Last ranking: 12
Last result: Loss vs. Purdue (31-24)
Next: vs. Minnesota
When considering power rankings in 2020, it seems important to pay attention to how a team is performing both on the field and against the conference’s common rival, COVID-19. While Illinois has lost QB Brandon Peters, among others, for several weeks due to positive tests, the Fighting Illini don’t appear to be the weakest in the Big Ten when fighting the virus — that title is reserved for Wisconsin as they enter the second week of their pandemic-induced program shutdown. But the Fighting Illini are not only experiencing a COVID outbreak; they’ve also done nothing to prove they can play quality football, with or without Peters and company.
Last ranking: 6
Last result: Loss @ Maryland (45-44)
Next: @ Illinois
When Minnesota lost to Michigan in Week 1, they didn’t take that massive of a hit in our power rankings, only falling from fourth in the conference to sixth, on account of the fact that perhaps Michigan was simply a top tier opponent that got the better of the Gophers in the season opener. Then, the Wolverines lost to rival Michigan State in Mel Tucker’s second game coaching the Spartans, and Minnesota fell — on a missed extra point in overtime — to Maryland, a team many thought was so bad that it was impossible to determine whether or not Northwestern had grown from its 3-9 season after beating the Terps by 40 to start the year. That embarrassing loss has earned the Gophers a trip to the bottom of the conference, where they join the aforementioned Illini before the two teams battle for who is worse in Urbana-Champaign this Saturday.
Last ranking: 13
Last result: Win vs. Minnesota (45-44)
Next: @ Penn State
Last week, these rankings cast doubt on Taulia Tagovailoa’s future as the starting quarterback for the Terrapins. Perhaps Tagovailoa read that or some of the many other pieces criticizing his Week One performance in Evanston because on Friday night, he looked far more like his brother Tua in the 2018 National Championship game than himself against Northwestern, accumulating over 450 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns. The job looks to be his for now, and the Terps’ chances of having a more successful Big Ten season than their last have shot up considerably.
11. Michigan State
Last ranking: 14
Last result: Win @ Michigan (27-24)
Next: @ Iowa
In a tale of two weeks, Mel Tucker’s start in East Lansing has taken a complete 180-degree turn. Tucker’s Spartans started off by giving Rutgers their first Big Ten victory in years, casting doubt on whether or not MSU could even win a game in their new coach’s first season. This week, though, they went to the Big House and pulled out a close victory against their rival No. 13 Michigan. Such a switch from an embarrassing loss to a rivalry game win leaves a lot of questions as they head into Iowa City to play a Hawkeyes team hungry for their first win, but things look a lot better for Sparty than they did this time last week.
Last ranking: 10
Last result: Loss vs. Indiana (37-21)
Next: @ Ohio State
Rutgers lost pretty handily to Indiana, as expected, but for a while, they put up a good fight against a Hoosiers team that (spoiler alert) now finds themselves in the top tier of the conference. They’ll stay put for now because their win over Michigan State looks possibly more impressive than it did last week and because of movement around them.
Last ranking: 9
Last result: Loss vs. Northwestern (21-20)
Next: vs. Michigan State
Io_a failed to earn their W on Saturday, losing slimly to Northwestern after leading 17-0 early in the game. Their 0-2 start is sure to turn some heads, but they’ve been here before and worked their way to fine seasons regardless — something that can’t be said for several of the teams behind them in this week’s rankings. Thus, they’ll stay put for now, but if they are upset by Michigan State and fall to 0-3 to start Big Ten play for the first time since 2007, expect them to fall.
Last ranking: 11
Last result: Loss @ Ohio State (52-17)
Next: at Northwestern
I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes: Nebraska gained three spots without playing a game last week. If you find this foolish, I’ll remind you that the past two teams held their spots while losing their games, and the conference was all over the place last week, leading to some chaos on this list. The result is Nebraska’s rise, which will likely be temporary if they lose at Ryan Field on Saturday and all goes as expected across the conference (it won’t).
7. Penn State
Last ranking: 5
Last result: Loss vs. Ohio State (38-25)
Next: vs. Maryland
First, Penn State lost a heartbreaker in overtime at Indiana. Then they, predictably, fell to the Big Ten’s top team, Ohio State. They’re 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time in eight years. Time to sound the alarms in Happy Valley? Not quite. As of now, it looks like the Nittany Lions have played their toughest two opponents of the season already, so things will quickly get easier for them, starting with a home contest against Maryland this week.
6. No. 23 Michigan
Last ranking: 3
Last result: Loss vs. Michigan State (27-24)
Next: @ Indiana
Rocky Lombardi looked like Joe Montana against the Wolverines’ defense last Saturday, completing 17 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. This is befuddling, considering Michigan held Tanner Morgan to comparatively weak statistics, even though he entered the season expected to be one of the conference’s best quarterbacks. Now, they’ll face Michael Penix Jr., another highly regarded Big Ten QB. In order to pull out the win, it’s likely that UM’s pass defense will have to look more like they did in Week One than Week Two.
Last ranking: 8
Last result: Win @ Illinois (31-24)
Next: vs. Northwestern (11/7 game @ Wisconsin canceled due to COVID-19)
Still without Rondale Moore, the Boilermakers handled business against Illinois, albeit probably by a tighter margin than they should’ve against a COVID-riddled team on their third-string QB. Regardless, they now enter a makeshift bye week undefeated after their clash with Wisconsin was canceled due to the Badgers’ ongoing COVID outbreak. They’ll now get a week to rest before they face Northwestern in what will become a battle for the midseason Big Ten West lead should the Wildcats beat Nebraska on Saturday.
Last ranking: 7
Last result: Win @ Iowa (21-20)
Next: vs. Nebraska
The AP might’ve neglected to rank Northwestern following their comeback victory at Kinnick, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t proven themselves worthy of recognition thus far. Even with its first quarter struggles, the Wildcats’ offense looks much better than it did in 2019, and the defense ended the week ranked in the top five nationally in both yards and points against per game. So while they might not be on the national radar quite yet, the ‘Cats have proven themselves to be legitimate contenders in the Big Ten West, especially as Wisconsin continues struggling to contain COVID-19.
3. No. 10 Wisconsin
Last ranking: 2
Last result: Win vs. Illinois
Next: @ Michigan (11/7 game vs. Purdue canceled due to COVID-19)
After a dominant victory against Illinois in Week One, it’s been nothing but bad news for the Badgers, who have seen reports of Graham Mertz’s positive COVID-19 test morph into an outbreak affecting 16 players and 12 staff members, including head coach Paul Chryst. When healthy, they’re likely the best-equipped team to challenge Ohio State (or whoever wins the East) in the Big Ten Championship. Unfortunately, healthy is the opposite of what UW is right now, and if things don’t take a turn soon, their game in Ann Arbor is at risk of getting canceled, which would put them below the six games threshold required to compete for the Big Ten title.
2. No. 13 Indiana
Last ranking: 4
Last result: Win @ Rutgers (37-21)
Next: vs. Michigan
While Wisconsin’s COVID troubles continued and Michigan got upset by Michigan State, Michael Penix Jr. put up over 250 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns while the Hoosiers defense held Rutgers to under 250 total yards. Combined, those results led Indiana to overtake the runner-up spot, where they’ll be primed to stay if they can knock off Michigan on Saturday.
1. No. 3 Ohio State
Last ranking: 1
Last result: Win @ Penn State (38-25)
Next: vs. Rutgers
If Ohio State is truly only the third-best team in the country, don’t tell Justin Fields, who launched an aerial assault on the Buckeyes’ opponent once again — this time passing for 318 yards and four touchdowns against Penn State. As Trevor Lawrence continues his COVID-induced absence, expect Fields to garner more attention in the Heisman race while continuing to lead the Buckeyes in stating their playoff case early in the season.