There’s some shakeup in this week’s rankings, with Michigan State and Wisconsin’s wins having ramifications across the conference and national landscapes. Here’s how the full rankings played out:
1. No. 5 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: W vs. No. 20 Penn State (33-24)
Next: at Nebraska
The Buckeyes put up another great display against a solid Penn State team, but if there’s one weakness to note, it’s been their red zone efficiency. Against tougher competition, Ohio State just has not been as good at getting the ball into the end zone, especially on Saturday, when the Buckeyes kicked four field goals after reaching the opponent’s 25 yard line. If Ryan Day and company want to be legit conference and national title contenders, improvement in their ability to finish off drives with six is paramount.
2. No. 3 Michigan State (8-0, 5-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: W vs. No. 6 Michigan (37-33)
Next: at Purdue
Kenneth Walker III. There’s really not a lot else you can say about this team at the moment. Walker rushed for nearly 200 yards and five touchdowns, singlehandedly willing Sparty to victory against their maize and blue rivals. As a result, MSU now has November 20 circled on their calendar as a day that will likely decide the East Division title, as well as a potential playoff spot. Michigan State has to get to that day first, as a potential trap game in West Lafayette is up next on its schedule. As things stand, the Buckeyes remain slightly ahead of them due to the defensive progress they’ve made recently, but Sparty might as well be 1B given how well they’ve played this season.
3. No. 7 Michigan (7-1, 4-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: L at No. 8 Michigan State (37-33)
Next: vs. Indiana
I made the mistake of declaring that there was something “different” about this year’s Michigan team from the ones in prior seasons under Jim Harbaugh. After further evaluation, I can now say I was wrong, and the same issues that have plagued prior teams still remain. By issues, I mean issue, and that is poor offensive play down the stretch. QB Cade McNamara had one of the best games I’ve seen in his career for the first three quarters, but once Michigan needed points quickly, he (and the rest of the UM offense) couldn’t deliver. Regardless, this is still a phenomenal football team, and had a few controversial calls gone their way, we might be talking about them in a very different light this week.
4. No. 21 Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: W vs. No. 9 Iowa (27-7)
Next: at Rutgers
For a team that plays such a traditional style of football with an emphasis on great defense and a power running game, you wouldn’t expect analytics and metrics to praise the Badgers as much as they do. Logic be damned, Wisconsin still sits at 6th in the SP+ rankings, and it boasts one of the best defenses in the nation and has a much easier run of games remaining than those it started the year with. The Badgers would have to be considered the favorites for the West at this moment in time, but the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Minneapolis to finish off the year could very well be the decider.
5. Penn State (5-3, 2-3 B1G)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: L at No. 5 Ohio State (33-24)
Next: at Maryland
It wasn’t too long ago when Penn State had a claim to be the best team in the Big Ten, but much has changed since then. The Nittany Lions are clearly not on the level of the top dogs this year, and while injuries haven’t helped, they’ve still just not been able to get the job done in big moments. They get a shot to rebound this week against a very shaky Maryland defense, and they’ll still be a tough proposition for any of their remaining opponents, but a Big Ten title is definitely out of the picture now.
6. No. 20 Minnesota (6-2, 4-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: W at Northwestern (41-14)
Next: vs. Illinois
Minnesota’s running backs depth might be the best in the country. Bryce Williams, their third string guy heading into the year is now out for the season, but guess what, his two backups each had 100+ yard games against Northwestern. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that they brought in a guy listed as a linebacker in garbage time, and he still managed to get into the end zone as well. The Golden Gophers are really good, and PJ Fleck’s newly announced seven-year extension reflects that. I called them dark horse Big Ten West contenders two weeks ago, and they’re in a great position to make that reality.
7. Purdue (5-3, 3-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: W at Nebraska (28-23)
Next: vs. No. 3 Michigan State
The Boilermakers are about as average as a team can get. They’ve beaten everyone that was worse than them and lost to Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Minnesota, all of whom are better than them. Purdue’s prowess through the air, both offensively and defensively, made the difference again as they marched into Lincoln and left with a win. Jeff Brohm will have a great opportunity to set a season high in wins at Purdue, as that number currently stands at seven, and the Boilermakers get to face Indiana, Northwestern and a potential bowl opponent before the season is finished.
8. No. 22 Iowa (6-2, 3-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: L at Wisconsin (27-7)
Next: at Northwestern
The Hawkeyes’ lack of any offensive potency or firepower has finally caught up with them. In their two losses, they’ve forced just one turnover and scored 14 points combined, and that’s no coincidence. This offense can’t even move the ball 75 yards down the field against a healthy, good defense, and that could be the worst issue a team could have. Iowa takes a massive fall after another extremely poor performance, and unless things really (and I mean really) go their way, a division title is off the table, let alone a conference championship.
9. Maryland (5-3, 2-3 B1G)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: W vs. Indiana (38-35)
Next: vs. Penn State
When Taulia Tagovailoa plays well, the entire team’s play follows. The Hawaii native picked apart a lackluster Indiana defense, throwing for over 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns, providing just enough on offense to get the Terrapins back into the win column. The next three weeks are going to be extremely difficult for his team, though, as they face Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. However, if Tagovailoa can finally show that he can perform against top defenses, there might be an upset to be had in there.
10. Nebraska (3-6, 1-5 B1G)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: L vs. Purdue (28-23)
Next: vs. No. 5 Ohio State
It’s now becoming a running joke that after Nebraska loses another game by one score, they have to be labeled the “best X-X team in the country.” With their record now at 3-6, I could pretty confidently say that the Huskers are the best 3-6 team in the nation, but their kryptonite has been winning close games. All six losses have been by one score, but there’s just always something holding them back. Against Purdue, Adrian Martinez’s four interceptions were solely to blame, and it’s been mistakes like that have really limited the potential of this group all year long.
11. Northwestern (3-5, 1-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: L vs. Minnesota (41-14)
Next: vs. No. 22 Iowa
It’s staggering how bad this team’s run defense is. They faced a combination of fourth and fifth string running backs on Saturday and gave up over 300 yards on the ground. Yes, there are plenty of issues on the offensive side of the ball, but when you can’t stop the run, you can’t expect to have any success. And as crazy as it may sound, the game against Iowa this weekend might be the game Northwestern has the best chance of winning for the rest of the year because the Hawkeyes have no offense, so the terrible defensive play shouldn’t be as big of an issue. The ‘Cats have a four, maybe five win ceiling this year, and many fans, myself including, will be hoping this is just a transitional year, not a sign of things to come.
12. Rutgers (4-4, 1-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: W at Illinois (20-14)
Next: vs. No. 21 Wisconsin
With their win in Urbana-Champaign, bowl eligibility is still very much a possibility for the Scarlet Knights, as they have four wins tallied and games against Indiana and Maryland yet to be played. In a division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, it’s always going to be difficult to make a massive leap and contend for a division title, but Greg Schiano seems to be making small steps that are heading in that direction. There’s been some inconsistency this year, but Rutgers fans should have plenty of optimism for the seasons to come.
13. Illinois (3-6, 2-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: L vs. Rutgers (20-14)
Next: at No. 20 Minnesota
The Fighting Illini should count themselves lucky that Indiana exists, because this team is just not very good and would be worthy of that 14th slot in an alternate universe. Yes, they’ve had some solid wins over Nebraska and Penn State, but they’ve also lost to Rutgers. They haven’t scored 30 points since week two, and when their rushing game doesn’t get going, their offense makes less progress than Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill. Illinois likely has a four-win ceiling this season. Considering it’s Bret Bielema’s first season, that isn’t terrible, but it also shows the amount of work that needs to be done.
14. Indiana (2-6, 0-5 B1G)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: L at Maryland (38-35)
Next: at No. 7 Michigan
Good news: Indiana figured out how to score points again. Bad news: Its defense can’t stop giving up scores. Even worse, outside of their own defense, the Hoosiers faced the worst scoring defense in the conference, and they still lost, so the good news might not even carry much weight. If they don’t stop giving up points, there’s not a lot to be hopeful about here, and things will only get worse as they travel to Ann Arbor this weekend to face what will likely be a very irate Wolverine team.