Three distinct tiers of Big Ten teams are beginning to form. The contenders make up the top five, the bottom eight is a complete mess, and then there’s Wisconsin sitting in purgatory between the two. Here’s the how the complete hierarchy unfolded:
1. No. 4 Penn State (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: W vs. Indiana (24-0)
Next: at No. 3 Iowa
Penn State looked good once again in a convincing victory over Indiana on Saturday, and that sets up the most important game of the season so far. The Nittany Lions face off against the Io_a Hawkeyes this weekend in a matchup that not only has major conference title implications, but national title implications as well. Based on last weekend’s performances, there’s an argument for moving Io_a back in front of PSU, but the Nittany Lions are the better team on the whole in my estimation, and they’ll have the chance to prove it in Kinnick Stadium this Saturday.
2. No. 3 Io_a (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: W at Maryland (51-14)
Next: vs. No. 4 Penn State
While the number next to their name is “2”, the Hawkeyes might as well be 1B. Their defense continues to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, with Taulia Tagovailoa being the latest victim of the Io_a secondary. Expect the Hawkeye defense to put up another stellar performance against Sean Clifford and the Penn State offense this go-around, potentially picking off multiple passes. However, Io_a’s offensive play still leaves something to be desired, and that may ultimately decide the outcome of the game vs the Nittany Lions, who are more explosive and dynamic with the ball in their possession.
3. No. 7 Ohio State (4-1, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: W at Rutgers (52-13)
Next: vs. Maryland
Another week, another game where the Buckeyes showed why their offense is the best in the conference. CJ Stroud tossed five touchdowns, the running game picked up over 200 yards, and most importantly, they didn’t turn the ball over. When this offense is on, they’re on, and they’re more than capable of putting up video game numbers against Big Ten foes. All Ryan Day needs is semi-competent play from the defense, and his team wins by 20, 30, or even 40 points. Don’t look now, but the Buckeyes are feeling it, and are definitely in the conference title picture after a brief hiccup in non-conference play.
4. No. 9 Michigan (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: W at Wisconsin (38-17)
Next: at Nebraska
For the second game in a row, the Wolverines barely reached the 100-yard threshold on the ground, but unlike the Rutgers game the week prior, the passing game helped offset the lack of a rushing attack. Quarterback Cade McNamara was effective, going 17-28 for 197 yards and two TD’s, and the icing on the cake for Michigan fans likely was true freshman QB JJ McCarthy’s beautiful 56 yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. If the Wolverine offense shows any semblance of being two-dimensional, with that defense, this team will be dangerous down the road.
5. No. 11 Michigan State (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: W vs. Western Kentucky (48-31)
Next: at Rutgers
A major weakness with this Spartans team is really starting reveal itself: the pass defense. As Northwestern fans and media, we really should’ve spotted this flaw sooner when Hunter Johnson had a career game through the air against MSU, but the numbers now make it painfully obvious. The Spartans have the eighth (!) worst pass defense in the FBS based on yards allowed per game, and in a division with Penn State and Ohio State, that’s going to be a massive problem for them. Their offense is extremely good both on the ground and through the air, but it will have to overcome a lot to win games with the defense leaking points like it has.
6. Wisconsin (1-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: L vs. No. 14 Michigan (38-17)
Next: at Illinois
If Wisconsin keeping their place as a two-loss team after losing by four TD’s was the original, the Badgers keeping their place as a three-loss team after losing by three TD’s is Part 2: The Electric Boogaloo. The rationale for their ranking remains the same — look at who’s below them. Wisconsin is in a funky situation where they’ve lost to three Top 15 teams, so it’s clear they aren’t going to be near the upper echelon of the Big Ten, but they are still probably better than everyone not in that upper echelon. Only time will tell if that is true, but this team has too much talent throughout the roster to end the year with a losing record.
7. Maryland (4-1, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: L vs. No. 5 Io_a (51-14)
Next: at No. 7 Ohio State
Welcome to the chaos that is the bottom eight teams in this conference. Yes, Maryland lost by 37 points. Yes, QB Taulia Tagovailoa threw five interceptions. And yes, the Terps’ best receiver Dontay Demus suffered a season-ending knee injury. Yet, Maryland still sports a 4-1 record and an offense that, last Friday aside, has been clicking. This ranking is probably more of an indictment of teams below Maryland than an actual compliment of the Mike Locksley’s squd, but the Terrapins have flat out been more impressive through five games than the teams further down in the rankings.
8. Rutgers (3-2, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: L vs. No. 11 Ohio State (52-13)
Next: vs. No. 11 Michigan State
The Scarlet Knights will suffer the consequences of being in the infinitely stronger East division by having to face four of the current Top 11 teams, but the silver lining is that they’ve already gotten two of the four out of the way. They’re still 3-2, and have a remaining schedule that makes reaching a bowl game a very attainable goal. Additionally, they’ve shown they can be competitive with good teams, as shown in their one score loss to Michigan in Week Four. Rutgers has a seven or eight-win ceiling, and will be pushing into the top half of this list by the season’s end.
9. Minnesota (3-2, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: W at Purdue (20-13)
Next: vs. Nebraska (Oct. 16)
Despite being outgained by over 150 yards, Minnesota managed to pull out a narrow victory against Purdue through a bend-don’t-break defensive philosophy. QB Tanner Morgan didn’t have a spectacular game, and RB Treyson Potts, filling in once again for star tailback Mohamed Ibrahim, is still in the hospital following an injury at the end of the game, so this offense doesn’t look like it will be improving any time soon. The Gophers play Nebraska in two weeks in what could be a telling game for the trajectory of each team’s season.
10. Nebraska (3-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: W vs. Northwestern (56-7)
Next: vs. No. 9 Michigan
It’s often said a team improves the most between Week One and Week Two, so in Nebraska’s case, is the improvement between Week Zero and Week One even greater? After an extremely poor loss to Illinois, the Huskers have been a completely different team. Their two losses since then have been by a combined 10 points against two Top 20 teams, and they’ve demolished everyone else who has dared to stand in their way. Their defense has been solid, their offense is putting up points and they could provide a considerable threat at home against Michigan this weekend.
11. Purdue (3-2, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: L vs. Minnesota (20-13)
Next: at No. 3 Io_a (Oct. 16)
At least Purdue finally abandoned the two-QB system, letting Aidan O’Connell play the entire game against Minnesota by his lonesome. O’Connell looked pretty good, going 34-for-52 for 371 yards and a TD, until he threw the decisive interception in the red zone in the final minute. Really, Purdue should’ve won this game, but they only scored 13 points despite gaining a whopping 448 yards, and the red zone efficiency has to be better going forward. The Boilermakers have shown that they can move the ball, but if points don’t follow, it’s going to be a rough final seven games for them.
12. Indiana (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: L at No. 4 Penn State (24-0)
Next: vs. No. 11 Michigan State (Oct. 16)
Not only did Indiana lose to Penn State, but they also lost QB Michael Penix Jr with a shoulder injury indefinitely. Penix had been struggling this season, but given how good he was just a season ago, there was always optimism that he could regain that form. There’s not a lot going for the Hoosiers at the moment, and with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan scheduled in three of their first four games following their bye week, it’s going to take a tremendous effort for them to get back in the win column any time soon.
13. Illinois (2-4, 1-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: W vs. Charlotte (24-14)
Next: vs. Wisconsin
Illinois beat Nebraska 30-22, Nebraska beat the team in 14th which shall not be named 56-7. That’s why the Illini moved up a spot. Enough said.
14. Northwestern (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: L at Nebraska (56-7)
Next: vs. Rutgers (Oct. 16)
*looks away in disgust*