The college football regular season is officially over, and we are now on to conference championship week. This means that while only two teams in the Big Ten still have games to play over the next week or so, a lot more are beginning to prepare for postseason play as well. With the regular season in the books after 12 great weeks of football, here’s where all the teams stand.
1. Michigan (12-0, 9-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: 45-23 win at Ohio State
Next: vs. Purdue
For the second straight year, the Wolverines won in a shocking domination of the Buckeyes. The game looked like it was all Ohio State in the first half, but was still close thanks to two big plays from J.J. McCarthy to Cornelius Johnson. In the second half, Donovan Edwards, who had 216 rushing yards for the game, helped wrap things up.
Michigan has already almost assuredly clinched its second straight CFP berth, and with a win over Purdue this Saturday in Indianapolis, will also earn its second consecutive Big Ten title. This team might be the best in the country, and here’s the real scary part: Blake Corum had just two carries against Ohio State.
2. Ohio State (11-1, 8-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: 45-23 loss vs. Michigan
Next: Likely a New Year’s Six Bowl (Rose Bowl?)
C.J. Stroud had an extremely disappointing performance on Saturday. With Corum out, the stage was set for Stroud to seize the game and make a massive Heisman statement, and he couldn't do it. He missed on 17 of his 48 passes and threw two major second-half interceptions, both his highest totals of the season.
However, the Buckeyes aren’t dead yet. They were the No. 5 team in the latest CFP ranking, and if just one of the teams ahead of them slips up (looking at you, USC), they could easily make their fifth appearance in the Playoff.
3. Penn State (10-2, 7-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: 35-16 win vs. Michigan State
Next: Also probably a New Year’s Six Bowl (Cotton Bowl?)
The Nittany Lions closed out another spectacular season by dominating Michigan State for their sixth conference win by double digits. Penn State is a top 20 defensive unit in the nation, and showed that by holding Michigan State to just 25 rushing yards for the game.
PSU wasn't able to compete with either Ohio State or Michigan, but there’s no shame in that — nearly every team in the nation wasn’t able to do that. This team is deserving of its top 10 ranking, and whatever major bowl accepts them in late December.
4. Purdue (8-4, 6-3 B1G)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: 30-16 win vs. Indiana
Next: vs. Michigan
What a year for Purdue. Aidan O’Connell closed out the regular season masterfully in the Indiana victory, going 18-for-29 for 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The win marked the third straight victory for Purdue, which at one point this year was 5-4 and appeared to have no hope in the Big Ten West race.
O’Connell had a fantastic year, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. Those are incredible marks for a former deep backup. Whether or not the Boilermakers can beat Michigan remains to be seen, but they do already have two ranked upsets this year.
5. Illinois (8-4, 5-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: 41-3 win at Northwestern
Next: Perhaps the ReliaQuest Bowl (I have never heard of that before today)
After losing their grip on the Big Ten West, the Illini had to take their frustrations out on somebody, and that somebody was Northwestern. Sydney Brown forced three turnovers and returned two of them for touchdowns in a game that was all Illinois, all the way.
Considering its death grip on the division at the beginning of the month, losing three straight to open November was a gut punch for Illinois. However, 8-4 is still the team’s best record since 2007 and there is a lot to be proud of. Perhaps most noteworthy: the Illini keep the HAT for the second consecutive year.
6. Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: 23-16 win at Wisconsin
Next: The Duke’s Mayo Bowl baby!!!
Well, Athan Kaliakmanis should certainly be the starter next year. He proved it authoritatively by dominating Wisconsin’s defense to the tune of 319 yards and two touchdowns, both easily career highs for the freshman. With Tanner Morgan completing his final season, Minnesota may be in great hands for the future.
The Golden Gophers will now advance to their fourth bowl game in just six seasons under P.J. Fleck. Fleck is already Minnesota’s fourth-winningest coach all-time, and at just 42, likely has a long way to go at the school.
7. Maryland (7-5, 4-5 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: 37-0 win vs. Rutgers
Next: Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Taulia Tagovailoa had another very solid performance, throwing for over 300 yards for the fourth time this season. He’s been battling injury, but the junior has shown lots of ability, especially keeping pace with Ohio State a few weeks ago. He and Roman Hemby should make a great backfield next year.
It’s really hard to definitively say how this season could have gone better for Maryland. It competed with Michigan and Ohio State, won all three non-conference games and demolished Michigan State and Rutgers. The Terps may never be a top three team in their division, but being undoubtedly fourth is a nice consolation prize.
8. Iowa (7-5, 5-4 B1G)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: 24-17 loss vs. Nebraska
Next: Music City Bowl
It’s very crazy how quickly streaks can end. A four-game win streak this season. Seven straight wins over Nebraska since 2014. But thanks to just 57 total first half yards, Iowa ended quite a few streaks last Saturday.
The Hawkeyes definitely found some offensive consistency later in the year, but are clearly a defense-first unit without the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with actual contenders. Alex Padilla looked solid in relief, but quarterback play will still be a major question mark for Iowa next year (especially considering Padilla just entered the transfer portal).
9. Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5 B1G)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: 23-16 loss vs. Minnesota
Next: Pinstripe Bowl
Yikes. When you hold Mo Ibrahim to just 70 rushing yards and get eight tackles for loss, you should probably win a football game. Unfortunately, without Braelon Allen the Badgers were unable to muster up enough offensive firepower to fell Minnesota.
The hiring of Luke Fickell is a great move for this program. Fickell is one of the best coaches in the country and the work he did at Cincinnati should bode well for his career in Wisconsin. If he’s able to unlock a new dimension to two-time 1,000-yard rusher Allen, the Badgers could be scary next year.
10. Michigan State (5-7, 3-6 B1G)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: 35-16 loss at Penn State
Next: Considering a GoFundMe for a $95 million contract buyout
There’s no shame in losing to Penn State, especially when the game was fairly close until the fourth quarter. Payton Thorne had another solid game through the air at 229 passing yards, but he was about the lone bright spot for the team.
One has to wonder how badly the Spartans and Mel Tucker miss Kenneth Walker III, the All-American who led the squad to an upset of Michigan and a Peach Bowl victory last season. Walker III was the Offensive Rookie of the Month in the NFL for October, but in that same month his alma mater lost by double digits to Maryland, Ohio State and Michigan. Next season better have improvement, or the claims of Mel Tucker as a one-year wonder will have even more merit.
11. Nebraska (4-8, 3-6 B1G)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: 24-17 win at Iowa
Next: Building the statue of Matt Rhule
Casey Thompson may have cemented his name in Cornhusker lore forever with that performance. His connection with Trey Palmer, who had 165 yards for the game, was key in the Huskers’ stunning victory. It’s the first time Nebraska has held the Heroes Trophy since 2014, and the win means a lot to Husker fans.
Rhule has already turned around Temple and Baylor in the past few decades, and appears to be able and willing to do the same for Nebraska. As the win Saturday showed, this program has talent and rabid fan support. If it can get the right recruits and scheme, it might be competing for division titles soon.
12. Indiana (4-8, 2-7 B1G)
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: 30-16 loss vs. Purdue
Next: Celebrating the small victories
The rushing attack of the Hoosiers was actually incredibly successful, totaling 215 yards on Saturday. Unfortunately, the team couldn't string those yards together often enough to drive downfield consistently and converted just six of ITS 18 third downs.
Remember two years ago, when Indiana was a top 10 team in the nation? Neither did I, until I found out about it on its Wikipedia page. Since that season, the Hoosiers are 6-18 and 2-16 in conference play. On the bright side, at least they got multiple conference wins this year.
13. Rutgers (4-8, 1-8 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: 37-0 loss at Maryland
Next: Scheduling more games against Wagner
There is quite literally nothing good to say about Rutgers’ performance on Saturday. Seventy-two passing yards, 63 rushing yards, 1-for-13 on third downs. I feel sorry for anyone who had to watch that offense.
This season ended very poorly for the Scarlet Knights: after the Indiana victory, they dropped five straight, including multiple 30-point shutout losses. The team still hasn’t made a bowl since 2013, when it was still in the American Athletic Conference, and even Greg Schiano, the school’s all-time leader in wins, might not be able to fix things.
14. Northwestern (1-11, 1-8 B1G)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: 41-3 loss vs. Illinois
Next: Googling “How to overhaul coaching staff”
Goodness sakes, this team committed six turnovers against Illinois. That is a fantastically impossible number of turnovers, made worse by the fact that the Illini turned two of them into defensive touchdowns. Evan Hull was only able to garner 53 rushing yards, and when he’s not going superhuman, this team has almost no chance to win.
This was the ugliest season in a while for the Wildcats, and hopefully the firings Monday are only the beginning of what should be drastic changes. Pat Fitzgerald is a program legend and deserves to stay for a while longer, but if this team suffers through another losing seasons, then even bigger changes than coordinator firings may be necessary. However, Fitzgerald has never suffered three consecutive losing seasons, so he may be able to silence talk of more changes by getting back to his winning ways.