All quiet on the Midwestern front. . .
While Auburn was firing the shot heard around the college football world, and while Miami got a Pitt caught in its throat, the Big Ten ‘s College Football Playoff contenders took care of their business.
Wisconsin 31, MInnesota 0: So much for thoughts that effervescent P.J. Fleck might have the Gophers jacked up enough to put a scare into Wisconsin. Paul Bunyan’s Axe never needed to leave the trophy case in Madison.
Ohio State 31, Michigan 20: Despite a rocky start—the Zapruder cameraman bumped into J.T. Barrett and injured his knee in pre-game warmups, and the Wolverines led 14-0 early—the Buckeyes regrouped behind backup QB Dwayne Haskins.
Auburn’s victory over No. 1 Alabama, and Pitt’s upset of No. 2 Miami do have implications in flyover country, though.
The Badgers not only will be in the four-team playoff if they beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game. They ought to be in the top four when the new poll is released Tuesday.
For the Buckeyes, however, the news is not so good.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Even if they beat Wisconsin, they are a two-loss team that’s highly unlikely to make the cut against a one-loss Alabama.
Here's a thought: If the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide both miss the playoff, let's put them together in a bowl.
My final four at this point: 1) Auburn, 2) Clemson, 3) Oklahoma and 4) Wisconsin.
Even though Auburn has two losses, it also has beaten two No. 1s (Alabama and Georgia) in November. I say this knowing that there’s no chance The Committee will rank Auburn No. 1. After much study and analysis, it will focus on these key stats: Fewest losses. And head-to-head.
I say, Phooey. I don’t care that Clemson beat Auburn a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away. When you beat the Dawgs and the Tide in November, you are the real Jedi deal.
I’m not sure why Clemson keeps getting such a big pass on that Syracuse loss. Well, actually, it probably has something to do with the Tigers’ strength-of-schedule and how good they look under the eye test.
It also helps that Oklahoma doesn’t seem very skilled at, um, tackling. And we’ve heard it a thousand times, that Wisconsin’s schedule lacks strength.
Doesn’t matter. Put those four in the playoff and let them settle their differences.
Unless, of course, crazy stuff happens in the championship games. Which it will, of course. . .
YOUR TMG BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
For the longest time, the assumption has been that lumbering Wisconsin would have its hands full with jack-rabbit Ohio State. Betting lines bear that out. The Buckeyes are favored by a touchdown. For the longest time, I agreed with that. Now I’m not so sure.
1, Wisconsin (1 last week): In their fifth Big Ten title game in its seven-year history, the Badgers will try to break their two-game losing streak. They’ll be led by Alex Hornibrook, who had his first-interception-free conference game at Minnesota. And Jonathan Taylor, who has rushed for 1,806 yards and remained under the Heisman Trophy radar.
2, Ohio State (2): If there really was a malicious Zapruder cameraman attack on J.T. Barrett, and even if there wasn’t, Urban Meyer has every right to be outraged by too-many-camermen-on-the-field. But he ought to be pleased to know that backup Dwayne Haskins is now a proven commodity.
3, Penn State (3): Nothing like a little 66-3 beatdown to cap a 10-2 season. No conference championship or playoff, but a New Year’s Six bowl ought to be a nice holiday gift.
4, Northwestern (4): No. 22 and ought-to-be higher, the Wildcats won their seventh in a row. At 9-3, will have a chance to get to 10 in what ought-to-be a pretty good bowl.
5, Michigan State (5): Really nice 9-3 bounceback year for Sparty. But why are they No. 16 after losing to No. 22 Northwestern when both teams have the same record? When the committee favors the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing, it's clear that it did not attend the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston. It’s enough to make Pat Fitzgerald reach for the Post Toasties.
6, Michigan (6): Forget those Harbaugh-to-the-NFL/Harbaugh-to-the-Bears rumors. Coach Khaki Pants isn’t going anywhere for a while. But he needs to have a big year in 2018 and Beat Ohio State next year. No ifs, ands or buts. Find a quarterback and get him ready.
7, Purdue (7): First bowl trip in five years for the Boilermakers. Many struggling Big Ten schools have made good hires the last couple of years. But Jeff Brohm looks like the best of them.
8, Iowa (8): How does a team that punched mighty Ohio State in the mouth 55-24 and took Penn State to the edge 21-19 get roughed up by Purdue, and struggle offensively so regularly? That’s a question they’ll ask in the land of Hawkeyes this winter.
9, Indiana (9): The Ohio State/Penn State/Michigan/Michigan State start to conference play didn’t help. But only the last two were back-to-back. In the end, the 5-7 mark wasn’t a bad start for the Tom Allen watch. But it could have been more.
10, Minnesota (10): The Gophers’ flaws became more and more apparent, culminating in a pair of shutout/blowout losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. But what matters is the future under rah-rah row-your-boat P.J. Fleck, who tries to rekindle his Western Michigan magic in the shadow of the Pillsbury grain elevators.
11, Nebraska (11): The life of Mike Riley has ended in Lincoln, and rightly so. Who’s got next? All eyes are on UCF coach Scott Frost, the former Huskers QB. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell also makes a lot of sense. First we find out what the Nebraska brand means to hot young coaches. Then we find out if they can restore the sagging Husker forturnes.
12, Maryland (12): From 6-7, with a bowl trip in first year, to 4-8 this fall, D.J. Durkin seems to have taken a step back. Without all the QB injuries, though, a season that began with an epic win at Texas might have turned out differently. No biggie. Key is what Durkin does from here.
13, Rutgers (13): What Chris Ash hasn’t done in his first two years doesn’t matter nearly as much as what he’s able to do moving forward. As with Maryland and Indiana, good luck with that in the Big Ten East.
14, Illinois (14): The Illini were so young, it’s a wonder they were allowed to play past-your-bedtime night games. This program has been down before, though, and risen up surprisingly quickly.
Ron Turner: 3-19 in 1997-98; bowl game in 1999; Sugar Bowl in 2001.
Worst to first in five years.
Ron Zook: 4-19 in 2005-06; Rose Bowl in 2007.
Worst to first in three years!
Lovie Smith: 5-19 in 2016-17; ??? in 2018.
They do, Ron-Ron. Tough acts to follow!
Even a trip to the Any Old Bowl next year looks like a big reach for Lovie and the Illini. But except for Tim Beckman, that’s the trend among Illinois coaches. And Beckman doesn’t count. He really doesn’t count.
And so, for Orange-and-Blue true believers, season tickets are readily available in Champaign. For less than the price of a single-game parking pass at Notre Dame.[/membership]