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Big Ten Football Power Rankings, Week 8: Hobbling to the finish

Some slight shifts in the middle.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten’s tumultuous regular season wrapped up on Saturday with some slip-n-slide action, COVID-conscious snowmen and an ill-advised celebration. As the season nears its close, here’s a look at the conference’s power rankings:

14. Purdue (2-4)

Last ranking: 14

Last result: Game at Indiana canceled due to COVID-19

Next: Game at Indiana canceled due to COVID-19

Purdue didn’t play last week’s battle for the Old Oaken Bucket against rival Indiana due to COVID-19, and, while the game was rescheduled for this weekend as a part of the Big Ten’s Champions Week, it was promptly canceled once again for the same reason. As such, the Boilermakers will likely hold their last place spot through the season’s end on account of not having anything with which to boost their stock following a fall from a 2-0 start.

13. Nebraska (2-5)

Last ranking: 13

Last result: L vs. Minnesota (24-17)

Next: at Rutgers

On the one hand, losing to a team that was short 33 players due to COVID-19 protocol and was unable to practice for much of the last two weeks is about as bad as it gets. On the other hand, the Cornhuskers beat the team ranked below them just a week prior, so it seems hard to rationalize moving them down any further.

12. Michigan (2-4)

Last ranking: 12

Last result: Game at Ohio State canceled due to COVID-19

Next: Game at Iowa canceled due to COVID-19

Congrats to Michigan for becoming the first Big Ten team to have three consecutive games canceled due to COVID-19 and, in doing so, putting to rest its season from hell.

11. Illinois (2-5)

Last ranking: 10

Last result: L at Northwestern (28-10)

Next: at Penn State

We now know that allowing 411 rushing yards to a team whose running attack had gone missing for a month and losing six straight to your rival was what it took for Lovie Smith to lose his job as head coach in Champaign. They’ll get one more crack at a win this season on Saturday against a Penn State on a three-game winning streak.

10. Michigan State (2-5)

Last ranking: 9

Last result: L at Penn State (39-24)

Next: at Maryland

Quarterback Peyton Thorne made his first start for the Spartans and played well, completing 22 of 39 passing attempts for 325 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception. Unfortunately for Thorne, his team lacked such a performance away from the passing game, as Michigan State netted only 64 yards rushing while the Nittany Lions put up 19 points to the Spartans’ 3 in the second half.

9. Maryland (2-3)

Last ranking: 6

Last result: L vs Rutgers (27-24)

Next: vs Michigan State

With regular starter Taulia Tagovailoa unavailable due to illness, Mike Locksley turned to Lance LeGendre, Tagovailoa’s preseason competitor for the starting job, at quarterback. It didn’t work out well for the Terrapins. LeGendre gained a net total of only 31 yards while throwing two interceptions before being benched. In what was dubbed “Year 0.5” of Locksley’s tenure in College Park, the Terps have been inconsistent but still have a shot at a .500 record (and potentially a bowl), which they can attain with a season-ending win against Michigan State.

8. Rutgers (3-5)

Last ranking: 11

Last result: W at Maryland (27-24)

Next: vs Nebraska

With its road win against Maryland last week, this season became the Scarlet Knights’ second with three Big Ten victories since they joined the conference in 2014. Sure, the circumstances under which RU achieved such a feat may have been much, much different than in prior years, but Greg Schiano is owed plenty of credit for taking a program that hadn’t won a Big Ten game in three years and producing a team that made its way to the conference’s middle tier. Now, as Rutgers tries to win a fourth Big Ten game for the first time ever, it seems inspiration and cause for hope is greater than ever at New Jersey’s flagship state university.

7. Penn State (3-5)

Last ranking: 8

Last result: W vs Michigan State (39-24)

Next: vs Illinois

This sure hasn’t been the season the Nittany Lions expected or hoped for, but after a brief stint at the bottom of these rankings, they’ve proven themselves reliable enough to move into the upper half once again. Particularly notable has been the growth of quarterback Sean Clifford, whose 280-yard, three-touchdown outing against Michigan State may have been his strongest of the season and looked very different from his play in October and early November.

6. Minnesota (3-3)

Last ranking: 7

Last result: W at Nebraska (24-17)

Next: at Wisconsin

Last week, I wrote that the Golden Gophers had potentially been shielded from worse stature in these rankings by their COVID-induced cancelations and that they were “due for a drop.” Chalk that up as another instance in which I was completely wrong about what came next, as, while extremely short-handed, Minnesota traveled to Lincoln and returned back to the North Star State with a win that made it one of only five B1G teams with a .500 or better record.

5. Wisconsin (2-3)

Last ranking: 5

Last result: L at Iowa

Next: vs Minnesota

The Badgers should probably be ranked lower than fifth on this list, but two things are keeping me from doing so. First and foremost, they’ve faced arguably the conference’s toughest schedule. All of their losses have come against teams currently ranked ahead of them. Second, their game against Minnesota provides the perfect litmus test for their quality in comparison to the rest of the conference. If UW emerges with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, expect them to close the season in this spot. Should they falter against their neighboring rivals, you can count on a significant drop.

4. No. 16 Iowa (6-2)

Last ranking: 4

Last result: W vs. Wisconsin

Next: Game vs. Michigan canceled due to COVID-19

Iowa has been white hot since Northwestern edged them out 21-20 on Halloween, evidenced once again by the Hawkeyes’ dismantling of Wisconsin in the Iowa City snow on Saturday. Of course, that October 31 loss happened, something seemingly ignored by authors of tweets like this one:

3. No. 14 Northwestern (6-1)

Last ranking: 3

Last result: W vs Illinois (28-10)

Next: Big Ten Championship vs. Ohio State

After Illinois senior Milo Eifler referred to Northwestern, a school he has never beaten in his time at U of I, as the Illini’s “little brother,” it was only a matter of time until he joined the ranks of Joey Galloway and other NU doubters in eating his words. With that, I present you this:

2. No. 11 Indiana (6-1)

Last ranking: 2

Last result: Game vs Purdue canceled due to COVID-19

Next: Game vs Purdue canceled due to COVID-19

It’s quite interesting that the Hoosiers moved up a spot in the CFP rankings this week despite doing nothing a week after they failed to gain stature after beating a then-top 20 team on the road with their backup quarterback. It certainly wouldn’t be the only instance of confusing rankings.

1. No. 4 Ohio State (5-0)

Last ranking: 1

Last result: Game vs Michigan canceled due to COVID-19

Next: Big Ten Championship vs Northwestern

The Big Ten, as many predicted it would, eliminated the six-game requirement to compete in the conference’s title game, thus punching the Buckeyes’ ticket to Indy and making their path to the College Football Playoff clearer. Now all they’ve got to do is beat the heavy underdog Wildcats for whom they’ve had an extra week to prepare. What could possibly go wrong?