Now that felt like classic Big Ten football. With snowfall scattered throughout Saturday’s slate and less than optimal conditions, teams were forced to slug it out and protect the ball like the games of yesteryear. Buckeye fans were experiencing panicked Deja Vu at the hands of mother nature and a pesky Spartan team they were expected to punish heavily. This time, the Buckeyes escaped making The Game a potential play-in game for the playoff. Their friends in Ann Arbor will certainly be ready as soon as they finish making snow angels in Michigan Stadium.
While chalk ruled the day, this upcoming weekend threatens to blow up the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff with it. A Michigan win on Saturday would certainly simplify things (the committee has their fingers crossed), but expect plenty of drama to cap the Big Ten’s regular season with more possibilities than I can count.
Like always, individual rankings can be found in the graphic at the bottom of the page. Enjoy.
(Indicates 1st place votes) [Avg Rank]
1. Ohio State(6) [1.1] Record: 10-1 (7-1) Previous Rank: 1
It’s never easy, is it? When the Buckeyes are favored big over the Spartans, Michigan State always seems to have the equalizer of all equalizers, mother nature, on their side. Ohio State, for their part, seems to struggle when the going gets tough. J.T. Barrett was miserable through the air and relied on his legs to the tune of 24 carries to keep the offense going. That’s unlikely to be a viable path to success when TTUN comes to visit this week with a possible playoff berth on the line. This rendition of The Game is easily the biggest since 2006 when both entered undefeated. Expect it to deliver on the hype.
2. Michigan (1) [2.1] Record: 10-1 (7-1) Previous Rank: 2
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the field is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Don’t let John O’Korn’s frightening performance in the Ann Arbor cold get you down Wolverines. The only thing scarier than O’Korn’s pocket presence is that terrifying Michigan defense. And that’s why, regardless who is taking snaps under center, the Wolverines will be right there at the end. De’Veon Smith had one of his best games, smashing through the Hoosier defense despite shaky blocking up front, an effort that would be greatly appreciated this Saturday in Columbus. 2016’s edition of The Game promises to deliver the best of both teams, but expect each defense to set the tone early. After that? Your guess is as good as any.
3. Wisconsin [2.7] Record: 9-2 (6-2) Previous Rank: 3
The Badger’s playoff dreams are still intact after a worry-free trip to Boilermaker country. Corey Clement did his thing and T.J. Watt ripped a pass away from David Blough and took it to the promised land, something his brother, J.J. Watt, never did in college. Wisconsin wraps up the regular season against Minnesota and barring an unexpected collapse, will find themselves in the Big Ten championship game playing for a possible playoff spot.
4. Penn State [4.0] Record: 9-2 (7-1) Previous Rank: 4
Penn State earned their first shutout of the year, blanking hapless Rutgers. The Nittany Lions were as dominant as you can be, out-gaining the Scarlet Knights 549 yards to 87. After having to settle for a few field goals early, Penn State settled in and did whatever they wanted on both sides of the ball. Which should be the case against a borderline high school team. They’ll welcome Michigan State on high alert after watching the Spartans come ever so close to upsetting the Buckeyes last week. The Nittany Lions will be pulling for those Buckeyes when they take on Michigan this week. Penn State win + Ohio State win = Penn State Big Ten East champ
5. Nebraska [5.0] Record: 9-2 (6-2) Previous Rank: 5
Nebraska was without Tommy Armstrong but it was business as usual against Maryland. Ryker Fyfe threw for a touchdown and managed the game well without many mistakes while Terrell Newby churned through the Terrapins defense for three touchdowns. It’s improbable but a win in Iowa City, a difficult task on its own, coupled with a surprising Badgers loss would crown Nebraska in the Big Ten West.
6. Iowa [6.3] Record: 7-4 (5-3) Previous Rank: 6
In a discouraging trend, C.J. Beathard was, once again, ineffective but flawless defense and a worthy ground game powered the Hawkeyes over Illinois. In Iowa’s first shut out since 2010, the Hawkeyes struggled to put points on the board in the first half before running the offense through the legs of LeShun Daniels Jr. in the second. He made the most of his opportunity, piling up 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in relief of Akrum Wadley who had 82 yards and a touchdown of his own. The Cornhuskers visit next in an important game for both teams as Iowa tries to finish a nice turnaround after a much worse start to the season than expected.
7. Minnesota [7.1] Record: 8-3 (5-3) Previous Rank: 7
Minnesota is 8-3 after a strong defensive effort against Northwestern but they might be the least talked about team in the Big Ten. Mitch Leidner threw for his first passing touchdown, seemingly in years, and another on the ground while the Golden Gopher defense led the way, limiting the Wildcats to just 12 points. They’re under the radar for good reason (lackadaisical performance) but that will change in a hurry if they pull off a shocking upset against Wisconsin this week.
8. Indiana [8.0] Record: 5-6 (3-5) Previous Rank: 9
The Hoosiers couldn’t do anything on offense against a punishing Wolverine defense but they more than hung with Michigan until the third quarter. Leading 7-3 after halftime, Indiana just couldn’t hold on in Ann Arbor or stop the bowling ball of De’Veon Smith. Michigan scored 17 in the third quarter and never looked back, not that they could, in whiteout conditions during the fourth quarter. Indiana finds themselves in need of a win for bowl eligibility and Purdue is likely just what the doctor ordered.
9. Northwestern [8.6] Record: 5-6 (4-4) Previous Rank: 8
Northwestern’s resurgence finally came to an end in Minnesota where the Wildcats couldn’t get on the board until the second half. They won’t get anywhere near the ten wins they had last season but Northwestern can become bowl eligible with a win over bottom-feeder Illinois this week. It would help salvage a season that derailed unexpectedly early.
10. Maryland [10.0] Record: 5-6 (2-6) Previous Rank: 10
Even with Perry Hills, the Terrapins probably wouldn’t have fared much better against Nebraska, but without him they had little chance. D.J. Moore had a nice game at receiver for Maryland but that was about the extent of their highlights in a 28-7 loss. Fortunately, a visit from Rutgers should land the Terrapins a bowl game in D.J. Durkin’s first season despite an awful record in Big Ten play.
11. Michigan State [11.1] Record: 3-8 (1-7) Previous Rank: 11
The Spartans definitely know how to get up for big games. They didn’t look like a three win team on Saturday but it’s hard to decide whether that’s a positive going forward or an indictment of the coaching staff’s inability to have the team prepared every week. What is clear; Mark Dantonio has had a highly questionable season. Yet another close loss is frustrating when Michigan State had a real chance to win the game if not for some mind boggling coaching decisions. FEED L.J. SCOTT! LET HIM CARRY YOU.
12. Illinois [12.0] Record: 3-8 (2-6) Previous Rank: 12
Wes Lunt returned under center for the Illini but struggled mightily against the Hawkeyes defense. He wasn’t alone, even bellcow Kendrick Foster couldn’t get anything going while the offense was completely shut down. The defense had no answers for Iowa’s power run game but it’s all about the future for Lovie Smith’s team. Recruits will come for his NFL pedigree, though a total rebuild takes time.
13. Purdue [12.9] Record: 3-8 (1-7) Previous Rank: 13
I’m not sure what’s more difficult, the poor fans suffering through three hours of Purdue “football” each week or trying to figure out new and creative ways to talk about how bad the Boilermakers are. There’s only so many ways to say you’re an FCS team in a Big Ten body.
14. Rutgers [14.0] Record: 2-9 (0-8) Previous Rank: 14
If Purdue is playing at an FCS level, what does that say about Rutgers? *shudders* After getting shut out for the fourth time this season, let’s say glorified high school team? But a good high school team, I promise! The Scarlet Knights are a stain on the Big Ten and they don’t have the history of a school like Purdue to lessen the blow. Go home Rutgers, you’re bad.