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Big Ten Power Rankings, Week 1: West is not best

The first games have been played. How does the conference stack up?

Florida Atlantic v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The College Football season is officially in full swing.

With only non-conference games being played so far, though, it will be challenging to gauge the talent of each Big Ten team relative to each other. However, some results from the weekend have some teams trending upward, and others downward.

Throughout this season, I plan on tracking where I place each team each week, which will serve as an interesting opportunity to track the expectations and perceived talent of a team versus its on-field performance. With that said, let’s dive into these rankings.

1. Ohio State

Brutus had a lot to smile about with Justin Fields’ debut in an Ohio State uniform
Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 1

Last Week’s Result: 45-21 win vs. Florida Atlantic

Next Week: vs. Cincinnati

Justin Fields, the prized transfer from Georgia, showed off his talent with four throwing touchdowns and a 51-yard run to the house, giving the Buckeyes a large first-half lead over FAU, but he struggled to drive the Buckeyes down the field in the second and third quarters. Meanwhile, J.K. Dobbins ran for 91 yards, surely a good sign for the Ohio State running game.

Ohio State’s defense impressed, holding the Owls to minus-14 total yards in the first half. The Buckeyes will face some tests as the season progresses, but, on paper, Ryan Day’s squad still looks to be the most talented in the Big Ten.

2. Michigan

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Middle Tennessee at Michigan
True freshman running back Zach Charbonnet is the real deal for the Wolverines
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 2

Last Week’s Result: 40-21 win vs. Middle Tennessee

Next Week: vs. Army

Michigan played somewhat sloppily early on in their opening day win against Middle Tennessee. But new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ no-huddle, spread offense eventually enabled the Wolverines to find some separation from the Blue Raiders. Shea Patterson lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, but threw three touchdown passes. True freshman Zach Charbonnet impressed in his college debut, running for 90 yards on the ground. Patterson and the Wolverines will need to adjust to the new offensive scheme in the coming weeks, but they are hoping for the return of receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones against Army in what would be a big boost for Jim Harbaugh’s team.

3. Iowa

Nate Stanley helped lead Iowa to victory over Miami
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 4

Last Week’s Result: 38-14 win vs. Miami-Ohio

Next Week: vs. Rutgers

The Hawkeyes took care of business against the RedHawks in the second half after only leading 10-7 midway through the game. Nate Stanley threw three touchdown passes, and Iowa’s ground game looked strong with a good game from Mekhi Sargent. However, they lost an important piece, starting left tackle Alaric Jackson, to injury early in the affair. Stanley’s performance and the evidence of a strong running game even with the injury puts Iowa ahead of the other “best of the middle” Big Ten teams so far.

4. Penn State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Idaho at Penn State
Quarterback Sean Clifford has the thankless task of succeeding Trace McSorley, which he took in stride against FCS opponent Idaho
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 6

Last Week’s Result: 79-7 win vs. Idaho

Next Week: vs. Buffalo

I apologize to any Penn State fans who saw how low I ranked them last week. The lack of experience at quarterback may have compelled me to place them a few spots below where they should have been, but an impressive performance from Sean Clifford in the Nittany Lions’ drubbing of FCS Idaho helped allay those doubts, at least for now. PSU led 44-0 at halftime and earned their biggest win in nearly 30 years. An added bonus is the fact that nearly every player on the three-deep defensive depth chart, including many younger players, saw action on the field in shutting down the Vandal offense.

5. Michigan State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 Tulsa at Michigan State
Michigan State’s strong run defense could be a difference-maker this season
Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 5

Last Week’s Result: 28-7 win vs. Tulsa

Next Week: vs. Western Michigan

Despite a phenomenal performance from the Spartan defense, quarterback Brian Lewerke and his offense could only muster one offensive touchdown in their ugly win. Moreover, Michigan State was penalized fourteen times for 122 yards. Kenny Willekes recovered a fumble for a touchdown, and the talented MSU defense suffocated Tulsa’s offensive attack, making up for the myriad mistakes on the other side of the ball.

A good defense paired with a below-average offense mirrors much of what happened last season for Sparty, so, ultimately, they remain in place in these rankings as I personally question how well they will match up against the rest of the Big Ten offensively.

6. Wisconsin

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s star running back, is a guy to watch out for come award season
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 5

Last Week’s Result: 49-0 win @ South Florida

Next Week: vs. Central Michigan

Wisconsin drops by virtue of the simple thought that Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan State are better teams, but that perception could change if Jonathan Taylor can continue to blow opposing defenses out of the water. The star running back rushed for 135 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead Bucky to a big road rout over Charlie Strong’s USF. He was also the Badgers’ leading receiver with two catches for 48 yards. Jack Coan prevailed in the quarterback battle over freshman Graham Mertz, but I am still not sold on his effectiveness against better opponents. Wisconsin’s inexperienced offensive line and defense have yet to be tested. If Taylor can consistently carry the Badgers to victory, perhaps they can climb in these rankings.

7. Northwestern

Northwestern v Stanford
A loss to Stanford is not the start the ‘Cats wanted
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 7

Last Week’s Result: 7-17 Loss @ Stanford

Next Week: Bye

I have a wicked sunburn and a farmer’s tan even an Iowa fan wouldn’t envy after sitting through some of the worst football I’ve ever seen on an incredibly hot, sun-soaked day on The Farm. Hunter Johnson and the offense turned the ball over and struggled to find rhythm on offense throughout the “Nerd Bowl.” Injuries to Isaiah Bowser and T.J. Green certainly did not help. While the defense held the Cardinal to 10 points, several missed tackles and bad penalties dug the ‘Cats into a deeper hole. Falling on the West Coast against a pretty decent Stanford team is not a bad loss in itself, but Fitz and his squad have a lot of room for improvement.

8. Nebraska

NCAA Football: South Alabama at Nebraska
Nebraska is overrated. Fight me (in the comments section).
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 8

Last Week’s Result: 35-21 win vs. South Alabama

Next Week: @ Colorado

A win is a win, but Nebraska is still overrated. Northwestern lost in a slugfest against a decent Stanford team while the Cornhuskers needed two defensive and one special teams touchdown to prevail over a Sun Belt team which went 3-9 last season. In fact, Nebraska was out-gained by the Jaguars 314-276. Adrian Martinez and the rest of the offense struggled at times to move the ball; Scott Frost and company still have a lot of questions to answer before they can climb in these rankings.

9. Minnesota

NCAA Football: South Dakota State at Minnesota
The Gophers survived an upset bid from an FCS powerhouse
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 9

Last Week’s Result: 28-21 win vs. South Dakota State

Next Week: @ Fresno State

A sleeper in the Big Ten West, Minnesota narrowly avoided an upset against perennial FCS contender SDSU. Junior quarterback Tanner Morgan did just enough to help the Gophers over the finish line, thanks largely to a strong performance from sophomore receiver Rashod Bateman (5 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown). However, the defense struggled in giving up 367 yards to the Jackrabbits. P.J. Fleck and his squad should be happy to earn an opening week win as they take on the role of a dark horse in the B1G West title race.

10. Maryland

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Howard at Maryland
VT transfer Josh Jackson helped Maryland blow out Howard
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 12

Last Week’s Result: 79-0 win vs. Howard

Next Week: vs. Syracuse

The Terps jump two spots ahead of Purdue and Indiana as a result of their dismantling of local FCS school Howard. Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Josh Jackson threw four touchdown passes as the Terrapins gained 623 yards in Mike Locksley’s debut as head coach. Howard was terribly overmatched, but, nonetheless, the Terps should be happy that their season got off to such a phenomenal start with a new coach and quarterback.

11. Purdue

Purdue v Nevada
Purdue could not escape Reno with a win
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 10

Last Week’s Result: 31-34 Loss @ Nevada

Next Week: Vanderbilt

The Boilermakers blew a 17-point 3rd quarter lead in Reno, highlighted by Wolfpack freshman kicker Brandon Talton hitting a 56-yard field goal as time expired to send Purdue back to West Lafayette without a win. Despite throwing for a career high 423 yards, Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar threw a costly interception with 32 seconds remaining and the score tied. Purdue also turned the ball over five times. Sophomore receiver Rondale Moore caught 11 passes for 124 yards. Mistakes and a gutsy comeback from Nevada cost Purdue what should have been a season-opening road win. Look for them to bounce back at home against Vandy next week.

12. Indiana

Indiana v Ball State
Michael Penix, Jr., is the explosive playmaker at quarterback the Hoosiers will rely on this season
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 11

Last Week’s Result: 34-24 Win vs. Ball State

Next Week: vs. Eastern Illinois

Michael Penix Jr., was effective enough to lead the Hoosiers past an upset-minded Ball State, as the freshman quarterback threw for 326 yards and rushed for another 67. Senior kicker Logan Justus was 4/4, including a 50 yard kick to solidify an Indiana victory in the fourth quarter. Penix did make some mistakes, though, including 2 interceptions. The ceiling for this Indiana team might be how far he can take them as the season progresses.

13. Illinois

NCAA Football: Akron at Illinois
Illinois got their season off to a positive start with a win over Akron
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 13

Last Week’s Result: 42-3 Win vs. Akron

Next Week: @ Connecticut

By the transitive property, the 2019 Illinois Fighting Illini are better than the 2018 Northwestern Wildcats after Lovie Smith and company handled the Akron Zips rather easily. Michigan transfer Brandon Peters was effective at quarterback while the defense prevented any potential Akron offensive rhythm. Illinois still has a long way to go in order to catch up with the better teams in the conference, but Lovie will certainly be happy with a win over a team which has given its in-state rival trouble in the past.

14. Rutgers

McLane Carter, a Texas Tech transfer, won the quarterback battle in Piscataway
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Week’s Power Ranking: 14

Last Week’s Result: 48-21 Win vs. Massachusetts

Next Week: @ Iowa

The Scarlet Knights looked to be in trouble down 21-7 against UMass after the first quarter. Then, Texas Tech transfer quarterback McLane Carter led Rutgers to score 41 unanswered points and rout the Minutemen. Carter beat out struggling incumbent Art Sitkowski for the starting role. Rutgers is still, talent-wise, the worst team in the conference, but an opening day win will certainly boost morale in Jersey.