It’s officially the month of October, and that means a couple of things. The temperature will start to dip slightly, the leaves may start to turn, and of course, Big Ten conference play will kick into high gear. Two weeks ago, there were five inter-conference games. Last week, there were five more. And there will be at least five Big Ten-Big Ten battles every week until the end of November. We’ve made it, college football fans. To celebrate, here is the latest edition of Big Ten football power rankings.
1. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: W 45-7 at Nebraska
Next: at Minnesota
After a (to put it lightly) very light schedule for the Wolverines to start the year, they finally went on the road. A Big Ten opponent with legitimate bowl aspirations and a raucous home crowd awaited the twice-reigning conference champions. And it went badly — for the home team. Michigan simply took Nebraska out behind the woodshed and pummeled them for 45 minutes before letting off the gas in the fourth quarter. The drive chart for the first half reads as such: Michigan touchdown, Nebraska interception, Michigan touchdown, Nebraska turnover on downs, Michigan touchdown, Nebraska punt, Michigan punt, Nebraska punt, Michigan touchdown, end of half. First-half yardage total: 247-116. Michigan isn’t just the best team in the conference, they might be the best team in the country. Of course, we won't know for sure how good they are until November when Penn State and Ohio State await.
2. No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: Bye week
Next: vs. Maryland
I’m not sure what the Buckeyes did over the bye week other than take turns glaring at effigies of Lou Holtz and Jim Harbaugh, but I’m not sure it matters all that much. Holtz dropped the Buckeyes four spots in his own poll, but the AP voters have determined that the Buckeyes can keep their top 4 spot after defeating a tough, gritty Notre Dame team on the road. That’s the first Ohio State game in a long while where they went up against a CFP contender and had the guts and toughness to pull out a win. Kyle McCord is probably the worst quarterback Ohio State has had as a starter in the past half-decade, but that may end up being a blessing in disguise. Ryan Day said after that victory, which could be tenure-defining for him, that the Buckeyes are a tough team. How tough? We’ll find out a little bit more this weekend when Maryland comes to town, and Penn State looms three weeks from now.
3. No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: W 41-13 at Northwestern
Next: vs. UMass (on October 14)
Speaking of the Nittany Lions, they had an interesting game against Northwestern on Saturday. A 10-10 half-time score turned into a dominant second half and a late backdoor cover after backup QB Beau Primula threw a 30-yard touchdown pass on a fake quarterback run. Against the Wildcats, the Nittany Lions looked...average? A team that averages 1.4 yards a carry should probably not have a conference title contender on the ropes before coming up just short on a pair of fourth-and-shorts from inside their own territory. The 28-point scoreline hides the fact that Penn State had its struggles — six penalties for 45 yards, 8-of-17 on third down, and an inexcusable fumble on the opening kick. Against Northwestern, mistakes like that don’t matter all that much. Against Ohio State, they will.
4. Maryland Terrapins (5-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: W 44-17 vs. Indiana
Next: at No. 4 Ohio State
RANK THE TERRAPINS, YOU COWARDS! I’m speaking directly to voters for the AP Poll here. There is no feasible explanation for a 5-0 Maryland team that has outscored its last three opponents (all Power 5 teams) by a combined total of 77 points to be ranked below an LSU team that probably couldn’t stop me from scoring on a post route. The Terps are legit. Did you know that Taulia Tagovailoa has thrown for 1,464 yards this year already, the best mark in the conference and ahead of Heisman contenders like Bo Nix, Cameron Ward and Quinn Ewers? The offense is also picking up 5.1 yards a pop on the ground, behind only Wisconsin and Nebraska in the Big Ten. Also, they’re quietly 38th in total defense this year and have forced 12 turnovers, tied for third-best in the country. According to ESPN, the line for their contest against Ohio State sits at -19.5 in favor of the Buckeyes. I am not a betting man, but it would not shock me at all to see the Terrapins hang close, and maybe even pull a season-shifting upset.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: W 26-16 vs. Michigan State
Next: vs. Purdue
This Hawkeye team is designed to upset me. They are currently second-to-last in total offense in the ENTIRE COUNTRY, at just over 245 yards per game. Their passing yardage mark of 127 per game is ahead of five teams: Eastern Michigan, Nebraska, ULM, and two service academies. Even their rushing attack is bottom 30 in the country. AND YET! After surviving Michigan State (and a season-ending injury to quarterback Cade McNamara), the Hawkeyes and backup quarterback Deacon Hill control their own destiny in the Big Ten West. Ferentz-style mud ball has never been stronger: the only defensive category the Hawkeyes are top 10 in is net punting! This team is an affront to good football and quite possibly to whatever deity you may worship, and they are still probably going to win the Big Ten West. The best team left on their schedule is Wisconsin, and if they squeak by the Badgers in some 10-6 horror film, the Hawkeyes are in the driver’s seat to once again get plastered by the Big Ten East champion in January. Why can’t they switch divisions with Maryland?
6. Wisconsin Badgers (3-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: Bye week
Next: vs. Rutgers
Hey...Badgers? How’s that newfangled, more wide-open offense going? What’s that? You’ve totaled two passing touchdowns on the year, a mark even Iowa has doubled? Tanner Mordecai’s passing efficiency is 95th in the country? You scored just 22 points against Washington State, a team that gave up 24 to noted offensive powerhouse Colorado State? Oh well, at least your next game is against Rutgers, their defense is probably going to be easy to break. (Checks large flashing sign that reads: Rutgers — 10th nationally in total defense) Uh...good luck!
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-1, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: W 52-3 vs Wagner
Next: at Wisconsin
Speaking of the Scarlet Knights, the most surprising Big Ten team so far this year has given up more than 17 points just once, to Michigan back on September 23. The vibes are really good in Piscataway right now, thanks to their stifling defense and an aggressive offensive system that’s helped them go 8-for-11 on fourth down this year. And oh yeah, Kyle Monangai is outrushing both Blake Corum and Braelon Allen this year, by a fairly wide margin. With 5.4 yards per carry (10th most among all running backs with at least 80 carries, Monangai has been delivering consistently great performances. If he can pull off another one in Madison this weekend, then the Scarlet Knights will certainly be moving up this list.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: L 45-7 vs. No. 2 Michigan
Next: at Illinois
I know, I know. How can a team get absolutely blasted by 38 at home...and move up in the power rankings? It’s simple: the team ahead of them absolutely crapped the bed (we’ll get to them in a second). Nebraska resident Heinrich Haarberg now leads the team in passing and rushing after only three starts, and most importantly, he’s turned the ball over just once. In Haarberg, Matt Rhule seems to have his guy for the foreseeable future, which is already a major success for the program. The Cornhuskers’ next four games are against teams that sit lower than them on these rankings. If they’re able to go 3-1, all that’s needed is one upset somewhere else for Rhule and company to go bowling in his maiden voyage at the school.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-2, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: W 35-24 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Next: vs. No. 2 Michigan
Well, the losing streak is over, at least. After a loss to North Carolina (no shame there) and a blown 21-point second-half lead at the hands of Northwestern (definitely some shame there), the Golden Gophers are back in the win column after a somewhat close game. The result makes more sense when considering that freshman back Darius Taylor (who still leads the conference in rushing) missed the contest with injury, but giving up 349 yards to a Sun Belt team is still slightly concerning, especially when your quarterback has thrown for over 200 yards just once in his collegiate career. And considering the Golden Gophers have to welcome Michigan, a top-five team in total defense, to town this week, PJ Fleck better hope whatever was used to heal Taylor’s leg also gave him superpowers because Minnesota isn’t getting win number four otherwise.
10. Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: L 41-13 vs. No. 6 Penn State
Next: vs. Howard
Another team moving up one spot after a home loss to a top-10 team? Absolutely! The Wildcats made Penn State look really average for over a half, and if not for a few more inches on a few plays in the third quarter, they may have been able to keep that up in the second half as well. At this point, the worry is Ben Bryant. He’s been on fire in recent weeks, leading the Minnesota comeback and then playing on roughly the same level as Penn State’s Drew Allar, but his shoulder injury in the second half is tough to deal with for the Wildcats. Brendan Sullivan proved his rushing ability but also threw an ugly interception, but seems to be the de facto starter if Bryant is not recovered by Saturday. Assuming the Wildcats beat Howard, they’ve got about four more games they could probably win if things break right for them. A bowl bid in David Braun’s first season as a head coach is very much in play.
11. Purdue Boilermakers (2-3, 1-1 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: W 44-19 vs Illinois
Next: at Iowa
Where in the world was this in September? After some ridiculously poor defensive performances over the previous two weeks (over 375 yards given up against both Syracuse and Purdue), the Boilermakers’ defense woke up, stifling the Illini and holding them to just 2-of-14 on third downs. It was also the best game of Hudson Card’s Purdue career, as he threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions. Running back Tyrone Tracy Jr. also had a career day with 112 rushing yards, the first 100-yard rushing game the jack-of-all-trades player achieved since high school. Now what team would be bad enough to give up that kind of performance to a below-average team?
12. Ill-inois Fighting Ill-ini (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: L 44-19 at Purdue
Next: vs. Nebraska
Good gracious. This is the first performance the “Fighting” Illini have had this year that’s been absolutely inexcusable. An 11-point loss to Kansas and a 17-point loss to Penn State? Sure, those are reasonable. The FAU game was a little closer than it should have been, but surely Illinois figured something out. Well, whatever they figured out, they need to un-figure it out. Giving up 44 points to a Purdue team that hadn't scored over 24 since the 2nd of September is a borderline criminal offense, and it happened in a rivalry game! This was also the first time all season that Purdue held an opponent under 24 points. Everything went wrong for Illinois, but at least they have a chance to bounce back. Maryland, Wisconsin, and Iowa are the only teams on their remaining schedule with records of .500 or better. Can the Illini handle the other teams on that schedule? That remains to be seen.
13. Michigan State Spartans (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: L 26-16 at Iowa
Next: at Rutgers (on October 14)
All things considered, Michigan State did pretty well for themselves on Saturday. In the aftermath of the Mel Tucker firing on Wednesday, the Spartans looked like they belonged on the same field as the Hawkeyes, who needed a fourth-quarter rally to escape with a victory. The Spartans outgained Iowa by over 100 yards and held the Hawkeyes to just 2-for-13 on third downs. However, losing the turnover battle 4-2 and giving up a punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter proved fatal to any hopes of an early-season Big Ten victory. The Spartans are a scrappy team with a lot of fight, but it’ll get worse before it gets better. Rutgers and Michigan are next up on the docket after a much-needed bye week.
14. Indiana Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2 B1G)
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: L 44-17 vs Maryland
Next: at No. 2 Michigan
It’s been a less than ideal season for the Hoosiers, who fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell over the weekend after a 17-point showing at home against Maryland. The Hoosiers are bottom 30 in the nation in total offense (334.2 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.8 points per game). The defense certainly isn’t awful — in fact, at 65th, it’s basically exactly average nationally in terms of yardage allowed — but the offense simply can’t score against power conference teams. And who’s up next on the schedule? Why, it’s a road trip to Michigan and a home contest with Rutgers. Both of those teams are top 10 in total defense, and give up an average of 21 points per game — combined. If it’s possible for a team to score points in the negatives over a two-week span, we might see the Hoosiers pull it off.