The Big Ten, vaunted during the preseason, has underwhelmed thus far, but the power still rests in the East. Conference play has yet to see a big upset to distort a divisional race, but the month of October is when teams begin the teeth of Big Ten play.
1. Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 B1G)
The Buckeyes are fresh off a solid win over division foe Indiana and look as potent as ever, led by Heisman hopeful Dwayne Haskins. With Urban Meyer now back, OSU will likely be heavily favored in all of its remaining games until the final week of the regular season in Columbus when a potentially huge showdown with Michigan for the Big Ten East looms.
2. Penn State (4-1, 1-1)
After averaging nearly 56 points per game in its first four games, the Nittany Lions ran into a talented Ohio State defense and managed just 26 points. Trace McSorley, one of college football’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks, will now have to face Big Ten defenses not named Illinois. Coming off a bye, McSorley will look to spin it effectively against Michigan State as Clayton Thorson did last week.
3. Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0)
While many probably didn’t predict an early-season, non-conference loss to BYU, Bucky still has its goals lined up with big matchups this weekend in Ann Arbor and Happy Valley in November. Heisman candidate running back Jonathan Taylor is a one-man wrecking crew, having racked up 849 (!) yards and eight touchdowns in just five games. The Badgers handled Nebraska last week, but the defense showed it is more susceptible to big plays than we’ve become accustomed to.
4. Michigan (5-1, 3-0)
The next few weeks will provide a good litmus test for the Wolverines. Their slow starts, evident against Northwestern and Maryland in recent weeks, might be tougher to overcome against ranked teams Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. Fortunately for the Maize and Blue, they get the first two of those massive matchups at home.
5. Iowa (4-1, 1-1)
Iowa sits in the top five purely as a result of its record. How much value we can put into Iowa’s wins will be determined over the next few weeks as the Hawkeyes continue conference play. Iowa responded well to its first loss of the season by dialing up the play calling and exploding for 48 points against Minnesota. The Hawks have a key contest at Indiana this Saturday, and the good news for Iowa is it faces just one more currently-ranked opponent, Penn State.
6. Northwestern (2-3, 2-1)
Despite another slow start, Pat Fitzgerald’s squad has shown the ability to make noise. Hopefully, the Michigan State win can serve as a turning point for the second half offense. The defensive line started to break through against MSU as well, and, if it can continue to pressure the quarterback, it would aide a secondary that has ceded the fourth-most passing yards per game in the Big Ten. Two of the Wildcats’ most winnable games this season (vs Nebraska and Rutgers) are in the next two weeks. If they can build off Saturday’s win and continue to ride the momentum, it could set up a matchup against Wisconsin with critical Big Ten West implications at the end of October.
7. Michigan State (3-2, 1-1)
One of the preseason big dogs that contributed to the Big Ten looking like a force this year has majorly underwhelmed, now unranked after falling to Northwestern. While the nation’s top run defense was as good as advertised last week, the Big Ten’s worst pass defense was yet again picked apart. Even more concerning for injured Sparty is the regression of quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has been far too inconsistent and inaccurate. Felton Davis III is a monster on the outside for Lewerke, but he can’t do it alone. Trace McSorley and a hungry Penn State team are up next next.
8. Purdue (2-3, 1-1)
Since seizing the quarterback reigns in Week 3, David Blough has lit up defenses for almost 400 yards per game. If he and the electric freshman receiver Rondale Moore can continue to find success and the young defense shows more discipline, the Boilermakers have a good chance this Saturday at getting to .500 against an Illinois team with a defense allowing over 480 yards per game.
9. Indiana (4-2, 1-2)
A week after falling to Ohio State, Indiana plays host to Iowa in an important game. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who ranks No. 6 in the Big Ten in total yardage, will need to solve the stout Hawkeye defense. The Hooisers need just two more wins for bowl eligibility, and with games against Penn State and Michigan left, Tom Allen’s squad better be ready to win the ones it can.
10. Maryland (3-2, 1-1)
It’s hard to make sense of this team, but it started well against Michigan (a common trend against the Wolverines) before it let penalties take the game out of its command. The Terrapins are going to need to lift their meager passing offense, averaging just 128 yards per game, against a Rutgers pass defense that has been one of the lone bright spots in Piscataway this year.
11. Illinois (3-2, 1-1)
Congrats, Ilini, you won a conference game for the first time in over 700 days. But it was against Rutgers. Good luck making it two B1G wins in a row against a rising Purdue squad.
12. Minnesota (3-2, 0-2)
After starting off the year a Golden 3-0, the Gophers have Rowed the L for the past two weeks. P.J. Fleck’s inexperienced squad has had over 40 points hung on it the past two weeks in conference play by mediocre Big Ten offenses, and things don’t get any easier this weekend with a trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State.
13. Nebraska (0-5, 0-3)
The tornado of reality that has ripped through Lincoln since Scott Frost arrived only did more damage last weekend in a 17-point loss at Wisconsin. While the offense showed some big-play capability, the defense was far too porous for the Huskers to ever scare the Badgers. I don’t really know if Nebraska is a better team than Rutgers, but I have this feeling that if they played Nebraska would find a way to come out on top, because Rutgers is, well, Rutgers.
14. Rutgers (1-4, 0-3)
See above. This is a team that lost by 41 to Kansas, a program that this year won consecutive games over FBS opponents for the first time since 2009. It is also the team that last week gave Illinois its first B1G win in over 700 days. Enough said. At this point watching Campus Eats on BTN is more entertaining than seeing the Scarlet Knights attempt to do football.