By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
Brady Hoke filibuster watch: Opening statement clocks in at 90 seconds this week.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 21, 2014
Mark Dantonio says he thinks a one-loss Big Ten champ should make the playoff. "But that's just me as a fan," he said.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 21, 2014
More from Dantonio on the playoff: Could make a case for 15 different teams to be in the playoff.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 21, 2014
Last 3 weeks, Fitz has seen Melvin Gordon, David Cobb and Ameer Abdullah: "Pretty special [group of RBs in B1G], no question about that."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 21, 2014
Jerry Kill said coming from behind to beat Purdue was significant step last week. Gophers had never won after trailing at half under Kill.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 21, 2014
Urban Meyer said Joey Bosa played his best game on Saturday vs. Rutgers. Kid's still getting better. Scary.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 21, 2014
Kevin Wilson on Tevin Coleman's big plays: "He's got a knack for it. Little bit of it is scheme, lot of it's him."— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 21, 2014
1. Larry Johnson deserves cheers, not jeers from Penn State fans. The longtime Nittany Lions assistant, now an Ohio State coach, is returning to Happy Valley for a Saturday night game. One fan tweeted at me, referring to LJ as “Larry Judas.” He’s not the only PSU fan that still harnesses some bitterness toward Johnson. But that really misses the mark. Johnson knew James Franklin was big on defensive line coach Sean Spencer -- he admitted as much Monday -- so Johnson simply stepped aside. This is the same man who declined a defensive coordinator position with Illinois in 2008 which would’ve reportedly doubled his salary. And who, in 2011, declined to put his name in for Maryland’s next coordinator job because he already promised Penn State’s recruiting class he’d coach them the next season. Just because a coach leaves somewhere doesn’t mean he’s “disloyal.” I’m not 100 percent certain what kind of reception he’ll receive Saturday night, but a standing ovation seems much more appropriate than any boos.
2. Purdue fans have a reason to be excited -- finally. Danny Etling was heralded as Purdue's savior before he ever took a snap last season. And when he did finally step under center for the first time, against Northern Illinois, the crowd offered him a standing ovation. Well, it turns out the quarterback to turn this Boilermakers team around might just be the lesser-known Austin Appleby. At least, he was lesser-known until a few weeks ago. In his last three starts, the Boilermakers are averaging 35.7 points a game. Before Appleby, that number was 23.8. He has some weapons on offense and, if this defense can step up, Purdue could really be a good team. Seriously. Appleby stuck with it after Etling twice beat him out for the starting job, and Appleby still has no shortage of confidence. He said last week that Purdue "could've hung 40" on Michigan State.
3. Illinois’ “Gray Ghost” uniforms deserve a thumbs-up. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for history, but I really dig the uniforms the Fighting Illini plan to wear this weekend for Homecoming. It’s not necessarily how they look -- and they look fine -- but it’s the story behind them that really gets me. Ninety years ago, during Illinois’ Homecoming against Michigan, Red Grange scored four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes of the game. He ended up with six TDs as the Illini became the first team to beat Michigan in two years. After that game, famous sportswriter Grantland Rice referred to Grange as a “gray ghost.” So, that’s the idea behind Illinois’ uniforms. Wish more teams would honor history like that. Seems like fans are embracing the new design, too. The jerseys have already sold out online.
Now, on to the links ...
- Last year's beatdown against Michigan State still lingers for Michigan.
- The Spartans are setting their sights on the College Football Playoff.
- Urban Meyer expects more from Ohio State's offense.
- The Hoosiers must stay aggressive despite some mistakes.
- Tackling woes doomed Rutgers in its loss to Ohio State.
- Notes about Maryland, including how the Terrapins plan to stick with their punter.
- Minnesota's latest top-25 ranking is a big victory for a team off to its best start since 1990.
- Bo Pelini is glad to have Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. on his side.
- Wisconsin must "keep its eye on the ball" against Maryland.
- Purdue's defense is giving up too many big plays.
- Tim Beckman will utilize a two-quarterback system against Minnesota.
- Reviewing four factors in Iowa's loss to Maryland.
- Three takeaways from Northwestern's loss over the weekend.
not a lot of separation over in the West. Minnesota is the only team that has yet to drop a conference game, but three others (Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin) are within striking distance with only one loss. At the same time, we've been saying for quite a few weeks now that Nebraska clearly boasts the edge, talent-wise, in the division. Heck, I picked the Huskers to win the West in the preseason. Nebraska is the only balanced team here. Minnesota and Wisconsin really don't have much in the way of passing games, and the Hawkeyes haven't exactly been models of consistency. But one misstep in this division could cost the crown. That's why the “Wild, Wild West” may have become slightly clearer, but it's still pretty muddled. We'll know how the East shakes out when Michigan State takes on Ohio State in two weeks. But the West? We might not know until the final week. Take a look at the Huskers' final three opponents: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa. Now that's wild.
Mike from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, writes: Does Brady Hoke need to win out to save his job? As much as I'm in the minority, I don't want to see Michigan go through another coaching search. This team, their O-line in particular, is pretty young.
Moyer: See, that's a tough question, Mike -- only because there's about a zero percent chance Hoke wins out. Listen, he's gone. Even he has to know he's gone. Michigan has looked worse every season, and player development seems to be an ongoing issue. I'll even give you the offensive line since it's young. But why is Devin Gardner regressing? And why couldn't U-M adjust when Rutgers nailed them for 404 passing yards? As far as player development/recruiting, let me share kind of an eye-opening fact here: Michigan's usual starting lineup features seven players who were on the ESPN 300; Rutgers has recruited seven total ESPN 300 players since 2006. How about resources? For every dollar Rutgers' athletic department spends, Michigan spends $1.82. Yet, Rutgers was the Vegas favorite earlier this season -- and won. So it's clear Michigan is not on the right track. If Hoke somehow turns this team around and beats Michigan State and Ohio State, sure, he'll keep his job. But we might as well talk about what happens to Tim Beckman if Illinois wins out. Because neither is very likely to happen.
Melvin Gordon. The Terrapins are ranked No. 102 nationally in rush defense and the Badgers are ranked No. 1 in rushing offense. That's a big reason the Badgers are favored by double digits. Before the injury to Indiana's Nate Sudfeld, Maryland's offense also kind of reminded me of the Hoosiers without Tevin Coleman – you saw all this potential through the air … but you wondered when it was going to materialize. With C.J. Brown struggling, you still wonder. Maryland hasn't faced a top-25 defense yet this season, and it should struggle against Wisconsin. As far as Wisconsin's quarterback situation, both players are still splitting reps with the first team. Joel Stave has seen more time than Tanner McEvoy the last two games and, unless McEvoy practices better this week, I'd expect more of the same.
Moyer: Haha ... well, I can't argue with that logic. Here's another fact to chew on: Penn State beat Ohio State, 63-14, in 1994. The next season, the Buckeyes won 28-25. Of course, do I really think the Nittany Lions will win Saturday after getting demolished last season by that same 63-14 score? Of course not. This is one of the worst offensive lines in the Power 5, while the Buckeyes have one of the best defensive lines. If Penn State can even keep this close -- Saturday night's game is the hot PSU ticket this season -- then it should be a boost. The Nittany Lions' defense is much improved from last season, but it really hasn't yet played a good quarterback. And J.T. Barrett has been great this season. This needs to be a low-scoring affair for PSU to really stand a chance. But I'd be surprised if Penn State really threatened.
@ESPNJoshMoyer seeing as Penn State beat Akron, who beat Pitt, who beat Virginia Tech, who beat Ohio State, PSU clearly wins Saturday right?— Amanda Wrzeszczynski (@PSU_Wrz) October 20, 2014
OK, so you might hate pop music or Taylor Swift. But if you don't enjoy choreographed mascot dances, you are a cold, humorless soul and I cannot help you.
The latest from the Big Ten mascots is a rendition of Swift's "Shake it Off."
In addition to Sparty, the video includes appearances from: Herky the Hawk, Purdue Pete, Goldy Gopher, Herbie Husker (and Lil' Red), Bucky Badger, Brutus Buckeye and a new face to the party, Rutgers' Scarlet Knight. Best moves (coming from someone who has none) and creativity in performance: Bucky Badger, followed by Purdue Pete.
Enjoy the video ...
On Saturday night, for the first time in his career, Johnson will be standing across from that sideline.
The 18-year Penn State assistant is now the defensive line coach at Ohio State, and his new team will face his old Saturday night in State College. Urban Meyer scooped Johnson up after he left Happy Valley in January -- making the Buckeyes just the second college team he’s ever coached -- and Johnson said he’s not quite sure what emotions to expect when he returns.
“I’m looking forward to going back home and being excited to play in the stadium.”
Johnson’s departure was an emotional one for Penn State fans. He was the final Joe Paterno holdover, the last assistant with a direct connection to the no-name jerseys and the rolled-up khakis. While unprecedented change swept through Happy Valley, Johnson was the lone constant.
He was promoted to co-defensive coordinator when Paterno was fired. Then he was relegated to defensive line coach with Bill O’Brien’s arrival. Two seasons later, when O’Brien left, he kept this team together as the interim head coach. Then, with James Franklin’s hiring, he left.
“I didn’t have any bitterness when I left. It was my decision to leave, it was my time to move on,” he said Monday. “I just felt that Coach Franklin was coming in with a new staff, and I knew he had a guy he really liked a lot. I just felt it was the best thing to do.”
Now, instead of addressing the media behind a blue and white backdrop, he talks to reporters behind a scarlet and gray one. On Monday afternoon, in a dark Ohio State jacket, the even-tempered coach kept a soft tone as if he were in a library while reflecting on his time in State College.
He spoke highly of his past stop throughout the news conference. About how past “White Outs,” where the crowd wears all white, jump-started his players. About the “great friends, great players” he coached. About how blessed he feels with PSU and now OSU on his resume. Though he remained stoic for much of the time, he smiled when asked if -- in his 18 years -- he ever caught a peek of the visitors’ locker room.
“I have not,” he said.
But have you heard about it?
“I have heard about it,” he said with a slight grin. “It’s very small.”
Besides Monday’s location -- and the color of his shirt -- Johnson said not all that much has changed in his life. He still tends to his flowers in the offseason -- “That’s kind of my style,” he added -- he still preaches player development and relationships, and he’s still a top recruiter. He built a new house near Ohio State, and his son, former Penn State wideout Tony Johnson, moved closer to him.
He sold his old house in State College and doesn’t plan to stop by once he returns. He doesn’t plan to swing by the Creamery for some Peachy Paterno ice cream, or see much of anything other than the walls to his hotel and the inside of Beaver Stadium. He said he simply doesn’t have the time.
He remains in touch with his pastor from Penn State, along with some members of the congregation, so he plans to see some familiar faces in the crowd Saturday night. He’ll shake hands with his former players after the game, and it’s sure to be a surreal experience for the coach whom Paterno plucked from the high school ranks back in 1996.
“I had a great time there for 18 years,” Johnson said. “I got to be part of their lives for a long time. It’s a new job, a new place and a new school, so I’m looking forward to coming back.”
1. Can Michigan close the Bunyan-sized gap with Michigan State? Based simply on this year's performances, Saturday's game between Michigan and Michigan State could be one of the most lopsided in the history of the Paul Bunyan Trophy series. The Spartans are riding high, having won 13 straight Big Ten contests, while the Wolverines are just 3-4. Michigan State has won five of the past six in this rivalry, including three straight in East Lansing. The inability to beat his rivals is a big reason Brady Hoke is fighting for his job right now. Maybe the Wolverines can rally behind their embattled coach. If not, this has a chance to get ugly.
2. Will Ohio State keep it rolling? The Buckeyes have scored 50 or more points in each of their past four games to build their case for the College Football Playoff. This week brings their toughest road test of the season to date, a night game at Penn State. Beaver Stadium will be decked in white, and Nittany Lions fans will do their best to rattle young quarterback J.T. Barrett. Penn State's defense is probably the best one Ohio State has played in at least a month as well. Of course, the Lions have lost their first two Big Ten games and are having all sorts of issues with their offensive line, which they spent last week's bye week trying to solve. Don't be surprised if James Franklin and his staff throw out some new wrinkles this Saturday night.
3. Make-or-break game in Madison: Is Maryland for real? Is Wisconsin a serious contender? The season has failed to adequately answer these questions thus far. The Terrapins are 2-1 in their first year in the league and are coming off a solid win over Iowa. They've been up and down (the down includes a home blowout loss to Ohio State), but they also have a lot of explosive playmakers. Wisconsin has a Heisman Trophy candidate in Melvin Gordon but hasn't figured much else out on offense, especially in the passing game. The Badgers already have one conference loss and likely can't afford another one if they want to win the West Division. Can Wisconsin keep pace with Maryland's skill players like Stefon Diggs? Can the Terps' shaky defense slow down Gordon? One team will be left standing as a serious division contender after Saturday.
4. Beckman's last stand? Illinois coach Tim Beckman may well have to make a bowl game to save his job this season. That means the 3-4 Illini probably have to win this week at home against Minnesota, because the rest of the schedule isn't kind. The Gophers sit atop the West Division at 3-0 but looked vulnerable to a big-play passing offense on Saturday against Purdue. Illinois will have to follow the Boilermakers' game plan, though either Aaron Bailey or Reilly O'Toole must make a big jump at quarterback. Here's the best reason to predict that Minnesota will come away with the road win in Champaign: Beckman's defense is surrendering a Big Ten-worst 271.1 rushing yards per game. David Cobb could run all day.
5. Rutgers' mettle being tested: You really wanted to join the Big Ten, Rutgers. Well, here you go. After dealing with the piping-hot cauldron of the Horseshoe last week -- where the Scarlet Knights got scalded in a 56-17 loss to Ohio State -- Kyle Flood's team jumps back into the fire this week with a trip to Nebraska. It's harder to imagine many more difficult back-to-back road challenges than that in the Big Ten, and it highlights the difficulty of Rutgers' second-half schedule (a November trip to Michigan State still awaits). Nebraska looked terrific last week in the second half at Northwestern and must simply avoid complacency before the big West Division showdowns arrive the final three weeks (at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa). For the Scarlet Knights right now, this is mostly about survival and not letting a promising season go up in flames
There are several places in college football where the national spotlight fixates, and Ohio Stadium is one. When Urban Meyer is prowling the sidelines, the glare is even brighter.
But Ohio State has been somewhat of a forgotten team since 11:54 p.m. ET on Sept. 6. That's the moment when Virginia Tech completed a 35-21 win against the Buckeyes in Columbus.
It wasn't just the shock of the loss or that it marked Ohio State's third defeat in four games after a 24-0 start under Meyer. It was that Ohio State fulfilled the doom-and-gloom outlook many had after quarterback Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury in August.
It was one of those worst-fears-fulfilled kinds of nights. The loss, while surprising, followed a narrative many had mapped out the moment Miller's labrum tore during an innocuous throw in practice.
So Ohio State became a forgotten team nationally and, to a degree, in the Big Ten -- as crazy as that sounds.
Well, it's time to take notice again. No Big Ten team is playing better than No. 13 Ohio State. And few quarterbacks nationally are playing better than Barrett.
Since the Virginia Tech loss, the Buckeyes' numbers are staggering. They've outscored their opponents 224-69. They set a team record with four consecutive games of 50 or more points and tied a team mark with four straight games of 500 or more yards.
Barrett's four-game line: 1,170 pass yards, 17 touchdowns, one interception (none in the past three games), 68.3 percent completions, 263 rush yards, three touchdowns.
"He's throwing it on time, throwing it early, trusting what he sees, directing traffic, going through his progressions, not getting freaked out with a little pressure," offensive coordinator Tom Herman recently told me.
He has accounted for at least four touchdowns in all four games, the longest active streak in the country and the longest for a Big Ten quarterback since former Purdue star Kyle Orton in 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner once again worked his magic, simplifying things so a group that looked like a liability in Week 2 has become a strength.
"Until you understand Algebra 1, you can't take Algebra 2," Warinner told me. "You just have to be patient and trust that playing hard and having good fundamentals will carry you through. Eventually, you can build on that with your changeups, your exceptions, your adjustments.
"People get caught up in thinking, 'I'm a really good coach. I've got these guys who never played and look at all this stuff I told them.' And you don't get anything done."
Ohio State also is getting it done on defense during the win streak: 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, eight interceptions. The Buckeyes held both Maryland and Rutgers well below their averages for yards and points. They suddenly rank in the top 25 nationally in points allowed (24th), opponent adjusted QBR (21st), pass yards allowed (16th) and first downs allowed (20th).
"We're playing at a pretty high level right now," Meyer said of his defense.
But what about the competition? Ohio State hasn't beaten a ranked team during its run. Unlike teams in the SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, the Buckeyes' schedule has allowed them to regain their mojo. But you play who you play, and Ohio State has destroyed everything in its path.
It's all pointing to the Nov. 8 showdown at No. 8 Michigan State, which hasn't lost at home since 2012. Both teams won 56-17 on Saturday, but Ohio State seems to be playing at a higher level. The Buckeyes are No. 5 nationally in ESPN's Football Power Index, which measures team strength as a future predictor.
According to FPI, Ohio State has a 48.5 percent chance to win the Big Ten, the third-highest percentage of any Power 5 team and by far the highest percentage in the league, as defending champion Michigan State has just a 23.7 percent chance. Yes, we all know FPI has never been high on the Spartans, who remain the team to beat in this league until proved otherwise.
But the numbers favor Ohio State, which, according to FPI, is the one-loss team from a Power 5 conference with the best chance (27 percent) to finish with just the sole blemish.
So everyone must pay attention to the Buckeyes again, including the playoff selection committee. Virginia Tech is a bad loss that seems to be getting worse. But the circumstances surrounding Ohio State with Miller's injury should be considered, if the committee members stay true to their word.
Ohio State has few résumé-boosting opportunities left: trips to Michigan State and Minnesota, and the Big Ten title game.
But if the Buckeyes continue on this trajectory, they should be in a familiar spot: playing for championships.
QB J.T. Barrett
- The redshirt freshman has only been a starter or half of a season, so there is still plenty of time for him to improve. But how much more could the Buckeyes really need from Barrett? After his rough outing in September against Virginia Tech, Barrett has played himself into contention for major awards and dragged the Buckeyes back into the College Football Playoff discussion with an accurate arm, underrated athleticism as a rusher and the leadership skills of a veteran. Against the Scarlet Knights, he threw for 261 yards, ran for 107 and accounted for five touchdowns -- and still apparently left Urban Meyer wanting a little more.
- Ohio State was already in control on the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the first half, but it obviously didn't want to give Rutgers any reason for optimism heading into the locker room or let the game get any tighter. After a costly penalty extended the drive deep into Ohio State territory, Grant snuffed it out with an interception in the end zone that might as well have been the nail in the coffin for the Scarlet Knights. The Ohio State cornerback also tied for the team lead with seven tackles in his finest outing of the season.
- There still haven't been all that many opportunities for the tight ends to get their hands on the ball with so many skill players fighting for touches, but Vannett made the most of his opportunities against the Scarlet Knights. The junior turned both of his catches into touchdowns for the Buckeyes, opening the scoring quickly on the opening drive with a 12-yard grab and tacking on a 26-yarder for good measure in the second quarter. He and Jeff Heuerman may have to keep doing dirty work as blockers most of the time, but they are both more than capable of adding an extra dimension to the vaunted Ohio State attack.
Good morning. A few thoughts before we get to the links:
1. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is receiving loads of attention as Ohio State continues its incredible offensive surge. And rightly so, because Barrett's numbers (20 total touchdowns, five interceptions, 65.2 percent completion rate) are astounding. He has the highest ESPN QBR score in the country since Sept. 6, the date of the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech.
But let's not forget the improvement of Ohio State's offensive line. The young group with four new starters looked like a liability in the first couple of games. Since then, it has become a source of strength. The Buckeyes allowed no sacks on Saturday against Rutgers, whose defense came into the game leading the Big Ten in that category. The Scarlet Knights only had two tackles for loss and just one quarterback hurry. Ed Warriner's group showed similar dominance against Maryland, whose defensive front caused Iowa's offensive line all kinds of problems on Saturday.
Urban Meyer had his players give the assistant coaches a standing ovation after the Rutgers win. It's hard to tell just how good the Buckeyes are right now, Bob Hunter writes. But they look pretty darn good.
2. As great as Ameer Abdullah is, I thought Nebraska needed one more weapon to take its offense to a truly elite level. The Huskers might have found that extra option on Saturday at Northwestern.
De'Mornay Pierson-El, who to this point had done most of his damage on punt returns, had three catches and even threw a touchdown pass to Tommy Armstrong Jr., evoking memories of a famous trick play from Nebraska's past. The speedy true freshman gives Armstrong another target along with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp. The Huskers were dominant offensively in the second half against a pretty good Northwestern defense, and Pierson-El was a big reason why.
"De’Mornay and Ameer and Kenny, when does it end?” offensive coordinator Tim Beck told the Omaha World-Herald. “You want those guys on the field, because now you've got to guard them all.”
3. Indiana just can't seem to sustain any kind of positive momentum. The Hoosiers were a trendy pick to make a bowl this season, especially after winning at Missouri on Sept. 20.
But since then, Kevin Wilson's team has gone just 1-3 (with the lone win over North Texas). And as IU showed in Saturday's 56-17 loss to Michigan State, it's highly doubtful that there is another win left on the schedule.
True freshman quarterback Zander Diamont clearly isn't ready, as his 5-for-15, 11-yard performance vs. the Spartans confirmed. He should be redshirting, but season-ending injuries to Nate Sudfeld and Chris Covington thrust him into action. Even with Tevin Coleman having a season for the ages, the Hoosiers don't have much of a chance without a passing attack and with a defense that can't win Big Ten games on its own. There's much to like about the young talent Wilson has brought to Bloomington, but Indiana continues to be stuck in program quicksand. The last five games will test the resolve of Wilson and his players.
- Everything was ravaged for Iowa at Maryland, as the Hawkeyes threw the ball 56 (!) times. “Things we are known for doing when we play well, I can’t think of one of those things we did today,” Kirk Ferentz said.
- Minnesota simply found a way to beat Purdue.
- The game -- and likely the division hopes -- got away from Northwestern in the second half.
- Purdue was oh-so-close at Minnesota but came up short.
- Illinois finds itself in a familiar pickle.
- Wisconsin's Derek Watt and Warren Herring are spending unwanted time together -- in the training room.
- Michigan State has the look of a playoff team, Shawn Windsor writes.
- Rutgers was humbled in the Horseshoe but can't let the blowout loss define its season.
- Maryland's playmakers emerged at just the right time.
- Does big-money donor Stephen Ross hold the key to Dave Brandon's fate at Michigan?
- Questions facing Penn State for the second half.
Ohio State's band put on another amazing halftime show. Rock out to it. The Pinball Wizard part is my favorite.
Each week during the college football season, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay kick off the week by settling a debate, looking at emerging NFL prospects and peeking ahead to next week.
The big question: Does a one-loss Michigan State or Ohio State deserve to make the playoff?
Todd McShay: At this point, I can't definitively say that a one-loss Michigan State Spartans or Ohio State Buckeyes will deserve a spot in the playoff. A lot will depend upon which teams the Spartans or Buckeyes (and there can only be one, since they face off against each other Nov. 8) will be up against when it comes time to select the playoff field. But I'm much more inclined to believe that they will be deserving of one of the four spots than I would have been just three weeks ago.
Here's the case for each, followed by the bottom line:
Michigan State: I'm more familiar with the Buckeyes' personnel and development at the moment, because I've been part of the broadcast team for Ohio State games in two of the past three weeks, but from what I've been able to see so far (and I will be covering Michigan State against Michigan Saturday -- 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC), this is a team that continues to improve.
Three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska) have reached the six-win threshold, ensuring bowl placement for this year. Four other squads -- Ohio State, Maryland, Rutgers and Iowa -- are one win away.
The projections don't change much this week after a Saturday where things more or less went according to plan. One debate among the Big Ten reporting team was whether to remove Northwestern, which lost its second consecutive game and continued to struggle offensively. Yet with four winnable Big Ten games left -- Iowa (road), Michigan (home), Purdue (road) and Illinois (home) -- we think Pat Fitzgerald's team can finish well.
Another factor is the Big Ten taking more control of the game assignments this year, rather than leaving it up to the bowls, who often prioritize brand name and size of fan base over on-field results. The league wants better, fresher matchups and no repeat appearances, if at all possible.
Would the Holiday Bowl rather have Wisconsin than Maryland? No doubt. But Maryland has earned its way into the Holiday Bowl slot on the field, so we're giving the Terrapins the nod. Fortunately, Wisconsin and Maryland can settle things on the field this week in Madison.
Should Michigan State or Ohio State be projected into the College Football Playoff? Not yet. But the winner of their Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium could move into elite company.
Iowa takes a tumble after its loss in College Park. The Hawkeyes have to take care of business at home in November to move up again.
OK, enough rambling. The projections ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Maryland
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Wisconsin
San Francisco: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Iowa
Quick Lane: Penn State
Heart of Dallas: Northwestern
Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.
The Seminoles strong-armed the Fighting Irish, wrestling back from a 17-10 halftime deficit to win their 23rd consecutive game and overcome perhaps their toughest remaining test. FSU has five unranked opponents left, beginning with a road trip to Louisville on Oct. 30, followed by Virginia.
Big 12 balance of power shifting
No. 4 Baylor's playoff hopes took a massive hit in a 41-27 loss to unranked West Virginia. No. 14 Kansas State is rising by virtue of a 31-30 win over No. 11 Oklahoma, which suffered its second loss. Meanwhile, No. 12 TCU rebounded strongly after a wrenching loss to Baylor by pummelling No. 15 Oklahoma State 42-9.
The Crimson Tide stomped the Aggies, notching their most lopsided SEC victory since beating Vanderbilt 66-3 in 1979 and blanking Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin for the first time in his 86 games as a head coach.
And in case you're not following us on Twitter yet (seriously?), check out:@ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.
You can't spell 'Zoolander' without Zander. IU's starting QB today used to do some modeling. pic.twitter.com/VLiqVmvvSl— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 18, 2014
I never would've thought that one day my game would be televised on ABC prime time. What a blessing.... Thank you =O=O=O JESUS— Steven Longa (@StrongaLonga3) October 18, 2014
Rutgers may chop wood, but the Buckeyes are just a buzzsaw right now.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) October 18, 2014
Armstrong says that's one small step for man, one giant leap for a Cornhusker— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 19, 2014
ARMSTRONG JUST WENT TO THE MOON sorry— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) October 19, 2014
Happy for @AAppleby12. Most QBs in his position - lose two competitions - would take the first transfer train out of town. He stayed.— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 18, 2014
This is Abdullah time. He goes 1,000 yards -- the first Nebraska back ever to do that in three seasons. Incredible accomplishment.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) October 19, 2014
Baylor loses. Oklahoma loses. Big Ten's chances of landing a team in the playoff got a lot better this afternoon.— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) October 18, 2014