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College Football Playoff Rankings and What it Means for the Big Ten Contenders



Here we go again.

The second College Football Playoff rankings were just released, and there are some juicy details to digest for the Big Ten. Ohio State remains in the top four — albeit somewhat precariously, and Iowa has moved into prime real-estate, just waiting to take advantage of a stumble by one of the top four.

Of course the large majority of the league fell out of CFP graces long ago, but what about the top of the conference that still holds out hope of crashing the ball?

Here’s a look at what the Big Ten teams still in contention need in order to get an invitation to the biggest party in college football:


Ohio State, Week two CFP ranking – 3

Why the ranking should be higher: The Buckeyes are still undefeated, still the national champs, and still have the large majority of their roster intact from an improbable title run last year. The defense is underrated and the offense has looked dynamic with J.T. Barrett running the show. Barring another bone-headed mistake, he should be the starter from here on out.
Why the ranking should be lower: The offense hasn’t exactly looked unstoppable against mediocre competition, and there has been one too many leaks up the middle with the run defense. Most importantly, the tunes might not stop before the game of quarterback musical chairs does the team in.
What needs to happen: Win out and the Bucks are in. A loss this late in the season could be devastating, but there’s no way the defending champs don’t get an invite if they run through the back-loaded gauntlet with Michigan, Michigan State and a likely Iowa team in the title game.


Iowa, Week two CFP ranking – 5

Why the ranking should be higher: The Hawkeyes are undefeated and it’s not like it’s been a stroll through the candy aisle at the grocery store. Wins against Pitt, at Wisconsin and at Northwestern are three solid victories. The defense has been fantastic and there’s just something about the team in Iowa City that blows up the notion of being individual playmakers.
Why the ranking should be lower: The best win is against the No. 19 ranked team, far below what others at the top have done, and the offense lacks the explosive type of athlete to create mismatches against elite talent on defense. Going by just the eye test, the Hawks don’t see 20/20.
What needs to happen: Prior to this week’s release, it looked like a daunting task to climb Mount Everest to get to the summit, but now they’re just one last nudge away. As improbable as it may have been to start the season, if Iowa wins out, including a win over an undefeated Ohio State or a ranked Michigan or a Michigan State team in Indy, and its in. Lose however, and it’s probably sour grapes time.


Michigan State, Week two CFP ranking – 13

Why the ranking should be higher: There’s only one loss, and it was on a flukey and controversial play to Nebraska on the road. The Spartans are led by a seasoned and talented quarterback, have an athletic defensive front and posess the ability and history to rise to the ocassion.
Why the ranking should be lower: There are a littany of injuries that have had a noticeable impact with the on-field performance. The secondary has struggled and the running game has yet to get on track. Far too many games have been closer than advertised and the Spartans are lucky to have just one-loss on the season.
What needs to happen: Beat Ohio State on November 21, run the rest of the schedule including a win in Indy, and hope for some chaos above to ensue at the top of the other power five leagues. Root for Florida to lose to Florida State and then beat Alabama in Atlanta, hope that the Big Twelve and Pac-12 enter steel-cage death matches within each of its respective ranks, and pull for Notre Dame to lose to Stanford.


Michigan, Week two CFP ranking – 14

Why the ranking should be higher: It shouldn’t. The Wolverines are the highest ranked two-loss team thanks to the narrow losses to the formidable Utah and Michigan State squads. Still, there’s not a team out there that wants to go toe-to-toe with that defense and that coach.
Why the ranking should be lower: 
The defense is fantastic, but the offense is still a work in progress. Jake Rudock is efficient at the quarterback position, but doesn’t have a history of putting teams on his back and pulling defeat out of the fire. This Wolverine team still needs an upgrade in talent to compete for really, really big things.
What needs to happen: Much like the above, the equivalent of college football Armageddon would need to rain down with fire, hail, lightning and multiple plagues descending upon all other competitors. But to get that point, the Wolverines would first need to beat Ohio State a week removed from the Buckeyes taking care of the Spartans to get to Indy, then take care of business against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game. Then, pray for the locusts, or a repeat of 2007 to occur.


Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to He is also a the founder of and featured contributor to and occasionally You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.

Big Ten

Michigan State is Big Ten Champs, but Can it Reach Higher?



Michigan State has done it. Left for dead after the controversial loss to Nebraska in Lincoln, it beat back all contenders the rest of the way and are now champions of the Big Ten, and will be lugging a trophy back to East Lansing.

But as good as it feels, there’s more work to do.

When the playoff parings are released on Sunday, there is little doubt that Sparty will be among those four. And no matter where in the pecking order the Green and White are slotted, the fact that it has a shot to pull down the ultimate prize is the culmination of what Mark Dantonio has been building in East Lansing since he took the job on November 27, 2006.

And there’s a real shot to win the whole thing.

Championship teams are pounded and brandished into form with toughness. With an athletic and physical defensive front seven, and an offensive line that is getting healthy and playing with more heart, Michigan State can check that box.

Teams that hoist the most expensive hardware by and large have a championship caliber quarterback under center. With Connor Cook, the Spartans have a quintessential leader, and a guy that can fit the football into small windows and stretch the field.

Check, and check again.

To get to the summit of the college football mountain, you must have the coaching. With is glare, leadership, motivation and penchant for dialing up the right play at the most opportunistic time, Mark Dantonio is one of those rock-star coaches as well.

With all apologies to Aaron Rodgers, check, check and double-check.

To be the best, you have to beat the best, and that’s just what Michigan State is now left to try and do. With this win, it has climbed this high and reached higher than the program has under Dantonio, but there are a few more rungs to go.

It’ll either be a Clemson team that’s still unbeaten, an Oklahoma team that’s playing perhaps better than anyone right now, or an Alabama team that seems to have its fanny perched upon or near the mountaintop almost yearly.

Can you wait? Big Ten football appears to be back, and Michigan State now gets the responsibility of carrying the flag into the national spotlight to try and back up what Ohio State did last year and continue to legitimize the Big Ten’s place among the landscape of college football.

So enjoy this win Spartan fans, players, coaches and administration because you’ve earned it. But put it behind you quickly, stretch and get ready to reach up again.

It’s time to reach higher and higher until the reach feels the last rung of a ladder that’s been climbed since Dantonio arrived on campus.


Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to He is also a the founder of and featured contributor to,, and occasionally You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.

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Big Ten

5 Things MSU Must do to Beat Iowa



Saturday is the big one in the Big Ten as Michigan State takes on Iowa in Indianapolis for a de-facto elimination game for the College Football Playoff. Both teams are riding high going into the matchup, and the difference could be razor-thin between to do.

Here are five things Michigan State must do to beat Iowa:

5. Slow Down the Ground Game
Iowa is an extremely balanced team, but it all starts with the ability to move the chains on the ground. The offensive line has opened up lanes for the Canzeri, Daniels and gang, and that has allowed C.J. Beathard to use play action and his legs to morph into big-play mode.

If the Spartans’ defensive line can control things like it did in Columbus, the Hawkeyes will have to resort to throwing the ball to gobble up chunks of real estate. Becoming one-dimensional is the last thing you want to fall prey to when going against the pass rush of such a talented front.

4. Pressure Beathard
On that note, Beathard can’t be allowed to sit back and be a sniper. Michigan State has to get to him early and often to set the tone and let him know that he’s going to be picking himself up off the turf all day. It’s one thing to be confident in your offensive line and stand tall in the pocket, but when a team gets in some licks, passes start to be short-armed and rushed, and that leads to more misfires than a North Korean missile test.

This Spartan defense is predicated on getting pressure up front so that the back-end can hold up, and it has to be the same here. Iowa’s offense is one that succeeds with fundamental rhythm, and that balance must be upset.

3. Keep the Big Plays to a Minimum
Everyone likes to credit the Iowa defense for all the success this year, but the offense has been dialing up big plays all year, both through the air and on the ground. The Hawkeyes have the style and personnel to patiently move down the field, but that’s not what they’ve been accustomed to.

If Michigan State can keep things in front, play sound assignment football, but still apply pressure and not miss tackles, it can make Iowa earn every yard and struggle to put points on the board. It worked against Ohio State, and it can work in Indy.

2. Tempo and more Tempo
Michigan State has the ability to play multiple ways. It can kill teams softly with a ball control offense, it can air it out, or it can limit the playbook and play with more tempo. That feels like the ingredients needed against an Iowa team that likes to get into its base sets on defense and play sound assignment football.

By playing fast and trying to get Iowa into mismatches, the Spartans have the playmakers on the outside to take advantage. They can’t go too fast to throw caution to the wind, but a quicker approach can wear down the defense and make things easier later in the game.

1. Find Your Beach
The program has been great under Mark Dantonio, but when the team can find extra motivation, it seems to find another gear. Case in point; revenge was on the mind when the Spartans traveled to Columbus to take on Ohio State, and they played their best game of the season to date on defense. They were angry and hungry, and it showed. However, against other teams, MSU seemed to go through the motions and then had to make plays at the end to pull away.

It’s certainly motivation enough to know that a Big Ten title is on the line, but the coaches need to find that sweet spot that is in the wheelhouse of emotions for the players that carry this team, because the Hawkeyes also have a trophy in mind. The Spartans have been there before, and they know it takes another level of competition to win this thing. It’s up to Dantonio and the coaching staff to figure out how to get them there.


Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to He is also a the founder of and featured contributor to,, and occasionally You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.

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Big Ten

CFP Rankings: B1G Reaction – What Each Team Needs



The stick of dynamite is close to burning up the fuse with the CFP rankings, and there’s plenty of Big Ten teams still in the mix. There’s a ton of things that can happen over the next couple of weeks with rivalries and championship games, and things can change at a moment’s notice, so stay tuned.

Here’s the latest look at what the Big Ten teams still in contention need in order to get an invitation to the biggest party in college football:

Iowa, Week three CFP ranking – 3
Last Week – 5, Up two

Why the ranking should be higher: The Hawkeyes are just one of two unbeaten teams in the country and the resume is actually not that bad all things considered. There isn’t a win against a top 15 opponent, but winning at Wisconsin and Northwestern is a tall order no matter who you are.
Why the ranking should be lower: See above. Iowa has yet to beat a top ten team and doesn’t have the top-tier athletes that some of the other teams hanging around the cool kids do. In the end, it won’t matter because it’ll likely be playing a top ten team in the Big Ten Championship game.
What needs to happen: Now, more so than ever, all Iowa has to do is win, and it might just need to win the Big Ten Championship game. Losing to Nebraska would knock Iowa down a rung, but it might not matter in the grand scheme of things.


Michigan State, Week three CFP ranking – 5
Last Week – 9, Up four spots

Why the ranking should be higher: Michigan State might have the two best wins in the country with the victories over Michigan and Ohio State, both on the road. It’s only loss came at the end of the game at Nebraska in controversial fashion. The defense is still a beast when the line is controlling things, while the offensive line is getting healthy and playing better.

Why the ranking should be lower: Despite the record and wins over quality opponents, the Spartans haven’t displayed great game control, allowing teams like Purdue and Rutgers to hang around far too long in contests. And how healthy is Connor Cook? The type of game-plan MSU put together against Ohio State will work with the sideways rain that was in Columbus, but it’s unlikely to work in a milder environment against the likes of Alabama and Clemson.
What needs to happen: Just Like Iowa, if the Spartans win out, they too will be in. It’s that simple at this point. They have done enough to put themselves in position to play for really big things.


Ohio State, Week three CFP ranking – 8
Last Week – 3, down five

Why the ranking should be higher: This team still has more talent than anyone in college football and could go off at anytime. The loss to Michigan State was played in some of the worst conditions you can find with a hard-driving rain and blowing wind. The only loss is two a team that’s in position to make the CFP, and by only three points.
Why the ranking should be lower: All the games leading up to last week were basically warm-ups to the rest of the season against unranked teams. With the spotlight finally on, Ohio State looked uncreative, unmotivated, and confused. Yeah the weather sucked, but the Spartans has to play in the same conditions without their starting QB.
What needs to happen: It’s actually not as bad as you think, but the Bucks need two main things to work in their favor to get back in the mix. One is within their control. The first order of business is to be Michigan in Ann Arbor to finish the season with just one regular-season loss. After that, it’s root hard for Penn State to actually beat a team it isn’t supposed to. With a defense in Happy Valley that can control things at times, and the status of Connor Cook still up in the air, it is possible, but still unlikely. The other scenario would include about five ships sinking ahead of them. And, there’s always a flu-epidemic to root for.


MichiganWeek three CFP ranking – 10
Last Week – 12, up two

Why the ranking should be higher: Should it be? Michigan has two losses and has needed far too many narrow escapes recently. The defense that looked so great to start the season has begun to spring leaks, and there is a lack of game-breaking ability on offensive side of the ball.
Why the ranking should be lower: See above. Despite the less than stellar last few weeks, the Wolverines keep finding a way to win and still have a shot to get back into the conversation if things break just right.
What needs to happen: Michigan sits in almost the same identical spot as Ohio State. If it can take care of business against the Buckeyes on Saturday and hope with all hopes that the Penn State finds a way to beat back Sparty, then it’s off to Indy. A Big Ten title would significantly bolster the Wolverines’ chances.


Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to He is also a the founder of and featured contributor to and occasionally You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.

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Big Ten

CFP Rankings: What each contender in the B1G Needs



And we’re off again.

The third College Football Playoff rankings of the year were just released, and four Big Ten teams still sit in striking distance.

Ohio State and Iowa still sit near the top of the heap, but don’t count out Michigan State and Michigan quite yet. There’s still a lot of football to be played over the next three weeks, and there are some savory matchups amongst a number of the teams at the top, meaning almost anything can happen.

Here’s a look at what the Big Ten teams still in contention need in order to get an invitation to the biggest party in college football:


Ohio State, Week two CFP ranking – 3
Last Week – 3, no change

Why the ranking should be higher: The Buckeyes remain one of only five undefeated teams in the country, and the defense continues to get better each week. J.T. Barrett is back under center and should provide some punch to an offense that needs to get in gear to make another run towards glory.
Why the ranking should be lower: Where’s the quality win? The Playoff Committee continually preaches about strength of schedule with teams coming out of the Big Twelve, but there’s not a whole lot of difference with the schedule OSU has played. The offense looks nowhere near the juggernaut that stormed through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon last year.
What needs to happen: It doesn’t matter because the schedule is about to go through the roof. There’s the game against a No. 9 Michigan State this week, at No. 12 Michigan next week, then likely a top ten Iowa team if the two matchup in Indianapolis. Simply take care of business and Ohio State will end up in either the Orange or Cotton for a semi-final.


Iowa, Week two CFP ranking – 5
Last Week – 5, No Change

Why the ranking should be higher: Like Ohio State, the Hawkeyes remain unbeaten and have some very good wins to boast about. There’s the quality victory at Wisconsin and the win over Northwestern. Iowa has also been able to absorb some injuries which speaks to the depth and quality of the team.
Why the ranking should be lower: There’s not an elite win yet. The Northwestern win is great, but the Wildcats came in at No. 20 this week. And if you are using the so-called “eye test” as a measure, the Hawkeyes won’t jump out at you. They are solid and balanced, but appear to lack the elite athletes of some of the other teams.
What needs to happen: Just keep winning. Iowa probably won’t get a Mulligan with a loss, but if it takes care of business and keeps posting victories all the way through the Big Ten Championship game, it’ll be in. A win over a quality opponent in Indy will be more than enough to send the Hawkeyes into the playoff.


Michigan State, Week two CFP ranking – 9
Last Week – 13, Up four spots

Why the ranking should be higher: The lone loss was a tough pill to swallow because of a controversal official judgement call. The defensive line can control the game at times, and the Spartans are led by an experienced and talented quarterback in Connor Cook. The team has shown that it belongs in the upper-echelon of the country over the last few years.
Why the ranking should be lower: This year’s version of the Michigan State Spartans has looked nothing like the last couple. The secondary has been letting more people go than Moses, and the offense isn’t nearly as balanced, relying on the right arm of Connor Cook way too often. There have been several underwhelming performances this year.
What needs to happen: There might be a little help needed, but it’s not as bad as you would think. If the Spartans can beat Ohio State this week, Penn State the next, and then derail an Iowa team in the Big Ten Championship game, it’ll be hard to keep them out of the playoff. Root for some things to happen at the top, but even if they don’t Sparty might still get invited to the party if it wins out.


Michigan, Week two CFP ranking – 12
Last Week – 14, Up two spots

Why the ranking should be higher: It’s hard to say that the ranking should be higher. The Wolverines continue to be the highest ranked two-loss team despite some narrow wins against unranked teams over the last couple of weeks. Of the two losses though, one is on the road to a Utah team still ranked in the fifteen, and how can we forget the one that got away at home against No. 9 Michigan State?
Why the ranking should be lower: 
The defense is starting to show some cracks and leaks once the team has begun to play teams with abilities on offense. There have been a lot of Houdini acts throughout the season even with the two losses.
What needs to happen: It wouldn’t hurt for some communicable diseases and plagues to strike other teams to have a better chance to get in the mix, but it’s not as far-fetched as you think. For starters, it needs to root for Michigan State to drop another game so it doesn’t lose out on the tie-breaker. The Wolverines of course need to win out, including the Big Ten Championship game to have a sniff at getting an invite to the playoff. With the best teams in the Pac-12 with no less than two losses, the decks are beginning to clear, but they’ll still need a bit of chaos to reek havoc on teams in the Big Twelve and SEC.


Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to He is also a the founder of and featured contributor to and occasionally You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.

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