took care of business against an overmatched Illini team to salvage what’s left of their season by becoming bowl eligible. Austin Carr wasn’t the dominant receiver he’s often been but Justin Jackson and John Moten IV combined for over three hundred yards and five touchdowns on the ground while averaging over eight yards per carry. Illinois had no answers for their punishing attack and they had no way of keeping up on the scoreboard. To the toilet bowl!
9. Indiana [8.3] Record: 6-6 (4-5) Previous Rank: 8
Oh look, another blah team becoming bowl eligible against the dregs of the Big Ten. This time it was the Hoosiers running all over poor Purdue. Despite Richard Lagow’s three interceptions, Indiana managed to escape with a late 4th quarter touchdown sealing their first back to back bowl trips since 1991. They may have celebrated but really, that’s pretty depressing. Not as depressing as falling from the playoff to three wins of course but we’ll have more on that later.
10. Maryland [10.0] Record: 6-6 (3-6) Previous Rank: 10
ANOTHER ONE! What is this? Anual beat-up-on-high-school-teams-to-reach-six-wins day? The Terrapins did mean things to truly awful Rutgers and earned a bowl berth for first-year coach D.J. Durkin. It wasn’t spectacular but they did the business and for that we thank you. Because a loss to Rutgers should be punishable by death. At least of your career anyways.
11. Michigan State [11.3] Record: 3-9 (1-8) Previous Rank: 11
Last week I said the Spartans definitely know how to get up for big games. What I meant to say was the Spartans know how to act like they’re up for big games before showing why they’re a three-win team. Wait, what? THREE WINS TO END THE SEASON?! HELLO?! Oh well, at least Mark Dantonio will be making wholesale changes to ensure this never happens again. Oh, wait, he’s doing exactly the opposite. I’m sure fans will be thrilled. NO. NO WE’RE NOT. Here’s to a fake rivalry with Penn State and falling back to whatever derogatory term they wish to call us. WE DESERVE IT.
12. Illinois [11.7] Record: 3-9 (2-7) Previous Rank: 12
We helped Northwestern become bowl eligible!
And maybe after a few years of Lovie Smith building anything we can too!
13. Purdue [13.0] Record: 3-9 (1-8) Previous Rank: 13
We helped Indiana become bowl eligible!
We’ll probably never know what it’s like.
14. Rutgers [14.0] Record: 2-10 (0-9) Previous Rank: 14
We helped Maryland become bowl eligible!
And went winless in conference play during the process. Burn it to the ground. Till it’s ashes.