Week 11 of the college football season is in the books, and it was nothing short of crazy. As you know by now, the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams in the country all suffered defeats, which shook up the College Football Playoff landscape. Given that this is a Big Ten Report, the most critical defeat was Michigan's stunning loss to Iowa. They remain in the CFP for the time being, but their Big Ten Title chances are now on life support. Yes, they are still in a three-way tie (6-1) for first with Ohio State and Penn State, but the Wolverines still have to go to Columbus and play the Buckeyes. Because of that, one of those two teams will end up with two losses, which means Penn State could win out and end up in the Big Ten title game. The scenarios are rather simple: if Michigan and Penn State win out and end up at 8-1, Michigan will play in the Big Ten title game thanks to their win over Penn State in September. If Ohio State and Penn State win out, the Nittany Lions will get the nod ahead of the Buckeyes thanks to their upset win in October. If the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten, you can almost guarantee them a spot in the CFP.
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Week 12 is the penultimate week in the Big Ten regular season, and there are several big games on the schedule. Both divisions within the Big Ten are still up for grabs, although the teams involved seemingly have "easy" games this coming weekend. In the West division, No.18 Nebraska and No.7 Wisconsin are tied atop the division with a record of 5-2. The Badgers (-27.5) travel to Purdue to take on a hapless Boilermakers squad. The Badgers are coming off a 48-3 win against Illinois last week and should be well rested and focused for this game. The Cornhuskers (-14) host Maryland and could be tested against an offense that can put up points. In the East, No. 2 Ohio State (-21.5) travels to East Lansing for a date with Michigan State. This might be the only time in history that a Michigan fan will cheer for their in-state rivals. No.3 Michigan (-22.5) takes on Indiana and will be looking to bounce back from an awful offensive performance. We still don't know how many games quarterback Wilton Speight will miss - if any. And lastly, No.8 Penn State takes on Rutgers. The Nittany Lions shouldn't have a problem getting by the Scarlet Knights but must play focused and keep the outside distractions (CFP, Big Ten title) to a minimum. Other games in Week 12 include Northwestern (-1) at Minnesota and Iowa (-10) at Illinois.
Moving forward on a weekly basis I will be breaking down the weekly Big Ten slate. I will share with you my Game of the Week, teams trending up and down, key player matchup, best value line and the top underdog to watch, just to name a few. Let's get to it.
*All lines courtesy of Bovada*
Chalk of the Week
Ohio State -21.5 @ Michigan State
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer just found out this past week that Alabama uses former NFL players on its practice squad in order to get his team to practice to the best of their ability. Meyer was flabbergasted when he found out, and I expect him to have his team ready to make a statement once again. Since losing to Penn State on Oct. 22, the Buckeyes have rattled off three straight wins by a combined score of 148-26. The last two wins were in crushing fashion - 62-3 over Nebraska and 62-3 over Maryland. I would rank Michigan State below those two teams, which means they will be in for a long afternoon on Saturday.
Over the last two weeks, quarterback J.T. Barrett has accumulated 543 yards and 6 touchdowns passing while running for 86 yards and two touchdowns. He has elevated his play to the level the Buckeyes need him to be at since a mid-October slump that cost his team an undefeated record. He is getting plenty of help from his playmakers, too, with running back Curtis Samuel leading the charge. Samuel has accounted for 290 total yards over the last two wins with five touchdowns. He will once again need to be the difference if Ohio State wants to escape East Lansing with their No.2 ranking still in tact.
Fortunately for Buckeyes' fans, they should do just that. Don't let the Spartans' 49-0 win over Rutgers last week fool you. Rutgers is and will always be Rutgers and the doormat of the Big Ten. The Spartans' will heavily rely on running back LJ Scott to carry the load and make plays for them. Scott is coming off a 122-yard, one-touchdown performance and has rushed for 120-plus yards in three of his last four. I don't expect him to produce similar results going up against the second-best run defense in the conference - a defense that has allowed only three rushing touchdowns, which is tied with Michigan, Louisville and Alabama for the fewest in the nation.
I would go ahead and lay the points with the Buckeyes in this spot. I don't see them looking ahead to next week's Michigan game because they don't control their own destiny. They are much more likely to get into the CFP than the Big Title Game (assuming Penn State wins out), so I see them running up the score here and putting no doubt in the committee's mind that they are far and away one of the best teams in the country.
Pick: Ohio State -21.5, (-110)
Big Ten Conference Ranking
1. Big Ten
The Big Ten was only supposed to be a two-horse race this season. Ohio State and Michigan were the only Big Ten teams expected to make any noise in the CFP and rank in the Top 5. Nobody expected the Big Ten to have four Top 10 teams, but here we are. They also have an outsider (No. 8 Penn State) pushing hard for a spot in the Playoff, and they have the best chance of any Big Ten team to actually get there. Penn State controls its own destiny, and barring any major upsets the Big Ten has the best shot of any conference to get two teams into the CFP for the first time since its inception.
The SEC checks in at No. 2 this week and looks to be the only conference that is absolutely assured a playoff spot. Barring a dramatic upset, either to Chattanooga or Auburn, Alabama will be the No.1 seed once again. The depth between the Crimson Tide and everyone else in the conference is far greater this year than any other year in recent memory.
And finally, the ACC checks in at No. 3 this week because there was a slew of upsets just this past weekend. Duke's win over North Carolina and Georgia Tech's win over Virginia Tech showed that the top teams are just not as dominant as we have come to expect in recent years. The ACC has only two teams with legitimate playoff hopes - Clemson and Louisville - both of whom could just as easily be left out.
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