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Big Ten Power Rankings, Week 3: Embarrassment creates change

With conference play approaching, plenty of middle-of-the-pack movement accompany this week’s shifts.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Arizona State at Michigan State Photo by Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Saturday in the Big Ten saw plenty of boring wins, but also some generally bad football that led to more surprising outcomes. If you want a more complete summation of the weekend’s action, click here, but for now, let’s get right into the rankings:

1. Ohio State

Last Week’s Ranking: 1

Last Week’s Result: 51-10 win vs. Indiana

Next week: vs. Miami (OH)

The Buckeyes remain atop the rankings without showing any signs of weakness. After dominating its first two weeks at home, OSU faced its first Big Ten competition on the road, destroying Indiana in a 40-point victory. The Buckeyes put the game out of reach by the middle of the second quarter and have proven to be an elite force both on offense and defense this season. Heading into their final nonconference game of the year, they appear more than ready to take on the Big Ten and look almost unstoppable in the chase for this year’s title.

2. Wisconsin

Last Week’s Ranking: 3

Last Week’s Result: Bye

Next Week: vs. Michigan

While the Badgers had the week off, by virtue of other teams’ performances and their first two weeks, I see them as elite Big Ten competition heading into this weekend. In its first two games, Wisconsin did not allow a single point to be scored by its opponents and averaged 55 points per game on offense. I’ll take the Badgers at home against Michigan this weekend, but the matchup will put the rest of the teams’ seasons in perspective. If Wisconsin’s offense and defense can continue to play like it has against upcoming conference competition, the Badgers have a serious shot at the Big Ten title.

3. Penn State

Last Week’s Ranking: 5

Last Week’s Result: 17-10 win vs. Pitt

Next Week: Bye

The Nittany Lions have flown under the radar early this season and sit at 3-0 heading into the bye week. Penn State has faltered at times during games against weaker opponents, and rival Pitt certainly gave them a run for their money, but ultimately, they have taken care of business so far — something many other Big Ten teams have failed to do. In order to hang tough with its skilled conference opponents, the Nittany Lions must use their upcoming bye week to resolve some potentially crucial offensive concerns.

4. Michigan

Last Week’s Ranking: 6

Last Week’s Result: Bye

Next Week: @ Wisconsin

The Wolverines haven’t started their season nearly as strongly as they may have liked. While they were able to pull out two wins in the end, they weren’t pretty ones, especially their 24-21 OT victory against Army. For a team regarded as such high competition, Michigan just barely snuck by a team they should have demolished due to mental errors, poor coaching decisions and Shea Patterson’s struggles.

While I have no doubt that Michigan will resolve many of these errors (and probably did during its bye week), a red hot Wisconsin defense will not let them off easy. In terms of rankings, the bye week did the Wolverines well as many other potential top teams faltered, elevating their status for the time being.

5. Iowa

Last Week’s Ranking: 2

Last Week’s Result: 18-17 win vs. Iowa State

Next Week: Bye

While Iowa has been heavily mentioned in the discussion for who will win the West this season, its hard-to-watch narrow victory against historic rival Iowa State moved them a bit further down the rankings in my book. While the Hawkeyes advanced to an impressive 3-0, the ugly win was ultimately decided by a muffed punt.

The defense came to play, but QB Nate Stanley and the offense were not nearly as strong against real competition as they had been in weeks past. Iowa’s fate as it enters Big Ten play will largely be determined by which offense shows up, and if it’s this week’s, things don’t look too great for the Hawkeyes.

6. Michigan State

Last Week’s Ranking: 4

Result: 10-7 loss to Arizona State

Next Week: @ Northwestern

Michigan State’s loss to Arizona State was nothing short of a heart-breaker for the Spartans. Despite its dominant defensive performance and somewhat respectable play from Brian Lewerke, the Spartans offense as a whole could not put points on the board. Mental lapses, coaching blunders and an atrocious performance from kicker Matt Coghlin ultimately handed the win to Arizona State.

The Sun Devils took the lead late in the game, but Brian Lewerke was able to march the Spartans into field goal range. Coghlin drilled a 42-yard game-tying field goal, but there were 12 men on the field. Coghlin rekicked from five yards back and missed wide left (his third miss of the day). To make matters worse, a few days later, the Pac-12 announced an officiating error in the play, stating there should have been a penalty called on ASU for leaping on the re-kick, which would have ultimately moved them 15 yards closer for the game-tying attempt. Bottom line: it was hard to watch, and the Spartans have a lot of work to do before coming to Evanston this weekend.

7. Northwestern

Last Week’s Ranking: 9

Last Week’s Result: 30-14 win vs. UNLV

Next Week: vs. Michigan State

The Wildcats finally found their rhythm both offensively and defensively against UNLV this weekend. Hunter Johnson and Paddy Fisher led their respective units to dominate the Rebels in every category (especially in the second half) and boost team morale heading into Northwestern’s first Big Ten matchup. With NU coming off a high and Michigan State coming off a significant low, the Wildcats should have the confidence they need to potentially hand them their fourth straight loss in the matchup.

8. Nebraska

Last Week’s Ranking: 10

Last Week’s Result: 44-8 win vs. Northern Illinois

Next Week: @ Illinois

After a tough loss to Colorado knocked the previously-ranked Cornhuskers back to reality, Nebraska was able to bounce back in a decisive win over NIU. Adrian Martinez redeemed himself, throwing for 257 yards and two touchdowns and running for 44 yards. Nebraska now enters Big Ten play with the chance to defeat a struggling Illinois team and continue to redeem itself in the coming weeks.

9. Minnesota

Last Week’s Ranking: 8

Last Week’s Result: 35-32 win vs. Georgia Southern

Next Week: Bye

Minnesota was the last of the Big Ten teams this week to barely come away with a win against weaker competition. For the third week in a row, the Golden Gophers barely escaped a non-conference upset. Minnesota has won by a combined margin of 13 points in all three games and has struggled to produce decisive wins. However, star receiver Tyler Johnson saved the day, catching a game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining. While they currently boast a strong 3-0 start to the season, the Golden Gophers must turn things around if they want to hang tough with much stronger Big Ten competition.

10. Maryland

Last Week’s Ranking: 7

Last Week’s Result: 20-17 loss to Temple

Next Week: Bye

Maryland is approaching a much-needed bye as a potential turning point while they attempt to define what type of team they want to be this season. After two standout victories, including one against a ranked Syracuse team, the Terps reached the polls for the first time since 2013. They were an offensive force, averaging 71 points per game.

However, this weekend’s performance was the polar opposite. The fantasy that was Maryland’s early season offense came to a dramatic end, as the Terps’ only hope was running back Anthony McFarland Jr. who ran for 132 yards and a touchdown. The team as a whole certainly has a lot of unanswered questions heading into the bye week.

11. Purdue

Last Week’s Ranking: 11

Last Week’s Result: 34-13 loss to TCU

Next Week: Bye

Purdue also could not be more in need of a bye this week. Plagued by injury and missing quarterback Elijah Sindelar, the Boilermakers could not contain the Horned Frogs’ run game, which ran for 346 yards. The offense has struggled early on and must find solutions if Purdue has any hopes of turning its season around.

12. Indiana

Last Week’s Ranking: 13

Result: 51-10 loss vs. Ohio State

Next Week: vs. UConn

Indiana had a tough week all around. The Hoosiers lost by 40 points at home and were missing starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to injury. Penix Jr. is still day-to-day heading into the UConn game, and his health will determine the fate of Indiana’s offense in the coming weeks. However, with him in the game, the Hoosiers were able to produce upwards of 30 points on offense in each of their first two contests, so there may be hope yet.

13. Rutgers

Last Week’s Ranking: 14

Result: Bye

Next Week: vs. Boston College

A bye week also did Rutgers well in the rankings by default, but I doubt that will last for long. During their shutout loss to Iowa, starting quarterback McLane Carter sustained a concussion and will likely be inactive against Boston College this week. Backup quarterback Artur Sitkowski only completed four of his 11 passes when he relieved Carter and will likely assume the starting role this week. Rutgers’ offensive struggles could be a defining aspect of its season and leave many questions unanswered heading into Big Ten play.

14. Illinois

Last Week’s Ranking: 12

Last Week’s Result: 34-31 loss vs. Eastern Michigan

Next week: vs. Nebraska

Illinois also had a painful weekend and dropped a must-win game against Eastern Michigan (AT HOME). After trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter, Illinois surged back led by Brandon Peters, but EMU stole the win with a field goal as time expired. Illinois’ early nonconference success came to a sudden halt, but Peters brings at least some hope for conference play.