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Big Ten Football Power Rankings, Week 7: Peak pandemic pandemonium

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We were warned this might happen.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

“Play football during a pandemic,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. Here’s the rankings:

14. Purdue (2-4)

Last ranking: 13

Last result: L vs. Nebraska (27-37)

Next: @ Indiana

What started as an intriguing 2-0 opening for the Boilermakers has morphed into a disaster of a season. Once again, Purdue struggled mightily against the pass, this time allowing Nebraska speedster Wan’Dale Robinson to haul in nine of his 10 targets en route to a 114-yard outing. Now, potential COVID-19 outbreaks both within Purdue’s program and its rival Indiana mean that its regular season might have mercifully come to an end.

13. Nebraska (2-4)

Last ranking: 14

Last result: W @ Purdue (37-27)

Next: vs. Minnesota

The good news for the Cornhuskers is that they got a win on Saturday and that quarterback Adrian Martinez’s strong performance will likely put an end to the quarterback controversy in Lincoln. The bad news for UNL is that said win was against a dismal opponent, and it took them until Week Seven to solve their quarterback controversy.

12. Michigan (2-4)

Last ranking: 12

Last result: Game vs. Maryland canceled due to COVID-19

Next: Game @ Ohio State canceled due to COVID-19

“Stay positive, test negative.” Those were the words with which Jim Harbaugh welcomed back Big Ten Football after the Wolverines’ schedule was released in September. As evidenced by their abysmal record and regular-season-ending pair of cancelations, it appears Michigan has failed to live up to Harbaugh’s mantra.

11. Rutgers (2-5)

Last ranking: 12

Last result: L vs. Penn State (7-23)

Next: @ Maryland

The fact that Rutgers entered its contest with Penn State with more wins than the Nittany Lions might’ve thrown some viewers, but Greg Schiano’s team did their very best to make sure everyone feel like they would during a normal Rutgers vs. big-name program game. That is to say, Rutgers never competed on Saturday and looked especially dormant on offense — where starting quarterback Noah Vedral’s return did nothing to inspire big plays or consistent drives of any kind.

10. Illinois (2-4)

Last ranking: 9

Last result: L vs. Iowa (21-35)

Next: HAT

Illinois came out of the gate firing against an Iowa team that had won their last four straight, and worked its way to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Then came 28 unanswered points from the Hawkeyes and the benching of starting QB Brandon Peters in favor of highly-touted freshman Isaiah Williams, a move that has caused some debate over who will call the signals against Northwestern this Saturday. If it’s Williams, it’ll mark the second straight year that Peters has started against Iowa a week before sitting against the ‘Cats.

9. Michigan State (2-4)

Last ranking: 8

Last result: L vs. Ohio State (12-52)

Next: @ Penn State

Maybe pushing Michigan State all the way to eighth after their upset of Northwestern wasn’t the most rational decision. MSU was absolutely pummeled by an Ohio State team that was missing 23 players and head coach Ryan Day due to COVID-19, proving that the Spartans aren’t the giant slayers that their upset of the Wildcats might’ve suggested. Still, with a win over Penn State in their final regular season game, Mel Tucker’s team can finish 3-5, a record that would give them the third most wins in the Big Ten East in their first season under their new head coach.

8. Penn State (2-5)

Last ranking: 11

Last result: W @ Rutgers (23-7)

Next: vs. Michigan State

After beating Rutgers, Nittany Lions starting QB Sean Clifford stated proudly, ‘’this program is not a losing program.” I’m not sure when a win over Rutgers constituted reason to claim anything, let alone that a program isn’t a losing one, but I’m glad Penn State got its swagger back, even if the rationale is shaky.

7. Minnesota (2-3)

Last ranking: 7

Last result: Game vs. Northwestern canceled due to COVID-19

Next: @ Nebraska

It looks like Minnesota will be able to play football on Saturday after a COVID-19 outbreak caused the Golden Gophers to miss their last two games. It also looks like they’re due for a drop in these rankings, as they’re 10.5-point underdogs to Nebraska, the second-to-last ranked team on this list.

6. Maryland (2-2)

Last ranking: 6

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

Next: vs. Rutgers

Like Minnesota, there’s a very decent chance that Maryland doesn’t deserve this spot and have been advantaged by their COVID cancelations. Unlike the Golden Gophers, the Terps are 7.5-point favorites against their upcoming lower-ranked opponent, Rutgers.

5. Wisconsin (2-2)

Last ranking: 4

Last result: L vs. Indiana (6-14)

Next: @ Iowa

Remember Graham Mertz, whose opening night performance against Illinois had fans legitimately wondering whether or not he was a Heisman contender? Since that magical career opener, Mertz has thrown four interceptions and three touchdowns, not exactly the ratio you’re looking for from the starting quarterback of a defending Rose Bowl participant. With a loss in Iowa City this Saturday, the Badgers would finish the regular season with their first losing record since 2005.

4. No. 16 Iowa (5-2)

Last ranking: 5

Last result: W @ Illinois (35-21)

Next: vs. Wisconsin

Never mind the Hawkeyes’ slow start to the season, the Kirk Ferentz train is up and running at full speed as the season nears its conclusion. Since losing to Northwestern by one on Halloween, Iowa has won each of its contests by an average of 22 points. The next stop is back home in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes will attempt to take home the Heartland Trophy for the first time since 2015.

3. No. 14 Northwestern (5-1)

Last ranking: 5

Last result: Game @ Minnesota canceled due to COVID-19

Next: HAT

In a typical year, a divisional trophy would be awarded to a team on the field or in the locker room after a clinching victory. Alas, this is not a typical year:

The ‘Cats will look to finish the regular season on a high note with a win at home against rival Illinois, building crucial momentum heading into the conference championship.

2. No. 12 Indiana (6-1)

Last ranking: 5

Last result: W @ Wisconsin (14-6)

Next: vs. Purdue

Last week, I wrote that it was “hard to see Indiana accomplishing much more” this year following Michael Penix’s season-ending injury. Then, they went on the road and beat a then-top 20 Wisconsin team. So now, I’d like to use this space to formally apologize to the Hoosiers for my doubt. But now, IU’s fate rests in the Big Ten’s and COVID’s hands as they try to overcome a spike in positive tests within the program while they await a decision on who will represent the East in Indy.

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

Last ranking: 5

Last result: W @ Michigan State (52-12)

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

To quote the great Vin Scully, “in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” The cancelation of The Game, which has been played annually since 1918, means that Ohio State no longer meets the six games-played threshold to qualify for the Big Ten Championship. This presents a dilemma for the conference, as neglecting to change the policy to allow the Buckeyes to take on Northwestern for the league title could cost the Big Ten its only chance at getting a team into the Playoff this season. However, doing so would present its own drawbacks of perceived hypocrisy and favoritism on behalf of the conference. While the situation should become clearer in the coming days, one thing’s for sure: this is not how Kevin Warren pictured the season playing.