From Thursday to Sunday, all 14 teams in the Big Ten opened up their seasons, some in close games and some in blowouts. Every team has played, and there is one thing for sure: before the conference expands next year, there will be one more year of exciting football. Does this mean parity? Maybe, and time will tell. Now that every team is 1-0 or 0-1, let’s dive into the newest Big Ten Football power rankings.
Last Ranking: 1
Last Result: 30-3 win vs East Carolina
Next: vs UNLV
Don’t expect Michigan to fall from the No. 1 spot for a while — its next three games are UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers all at home, and the three should be cakewalks. The Wolverines are one of the most talented teams in the country led by one of the best backfields in the country in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. If both are healthy, Michigan is a championship contender, and that’s obvious.
What stood out most from Michigan this weekend was its constant support for coach Jim Harbaugh, who is serving a three-game suspension for NCAA recruiting violations during the COVID-19 period. Though the suspension was self-imposed by the school, players still are advocating for Harbaugh’s return. The coach will not be on the sidelines for two more games, and though it won’t make much of a difference, players care.
2. Penn State
Last Ranking: 2
Last Result: 38-15 win vs West Virginia
Next: vs Delaware
James Franklin’s Nittany Lions rolled over West Virginia like they should have, but what stood out most was the defense. Penn State held a West Virginia offense that averaged 30.2 points per game last season to 15, and though the Mountaineers did experience turnover, that’s a statement to the defense. Manny Diaz was one of the best coordinators in college football last year, and the Penn State defense looks to be one of the top in the country again.
On the other side of the ball, Drew Allar performed well in his first start and should continue to get positive snaps in. With him, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen and a talented wide receiver group, it’s hard to find a weakness. Can this be the year Penn State knocks off Michigan or Ohio State? It might be.
3. Ohio State
Last Ranking: 3
Last Result: 23-3 win at Indiana
Next: vs Youngstown State
Yes, Ohio State won and yes, Ohio State won pretty easily, but the biggest roster concern here is the quarterback. This is the first time in his Buckeye coaching career that Ryan Day does not have one of the top quarterbacks in the country, as Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud both got Heisman recognition. Now, he has Kyle McCord and Devin Brown, who do not flash the same abilities.
Does this mean McCord, who is the starter for now, can’t be elite? No. He has all the tools to be, including two of the best wide receivers in the nation in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. If McCord, or Brown, figures it out and the Buckeyes have an elite quarterback once again, they’ll leap up these rankings.
Last Ranking: 4
Last Result: 38-17 win vs Buffalo
Next: at Washington State
Even with all the buzz around new transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin rolled Buffalo in typical Wisconsin fashion: both Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi rushed for over 140 yards — 141 and 157 respectively — to take down the Buffaloes. Mordecai did not have a great game, but it didn’t matter. Luke Fickell and Phil Longo should figure it out in this system.
Last year, Wisconsin rolled in its season opener, then folded at Camp Randall Stadium against Washington State. Now, they play the Cougars in Pullman with a chance for revenge.
Last Ranking: 5
Last Result: 24-14 win against Utah State
Next: at Iowa State
What stands out most for Iowa this year has to be quarterback Cade McNamara. With the experience he has, including leading Michigan to the College Football Playoff in his first year as a starter, the Iowa offense should be more high scoring. For Brian Ferentz’s sake, though, can it score over 25 points per game? It depends on McNamara’s health and production.
Iowa’s defense is the same as it always is: toward the top of the Big Ten and scary for most teams. It will be a test against Iowa State this weekend, but the Hawkeyes are up for it.
Last Ranking: 6
Last Result: 38-6 win vs Towson
Next: vs Charlotte
It’s hard to judge the Terrapins at this point in time, and is going to be hard to judge them with their upcoming schedule; Maryland should run through Charlotte and Virginia due to the talent gap on the offensive side of the ball. Sept. 23 against Michigan State, though, is where it gets interesting.
For Maryland to find real success this year, it all comes down to Taulia Tagovailoa. He lost a major weapon in Dontay Demus, but still has some in Corey Dyches, DeShaun Jones and others. Roman Hemby is a good running back and the Terps have an offense if Tagovailoa stays healthy.
Last Ranking: 7
Last Result: 13-10 win vs Nebraska
Next: vs Eastern Michigan
Minnesota deserved to be moved down after its performance on Thursday night against Nebraska. Two things contributed to them not falling: their elite defense and other Big Ten teams below them.
The Gopher defense, which was the sixth-best scoring defense in college football last year, was able to hold Matt Rhule’s new Nebraska offense to only 10 points. Jeff Sims was barely a threat in the air, and he will always be on the ground, but the Minnesota defense can be stingy again.
The main question with Minnesota is Athan Kaliakmanis and whether he can be a good, or even serviceable quarterback. While they did get the win on Thursday night, there were times where Kaliakmanis could not make the throws necessary to win big games. Yes, the defense bailed the Gopher offense out against Nebraska, but that won’t happen against better offenses. They see Drake Maye and UNC in two weeks — do you think that offense is scoring only 10 points?
Last Ranking: 8
Last Result: 30-28 win vs Toledo
Next: at Kansas
Illinois barely escaped against Toledo, and for a defense that ranked second in the Big Ten last year, it lacked personality on Saturday night. While the Illini did lose key pieces such as Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown and others, Brett Bielema has some work to do on this end of the ball. Luke Altmyer played fine at quarterback, but in a conference with high-scoring offenses (Penn State comes to Champaign next week), he needs to be better.
The Fighting Illini have an interesting challenge this week, going to play Kansas on the road. Jalon Daniels, who became one of the more intriguing quarterbacks in the nation last year, is set to return after missing Week One. Daniels is the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and passed for 544 yards last time he played in a game. Illinois has a test.
9. Michigan State
Last Ranking: 11
Last Result: 31-7 win vs Central Michigan
Next: vs Richmond
Finally, some movement! Mel Tucker and Michigan State move into the top 10 after battering Central Michigan in East Lansing on Friday night. What stood out most for the Spartans was the defense, which held Central Michigan to under 100 yards passing.
Richmond should be easy, but the real test is next week when No. 8 Washington and Heisman hopeful Michael Penix comes to town. Penix, who just lit up Boise State, is supposed to lead one of the best air attacks in the nation, and the Spartan defense might be able to slow him down.
Last Ranking: 13
Last Result: 24-7 win vs Northwestern
Next: vs Temple
Just like Michigan State, Rutgers moves into the top ten after a resounding win against Northwestern. While Northwestern is not a top team, Rutgers dominated for 60 minutes. The key for the Scarlet Knights this season is, and always will be, Gavin Wimsatt: he is the highest Rutgers football recruit ever and finally has the chance to start an entire season. Wimsatt needs to find the consistency necessary and cut down on turnovers for RU to be competitive once again.
The defense, in particular the pass rush, could be scary with Aaron Lewis. Without Wimsatt producing, though, none of it matters.
Last Ranking: 9
Last Result: 39-35 loss vs Fresno State
Next: at Virginia Tech
Purdue, fresh off a Big Ten Championship appearance last season, had its defense lay an egg against Fresno State in the season opener. Similar to last year, the high-flying offense was not supported by the defense at all in a loss. This killed them with Aidan O’Connell at the helm, and it will with Hudson Card too.
It doesn’t get easier for the Boilermakers either, who now have to go to Lane Stadium to play Virginia Tech. There would have been less pressure if they were 1-0 and not 0-1.
Last Ranking: 10
Last Result: 13-10 loss at Minnesota
Next: at Colorado
Even with a new head coach, Nebraska lost in typical Nebraska fashion. Being defeated by a last-second field goal has to be a similar dagger for the Huskers and their fans. While the defense performed valiantly, the offense let them down. Jeff Sims needs to be better next week. The Colorado defense they’ll oppose this week might be worse too, as Minnesota has one of the top defenses in the nation.
The problem? The offense they are going to face is much better. Nebraska has to go head-to-head with Coach Prime, Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter in their first home game in Boulder. That place is going to be electric, and the Buffaloes can light it up.
Last Ranking: 12
Last Result: 23-3 loss vs Ohio State
Next: vs Indiana State
Indiana lost by 20 on Saturday against Ohio State, and the game was closer than a lot thought it should be. But, the Hoosiers still move down on account that they could not score. It should change this week against Indiana State.
Last Ranking: 14
Last Result: 24-7 loss at Rutgers
Next: vs UTEP
In a game where the Wildcats should have kept it close, they were beaten by a Rutgers team that does not have THAT much more talent. The killer was the two 16-play drives by the Scarlet Knights where Northwestern could not make a play. Soon enough, they were down 14-0 and it only got worse.
The question is: can the Wildcats be competitive? If Ben Bryant is solid, yes. A.J. Henning and Cam Johnson both look like viable weapons. The secondary appeared good after the first drive. The biggest issue is the trenches: Northwestern did not pressure Wimsatt enough, and the offensive line was in shambles for a lot of the game.
Can the ‘Cats turn it around like many in that locker room believe they can? It starts on Saturday against UTEP.