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Big Ten Football Power Rankings, Week 2: Michigan and Rutgers make jumps

Lots of shifting after the first weekend of play.

Maryland v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It was a wild opening week in the Big Ten. Wisconsin, Northwestern and Ohio State dominated, Rutgers picked up its first conference victory since 2017 with a win over Michigan State, and Indiana’s upset of Penn State was decided by a literal matter of millimeters. After a memorable start to the season, let’s dive into the updated power rankings.

14. Michigan State

Last ranking: 12

Last result: Loss vs. Rutgers (38-27)

Next: at Michigan

One would think that, if there was ever an excuse for losing to Rutgers, it would be that your longtime head coach left in the offseason and you were undergoing a coaching change amid the challenges posed by an ongoing pandemic. While that would be a fair explanation for Mel Tucker and crew’s embarrassing loss last Saturday, even that rationale fails when you realize that Rutgers also went through a coaching change during COVID-19. Now, Michigan State’s schedule only gets harder and more hopeless for the Spartans, who are probably reminiscing over the Mark Dantonio days right about now.

13. Maryland

Last ranking: 13

Last result: Loss at Northwestern (43-3)

Next: vs. Minnesota

“Year 0.5” of Maryland’s rebuild, as head coach Mike Locksley dubbed it, couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the Terrapins. Within an hour if gametime, Locksley announced Taulia Tagovailoa, brother of former-Alabama standout Tua, would start under center. While Tagovailoa led the Terps to points on his first drive, the remainder of his game was abhorrent, as he threw three bad picks and completed few passes of substance. One silver lining for Maryland fans is that Lance LeGendre, who replaced Tagovailoa late in the game, was able to move the ball down the field against Northwestern’s second-team defense as the game ended, though the clock expired before they could put up any additional points. Be on the lookout to see if LeGendre takes over for Tagovailoa at any point this year, even if Locksley remains committed to the latter for now.

12. Illinois

Last ranking: 11

Last result: Loss at Wisconsin (45-7)

Next: vs. Purdue

What’s this? Other teams also are using “bring your own juice” as a mantra for this season? I refuse to believe it. Instead, I’ll call the Illini’s loss in Madison — one in which veteran QB Brandon Peters passed for a mere 87 yards before getting pulled — the football gods’ punishment for plagiarizing BYOJ from its rightful owner, Northwestern.

11. Nebraska

Last ranking: 10

Last result: Loss at Ohio State (52-17)

Next: Nov. 7 vs Northwestern (10/31 game vs. Wisconsin canceled due to COVID-19)

There was nothing inherently surprising about Nebraska’s beatdown at the hands of Ohio State but the issue for Nebraska is that they did little to convince me they would’ve been able to beat a Wisconsin team whose fourth-string QB would have started on Saturday. That spells trouble for the Huskers, who will need to pounce on every opportunity to get a win if they want to wind up with anything resembling a record to be proud of this season against one of the conference’s toughest schedules, which just got a bit easier without Wisconsin.

10. Rutgers

Last ranking: 14

Last result: Win at Michigan State (38-27)

Next: vs. Indiana

Like a phoenix out of the ashes, Rutgers rises…to 10th place in our power rankings. Congrats to Greg Schiano on a win in his first game back as head coach of the Scarlet Knights. I don’t know how long this rise will last (spoiler: probably not that long, the ‘Ger gets a good Indiana team this week), but if they can keep generating turnovers against opponents like the seven they forced against Michigan State, perhaps they may close their run as the bottom feeders of the conference earlier than expected.

9. Io_a

Last ranking: 5

Last result: Loss at Purdue (24-20)

Next: vs. Northwestern

Io_a drops further than any of its Big Ten counterparts in this week’s rankings. Why is that? Well, if you lose to a team led by a first-time play caller/head coach without its best player, that’s what will happen. The Hawkeyes are in a period of transition after Spencer Petras stepped in at quarterback to replace Nate Stanley, who had quarterbacked them for the last three seasons, though, so expect them to get better as he grows into that role.

8. Purdue

Last ranking: 8

Last result: Win vs. Iowa (24-20)

Next: at Illinois

After the announcement that start WR Rondale Moore would not play for undisclosed reasons and that Jeff Brohm, who tested positive for COVID-19, would temporarily hand control of his team to his brother Brian, who had never called plays before, many were all but sure that the Boilermakers would lose. But Purdue defied the odds and beat the Hawkeyes in a close game. Frankly, they deserve a boost in these rankings, but due to the quality of the teams ahead of them, they’ll stay put for now.

7. Northwestern

Last ranking: 9

Last result: Win vs. Maryland (43-3)

Next: at Io_a

Well, that was a fun week for the ‘Cats faithful, wasn’t it? Offensively, Northwestern looked, as described by Drake Anderson, “reborn.” Peyton Ramsey provided a more legitimate passing attack than we saw all of last season while the running backs flourished. Defensively, the Wildcats didn’t allow a single point after a shaky opening drive. How much of this was due to Maryland’s incompetence and inability? That remains to be seen. But the 2020 season got off to the best start Northwestern could’ve asked for, and some of that must be credited — at least in part — to immense improvement from NU.

6. Minnesota

Last ranking: 4

Last result: Loss vs. Michigan (49-24)

Next: at Maryland

The bad news for the Gophers: their defense looked putrid on Saturday night. Michigan ran wild for 256 yards, while first-time starting QB Joe Milton added 225 yards in the air. This was not the type of performance that we’ve come to expect from Minnesota, whose unit ranked ninth nationally in total defense last year. The good news? They face a much weaker opponent in Maryland this week.

5. No. 18 Penn State

Last ranking: 2

Last result: Loss at Indiana (36-35)

Next: vs. Ohio State

More so than any statistic, one play encapsulates Penn State’s role in the Nittany Lions’ season-opening loss in Bloomington. Up by one with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter, Penn State running back Devyn Ford took a handoff from quarterback Sean Clifford at the Indiana 14 yard-line and broke through to Indiana’s secondary, which simply watched him run in hopes he would trot mindlessly into the end zone. Ford did just that, allowing the Hoosiers another chance back into the game, which the Nittany Lions proceeded to lose. Is Penn State still a good team? Yes. But in order for them to meet the success of previous seasons, they’re going to have to play smarter football than what was exemplified by Ford on that critical play, especially next week, when they face the conference-best Buckeyes.

4. No. 17 Indiana

Last ranking: 6

Last result: Win vs. Penn State (36-35)

Next: vs. Rutgers

Michael Penix Jr. led the Hoosiers to their most high-profile win in years, and, while his overall performance was shaky against a perennially-solid Penn State defense, he was clutch when it mattered, first running in a touchdown and two point conversion with 22 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, then passing for a touchdown and scrambling for that now-legendary two point conversion in overtime to seal the game.

3. No. 13 Michigan

Last ranking: 7

Last result: Win at Minnesota (49-24)

Next: vs. Michigan State

As their previous ranking might indicate, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Wolverines heading into the season, mainly regarding whether or not their quarterback play would fall off after Shea Patterson’s departure. Enter Joe Milton, Michigan’s new man under center, and exit doubt over their ability to play quality football. Milton’s 225-yard, one touchdown passing performance complimented the Wolverines’ powerful running game, which put up 256 yards and five touchdowns against a Minnesota defense that allowed opponents just 118 rushing yards a game in 2019.

2. No. 9 Wisconsin

Last ranking: 3

Last result: Win vs. Illinois (45-7)

Next: Nov. 7 vs Purdue (10/31 game at Nebraska canceled due to COVID-19)

On Friday, Twitter was lit aflame as redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz burst onto the scene, throwing only one incompletion while putting up nearly 250 yards passing and a whopping five touchdowns. Simply put, the Badgers dismantled the Illini, much to the pleasure of Wisconsin and Northwestern fans alike. That said, this ranking comes with a major caveat, as Mertz has now tested positive for COVID-19, which by Big Ten rule will sideline him for at least the next 21 days, and the entire Wisconsin program has now begun a week-long shut down amid at least 12 positive cases in the last five days.

1. No. 3 Ohio State

Last ranking: 1

Last result: Win vs. Nebraska (52-17)

Next: at Penn State

After allowing a quick touchdown on their first defensive stand of the season, the Buckeyes settled in and destroyed Nebraska as expected. No surprise here: Justin Fields was dominant, completing 20 of his 21 passing attempts and adding 54 rushing yards on his way to three total touchdowns. That said, without JK Dobbins, the Buckeyes were less efficient on the ground than they were last season. Keep an eye out for whether or not that will become a bigger issue as Ohio State faces tougher competition.