Last week, this article was prefaced with the “two weeks in first” trend, which, of course, as soon as I brought it up, was snapped the following Saturday with Iowa’s loss against Purdue. If we are now, in fact, on a one-week cycle, I should’ve put Michigan in first. Here’s how the full rankings played out:
1. No. 5 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: W vs. Maryland (66-17) (Oct. 9)
Next: at Indiana
It’s amazing how quickly perceptions surrounding a team can change. A month ago, people were already counting the Buckeyes out of the playoff, there was debate about whether QB CJ Stroud should even be starting and the defense was giving up big plays to offenses like Oprah (“You have a touchdown! You have a touchdown!”). Now, due to the chaos of the college football landscape, Ohio State is most definitely in contention for a conference title and playoff appearance. Of all QB’s who have 100 countable plays, CJ Stroud ranks first in the Big Ten, second in the Power Five and fourth nationally in predicted points added per play. And what about the defense? Well, since DC Kerry Coombs gave up playcalling, OSU has yet to allow over 20 points in a game. The Buckeyes are elite, and an early season loss to a good Oregon team doesn’t change that.
2. No. 7 Penn State (5-1, 2-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: L at No. 3 Iowa (23-20) (Oct. 9)
Next: vs. Illinois
With the week off, Penn State didn’t have any opportunity to make a case for or hurt themselves, but they still benefit from an Iowa loss and move up one place. Many of the Nittany Lions’ conference title and playoff hopes are riding on the health of their defense and QB Sean Clifford. With no news out yet about Clifford’s status, there’s still hope that he could be on the field against Illinois, which would be a huge boost to the offense, and with him at the helm going forward, Franklin and Co. can be competitive with anyone else in the conference.
3. No. 6 Michigan (6-0, 3-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: W at Nebraska (32-29) (Oct. 9)
Next: vs. Northwestern
Like Penn State, Michigan got the week off and moved up a spot because of an Iowa loss, but they’ve gotten through the first half of their schedule relatively unscathed and are in a great position with Michigan State, Penn State, and of course, the vaunted Northwestern Wildcats coming up. This is the time where we see if the Wolverines are legit or just benefactors of easy competition, but my bet is on the former. With that two-headed rushing monster of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, they’re going to be an extremely tough proposition for other Big Ten East title hopefuls.
4. No. 11 Iowa (6-1, 3-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: L vs. Purdue (24-7)
Next: at Wisconsin (Oct. 30)
After many had been talking about it for what feels like forever, Iowa was finally exposed for what they really are: a mediocre offense propped up by a stellar defense forcing turnovers. For the first time this season, the Hawkeyes faced a healthy team that took care of the ball, and they got humbled. Without their defense shortening the field three or four times, the Iowa offense looked lost trying to score points against the Purdue defense, and QB Spencer Petras’s four INTs on the day were a direct result of that. If this is the Iowa team is what we get for the rest of the season, they might not even win the division, and for a team that had national title hopes just a week ago, that’s a worrying thought.
5. No. 9 Michigan State (7-0, 4-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: W at Indiana (20-15)
Next: vs. No. 6 Michigan (Oct. 30)
Sparty’s biggest issue this season has been the fact their offensive production fluctuates more than Chicago weather. Two weeks ago, they produced big play after big play against Rutgers, and then they face Indiana and need a pick-six to eke out a victory while the offense only put up 13 points. The Spartans sit at the bottom of this upper echelon of Big Ten teams because of that offensive inconsistency, and while they’ve done a great job to get to 7-0, there’s still improvement needed if they want to win the East. MSU now gets a bye week before they face Michigan in a massive game at a local, regional and national level.
6. Wisconsin (3-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: W vs. Army (20-14)
Next: at No. 25 Purdue
What do we even do with Wisconsin? They seem like they should be much better than they are, but then they barely squeak out a win against a pretty average Army team. QB Graham Mertz didn’t have to take much responsibility on Saturday, but based on how he’s performed so far, that’s probably a good thing for Wisconsin. These next two weeks will be very telling in terms of where the Badgers are compared to the rest of the conference as they face Purdue and then Iowa, but until then, they’ll sit in purgatory at sixth.
7. No. 25 Purdue (4-2, 2-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: W at No. 2 Iowa (24-7)
Next: vs. Wisconsin
The Boilermakers had been quietly playing really well, and then their performance against Iowa opened a lot of eyes. Their defense is in the top five in the country in points allowed per game, and they have now scored the most points against Iowa of any team this season. Even more interesting is that after I criticized them for using two QBs a few weeks ago, they start using a three quarterback rotation against Iowa and of course, it helps them in a massive victory. Also, WR David Bell is one of the best in the country, and no matter who is throwing to him, he will make plays. This Purdue team is in a great position to challenge for the West title, but they’ll likely have to overcome one of either Michigan State or Ohio State to make that happen.
8. Minnesota (4-2, 2-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: W vs. Nebraska (30-23)
Next: vs. Maryland
It really could go either way between Minnesota and Purdue at seven and eight, and despite Minnesota having the head-to-head, Purdue gets the nod based on overall season consistency and competitiveness. Minnesota’s loss against Bowling Green still looms large, but other than that, they’ve been right with Purdue every step of the way. Additionally, Minnesota somehow has unlimited depth at running back, as Bryce Williams, who wasn’t even on the two-deep to start the year, rushed for a 127 yards and one TD while Tanner Morgan looked much improved in a good win over Nebraska. The Gophers have a pretty weak second half of the schedule, and they could be potential dark horse West contenders if things fall their way.
9. Maryland (4-2, 1-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: L at No. 7 Ohio State (66-17) (Oct. 9)
Next: at Minnesota
Maryland, unlike Michigan or Penn State, did not benefit from having a bye week, as they fell two places, and with the way they’ve been playing, it isn’t unjustified. Even worse for them, they’re now without two of their top three receivers for the rest of the year as WR Jeshaun Jones suffered a leg injury in their last game. The Terps still have a very real chance of making it to a bowl game, but they’re nowhere near any of the title contenders in either division.
10. Nebraska (3-5, 1-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: L at Minnesota (30-23)
Next: vs. No. 25 Purdue (Oct. 30)
Last week I called Nebraska the best 3-4 (record, not defensive alignment) team in the country, and this week I’m going to call them the best 3-5 team in the country. They’ve lost by a combined 28 points in those five games, and sooner or later, those close losses will start turning into wins. Unfortunately for the Huskers, they still have Iowa, Purdue and Ohio State left on their schedule, so it’s almost guaranteed that their record won’t tell the whole story about the talent on this team, but at the end of the day, it’s a results game, and if you don’t get the results, you won’t have anything to show for your efforts.
11. Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: W vs. Rutgers (21-7)
Next: at No. 6 Michigan
The ‘Cats are no longer in 14th, hurray! Now I get to sing my praises for Stephon Robinson Jr. and Malik Washington, who were both outstanding against Rutgers, as well as the defense which stepped up completely shut down the Scarlet Knights’ offense. Granted, Rutgers isn’t a great team, but the ‘Cats definitely don’t hold the title of being the worst team in the Big Ten any more, and unless things go horribly wrong, they shouldn’t hold that title again for the rest of the season. Up next is a huge test at the Big House against No. 6 Michigan, and if NU puts up a good showing, they might be moving towards the single digits.
12. Rutgers (3-4, 0-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: L at Northwestern (21-7)
Next: at Illinois (Oct. 30)
Man, I really believed in you, Rutgers. While I wasn’t expecting you to beat any of Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan, I wasn’t expecting a struggling Northwestern team to cause you a lot of problems either. Last Saturday really brought to light a lot issues facing Greg Schiano’s team, including discipline problems and lack of explosive plays on offense. Their defense is solid, but outside of that, there isn’t much about this team to like, and as it stands, there’s a good chance that they’ll finish last in the Big Ten East.
13. Indiana (2-4, 0-3 B1G)
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: L vs. No. 10 Michigan State (20-15)
Next: vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Let’s face it, Indiana has had an extremely rough start to the season, and it doesn’t get any easier with Ohio State and Michigan both on the horizon. Having said that, they’ve been competitive against the best-of-the-best. However, there’s just always something that’s preventing them from winning against these tough teams, and that lack of consistency is going to be their downfall. Against Michigan State, their defense showed up, but an extremely poor offensive performance let them down in a close loss. If QB Jack Tuttle’s play doesn’t improve going forward, this Hoosier team will not have any success.
14. Illinois (2-5, 1-3 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: L vs. Wisconsin (24-0) (Oct. 9)
Next: vs. No. 7 Penn State
We can now return to our regularly scheduled laughing at Illinois.