- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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A wild November is two days away. Buckle up.
1. Conversation starter: The College Football Playoff rankings are going to change, that much is certain. But as a starting point, the first-ever edition is pretty useful for gauging where the Big Ten sits and what it must do hitting the homestretch over the final month of the regular season. The heavy lifting mostly applies to Nebraska and Ohio State, and the spots those programs hold at Nos. 15 and 16 might have revealed more about the thinking of the selection committee than just about anything else on Tuesday. For starters, at this point, it's hard to argue that the Huskers didn't deserve the higher ranking since their lone loss was at Michigan State and they own a reasonably attractive win over Miami. The loss to Virginia Tech is currently weighing down the Buckeyes, and despite how hard-fought the victory was at Penn State against its stout defense, there isn't much else on the resume right now worth getting too excited over for the committee. But it's important to keep in mind that even with all those teams standing between Nebraska and Ohio State and a playoff berth, there is a lot of football left to play -- and if either of them can win out, it still seems likely that a one-loss Big Ten champ is going to climb enough rungs to get into the field. Only one of those teams can do it since they would face off in the conference title game, but the Big Ten as a league remains very much alive in the race for the national crown.
2. Bucking up: J.T. Barrett isn't completely healthy yet on his sprained knee, but the Ohio State quarterback made it clear after practice on Wednesday that he was on track to play on Saturday night against Illinois. Considering what's looming for the Buckeyes on Nov. 8 at Michigan State, though, it might be best for Urban Meyer to get him out of the game as early as possible to make sure he's in one piece for such a critical matchup with both the Big Ten and national-title implications. Like any week, nothing can be taken for granted, and Illinois has put together some decent game plans on defense and is coming off an upset win over Minnesota. But if the Illini do live up to their billing as the worst total defense in the league in the Horseshoe this weekend, Meyer would be wise not to leave Barrett on the field into the fourth quarter behind backup offensive linemen in an effort to get him extra reps like he did two weeks ago against Rutgers. The stakes are too high, and Michigan State is more than capable of beating the Buckeyes again even if they're at full strength.
3. Under-the-radar matchup: Basically from here on out, the West will have a matchup every week that could serve as an elimination game for the division title. The undercard for a heavyweight November starts with Northwestern visiting Iowa, which isn't exactly a showdown between leading contenders but will nevertheless leave one team in the race and essentially knock the other out. The Hawkeyes have had an extra week to address the issues that popped up in a loss at Maryland that cut down on their margin for error in the rough-and-tumble West. Playing at home will also be an advantage for Kirk Ferentz and his club. Northwestern has been something of a wildcard, though, and it already has gone on the road and come home with a surprising victory after taking apart Penn State in late September. The Wildcats do have two losses in the league already, and they don't have much going for them in a theoretical tiebreaker should they win out. But they're not all that different than the Hawkeyes at this point -- and the loser on Saturday will effectively be out of the race.
Jabrill Peppers has obviously not had the season anybody envisioned for Michigan, and Brady Hoke admitted the freshman is frustrated.
Mark Dantonio is only focused on taking care of business with Michigan State after the first rankings were unveiled.
Thanks to an injury to veteran safety Ryan Keiser, Penn State will take the redshirt off Troy Apke.
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova took another step forward, but his status remains unclear for this week's game against Wisconsin.
Maryland started its preparation for Penn State in the summer by breaking down Vanderbilt film, looking for ways to get pressure on Christian Hackenberg.
J.T. Barrett left no doubt about his intentions this week for Ohio State.
Word continues to spread about Indiana running back Tevin Coleman.
Nebraska has received a boost for its offensive line off the bench.
Where does Minnesota's loss at Illinois rank among the most deflating for the program over the last 15 years?
Reilly O'Toole remembers vividly the noise at Ohio Stadium two seasons ago. The Illinois quarterback will actually have a chance to play in front of that crowd this time.
Wisconsin has already had success in the past recruiting New Jersey. Putting on a good show at Rutgers might open up a few more doors.
Iowa is fed up with poor tackling, and it has made cleaning it up a priority this week.
Statistically, Northwestern has plenty in common with Iowa.
Raheem Mostert is running down a record at Purdue.