With only three weeks of play remaining, a shocking number of teams still have a realistic chance to play in Indianapolis this December. After another wild week, let’s take a step back and take a look at the hierarchy in the Big Ten:
1. Ohio State
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: 21-7 win at Northwestern
Next: vs. Indiana
The Buckeye faithful were definitely sweating a bit after surrendering a seven-point lead to Northwestern early on, but Ohio State was able to pull out an ugly contest at Ryan Field.
Ohio State was far from perfect. The brutal wind and horizontal rain definitely played an element in what may have been C.J. Stroud’s worst performance as a Buckeye, but I’m willing to write this game off as an anomaly. Until proven otherwise, the Buckeyes are the class of the Big Ten.
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: 52-17 win at Rutgers
Next: vs. Nebraska
Just like Ohio State, the Wolverines started out slow against an inferior opponent. Michigan trailed Rutgers 17-14 at the half before pouring on an onslaught of 38 consecutive points to beat the Scarlet Knights with ease.
With Clemson, Alabama and Tennessee all losing, Michigan moved up to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and there is a budding route for two Big Ten teams to be represented in the four-team field. Everything hinges on the Thanksgiving weekend battle in Columbus, but a one-loss Wolverine or Buckeye team would have a fairly compelling case to make the postseason.
3. Penn State
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: 45-14 win at Indiana
Next: vs. Maryland
Penn State put a thorough smackdown on Indiana on the back of three touchdowns from Kaytron Allen. After a tough loss against Ohio State, it was encouraging to see the Nittany Lions bounce back in such strong fashion.
Unfortunately, geography is working against Penn State this season (and most seasons). With losses to Ohio State and Michigan, PSU has virtually no chance of making the Big Ten Championship. This team would comfortably be the best squad if it was in the West.
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: 23-15 loss vs. Michigan State
Next: vs. Purdue
Illinois, what happened? We should’ve known that nothing normal is allowed to happen in the Big Ten West, so naturally the division would descend into chaos. Illinois controlled this game in almost every statistical category with one major exception that made the difference. The Fighting Illini were a putrid 1-for-6 on fourth down, leading to the end of a six-game win streak.
On the bright side for Illinois, it still controls its own fate. The downside? One of the three remaining contests is a date in Ann Arbor with the surging Wolverines.
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: 20-13 win at Nebraska
Next: vs. Northwestern
Tanner Morgan’s injury will be one to monitor, but for the time being, Minnesota is right back in the thick of the Big Ten West race. It’ll need some assistance though, as Illinois holds the tiebreaker over the Golden Gophers.
With the exception of the Penn State game, Minnesota’s defense has been stout all season long and, combined with its strong rushing attack, gives it a chance to compete in every game.
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: 23-10 win vs. Maryland
Next: at Iowa
What an impressive turnaround for the Badgers. Since firing Paul Chryst, Wisconsin has gone 3-1 and now finds itself contending in the crowded Big Ten West.
The Badger defense held Maryland to 189 total yards on Saturday and takes a ton of momentum into a pivotal matchup in Iowa City. The winner of this one holds onto hope for a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium while the loser can kiss its division chances goodbye.
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: 24-3 win at Purdue
Next: vs. Wisconsin
Iowa could score three points this weekend and make me look silly for moving them up four spots in these rankings, but it looks like the Hawkeyes have found something offensively! That’s now a second consecutive game where the Iowa offense has looked competent and dare I say... impressive?
The defense remains one of the strongest units in the conference and should give the Badgers all they can handle this upcoming Saturday. Although it’s a brawl between two 5-4 teams, Wisconsin at Iowa is a pivotal matchup for both sides. You might as well copy and paste the final sentence from the Wisconsin blurb above to understand the stakes for this one.
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: 24-3 loss vs. Iowa
Next: at Illinois
It’s hard to have confidence in the Boilermakers after they were shellacked by Iowa at home, but they have an opportunity to get right against a division-leading Illinois team this weekend. Their division hopes are dangling on a loose thread after two crucial losses.
Purdue’s Big Ten West foes will be pulling for the Boilermakers in Week 10 as an Illinois loss blows the division wide-open. In order for that to happen, Aidan O’Connell will have to perform more consistently.
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: 23-10 loss at Wisconsin
Next: at Penn State
Why such a large drop for Maryland despite the fact it still has a better overall record than the three teams ranked above them? Simply put, the Terrapins haven’t played great football in a month. They lost to Purdue and Wisconsin and eked out narrow, one-possession wins against Northwestern and Indiana, who are at the bottom of their respective divisions.
Maryland is a solid team, but with Penn State and Ohio State on the docket, it’s starting to feel like its 6-2 start was a mirage.
10. Michigan State
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: 23-15 win vs Illinois
Next: vs. Rutgers
Michigan State probably deserved to move up the rankings after an impressive win against a ranked Illinois team on the road. As a result, Michigan State has a real chance to gain bowl eligibility and extend its season.
It’s been a disappointing season overall for Mel Tucker and the Spartans, but the rest of November offers a chance to end on a four-game win streak, including wins against two top-25 teams. MSU still has a lot to play for.
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: 20-13 loss vs. Minnesota
Next: at Michigan
After taking a 10-0 lead into the locker room at half, it seemed as if the Cornhuskers were primed to climb up the rankings. Nonetheless, in classic Nebraska fashion, the Golden Gophers stormed back with 20 straight points, stunning the home crowd.
Next up, the Huskers will try and play spoiler for Michigan. Maybe Nebraska can surprise the Wolverines, who seem to be cruise-control ahead of the all-important Ohio State contest later in the month.
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: 52-17 loss vs. Michigan
Next: at Michigan State
Rutgers had 14 rushing yards against Michigan. Fourteen. Woof.
The Scarlet Knights have now been outscored 83-17 over their last seven quarters of play and it doesn’t look like it’ll get much better any time soon.
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: 45-14 loss vs. Penn State
Next: at Ohio State
I am truly scared for this Hoosier team. This defense has been porous all season long and now has to go on the road to face a Buckeye team looking to prove that last week’s disappointing offensive performance was a fluke. It feels like a rout may be in store.
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: 21-7 loss vs. Ohio State
Next: at Minnesota
Northwestern showed a valiant defensive effort against an excellent Ohio State team, but the offense continued to look uninspiring.
Run one more play from the wildcat formation, I dare you. Do they just think it’s clever because it’s also the name of the team mascot? That feels like the only explanation at this point.