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Big Ten Football Power Rankings, Week 12: Maintaining the status quo

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A grand total of two teams moved.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well, week 11 wasn’t very interesting. Of the six games played by Big Ten teams, five were won by the higher ranked team in our power rankings, with the exception being eighth-ranked Iowa taking down seventh-ranked Minnesota. However, even if there weren’t any surprising results, we’ve learned a little more about each team, and things are set up well for some mouth-watering action in the last two weeks of the regular season. Here’s how the full power rankings came out:

1. No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 7-0 B1G)

Last Ranking: 1

Last Result: W vs. No. 19 Purdue (59-31)

Next: vs. No. 7 Michigan State

All of the sudden, any concerns about the Buckeyes’ offensive potency have subsided. QB CJ Stroud continues to make a case for himself as a legitimate Heisman contender, and when he’s played well, there’s no stopping this offense. Ohio State controls its own Playoff destiny, but to close out the year, Ryan Day’s squad will face two of its toughest tests — No. 7 Michigan State and No. 6 Michigan — since their week two loss to Oregon.

2. No. 7 Michigan State (9-1, 6-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 2

Last Result: W vs. Maryland (40-21)

Next: at No. 4 Ohio State

Like the Buckeyes, Sparty controls its own Playoff destiny, but they have to get through OSU and Penn State first , plus a potential conference championship game. To finish 12-1, they’ll have to figure out a way to seal up their leaky pass defense, which now ranks dead last in the FBS in yards allowed per game. Ohio State and Penn State love to air the ball out, so matchup-wise, Michigan State may be in a bit of trouble.

3. No. 6 Michigan (9-1, 6-1 B1G)

Last Ranking: 3

Last Result: W at Penn State (21-17)

Next: at Maryland

It may not have been pretty, but the Wolverines snuck out of Death Valley with a close win over a very good Penn State team. While Michigan doesn’t need Ohio State to beat Michigan State to have a chance at the Big Ten championship, it certainly gives them much more control over their fate, putting much of the Michigan fanbase in an awkward situation. So with The Game just a week away, many used to donning maize and blue will likely be supporting the scarlet and gray for three or so hours this Saturday.

4. No. 15 Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2 B1G)

Last Ranking: 4

Last Result: W vs. Northwestern (35-7)

Next: vs. Nebraska

The Badgers held firm at fourth in the SP+ rankings after a dominant win over Northwestern. Paul Chryst’s team looks better each week, with their 1-3 start being just a faint memory at this point. Even more importantly is Graham Mertz looking more comfortable in the pocket. That’s not too surprising as having someone alongside him in the backfield like Braelon Allen provides a nice security blanket and takes the pressure off of the QB to make things happen. Wisconsin is the likely West division champion, and whoever they face out of the East will be in for a tough game.

5. Penn State (6-4, 3-4 B1G)

Last Ranking: 5

Last Result: L vs. No. 6 Michigan (21-17)

Next: vs. Rutgers

Penn State played another very good team in Michigan close this past weekend, but with the way things have been going this season for them, it’s not a surprise that they fell just short. As I’ve said before, this is a much better team than their now 6-4 record suggests, and SP+ also agrees with that assessment, ranking them 15th overall, which is ahead of everyone below them on this list, as well as Michigan State. The Nittany Lions play the Spartans in their season finale, and that may be a trickier game for MSU than most anticipate.

6. Purdue (6-4, 4-3 B1G)

Last Ranking: 6

Last Result: L at No. 4 Ohio State (59-31)

Next: vs. Northwestern

A loss to Ohio State doesn’t really change where this team is in the Big Ten hierarchy. They still have a stellar offense, multiple quality wins and a defense is better than people expect (although they didn’t really show that last Saturday). Purdue has the easiest finish to the season of any team in the conference, getting Northwestern at a neutral site and Indiana at home, so the Boilermakers should finish 8-4, and even without a bowl game, that would match the program’s highest win total since Kyle Orton was the starting quarterback.

7. No. 17 Iowa (8-2, 5-2 B1G)

Last Ranking: 8

Last Result: W vs. Minnesota (27-22)

Next: vs. Illinois

Kirk Ferentz’s decision to bench Spencer Petras for Anthony Padilla is definitely paying dividends, and dare I say if Petras still held that job, the Hawkeyes might be 6-4 right now? A win over a solid Minnesota group pushes the Hawkeyes up a spot, and they could realistically finish with 10 wins. However, their win total isn’t correlated with their true talent, and if they end up getting embarrassed in the Citrus Bowl by a supposedly worse SEC team, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

8. Minnesota (6-4, 4-3 B1G)

Last Ranking: 7

Last Result: L at No. 20 Iowa (27-22)

Next: at Indiana

Dark horses aren’t actually supposed to win whatever they’re in contention for, because if that was the case, they’d be a favorite. The Golden Gophers were a definite dark horse for the West title, sitting at 6-2 with their destiny in their own hands, but they’ve crumbled as injuries have started to catch up with them. Minnesota is still a very solid team, and while it may not be his best season in Minneapolis, PJ Fleck has showed his ability to win football games even when faced with adversity.

9. Maryland (5-5, 2-5 B1G)

Last Ranking: 9

Last Result: L at No. 7 Michigan State (40-21)

Next: vs. No. 6 Michigan

In what should surprise absolutely no one, the Terps were outclassed by Michigan State, and Taulia Tagovailoa made more poor decisions with the football. Hypothetically, if Maryland and Rutgers lose to Michigan and Penn State, respectively, this Saturday, it would add an additional layer of intrigue to the week 13 clash between the two cellar dwellers — bowl eligibility. It would be safe to say that game would be the most important showdown between the two teams since their additions to the Big Ten in 2014.

10. Nebraska (3-7, 1-6 B1G)

Last Ranking: 10

Last Result: L vs. No. 5 Ohio State (26-17) (11/6)

Next: at No. 15 Wisconsin

Since they did not play last Saturday, the Huskers remain the best 3-7 team in the country. Looking at their last two games — Wisconsin and Iowa — it’s very possible that they will finish 3-9, and be in the SP+ Top 25, which just is another example in the countless stream of misfortune that this team has encountered. While the last two games might not mean much for this season, a win in either would serve as a nice building block into a critical 2022 for Scott Frost.

11. Illinois (4-6, 3-4 B1G)

Last Ranking: 11

Last Result: W at No. 20 Minnesota (14-6) (11/6)

Next: at No. 17 Iowa

Coming off of a bye week, the Fighting Illini have a tough test — now made tougher by Bret Bielema testing positive for COVID-19 — facing them in Kinnick Stadium this Saturday. However, they’ve proved twice already this season that they can beat ranked teams on the road, and also control the line of scrimmage against almost anyone. Bowl eligibility is still on the table, but it will take consistency from a team that has struggled in that aspect to make it happen.

12. Northwestern (3-7, 1-6 B1G)

Last Ranking: 12

Last Result: L at No. 18 Wisconsin (35-7)

Next: vs. Purdue

While I will still maintain that this team isn’t as bad as it was in 2019, that’s a low bar. The ‘Cats have been outmatched in all of their conference losses, and that’s frustrating enough as it is. They’ve tried three different QB’s throughout the year, and none have produced desired results, while the defense has just been abysmal. If Northwestern hadn’t beaten Rutgers, it might genuinely be in the conversation for the worst team in the conference with Indiana, as it’s just been that kind of year.

13. Rutgers (5-5, 2-5 B1G)

Last Ranking: 13

Last Result: W at Indiana (38-3)

Next: at Penn State

The Scarlet Knights took care of business against Indiana last Saturday, and have kept themselves in position to be bowl eligible. A win over either Penn State or Maryland is all that stands between them and a 6-win regular season. It’s been a season of ups and downs for Rutgers, but to still have a chance to go bowling in such a tough division and with injury problems speaks to the resilience of this group, and provides a solid foundation for future success under Greg Schiano.

14. Indiana (2-8, 0-7 B1G)

Last Ranking: 14

Last Result: L vs. Rutgers (38-3)

Next: vs. Minnesota

There’s really not a lot that can be said about the Hoosiers at this point. They’re just flat-out bad, and losing by 35 against the second-worst team in the conference is exhibit one. If you know any Indiana fans, offer up some sympathy and remind them that basketball season has started, because Tom Allen and co. seem destined for the program’s worst record since 2011.