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Big Ten Football Power Rankings, Week 8: By default, Minnesota reaches the top five

This conference is starting to look pretty top-heavy.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

While Northwestern and Ohio State both were off this week (and now meet in Evanston on Friday night), the 12 remaining Big Ten teams did battle against each other, and we got to witness plenty of action.

Another massacre came courtesy of the Wisconsin defense, Michigan almost found a way to lose to Illinois, Penn State somehow escaped from Kinnick Stadium unscathed, and much more. For a full recap of the weekend’s action, check out this link, but for now, let’s dive right into the power rankings:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Last Week’s Ranking: 1

Last Week’s Result: Bye

Next Week: @ Northwestern

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Confession from a first-time InsideNU writer: I’ve grown up as a die-hard Ohio State fan, and have been one my whole life until coming to Northwestern. However, you should know that I’m often hyper critical of my own teams and will most certainly call them out for their flaws when they are apparent. That said, the Buckeyes are clearly the best team in the Big Ten right now, even after Wisconsin’s admittedly impressive performance last week.

In fact, this is the best Ohio State team since 2014. Justin Fields and the offense average 49.3 points per game, good for third in the country. Chase Young (who is currently on pace to tie Terrell Suggs’ record for sacks in a season with 24) leads a revived defense that has only given up more than 10 points to one opponent this season. The Wildcats don’t stand much of a chance Friday night, but then again, the only Big Ten foe who might against the Buckeyes this season is the next team on my list.

2. Wisconsin Badgers

Last Week’s Ranking: 2

Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Michigan State (38-0)

Next Week: @ Illinois

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Wisconsin Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

I picked Wisconsin to win the Big Ten West this year prior to the season’s start, as I thought everyone was dismissing them way too easily after one down year. But I didn’t see this coming. This is the best Wisconsin team since Russell Wilson’s 2011 squad, which should have gone undefeated if not for consecutive Hail Mary losses against Michigan State and Ohio State.

The Badgers’ 38-0 demolition of the aforementioned Spartans on Saturday was their fourth recorded shutout in six games, and their third win over Michigan schools. No further news on whether the legal acquisition of the Upper Peninsula by Wisconsin has gone through yet. The Badgers should get some practice reps in this week against Illinois before they travel to Columbus, Ohio for a heavyweight matchup with the Buckeyes.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

Last Week’s Ranking: 3

Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Iowa (17-12)

Next Week: Michigan

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten seemed like it was already down to a two-team race after Wisconsin’s Week 4 beatdown of the overhyped Michigan Wolverines. Well, Penn State has officially entered that race. They curb-stomped Maryland and Purdue, and survived the so called “House of Horrors” in Iowa City.

The Nittany Lions are exactly the kind of team Ohio State and Wisconsin don’t want to play—athletic enough that they can’t be physically overwhelmed, but filled with inexperienced underclassmen that play like they’ve got nothing to lose. The matchup with Michigan this week is a de-facto “Who gets to be Ohio State’s East Division challenger” game, and if both teams play in accordance with how they’ve looked thus far, the Nittany Lions should win by double digits.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Last Week’s Ranking: 4

Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Illinois (42-25)

Next Week: @ Penn State

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports

Not gonna lie, I was cackling hardily as Illinois of all teams almost pulled off the comeback of the century against the Wolverines. Michigan led 28-0 late in the second half, only for the Illini to reel off 25 straight and trail by three in the fourth quarter before they were finally put to rest.

This team has serious problems. Quarterback Shea Patterson’s completion percentage has dropped from 64.6% last year to a dreadful 57.1% this year, the defense and offense can’t agree to be good on the same week and the team seems nowhere close to the “playoff-caliber” group many were projecting them to be. I already projected a loss for them against Penn State prior to the season, and my confidence in that result this Saturday has only grown. Honestly, they would be lower except for....

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last Week’s Ranking: 7

Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Nebraska (34-7)

Next Week: @ Rutgers (i.e. bye week)

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota may well be the worst 6-0 Power Five team since 2016 Baylor (2019 Baylor is also in competition for the crown), who climbed to eighth in the AP rankings that year, then promptly lost their next six games. Strangely enough, their strangely close calls came in out-of-conference play against South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern, while they’ve handled Purdue, Illinois and Nebraska with relative ease.

However, that’s more of an indictment of just how bad those teams are (just wait for my soon-coming Nebraska rant). As you’ve probably heard, the Golden Gophers play Rutgers and Maryland in the next two weeks, giving us about an 90% chance that 8-0 Minnesota will actually happen. If I had any guts I’d put them lower on this list, but my taste has soured on Iowa and Michigan State after seeing how inept their offenses are. I’ll give P.J. Fleck’s squad the benefit of the doubt and let them climb ahead for now.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes

Last Week’s Ranking: 5

Last Week’s Result: Loss vs. Penn State (12-17)

Next Week: Purdue

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think I’ve ever seen two more discouraging one-possession losses against quality opponents. Nate Stanley went from typical, reliable Iowa quarterback who manages the game exactly the way Kirk Ferentz wants to a Jameis Winston-esque turnover machine in three seconds flat.

After not throwing a single interception in Iowa’s first four games, Stanley has thrown four in the last two weeks, and Iowa’s offense had gone 23 straight drives without a touchdown before Brandon Smith Mossed a corner in their final trip against Penn State. Obviously their defense is still very good, and anyone who wants to make the case that Iowa is better than Minnesota right now is far from crazy. I’m just think it counts for something that Minnesota has all the momentum in the world right now, whereas the Hawkeyes have hit a screeching thud (and enough about those ghastly uniforms! I’ll be here all day, folks).

7. Michigan State Spartans

Last Week’s Ranking: 6

Last Week’s Result: Loss vs. Wisconsin (0-38)

Next Week: Bye

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State is basically just a better version of Northwestern at this point. They led play fantastic defense led by an All-American middle linebacker in Joe Bachie, but their offense (while far superior to NU’s) is very meh. After a very surprising Big Ten title and playoff appearance in 2015, the Spartans have quietly gone 24-21 in the four years since. I’m starting to wonder if the days of true Big Ten contender Michigan State are over.

8. Indiana Hoosiers

Last Week’s Ranking: 9

Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Rutgers (35-0)

Next Week: @ Maryland

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

I just took a look at the Indana schedule, and yeah, there’s a very good chance that they’re going to be 7-2 halfway through November. The next three games they play are all against teams lower than them in the power rankings (including a game against the Wildcats in Bloomington), and they have managed to avoid total football incompetency, which is more than I can say for the rest of this list.

Freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (pictured above) has been surprisingly capable, with a 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a stellar 8.3 average yards per attempt. I’m really starting to like the vibes coming from the Hoosiers. However, I can’t put them higher for two reasons: A) They lost to Michigan State two weeks ago, so unless the Spartans fall off a cliff, Indiana must remain behind them, and B) their four wins are against Ball State, Eastern Illinois, UConn and Rutgers.

Still, though, #9WINDIANA lives!

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last Week’s Ranking: 8

Last Week’s Result: Loss vs Minnesota (7-34)

Next Week: Bye

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t say Nebraska has gotten what they deserved, because these guys weren’t the ones who prematurely ranked themselves in the preseason. About the only sign of overconfidence the players exuded this year was some regrettable trash talk prior to the loss against Colorado. Not even UNL fans, who were surprisingly level-headed overall during the preseason, can be shamed for this situation.

No, the people to blame are all the media members who picked the Cornhuskers as the team to beat in the West. It was silly in the moment and has only gotten worse. All the team can do now is buckle down and try and avoid a full-on catastrophe. I think they’re going to be okay in the long run, but I can’t be too sure about any of the football going on in Lincoln right now, and a bowl game is in serious jeopardy.

10. Purdue Boilermakers

Last Week’s Ranking: 11

Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Maryland (40-14)

Next Week: @ Iowa

NCAA Football: Maryland at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know if a team’s ever needed a win as much as Purdue needed that 40-14 rout of Maryland last week. Sitting at 1-4 with a loss to Nevada (who has lost to Hawai’i and Oregon by a combined 122 points), the Boilermakers seemed headed for disaster. That blowout showed that even if Purdue probably isn’t competing for the West or even making a bowl game anytime soon, they’ve at least proved to be talented enough that the days of one or two-win Boilermaker teams are in the past. That’s something.

11. Maryland Terrapins

Last Week’s Ranking: 10

Last Week’s Result: Loss vs. Purdue (14-40)

Next Week: Indiana

NCAA Football: Maryland at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t understand you Maryland. I don’t understand how you scored 142 points in you’re first two games. I don’t understand why you’re in the Big Ten. I don’t understand why you like that horrible helmet design. It was fun to think you were good after you shellacked a ranked Syracuse team in week two, but Temple immediately undressed you the following game.

The only thing I do know from that 63-20 win is that Syracuse would get obliterated in the Big Ten and that the ACC is 13 terrible teams plus Clemson. I’m keeping you from falling further than 11th for now because you somehow have three wins and the other teams are looking abjectly terrible at the moment, but the remaining six games on your schedule are all teams higher than you on this list, so expect more losing in the near future.

12. Northwestern Wildcats

Last Week’s Ranking: 12

Last Week’s Result: Bye

Next Week: vs. Ohio State

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern is not going to beat Ohio State. Just covering the spread might be reason enough for NU fans to storm the field. What is important, though, is that Northwestern shows that they’ve regrouped and are ready to go on their typical tear through the second half of the season. The next six games on the schedule are infinitely easier than the first six.

The Wildcats need to get their minds right, make Ohio State actually have to get up to beat them and gain enough momentum for the game that really matters: Homecoming the next week against Iowa, which might just be the difference between a bowl game and a lost season. Northwestern football has been awful in 2019, but it doesn’t feel right having them as the 12th best team in the conference. They’re better than that and I think that will eventually come to fruition. Just not this week.

13. Illinois Fighting Illini

Last Week’s Ranking: 13

Last Week’s Result: Loss vs. Michigan (25-42)

Next Week: Wisconsin

NCAA Football: Michigan at Illinois Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest, my original rankings had Illinois a spot ahead of Northwestern. For as flawed as Michigan is, their defense typically blanks the bottom tier of Big Ten, overwhelming them with brute force. Yet somehow, Illinois managed to rack up 25 points and 17 first downs against the same defense that eviscerated Iowa’s game plan.

Don’t get me wrong, they are still really bad, but unlike the 14th ranked team in the Big Ten, they can at least give you enough hope to hang in there as a fan. Truth be told, they might be better than Northwestern right now, but I’ll keep the ‘Cats ahead for the time being due to each program’s recent history.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Last Week’s Ranking: What do you think?

Last Week’s Result: Loss vs. Indiana (0-35)

Next Week: Minnesota

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

This week in the Rutgers football experience:

Rutgers has now officially failed to score points in 50% of its games this season. In the midst of their sixth year in the Big Ten, this is now the tenth Big Ten game in which they’ve been shut out. Seven different teams in the Big Ten have shut them out, including the entire East save for Maryland, who isn’t a real Big Ten team if we’re being honest.

Johnny Langhan got the start and finished with a nearly improbable 5 completions for one single yard. I’m not an expert, but I would say that is less than desirable. He played the entire game.