Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

Ohio St Michigan Football

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) scrambles out of the pocket in the first quarter against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. Ohio State won 31-20.

1. WISCONSIN (12-0, 9-0)

Last week: W, 31-0 at Minnesota. Previous: 1.

Welcome to the final Journal Star power rankings of the season. The Badgers capped off the program’s first undefeated regular season in more than 100 years and play Ohio State on Saturday in the Big Ten championship game for a likely berth in the College Football Playoff. Paul Chryst’s team led the nation in total defense, allowing 21 yards fewer per game than any other school at 236.9. They’ve also given up the fewest touchdowns in the nation (15). UW still opened as a 5.5-point underdog to the Buckeyes, who have won the pairing's past five games. Wisconsin has two games remaining and freshman back Jonathan Taylor needs 196 yards to crack 2,000 rushing.

2. OHIO STATE (10-2, 8-1)

Last week: W, 31-20 at Michigan. Previous: 2.

The Buckeyes topped the Wolverines in The Game and now will try to spoil Wisconsin’s playoff hopes. They could also potentially get in themselves depending on how the committee views Urban Meyer’s team and what else happens around the country. Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s status is uncertain after he suffered a knee injury in an apparent collision with a cameraman before the Michigan game. OSU leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the nation in averaging 43.8 points per game. Meyer has never lost three games in a season at OSU and has done so only once since 2007. 

3. PENN STATE (10-2, 7-2)

Last week: W, 66-3 at Maryland. Previous: 3.

The Nittany Lions continued their high-scoring rampage by beating the Terps by 63. They closed the regular season by scoring 122 points in eight quarters. PSU won’t make the playoff, but James Franklin’s team is in position for a New Year’s Six bowl bid. Running back Saquon Barkley seems to have fallen off a bit in the Heisman race, but he’s a fantastic talent and his final college game should be enjoyed. Big Ten defensive coordinators certainly won’t miss him when he, in all likelihood, jumps to the NFL after his junior year.

4. NORTHWESTERN (9-3, 7-2)

Last week: W, 42-7 at Illinois. Previous: 4.

How about Pat Fitzgerald’s team? After a 0-2 conference start, the Wildcats have rebounded and won seven straight. They outscored their final three opponents — Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois — 104-20. Senior running back Justin Jackson has 6,131 total yards of offense in his career and 40 touchdowns.

5. MICHIGAN STATE (9-3, 7-2)

Last week: W, 40-7 at Rutgers. Previous: 5.

The Spartans bounced back from that 45-point loss to Ohio State with wins against Maryland and Rutgers to close their regular season. The 40 they hung on the Scarlet Knights is their best output of the season and a good sign heading into the bowl season. The young MSU defense and sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke give Mark Dantonio’s team a bright future.

6. MICHIGAN (8-4, 5-4)

Last week: L, 31-20 vs. Ohio State. Previous: 6.

The Wolverines fell to 5-4 in Big Ten play with a two-score loss to Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh’s team spent the early part of the season in the Associated Press top 10, but the margin of its three losses to ranked teams this fall — No. 2 Penn State, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Ohio State — averaged 18 points. Once quarterback Wilton Speight was hurt against Purdue, UM just didn’t have enough offense. Now Speight has announced that he is transferring. Michigan has lost five straight to ranked teams since beating Wisconsin on Oct. 1, 2016.

7. IOWA (7-5, 4-5)

Last week: W, 56-14 at Nebraska. Previous: 7.

The Hawkeyes closed the regular season by hammering the Huskers in Lincoln. They scored 42 points after halftime and maybe built a little momentum headed into bowl preparations. Now, can Kirk Ferentz’s team play well in the postseason? A rushing attack that had been mediocre through 11 games exploded for 313 yards and six touchdowns. That might have been as much about NU as it was about Iowa, but it still can’t hurt UI’s confidence.

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8. PURDUE (6-6, 4-5)

Last week: W, 31-24 vs. Indiana. Previous: 8.

The Boilermakers are going bowling in Jeff Brohm’s first season, which is an impressive accomplishment. Purdue’s allowed just 16 points per game in eight Big Ten contests since beginning conference play with a 28-10 loss to Michigan.

9. INDIANA (5-7, 2-7)

Last week: L, 31-24 at Purdue. Previous: 9.

The Hoosiers lost at Purdue in the final week of the season and lost out on a bowl bid as a result. Still, Indiana showed some offensive progress over the final three weeks of the season. Simmie Cobbs put together one of the best receiving seasons in the league, finishing with 72 catches for 841 yards and eight touchdowns.

10. RUTGERS (4-8, 3-6)

Last week: L, 40-7 vs. Michigan State. Previous: 12.

Chris Ash finished his second season in New Jersey with four wins and a contract extension. That’s progress for the Scarlet Knights, who look like they’re on the path back to respectability. They lost head-to-head to Nebraska (below) in September and have the same record, but who would you pick right now?

11. MINNESOTA (5-7, 2-7)

Last week: L, 31-0 vs. Wisconsin. Previous: 10.

Well, at least the Gophers got a bunch of scoring out of the way against the Huskers. P.J. Fleck’s team scored 54 against NU on Nov. 11 and then got shut out in its final two games. Ouch. Minnesota has a long way to go — Fleck said it himself after losing Saturday — and sophomore Demry Croft announced this week that he’s leaving the program.

12. NEBRASKA (4-8, 3-6)

Last week: L, 56-14 vs. Iowa. Previous: 11.

The Huskers became just the 20th team in college football history and the third FBS team to give up 54 or more points in three straight games. It all fell apart. Mike Riley was fired 15 hours after a 42-point loss to Iowa concluded. There will be a jolt of energy when the next coach is hired. That shouldn’t obscure the amount of work required in Lincoln, however.

13. MARYLAND (4-8, 2-7)

Last week: L, 66-3 vs. Penn State. Previous: 13.

The Terrapins limped to the finish, losing their final four games and failing to score more than 10 points in any of the final three. D.J. Durkin and company hope to keep a quarterback or two healthy next fall.

14. ILLINOIS (2-10, 0-9)

Last week: L, 42-7 vs. Northwestern. Previous: 14.

Well, the Illini started the season 2-0. Only three teams scored less per game than Illinois’ 15.4. Lovie Smith’s team lost 10 straight, by an average of 21.7 per game, to close the season.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.


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