After the College Football Playoff committee sent a strong message in its initial rankings to Minnesota about its lack of quality wins, the Golden Gophers sent one right back.

Row the boat!

In a game many wondered why the spread wasn’t larger — Penn State was favored by 6.5 — Minnesota left little doubt that it belongs in the CFP discussion. The No. 17 Golden Gophers held off No. 4 Penn State 31-26 on Saturday, sparking the obvious question: Just how high will Minnesota go? The answer should most definitely be in the top 10, and probably even the top six. Minnesota made a leap from 13th to No. 7 in the AP poll that came out Sunday (its first time in the top 10 since 1962!), and it should make a bigger leap when the next CFP rankings come out Tuesday night.

Aside from letting us know what it thought of Minnesota, the CFP committee sent another interesting message last Tuesday: Penn State is really good. Like better than the undefeated defending national champion Clemson Tigers. Like if the CFP started last weekend, Penn State would’ve been in the field. So considering all that, how can Minnesota not make a massive leap?

Minnesota should make one of the biggest jumps in the history of the CFP weekly rankings. In the six years of this format, there have been 13 teams to have risen seven spots or more; five teams to climb eight spots or more; and two teams to move up nine spots or more. Michigan State holds the record for biggest leap of 12 spots, which it did in 2017 when it moved up to No. 12 from 24.

Take a look below at the biggest jumps in the CFP’s brief history and notice the big jumps are usually teams in the teens, as it’s much more rare to make a big leap into the top 10. In fact, Ohio State (2014) and Oklahoma State (2015) are the only teams to move up six spots or more into the top 10, as each moved up from No. 14 to No. 8. It’s obviously more challenging to leap past the better teams since they theoretically lose less.

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Moving up 12 spots would be awfully ambitious, but Minnesota should move up at least eight spots, which would mean it would be ahead of all the two-loss teams (it is currently behind six of them), as well as one-loss Penn State and undefeated Baylor, which needed three overtimes on Saturday to beat TCU.

But now that Minnesota has a quality win under its belt, what justification is there for putting two-loss SEC teams, like No. 10 Florida and No. 11 Auburn, over an undefeated Big Ten team? Or two-loss Big Ten teams above an undefeated Big Ten team? Or even one-loss Utah (whose best win is over No. 23 Arizona State? Or one-loss Oregon (whose best win is over No. 25 Washington)? Or one-loss Oklahoma (whose best win is over Texas, which is no longer ranked)? Or Alabama (whose best win is over Texas A&M, which is no longer ranked)? It will be fascinating to see how much the committee changes its tune on Minnesota.

That’s because in terms of ranking, there is no team outside of LSU with a better win than Minnesota’s triumph over the No. 4 team in the country.

Even better for the Golden Gophers (9-0), who are one of five remaining unbeatens, they passed the eye test with flying colors. These home fans — which, by the way, looked like the crowd at a Gryffindor quidditch match — already believed this Minnesota team was for real, but for the national media and general public, Saturday was an eye opener. Minnesota looked the part in every way, from the massive offensive line, ball-hawking safety, extremely accurate quarterback, and a wide receiver trio among the best in the country.

Minnesota put up 31 points against a team which hadn’t allowed more than 21 this season and accumulated 460 yards against a defense that had allowed just 280 per game. Penn State had allowed just three points in the first quarter of its eight games; Minnesota scored 14. Penn State had allowed 13 points or less in seven games, which was something that CFP committee chair Rob Mullens mentioned in explaining Penn State’s No. 4 ranking.

While there were plenty in the media who were quick to knock Minnesota for its non-conference schedule, which was completely fair, the Golden Gophers had quietly been blowing through its Big Ten slate. In the previous five weeks, Minnesota had been fourth in the country in point differential, behind only Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama.

And that continued on Saturday from the very beginning. It wasn’t one of those games that could’ve gone either way, where the last team with the ball won. Minnesota was in control throughout as it never trailed and led for 50:40 of game time — including the final 49:25. That matters. It didn’t feel flukey, and it felt much more convincing than, for example, Auburn leading for only the final nine seconds against Oregon. If Minnesota and Penn State played 10 times on a neutral field, I’d feel comfortable picking Minnesota to win at least six of them.

Minnesota’s defense had measured up well statistically, but a common refrain this week had been that the Golden Gophers hadn’t played a starting quarterback for an entire game. Not to mention that they had played some of the worst offenses in the Big Ten. Again, that’s fair. But there’s no denying what Penn State did against one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Sean Clifford — who entered the game having thrown 20 TD passes with just three interceptions and ranked near the top of the Big Ten in nearly every passing category — threw three picks against the Golden Gophers (two to Antoine Winfield, Jr., who is now tied for the national lead with seven).

Minnesota was far from perfect, yielding several big runs to Journey Brown, but they buckled down in the biggest spots. The first was Penn State’s two-point conversion attempt late in the third quarter that had a ripple effect on the rest of the game. Up 24-19, Penn State chased the points and Minnesota stopped Ricky Slade short of the end zone. And as Penn State drove for the potential game-winning TD, Jordan Howden picked off Clifford in the end zone.

Minnesota’s receivers are perhaps the most underrated in the country to the common fan, and the trio of Rashod Bateman, Tyler Johnson and Chris Autman-Bell showcased their skill on Saturday. They ran sharp routes and routinely got open for Tanner Morgan, and they also made contested catches. Minnesota only passed 20 times, but Morgan completed 18 of them for 339 yards. Pro Football Focus recently ranked Minnesota’s receiving corps fourth in the country.

The Golden Gophers are fiercely dedicated to the run, even when it isn’t necessarily working. Minnesota entered Saturday eighth in the country in rushing attempts per game with 47 and 125th in passing attempts per game at 21.8. That trend continued Saturday, as Minnesota ran 38 times for just 121 yards. But its dedication to the ground game kept Penn State’s defense honest, and Morgan was able to pick apart Penn State’s staunch defense for big gains. Morgan averaged a ridiculous 17 yards per attempt and is now at 10.9 for the season, which is the ninth-highest since 1956, according to College Football Reference. Since 2000, there have been 54 games in which a quarterback has completed 90 percent of his passes while attempting 20 or more, and Morgan now owns two of them.

The bottom line is that if Minnesota keeps winning, it will be in position to make the CFP. Its season will ultimately come down to beating either Iowa or Wisconsin and then beating Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. But right now, Minnesota deserves the respect that comes from being an undefeated Power Five program that just beat the No. 4 team in the country. The rankings on Tuesday should reflect that.

Notebook

A look around the Big Ten.

Penn State is not done

So, what do we make of Penn State? For one, the Nittany Lions (8-1) are by no means eliminated from the CFP race. I would argue that they are one of just seven teams that truly control their own destiny (along with Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Georgia, Baylor and Minnesota). If Penn State beats Ohio State and wins a rematch against Minnesota (or Wisconsin) in the Big Ten title game, it’s going to be in the top four.

Penn State squandered a golden opportunity, though, to cement itself as a CFP team even with a loss to Ohio State in two weeks. The Nittany Lions may regret going for two in the third quarter because not getting it altered their decision-making in the fourth quarter, when they were forced to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 5 instead of kicking a field goal. And it may regret continually throwing fade routes, which are one of the lowest-percentage throws in the end zone — and don’t make a ton of sense when they aren’t targeting red-zone monster Pat Freiermuth.

On Tuesday, Penn State will drop, but it shouldn’t be a far one. Will it get the benefit of the doubt that SEC teams get? This would seem to go down as a “quality loss,” right? It’s a much better loss than Georgia has, which lost at home to a 4-6 team playing its third-string quarterback.

Will Penn State stay ahead of the other one-loss teams? The Nittany Lions still have two Top 25 wins (over No. 14 Michigan and No. 18 Iowa), while No. 7 Oregon (8-1), No. 8 Utah (8-1) and No. 9 Oklahoma (8-1) have no wins over the CFP’s Top 25.

Illinois’ improbable turnaround continues with epic comeback

How many of you wrote off Illinois after it lost to Eastern Michigan? I know I did. How many of you wrote off Illinois when it began the fourth quarter Saturday trailing Michigan State 31-10? Again, guilty as charged.

But Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini continue to defy expectations and prove everyone wrong, with the latest being a 37-34 win at Michigan State. The pure joy on Smith’s face as he was hoisted up by his players was spectacular. Illinois (6-4), at one point 2-4, is now bowl eligible with two games remaining.

Huh?

This continues to be one of the most surprising stories in college football. With all due respect to Indiana (see below) and Minnesota, Illinois turning around its season after six games just defies logic. Just as Illinois rallying from a three-touchdown deficit at Michigan State, which is suffering through a down year but is traditionally one of the league’s best programs.

Illinois allowed Michigan State – the league’s 13th ranked run offense – to rush for 275 yards. In the last five seasons, Michigan State has run for more yards than that just twice. And yet the Fighting Illini found a way, thanks to forcing the Spartans into four turnovers.

This was always a calling card of Smith when he was with the Chicago Bears: Takeaways, takeaways and more takeaways. Illinois leads the country with 26 takeaways and is tied with Oregon for first in the country in turnover margin at +14.

This could serve as a spring board for Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters, who had really struggled after a hot start. Peters went 22 of 42 for 369 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. His patience and play-making ability on the game-winning score to Daniel Barker with five seconds left. Peters hadn’t thrown for more than 175 yards in five straight games (though to be fair, he hadn’t attempted more than 22 passes in a game either).

Peters, a Michigan transfer, had probably envisioned beating the Spartans for a while – he just didn’t know it’d be for Illinois.

https://twitter.com/BoomItsFBALL/status/1193337098214035456?s=20

Indiana ends AP poll drought

This was one of the most memorable weekends – if not the most – for the Indiana football program in a long time. And the Hoosiers didn’t even play!

Indiana, for the first time since 1994, is ranked. The No. 24 Hoosiers (7-2) had been the Power Five program with the longest absence among the Top 25, a distinction that now belongs to Purdue. Indiana climbed into the rankings after Kansas State, Wake Forest and San Diego State lost to fall out of the rankings.

The Hoosiers will have their work cut out for them the next two weeks, though. They travel to face an angry Penn State team this week, then get a Michigan squad that has quietly turned its season around.

Oh, and for Indiana fans who feel like the universe is out of whack now that they no longer own this: The Hoosiers still have the longest drought of not finishing the season in the Top 25. So, there you go.

Three Up, Three Down

Taking stock of the best and worst from the rest of the weekend in the Big Ten.

Up

1. No Chase Young, no problem. But now what?

Ohio State seemed to be playing angry on Saturday, demolishing Maryland 73-14. There was just no mercy in piling up 705 yards – Ohio State’s fourth-most in the 21st Century. With Chase Young sitting out as his situation with the NCAA gets sorted out, J.K. Dobbins wore his No. 2 as a sign of support.

The highlight of this game was this incredible onside kick in the first quarter.

The Buckeyes will probably drop from No. 1 to No. 2 in the CFP rankings by virtue of LSU’s win at Alabama, but does that really matter? They are clearly one of the top two teams in the country.

On another note, Ohio State’s highly anticipated showdowns keep getting spoiled before they come to fruition. First it was Wisconsin getting upset at Illinois the week before, and now Penn State falls at Minnesota.

2. Purdue’s youngsters continue to shine

Jeff Brohm is earning that hefty paycheck this season, as Purdue knocked off Northwestern 24-22. The record isn’t great at 4-6, but how many teams could win this many games with their third-string quarterback (who happens to be a freshman walk-on)? How many teams could win this many games with only freshmen scoring touchdowns?

In what continues to be a shocking statistic, Purdue’s last 19 touchdowns have been scored by freshmen. I thought college basketball was supposed to be the sport for freshmen to play and contribute right away?

Purdue will likely be eliminated from bowl contention at Wisconsin this week, but give Brohm and the Boilermakers credit – they didn’t give up on this season like more-talented and more-experienced teams at Michigan State and Nebraska have.

3. Wisconsin stays alive in West race

In what was basically an elimination game in the Big Ten West Division race, Wisconsin held off Iowa 24-22. Unfortunately for the Badgers, though, Minnesota stayed two games ahead with three to play. Those teams will meet on Thanksgiving weekend in the season finale. Wisconsin needs Minnesota to lose to either Iowa or Northwestern the next two weeks to have a chance going into that game.

Jonathan Taylor (31 carries, 250 yards) continues to be awesome, as he is up to 1,259 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns with three games to go. And the next two weeks, he gets the Big Ten’s No. 11 and No. 10 rushing defenses in Nebraska and Purdue.

Down

1. Northwestern finally scored a touchdown!

This could’ve easily gone in the category above, and probably should, but it’s crazy that this is even a thing, especially in this age of explosive offenses. Northwestern went three straight games without finding the end zone! It finally scored against Purdue, even going ahead 14-0 before losing.

The Wildcats are still 129th out of 130 FBS teams in points per game at 11.1 and 127th in total offense at 277.7 yards per game.

2. Michigan State falls further

It’s been a tough weekend at Michigan State. Even more so than the Spartans losing to Illinois, that community is reeling with the death of basketball star Cassius Winston’s younger brother, and then former football star Charles Rogers (who was just 38).

The Spartans (4-5) should still go to a bowl game this season as Rutgers and Maryland are still on the schedule, but this continues to be a disappointing season. With how much talent they had back on defense, plus a senior quarterback with extensive experience as a starter, it doesn’t make much sense. That said, beating Michigan this week would undoubtedly numb some of the pain of this underwhelming season.

3. Iowa’s what-could-have-been season

Iowa sure doesn’t feel like a top team, but it’s crazy to think just how close it is to being in Minnesota’s position as the undefeated West squad. The Hawkeyes (6-3) have lost their three games by a total of 14 points. They can play spoiler this week against undefeated Minnesota.