J.T. Barrett sat inside the locker room at Michigan Stadium on the final Saturday of November and let his fellow Ohio State quarterbacks know it wasn’t going to happen again. Barrett decided he wasn’t going to let another leg injury keep him out of another championship run in his final season of college football.
The fifth-year senior was a little more than 12 hours away from arthroscopic surgery and a little more than a week from helping his eighth-ranked Buckeyes beat No. 4 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. But at that moment, he wasn’t able to keep his right leg completely straight.
“How’s the knee?” asked redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins, who had just led a comeback win against the Wolverines in Barrett’s place after the starter needed to be helped to the locker room in the third quarter.
“I’ll be back next week,” Barrett replied.
Barrett didn’t know surgery was necessary until later that night when the team bus pulled back into Columbus, Ohio, and an MRI revealed that the cartilage around his knee could use some pruning. His parents, Stacy and Joe, had already decided they wouldn’t return home to Texas until they knew J.T. was in solid shape.
They knew about Barrett’s high pain threshold and his determination to play better than anyone. The night before an ACL surgery cut short his senior season at Rider High School, Barrett dragged one of his good friends out to the practice field well past sunset to try to prove to his dad that his torn ligament was strong enough to make it through the rest of the fall. Cooler heads eventually prevailed and Barrett watched his team make it to the state semifinals from the sideline.
Had Barrett been allowed to walk on the ankle he broke as a freshman in the 2014 game against Michigan, he likely would’ve tried to play through that too. Instead, he watched his Buckeyes win a national championship with Cardale Jones under center.
“It’s not like he’s superhuman. Our thing was make sure you’re OK,” Stacy Barrett said about her son's plan to play in last week's championship game. “If he couldn’t get to where he was able to play, he wasn’t going to play.”
The MRI that Saturday offered some hope, though. It appeared that a minimally invasive scope would be enough to fix the problem and eliminate the risk of making things worse by playing on it. Returning to the field in six days would be an intense, rarely completed recovery. But it was possible.
“There was a sliver of light that I could go out there,” said Barrett, who less than an hour after hoisting the Big Ten trophy added: “Last time I got us to the party, but I wasn’t let in. So this time, there was opportunity for me to play in this game. I was going to do whatever it takes.”
The Nov. 26 surgery went off without a hitch. The enemy now was swelling. If they could keep the knee from swelling, Barrett could stay active enough to return to action.
Haskins walked into the training room that Sunday afternoon and learned for the first time Barrett had needed a knee scope. He said he didn’t assume then that he would be taking over at quarterback. Barrett had told him the day before that he intended to play, and two years of experience taught Haskins to believe what Barrett says.
Barrett spent Sunday night sleeping at the house of Ohio State athletic trainer Adam Stewart. The sleepover gave Stewart the chance to continue cold treatments overnight during the crucial first 24 hours after surgery, when swelling was most likely to start him down the path of a setback.
On Monday, Barrett ditched his crutches and his limp was gone. When he asked his parents for the keys to his white pickup truck, they figured J.T. was healthy enough for them to return to their jobs in Texas. They left the next morning.
By Tuesday, Barrett had his own designated corner of the training room. Stewart set him up with a place to watch film and study the game plan. He could do both while completing small exercises to keep his quad muscles strong. When Barrett needed to join the other quarterbacks in their meeting room, Stewart came along to monitor the ice and other treatments that were keeping the blood from gathering around the joint.
Barrett joined his teammates on the practice field that night, and Buckeyes offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson told reporters that he was expecting he would have a healthy Barrett on the field against Wisconsin.
Wednesday’s practice was Barrett’s first chance to throw again. Haskins took all of Barrett’s reps with the offense, and the veteran helped the rookie get ready for a worst-case scenario. Haskins said he tried to get to the team facility as early as possible during the week in case he was needed on Saturday, but no matter when he showed up, there already was a white pickup truck in the parking lot.
“I’ve never seen a kid work so hard to want to play in a game,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys and had experience with guys that take three, four, five, sometimes six weeks [to heal from a knee scope]. To come back after six days and play against the No. 1 defense in the country, that’s a lot of heart.”
On Thursday, Barrett ran with the team and took about half of the offensive reps in practice. On Friday, he planted and cut on his right leg before boarding the bus to Indianapolis. On Saturday morning, Barrett took control of the team’s game-day walk-through as he has done more than 40 times in his college career. That’s when his teammates and coaches officially learned that Barrett would be on the field for the first snaps at Lucas Oil Stadium with a conference championship at stake.
“From the moment the procedure was done right up until game time,” Buckeyes quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said, “there wasn’t a minute wasted.”
Day watched Barrett in pregame stretches and asked how comfortable the quarterback felt carrying the ball.
“You can call whatever play you want to,” Barrett said.
Barrett ran the ball a team-high 18 times and threw for 211 yards to help his team beat previously unbeaten Wisconsin, 27-21. On one of his final carries of the game, Barrett kept the ball on a fourth-down quarterback sneak from inside the red zone.
He was bounced backward by a pair of Badgers tacklers but regained his balance before lunging for just enough distance to pick up an important first down.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said his faith in Barrett’s ability to make a play never wavered.
“It never does,” Meyer said. “I’ve had [Tim] Tebow, and this kid’s a lot like him. How you keep him out of a game, I just don’t know how it happens.”
Barrett found his parents in the front row of the stands after celebrating the first championship he had participated in during his illustrious college career. He hugged his mom and thanked her. Barrett had a puffy eye from a scrape in the first quarter and a sore shoulder, but she said his knee had no pain.
When the celebration finally died down well past midnight, the Barretts grabbed their bags from the hotel and drove straight to the airport. They were afraid they would sleep through the alarm if they waited. It had been only a week since they had to reschedule a flight back to Texas, making for an exhausting week.
Before she left, Stacy Barrett had one more reminder for her son: Don’t forget to ice your knee.
The Big Ten championship game crowned Ohio State the conference champion with a win over Wisconsin. Those two battled it out for the top spot in the conference, which means that there was very little movement in this week’s power rankings.
Some of the conference teams finished with positive seasons and will be rewarded with bowl games. Here is a look at the final Big Ten power rankings and where the teams will be playing during bowl season.
1. Ohio State (last week: 2): The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, so these two flip spots. Ohio State finished with two losses on the season, to Oklahoma and Iowa, and if that loss to the Hawkeyes weren't so lopsided, chances are the Buckeyes would be in the College Football Playoff representing the Big Ten. Instead, they are headed to the Cotton Bowl.
2. Wisconsin (1): Had the Badgers won the Big Ten championship game, they would be the ones headed to the playoff. A loss, though, has moved Wisconsin down to No. 2 in the power rankings with only one loss on the season. There was still a lot of positive to come out of the Badgers' performance, even though the season won’t finish the way they hoped. Wisconsin will face Miami in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
3. Penn State (3): The Nittany Lions were idle, so their rank is the same as last week. Penn State will face Washington in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.
4. Northwestern (4): The Wildcats finished the season 9-3 with a few disappointing losses, but overall they had a positive season, finishing fourth in the power rankings. Northwestern will play Kentucky in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
5. Michigan State (5): The Spartans finished 9-3 in an impressive turnaround from a 3-9 season in 2016. Michigan State plays Washington State in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl.
6. Michigan (6): The Wolverines had an up-and-down season, finishing 8-4 with a disappointing loss to Ohio State to finish it off. Michigan will play South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
7. Purdue (7): The Boilermakers started the season on the right foot but finished the season 6-6. Purdue will play Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl.
8. Iowa (8): The Hawkeyes had some important wins but leveled out at 7-5 overall. Iowa will play Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
9. Indiana (9): The Hoosiers started on a promising foot but finished the season at 5-7 and tied for last in their division.
10. Minnesota (10): The Gophers have some work to do on offense after this season and will be looking to improve on their 5-7 record.
11. Rutgers (11): The Scarlet Knights won three Big Ten games, which was a big improvement for head coach Chris Ash and his staff. Rutgers finished at 4-8 but showed some improvements that could bleed over to next season.
12. Maryland (12): The Terps dealt with a plethora of injuries throughout the season, which eventually proved to be too much. The quarterback position was depleted, which led to a 4-8 record, and the Terps finish tied for last in their division.
13. Nebraska (13): The Huskers had all kinds of problems this season, which led to head coach Mike Riley’s firing. The school has already announced UCF coach, and former Nebraska quarterback, Scott Frost as the new coach, which has brought some optimism for the future.
14. Illinois (14): Illinois failed to win a single conference game this season and won only two games this season. Things need to turn around quickly for head coach Lovie Smith and his staff.
The Buckeyes (11-2) won their second conference championship under head coach Urban Meyer, who this week refused to talk about what might lie on the other side of a Big Ten title game. Now that his team has won it, an uneasy 12 hours lie ahead, as Columbus (and Tuscaloosa) look on to see if a 27-21 beating of previously unbeaten No. 4 Wisconsin is enough for the Buckeyes to trade places with the Badgers in the College Football Playoff rankings.
"We deserve a shot," Meyer said after accepting the championship trophy on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium late Saturday night.
Wisconsin's defense had been a veritable brick wall this season, carrying the Badgers to a 12-0 record by allowing a paltry and nation-leading 236.9 yards per game during the regular season. The thing about running through brick walls, though, is that once you get through them, walls aren't likely to track you down from behind. Ohio State had little trouble busting through on its way to building a big enough lead to survive Saturday night.
The Badgers allowed three plays of 50 or more yards in their first 12 games. The Buckeyes had three such plays in the first 20 minutes at Lucas Oil Stadium. By the time they built a 21-7 cushion early in the second quarter, Ohio State was averaging 14.1 yards per play.
Terry McLaurin, an Indianapolis native, found the first cracks with an 84-yard catch-and-run that provided the first hints that team speed would be lopsided. Then Parris Campbell shook free of a Badger tackler for a 57-yard touchdown. Freshman back J.K. Dobbins was up next, as he left another Wisconsin defender with an armful of air on his way to a 77-yard run that set up a score.
As he has done with numbing consistency the past four years, J.T. Barrett filled the gaps between the flash. Less than a week removed from a knee scope, one of America's more grizzled 22-year-olds carried the ball a team-high 19 times and threw for 211 yards and two scores.
Barrett's status wasn't a lock until he tested the right knee in warm-ups on Saturday. Nevertheless, he took Ohio State's first snap, and every one after that, while winning his program-best 37th game as a starter. That marked one more record for the most decorated quarterback in the history of one of college football's most decorated teams.
Fittingly, Barrett wasn't perfect while leading his team to a championship. He threw a pick-six to linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel in the first quarter to give Wisconsin its first touchdown of the game. He missed two open receivers for what could have been spirit-sinking touchdown passes just before halftime on a drive that ended with a blocked field goal.
But amid a fourth-quarter Wisconsin comeback, Meyer turned to the player he trusts maybe more than anyone he has coached, and Barrett delivered again. Rather than kicking a red zone field goal on fourth-and-1, Meyer gave the Ball to Barrett, who bounced backward off a pair of Wisconsin defenders and found a way to gain just enough yardage. The conversion milked precious extra minutes off the clock before a short field goal that served as the game's final points.
Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor, the Big Ten's most productive rusher this season, managed only 41 yards for an offense that seemed more interested in trying to go around the Ohio State defense than through it. The Badgers rallied for a second half that was far more interesting than the first, but they didn't execute enough to complete the comeback.
The Buckeyes have won nine games by double digits this season, which makes their 55-24 loss at Iowa on Nov. 4 more befuddling with each week. It is a boulder of an aberration for Ohio State. The question now is if that game is big enough to block the Big Ten champion -- and the Big Ten as a whole -- from reaching the playoff for the first time in the four-team tournament's brief history.
Will close wins over Wisconsin and Penn State be impressive enough to erase the blowout loss to Iowa? Will this week's championship be enough to give Ohio State a chance to play for another? At the very least, a strong showing in Indianapolis should keep the Playoff's 13 gatekeepers turning in their sleep Saturday night. The Buckeyes now turn to a playoff committee that has some tough decisions to make when the sun rises.
Jones took advantage of the fact that his Los Angeles Chargers played on Thursday last week and was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last Saturday to watch what felt like an otherwise familiar scene unfold in Ohio State's final regular-season game. He said he was in the Michigan Stadium press box when starting quarterback J.T. Barrett left the game because of a leg injury.
Haskins replaced Barrett in the second half of a one-possession game against rival Michigan. He ended up leading Ohio State to a double-digit victory in his first meaningful time running the offense.
In 2014, it was Jones who replaced Barrett after he broke his ankle in the second half of a one-possession game against Michigan. He ended up leading Ohio State to a double-digit victory in his first meaningful time running the offense.
Jones drove the Buckeyes 80 yards and scored a touchdown on his ninth snap that day. Haskins' first drive last Saturday went 79 yards and reached the end zone on his ninth snap.
The victory in 2014 kept the Buckeyes as a controversial hanger-on in the College Football Playoff discussion ahead of a Big Ten championship game against West Division winner Wisconsin. Ditto for 2017.
"It really is [similar], now that you talk about it," Haskins said Saturday shortly after the win. "I hadn't thought about it."
Ohio State and Jones, of course, went on to beat the Badgers 59-0 the following week in 2014, squeezing into the final playoff spot. Jones led the Buckeyes over Alabama and Oregon to win a national championship.
The parallels between the fourth Big Ten championship game and this year's matchup in Indianapolis are striking. The similarities are too many not to notice, yet to those who will be on the field Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, it is ancient history.
"You said three years ago; that feels like 25 years ago," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said earlier this week. "This is a different year, different team, different people involved. Certainly it was one of those moments that you'll never forget, but I think it's unfair to our current players to say, 'This is what we expect out of you.' This is a whole new group."
Meyer's counterpart this time around, Paul Chryst, was coaching at Pittsburgh when Jones & Co. posted 59 points on Wisconsin. Gary Andersen coached the Badgers in that blowout, his last game as their coach before leaving the program for Oregon State. Chryst didn't watch his alma mater lose that game live, and while he used parts of the video to get to know his new roster in the months that followed, he says he doesn't think he has watched the game start to finish.
Ohio State's coaches and players see plenty of similarities between the two Wisconsin teams. The Badgers still win with a swarming defense and a punishing run game fueled by "giant human beings up front," according to Meyer. Wisconsin -- 12-0 and one more win from a playoff berth of its own -- has grown under Chryst. Since the 59-0 loss, Wisconsin has lost only six games by a total of 49 points.
The most noteworthy difference in the 2017 matchup is that Haskins' relief performance looks more likely to be a one-time stopgap, unlike when Jones started all three postseason games for the Buckeyes in 2014. Haskins' contribution -- Ohio State trailed when he entered last week's game, and the confidence he inspired in teammates and coaches will make it easier to insert him Saturday night if Barrett's mobility is limited -- will still be a crucial one if his team manages to beat Wisconsin and get enough help to snag a spot in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
All signs point to Barrett being healthy enough to return to action this weekend.
"He looks good, good attitude, working good," offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Tuesday night. "We're being smart with [his practice] volume so we make sure he's there by Saturday."
The déjà vu probably won't continue into Indianapolis this weekend for several reasons, but Ohio State is still trying to take some lessons from its past. The first of which, Meyer said, is that Jones' saga from a third-string quarterback to "woke up and he's holding a gold trophy" is a good reminder for all of the Buckeyes who are playing understudy roles on the team's talented depth chart.
All-Big Ten tackle Jamarco Jones was a freshman who played sparingly in the 2014 season. Before he took the field against the Badgers, former offensive line coach Ed Warriner's advice was: "Don't mess up." Jones said the more long-lasting pearl of wisdom he takes from that game comes when he thinks back on the single-minded focus in practice that week.
In a week full of buzz about Barrett's injury and Ohio State's standing in the postseason mix, players say they remember a week of practice focused solely on winning a Big Ten title. That has been the rallying cry in another week full of interesting headlines.
"I guess there's an appropriate comparison," center Billy Price said when asked about the circumstances this week compared with 2014, when he was a starter at guard as a redshirt freshman. "It was a very crisp practice week, very physical, very focused. We're going with that same theme this year."
The two scenarios might not be perfect mirror images, but 2014 is similar enough to give the Buckeyes a bit of a road map for what they hope is an identical-looking finish to this season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After Michigan lost to Ohio State on Saturday, Jim Harbaugh didn’t have much to say other than that his team needs to improve. The loss capped off an 8-4 regular season with losses to the Wolverines’ top rivals, as well as Penn State and Wisconsin. It also brought Harbaugh’s record to 1-6 against Michigan State and Ohio State.
“I thought our guys played with great effort. We gotta get better, we gotta get stronger, we gotta improve,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to keep going on the same demanding, punishing path and keep improving, keep getting stronger.”
Michigan’s season started on a high note with 33-17 win against Florida, but it ended with two starting quarterbacks on the sidelines and the biggest comeback ever recorded by Ohio State in the rivalry.
The Wolverines saw starting quarterback Wilton Speight go down with a season-ending back injury in Week 4 against Purdue, starting wide receiver Tarik Black sustain a season-ending foot injury the week before against Air Force and eventually saw quarterback Brandon Peters sustain a concussion against Wisconsin.
A team that returned the fewest starters of any FBS program had no chance to sustain success with that injury list, and starting left tackle Grant Newsome, who was injured against Wisconsin in the 2016 season, sat out the entire 2017 season.
For all of that, there is reason for optimism.
Part of the reason this team was so young and lacked depth goes back to the 2015 recruiting class, when Harbaugh was hired only months before signing day. That recruiting class included only 14 prospects because of the uncertainty surrounding then-head coach Brady Hoke and coming off a 5-7 season.
Of the 14 signees in that class, four are no longer with the team. Of the remaining 10, only four are regular contributors or starters: safety Tyree Kinnel, running back Karan Higdon, tight end Zach Gentry and wide receiver Grant Perry.
Offensive line has been the biggest problem for Michigan, which only added three players to the position in the the 2015 class. Newsome was a part of that class, but his injury left only Nolan Ulizio and Jon Runyan, neither of whom have been able to sustain a starting role.
The other major area of concern is under center. Michigan signed two quarterbacks in that 2015 class. Gentry was almost immediately moved to tight end, and Alex Malzone has never seen significant time. That left Harbaugh and Michigan to roll with Speight, eventually sign graduate transfer Jake Rudock and John O'Korn and try to bring in quarterback recruits in the future classes.
Next season, Michigan is essentially only losing eight main contributors, including Speight, who announced he will seek a graduate transfer. The Wolverines will also lose O'Korn, running back Ty Isaac, fullback Khalid Hill, offensive linemen Mason Cole and Patrick Kugler, defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, and linebacker Mike McCray.
If defensive end Chase Winovich and defensive tackle Bryan Mone, both redshirt juniors, return for a fifth year, Michigan will return all but two starters on defense.
On the offensive side, if you consider Peters the starting quarterback, the Wolverines return all but two starters on that side as well. That includes getting Black back from injury and returning some young talent at receiver to help propel the offense forward.
That doesn’t guarantee Michigan a better season, but it certainly gives a lot more hope than there was heading into the 2017 season.
Michigan has seen what Harbaugh can do when he has a capable quarterback, so returning Peters, having a more experienced Dylan McCaffrey as the backup and adding in two quarterbacks from the 2018 class (Joe Milton, Kevin Doyle) should give the coaches more options to field a successful offense.
There is no question that this team needs to improve after a disappointing season, but the potential is there with a more experienced roster coming back. There was some grumbling about how this season went, but things don’t look all that bleak in Ann Arbor.
A week filled with more blowouts than competitive games didn't do much to change our impressions of the Big Ten as the regular season draws to a close. The stage is set for Wisconsin and Ohio State to fight for the top spot in the league Saturday night in Indianapolis, but a 31-0 victory to cap off a 12-0 season makes the Badgers the clear leader in this week's rankings.
The top five teams in the league all won by double digits. None of the bottom-dwellers made much of a case to move upward. A fairly stagnant Big Ten power rankings list brings us down the home stretch.
1. Wisconsin (last week: 1): The Badgers left no doubt while finishing off an undefeated regular season with the blowout at Minnesota. The doubt about whether they belong in the College Football Playoff discussion is gone, too. Wisconsin’s defense allowed 216 rushing yards ... in the entire month of November. That’s as good as it gets.
2. Ohio State (2): The Buckeyes are East Division champs again, but some familiar issues re-emerged during a dodgy first quarter against Michigan. If it takes some time to get the offense going Saturday, staging a comeback might prove to be more difficult.
3. Penn State (3): Another 10-win season for James Franklin & Co. is reason to smile in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions will need to replace a ton of top-end talent in 2018, but they’ve built a foundation that should keep them among the conference’s elite moving forward.
4. Northwestern (4): There might not be a more quietly improved team in the country this season than Northwestern. The Wildcats have won their past seven games and allowed a total of 20 points in the most recent three. They’ll be a tough draw for whoever is paired with them in bowl season.
5. Michigan State (5): The Spartans have a shot at a 10-win season less than a year after it appeared that the wheels were spinning off the Mark Dantonio era in East Lansing. Brian Lewerke and his young receivers provided some more reasons to believe in a bright future during the regular-season finale at Rutgers.
6. Michigan (6): The Wolverines mostly won comfortably the games they were supposed to win this season, but they comfortably lost the games they were expected to lose. The defense in Ann Arbor is still one of the best in the country, but a 3-3 record in the East will leave a sour taste in Michigan’s mouth when remembering 2017.
7. Purdue (8): Markell Jones ran for 217 yards against Indiana to get the Boilermakers to their first bowl game since the 2012 season. When Jeff Brohm gets his offense fully stocked and installed, this team will be one of the league’s most fun to watch.
8. Iowa (9): The most mercurial team in the Big Ten ended its season on a high note by posting 56 points against Nebraska. The Hawkeyes nearly climbed into the top half of the league, but a head-to-head loss to Purdue kept them a spot behind.
9. Indiana (7): The Hoosiers will miss a bowl game in their first season under Tom Allen. They lost four games by a possession or less, but closing out close games has vexed Indiana for too long.
10. Minnesota (10): Back-to-back weeks without scoring a point drop Minnesota into double digits in the final regular-season power rankings. The Gophers completed a total of five passes during those two games. That’s not going to cut it.
11. Rutgers (11): Did the Scarlet Knights get better in Year 2 under Chris Ash? You bet. It was a low bar to clear, though, and with an average margin of defeat of 34.3 points in the final three games of the season taking the next step to being a bowl contender still seems far away.
12. Maryland (12): No one below this point in the rankings has had a victory since Halloween. The Terps got off to a promising start back in September, but some chronic quarterback-injury issues flattened their offense. They looked like a defeated group giving up 66 points to Penn State in the finale.
13. Nebraska (13): The Cornhuskers gave up 166 points in the final three games of the Mike Riley era, which officially came to a close Saturday morning. Riley, of course, handled his exit with grace, and now Nebraska can pin its hopes on a fresh start with whichever coach takes his place.
14. Illinois (14): The Illini have held tight to the bottom rung of the ladder since mid-October. Another embarrassing loss Saturday -- this one to Northwestern -- brings a merciful end to a winless Big Ten season.
Wisconsin finally has the chance to move from the ranks of the very good and the remarkably consistent to the sport’s top level. The Badgers improved to 12-0 for the first time in team history after a 31-0 victory over Minnesota, retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 14th consecutive season. After completing Big Ten play unbeaten for the first time since 1912, when it played just five league games, Wisconsin has one more tree to chop down. It's a big one: the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Minnesota posed little threat, especially to the nation’s top defense, which feasted on a one-dimensional offense that couldn’t score last week against Northwestern and didn’t record a first down until the final minute of the first half Saturday. The Gophers missed two field goals and were shut out for the second straight game against the fast, swarming, unrelenting Badgers.
It became clear early that the outcome never would be in doubt, but this presented an important opportunity to peak before Ohio State. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook did just that, throwing in rhythm throughout the game in arguably his best performance of the season.
Hornibrook, who has held back Wisconsin’s offense with miscues at times this season, was often the primary reason for the unit’s success Saturday. He made confident throws in the red zone and showed both patience and decisiveness in the pocket. The sophomore completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards with three touchdowns and, of more importance, no picks for the first time in Big Ten play. His best throw came in the third quarter when, under pressure, he lofted a 31-yard pass near the sideline where only teammate Kendric Pryor could get to it.
About the only negative for Wisconsin came in the second quarter when running back Jonathan Taylor lost a fumble for the fifth time this season. Taylor, as usual, redeemed himself with a 53-yard touchdown and another 100-yard day, but ball security will be critical for Wisconsin’s young backfield against Ohio State, which has recovered eight fumbles this season.
But if Wisconsin wins its first Big Ten title since 2012 and punches its first playoff ticket, it will do so with defense. The Badgers built a 28-7 lead against Penn State in last year’s league title game but couldn’t stop Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions in the second half, allowing 24 points in a 38-31 loss. While Ohio State poses a different test, especially with a hobbled J.T. Barrett at quarterback, Wisconsin’s defense will be motivated. Outside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly continued to trigger the Badgers, as Edwards had 3.5 tackles for loss and Connelly had a pair of sacks.
Wisconsin became the eighth Big Ten team in the modern era to start 12-0 and the fifth different team to do so since 1994. Minnesota finished 5-7 under first-year coach P.J. Fleck, who is bringing excitement to the program but must solve issues in the passing game next fall.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For the first time in the 120-year history of "The Game," Ohio State rallied from a 14-point deficit to win, beating Michigan 31-20. The Buckeyes were able to do so by mounting a comeback behind backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins for most of the second half.
Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett injured his knee before the game and came out after a run in the third quarter. Haskins didn't miss a beat, leading an 11-play, 78-yard drive to put Ohio State ahead 21-20 in the third quarter. Haskins finished the day throwing for 94 yards on six completions, and his unwavering performance kept the Buckeyes' playoff hopes alive.
At 10-2 and currently ranked No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Buckeyes have an opportunity to play their way into the playoff if they can pull off a victory over No. 5 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game next Saturday in Indianapolis.
That possibility was kept within reach by the back-and-forth battle that took place in Ann Arbor and a comeback that was drawn out over the second half. Those playoff hopes looked as though they were fading early in the game as the Wolverines held Ohio State to minus-6 yards of offense in the first quarter.
Michigan took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter on a 2-yard Khalid Hill rush and a 3-yard catch by tight end Sean McKeon. The Buckeyes then started to pick it up on offense, though, and scored 14 unanswered points to tie the score at 14 before halftime on a touchdown run and pass by Barrett. The Buckeyes gained 350 yards in the game.
Karan Higdon put Michigan ahead again on a 2-yard touchdown run, but Ohio State's Denzel Ward blocked the extra point attempt. Barrett was injured on a scramble on the Buckeyes' next drive, but Haskins led the Buckeyes down the field, completing a 27-yard third-down pass to Austin Mack and gaining 22 yards on a scramble as the Buckeyes took the lead for good after a J.K. Dobbins 1-yard touchdown run.
The game was seemingly never out of reach for Michigan (8-4), a double-digit underdog, but the offense couldn't finish in the second half. Michigan quarterback John O'Korn completed 17 of his 32 attempts for 195 yards, but he made some crucial mistakes.
O'Korn overthrew two wide-open receivers in the first half that would have extended drives, something that has plagued O'Korn the entire season. He threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter that put the game away for Ohio State.
The win keeps Ohio State coach Urban Meyer undefeated against Michigan, as he is 6-0 against the Buckeyes' archrival. The Wolverines have only three wins over the Buckeyes since 2000, and one in the past 14 years.
Neither O'Korn nor Barrett finished their final rivalry game the way they had hoped -- O'Korn with a loss and Barrett with an injury -- but Barrett and his team still have the opportunity to play for more.
To add to what lies ahead, the Buckeyes have seen this scene play out before, with Barrett suffering an injury against Michigan in 2014 and the backup quarterback stepping in and not missing a beat. That season, Cardale Jones came in to replace Barrett, then a redshirt freshman, and helped lead the Buckeyes to the national championship. Barrett's status is unknown for the Wisconsin game.
Before you settle in for a tasty feast, gorge yourself on one final round of Big Ten predictions this season. The title fight in Indianapolis is already set, but both No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Ohio State need to avoid upsets to their rivals to stay alive in the College Football Playoff hunt. Should either be worried about a stumble?
Three other teams are fighting for a last shot at bowl eligibility. Minnesota will need to end a 13-game losing streak to the Badgers to get there. Indiana and Purdue will do battle for the Old Oaken Bucket and a chance to play one more game in December.
Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more. But first, gobble up our picks for this week's Big Ten winners.
Iowa at Nebraska, 4 p.m. ET, FS1
Mitch Sherman: The Hawkeyes have gained 2.7 yards per play over the past two weeks. Nebraska has allowed nine yards per play and 110 points over that same period. What gives here? The Huskers are out of bowl contention in what is probably the final game for coach Mike Riley. He gets a small dose of revenge for a 30-point drubbing last year. Nebraska 28, Iowa 24
No. 9 Ohio State at Michigan, noon ET, Fox
Tom VanHaaren: This game is always exciting and always brings out the best in both teams. I have a feeling this one will be close in the first half and then Ohio State will start to pull away; the emotions will calm and the Buckeyes will take over. Ohio State's offense is averaging 546.2 yards and seems to be rolling right now. Ohio State 24, Michigan 13
Sherman: The Buckeyes have topped 500 yards of offense in eight of their past nine games. The one big miss was at Iowa, of course, three weeks ago, the last time Ohio State left Columbus. So is it primed for another setback against the No. 3-ranked defense nationally? Perhaps, but Michigan, with its quarterback issues, won't outscore J.T. Barrett, vying to tie the record for wins as an OSU quarterback. Ohio State 27, Michigan 17
Dan Murphy: If Ohio State's defensive line is at its best -- and the Buckeyes usually are in Ann Arbor -- John O'Korn could have a long, uncomfortable goodbye to college football. Michigan's talented defense will be able to keep things close for three quarters, but eventually too many short drives on the other side of the ball will wear them down. Ohio State 28, Michigan 16
Indiana at Purdue, noon ET, ESPN2
Sherman: There's much at stake here in addition to the the Old Oaken Bucket. Both teams are playing for bowl eligibility, a significant prize -- especially for the Boilermakers, whose four-year bowl drought is the Big Ten's longest. The Hoosiers have won four straight in the series and two straight games this month, and Purdue upset Iowa last week. Indiana 21, Purdue 20
No. 10 Penn State at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
VanHaaren: Penn State might be out of the playoff hunt, but it still has a lot to play for. Capping the season with 10 wins is nothing to scoff at, especially considering where this program has come from since the start of the 2016 season. Unfortunately for Maryland, the Terps are too beat up. It looks as though the Nittany Lions will get to 10 wins. Penn State 28, Maryland 16
No. 5 Wisconsin at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
VanHaaren: The Gophers are not going to spoil Wisconsin's bid at an undefeated season and a shot at the College Football Playoff. Wisconsin is just playing too well right now for it to hit a road bump at this point. The Badgers have a lot to play for in the battle for Paul Bunyan's axe. Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 14
Sherman: Lots of numbers to consider for the Badgers, who can win a 12th game for the second time in program history, a school-record 15th straight against Big Ten competition and a 14th straight against the Gophers, and can take the all-time lead in this series for the first time. Wisconsin has won 16 of its past 17 trophy games. It will be 17 of 18. Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 14
Murphy: The Badgers have been boring all season, so don't expect them to do anything too crazy this weekend. Minnesota has had trouble stopping the run recently (371 yards against Michigan, 277 against Northwestern). That's a problem for the Gophers with freshman Jonathan Taylor -- third nationally in rushing yards -- heading to Minneapolis. Load up a turkey leftover sandwich and see if the tryptophan can put you to sleep before Wisconsin's defense does. Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 10
No. 22 Northwestern at Illinois, 4 p.m. ET, FS1
VanHaaren: Illinois hasn't won since Week 2, and that probably won't change with this game. Northwestern is 8-3 and coming off of a 39-0 win against Minnesota, and Illinois just lost 52-14 against Ohio State. I would expect the Wildcats to finish the season strong, getting to nine wins. Northwestern 31, Illinois 13
No. 16 Michigan State at Rutgers, 4 p.m. ET, Fox
Murphy: "Flip it." That was Mark Dantonio's take on a regular-season finale that could leave his team at 9-3 one year after a 3-9 disaster of a year. The Spartans sprung back into the realm of the respectable thanks to a strong defensive front and an emerging playmaker at quarterback. Brian Lewerke has been inconsistent in the month of November but expect him to end on a high note with a big day against the Scarlet Knights' secondary. The final score? Flip it. Michigan State 41, Rutgers 14
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And then there were two. Two teams left in contention for the Big Ten title. Two Big Ten teams left in the College Football Playoff discussion. Wisconsin and Ohio State took care of business on Saturday, setting up a final weekend of a regular season that still holds a bit of drama.
You've got Ohio State-Michigan, which needs no outside storylines. And after big wins in Week 12, Indiana and Purdue are set to clash in West Lafayette with a bowl bid on the line. You'll find the rivals in close proximity this week in the power rankings.
1. Wisconsin (Last week: 1): The Badgers answered the bell again. As soon as Michigan turned a third-quarter interception into points and a lead, Wisconsin came alive, scoring touchdowns on consecutive possessions to take control. The sign of a championship team? Its ability to counterpunch. No team in the Big Ten does it better than the Badgers.
2. Ohio State (2): Nothing but a tune-up for Michigan, as the Buckeyes dispatched of Illinois in the first quarter, leading by 31 en route to a 52-14 win. Ohio State ought to feel refreshed as it heads to Ann Arbor after back-to-back games in which it was not tested. The Big Ten East is secure, but the Buckeyes, still an outlier in the playoff conversation, can't relax.
3. Penn State (3): Despite the 56-44 final, this was not close. The Nittany Lions led Nebraska 42-10 at halftime and played poorly on defense in the final 30 minutes. Much more notably, a season-high 609-yard offensive performance returns a bit of lost swagger to PSU with an 11-win season within reach.
4. Northwestern (6): Who's had a better second half of the season? No one in the Big Ten. Justin Jackson joined Ron Dayne as the only Big Ten backs to top 1,000 rushing yards for a fourth straight season. And with Illinois to close after a 39-0 rout of Minnesota, the Wildcats will likely get a shot in the postseason to reach 10 wins for the third time since 2012.
5. Michigan State (4): The Spartans are still pushing toward the postseason after a troubling loss last week at Ohio State. It was tough sledding in the snow against Maryland, but MSU won 17-7, while QB Brian Lewerke finished just 2-of-14 passing. Not exactly the Senior Day for which the Spartans had hoped before a sparse crowd, but they'll take the win.
6. Michigan (5): So much for the momentum gained from three straight solid wins. The Wolverines stood toe to toe with Wisconsin until QB Brandon Peters went down in the third quarter. His availability will be a key for Michigan as it heads toward the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
7. Indiana (8): The Hoosiers routed Rutgers 41-0, the first Senior Day shutout in Bloomington since 1958, as Richard Lagow threw for 236 yards and Morgan Ellison led a 267-yard rushing attack. A second straight win sets up a battle for bowl eligibility at Purdue with the Old Oaken Bucket at stake.
8. Purdue (11): The Boilermakers upset Iowa 24-15 behind Elijah Sindelar's 229 yards and three touchdown throws, earning the first Big Ten road win for head coach Jeff Brohm. Purdue held Iowa to 258 yards of offense and took better advantage of a gusty breeze in Iowa City. Needless to say, there's a lot at stake in the regular-season finale against IU.
9. Iowa (7): What has happened to the Hawkeyes on offense? Iowa seemed to have it all figured out two weeks ago in blasting Ohio State. But since, nothing has worked, punctuated by an 82-yard rushing effort in the loss to Purdue. Iowa is bowl-eligible ahead of its Black Friday trip to Nebraska but lacking for other positives.
10. Minnesota (9): Maybe Northwestern was that good. Or perhaps the Golden Gophers are just out of gas. Two pass completions and three interceptions won't cut it. And with Wisconsin headed to town, Minnesota looks stuck at five wins in P.J. Fleck's debut season.
11. Rutgers (13): A bit of a course correction here for the Scarlet Knights, who deserve credit for the October win over Purdue -- a big mover this week -- and two other Big Ten victories. A blowout loss at Indiana offers no reason for good vibes, though. Neither does a finishing trip to Michigan State.
12. Maryland (10): The Terps have won just once since September. Max Bortenschlager returned from injury to play in snowy East Lansing, but Maryland gained just 204 yards and struggled to stop Michigan State's ground game.
13. Nebraska (12): The Cornhuskers have allowed more than 50 points in consecutive weeks and three times in a season for the first time since 1943, when they played in the Big Six and struggled even to field a team. Yes, this season is historically bad. Change is likely coming soon to Nebraska.
14. Illinois (14): It's time for this season to end. The Illini are extremely young, but there comes a point when the experience gained isn't doing much good. Illinois is there after nine consecutive losses.
MADISON, Wis. -- For a team that has earned its reputation as reliable and boring this year, No. 5 Wisconsin sure can flip a game in a hurry.
The Badgers' undefeated season and College Football Playoff bid appeared to be in doubt in the second half of a Saturday slogfest against Michigan's talented defense. Then two touchdowns in the final 3:31 of the third quarter changed that, and propelled Wisconsin to a 24-10 vindicating victory.
Things turned on a dime at Camp Randall Stadium, more specifically a dime of a throw from quarterback Alex Hornibrook. The redshirt sophomore dropped a 51-yarder into A.J. Taylor's breadbasket to breathe life into a stale offense. Three plays later Hornibrook stepped into another pass to Taylor, this one a 24-yard dart to the end zone on third down that put the Badgers ahead for good.
Hornibrook (9-for-19, 143 yards) was far from perfect Saturday, but just like the previous 10 games, he did enough to win. Wisconsin's offense had minus-7 yards in the second half prior to that game-changing drive. His two connections with Taylor came on the heels of a three-and-out and an interception that set Michigan up to take the lead. Wolverines kicker Quinn Nordin connected from 39 yards after a Devin Bush interception, but that was the end of what was looking like a promising day for a young Michigan team that has yet to beat an opponent with a winning record.
Brandon Peters, the redshirt freshman quarterback who had provided some optimism for Michigan's offense in November, left the game on the following series. He was hit hard by Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel after releasing a third-down pass and needed to be carted off the field.
Peters completed 9-of-18 passes for 159 yards before leaving. He narrowly missed a touchdown pass when referees decided in the second quarter that freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones didn't touch a foot down inbounds before stepping on the sideline on an end-zone fade route. Fifth-year senior John O'Korn wasn't able to get the offense back in rhythm after coming off the bench in the fourth quarter, and his receivers didn't provide him with much help.
Wisconsin smelled blood. The offense drove 61 yards in less than two minutes -- warp speed for a team that has made it this far with its suffocating defense and its 1,000-yard rusher, Jonathan Taylor -- capped off by a creative rushing play that freshman receiver Kendric Pryor took 32 yards to the house. That surge seemed to loosen up some space for Taylor, who managed to reach 132 rushing yards despite an ineffective start.
The party had already started in Madison by the time Taylor topped the 100-yard mark. The late third-quarter surge came just in time for Camp Randall Stadium to turn into the House of Pain. With "Jump Around" playing into the final 15 minutes, Badger players danced on the field between quarters and their fans shook the stadium. They've seen enough to know that this year's Wisconsin team can close out a win.
The next jump, sliding from the College Football Playoff's on-deck circle into the top four, may not come until (and unless) the Badgers can beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game in early December. Knocking off a sturdy Michigan team in their final home game, though, should give the Badgers all the résumé-padding they need to secure a semifinal spot if they take care of business in Minnesota and Indianapolis in the next two weeks.
Week 12 has a little drama to the regular season’s finish, especially within the Big Ten. Wisconsin is currently ranked No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings and Ohio State is No. 9.
If the Badgers win out, it seems very likely they would make the playoff, considering Clemson and Miami are ranked No. 2 and 3 and still have to play each other in the ACC championship game. However, it won't be easy for a Wisconsin team that has dealt with injuries and still must play Michigan, Minnesota and the East Division champ in the Big Ten championship game.
This week will give us a better picture of where the Big Ten stacks up in the playoff picture. Visit our college football PickCenter page for additional information on these games and many more.
No. 24 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin, noon ET, Fox
Dan Murphy: The forecast in Madison on Saturday afternoon calls for footballs raining from the sky. In other words, expect lots of punts. Wisconsin ranks first among FBS team in total yards allowed this year. Michigan is sitting at third. If the Wolverines’ young athletes can force Alex Hornibrook (three interceptions last week) into some big mistakes, they’ll have a shot to play spoiler. The Badgers know that, though, and will keep it conservative. Wisconsin 17, Michigan 14
Mitch Sherman: What to make of Michigan’s recent run against the lower tier of the Big Ten? Appears the Wolverines have found something, particularly in the run game. But the Badgers are stout defensively -- among the best units nationally, in fact. If Hornibrook limits his mistakes, Michigan’s improving QB situation won’t matter. Wisconsin 21, Michigan 13
Tom VanHaaren: As noted above, Wisconsin’s defense has performed well this season. The stat I’m looking at is that Wisconsin ranks first in rush yards allowed per game, giving up an average of only 81.5 yards per game on the ground. Against Minnesota, Michigan ran the ball 37 times for 371 yards, but gained only 160 yards on 38 attempts against Maryland. If Wisconsin’s defense contains the Michigan run game, we will have to see Brandon Peters air it out more often. I think Wisconsin’s defense against Michigan’s offense decides it. Wisconsin 13, Michigan 10
Minnesota at No. 23 Northwestern, noon ET, BTN
Sherman: Don’t be fooled by the resurgence of the Gophers last week at home in a rout of Nebraska. A big difference exists between a get-well game and a feel-good win. Minnesota got the latter. QB Demry Croft won’t find the running lanes so large in Evanston against the Wildcats, who rank seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten in defending the rush. Northwestern 27, Minnesota 14
VanHaaren: Northwestern is on a five-game win streak, which includes wins over Michigan State and Iowa, so this game is going to be tough for Minnesota. As mentioned above, Minnesota likely won’t see Croft with the production he had last week against Nebraska. On top of that, the Gophers’ defense has given up 54 points over the past two games, which averages out to 27 points per game, pretty close to Northwestern’s average points scored over this five-game win streak, which is right around 29 points. Northwestern 28, Minnesota 17
Rutgers at Indiana, noon ET, BTN
Murphy: The loser of this game won’t be headed to a bowl game this season. Cole Gest looked like he could provide a bit of a spark for the Hoosiers’ absent rushing attack last week. Sorry, Rutgers fans: Your team has given you a bit more to cheer about this fall, but it’s safe to start making your holiday plans without accounting for a bowl trip. On the bright side, the Scarlet Knights have a good shot to beat the spread for the ninth time this year. Indiana 24, Rutgers 20
Illinois at No. 9 Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
VanHaaren: Ohio State still has an outside shot at the playoff, so these games still matter for the Buckeyes, whether coach Urban Meyer wants to talk about it or not. A lot would have to happen for them to make it, but it’s not out of the question. That’s unfortunate for Illinois, because Ohio State isn’t going to let up in this game, especially as it prepares for Michigan the following week. Ohio State 48, Illinois 10
Murphy: The Buckeyes have frustrated fans with a couple anomalous duds this season when they didn’t have their “A game.” If they can muster up even a C or D performance on Senior Day at the Horseshoe, they should just be fine against the Illini. Meyer said his team would have zero discussion this week about their shot a College Football Playoff spot, but don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes take an opportunity to remind the committee how powerful its offense can be, just in case. Ohio State 52, Illinois 13
Purdue at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Sherman: Unpredictable Iowa returns home for Senior Day after an anemic offensive showing last week at Wisconsin that followed the fireworks of a blowout win over Ohio State. What will it be this week? The Boilermakers, fighting to get bowl-eligible, are strong enough to push the Hawkeyes. It will be a rebound for Nathan Stanley and his weapons on offense. Iowa 31, Purdue 21
Nebraska at No. 10 Penn State, 4 p.m. ET, FS1
VanHaaren: Nebraska has been spiraling this season, and although Penn State has two losses, they can still get to a 10-win season by finishing out the season with wins. Nebraska’s run defense ranks 105th in the country, giving up 200.1 yards per game. They are also coming off a game in which Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft ran for 183 yards and running back Rodney Smith had 134 yards of his own, so this should be a game in whichSaquon Barkley and Trace McSorley can both find success on the ground. Penn State 31, Nebraska 7
Sherman: The Nittany Lions lost part of their edge three weeks ago in the second half at Ohio State and still have yet to regain it despite a rout of Rutgers last week. Here’s a chance to get completely well against a Nebraska team, likely with a backup at QB, that’s simply playing out the string for coach Mike Riley and his staff. Penn State 42, Nebraska 6
Maryland at No. 17 Michigan State, 4 p.m. ET, Fox
Murphy: The Spartans’ offensive line couldn’t handle Ohio State a week ago, but they should get a much more manageable task this Saturday against Maryland. That the Terps have managed nearly 28 points per game (fourth in the Big Ten), despite an epidemic of injuries at quarterback, is remarkable. They’ll have trouble reaching that 28-point mark against Michigan State. Michigan State 30, Maryland 21