Last week didn’t deliver a thrilling slate of games but what it lacked in nail-biters, it delivered a much clearer picture of the conference as a whole. Michigan continued their dominant ways as the front runner while Ohio State’s flogging of Nebraska was reminiscent of their evisceration of Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten Championship game that propelled them to the first College Football Playoff and eventually the Championship.
Down in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions have put any fluke talk to rest and Wisconsin is back in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten West. Separation is growing between the haves and the have-nots while Michigan State’s shocking tailspin shows no signs of slowing down.
Like always, individual rankings can be found in the graphic at the bottom of the page. Enjoy.
(Indicates 1st place votes) [Avg Rank]
1. Michigan (7) [1.0] Record: 9-0 (6-0) Previous Rank: 1
If Wilton Speight remains as good as he looked against the Terrapins, you’re looking at the best team. In the nation. Granted, the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world will bring a much tougher defensive challenge but Speight might be the only remaining piece of this Wolverine team that can’t be called great. Even if he does lead the Big Ten in passer rating. It’s Michigan’s electric defense that gets all the praise (for good reason) but they probably have the most underrated offense in the country. The Wolverines are third in points per game right behind offensive juggernauts Louisville and Washington. They have elite weapons at every skill position and only need Speight to finish his progression by consistently taking advantage of them. Michigan may have had their toughest games at home but don’t pretend the PAC 12 and ACC play better defense than the Big Ten. This is a dangerously complete team that epitomizes the makeup of a championship contender.
2. Ohio State [2.0] Record: 8-1 (5-1) Previous Rank: 2
J.T. Barrett had a great phone call last week and he took that conversation to heart. Barrett passed the ball more and ran the ball less while leading the Buckeyes to 62 POINTS (!!!) against a top ten Cornhusker team. This was a coming of age game for Ohio State much like that Big Ten championship game two years ago and they’re figuring it out at the right time. The Wolverines and Buckeyes are still on a collision course for this decade’s biggest edition of The Game which will likely determine the Big Ten’s playoff representative. Next stop is in Maryland against a Terrapin team coming off an embarrassing 59-3 loss to those Wolverines.
3. Wisconsin [3.0] Record: 7-2 (4-2) Previous Rank: 3
Wisconsin just decided they weren’t going to let Northwestern have the ball. They held the Wildcats to just seven points with less than twenty minutes of offense. The Badgers recipe is not difficult to figure out but it is incredibly difficult to overcome. A defense allowing the third least points in the nation suffocates you while Corey Clement smashes the ball down your throat on the other side of the ball. Alex Hornibrook manages the offense and limits mistakes and Wisconsin wins. Rinse and repeat. They’ll do that all the way to the Big Ten Championship game and before you anoint the Big Ten East winner a playoff spot, keep in mind this deadly Badger would love to avenge one of their two blemishes on the B1G stage.
4. Penn State [4.0] Record: 7-2 (5-1) Previous Rank: 5
OK, OK, we see you. Saquon, you can take a breather now. They’re dead. You’re still not going to get the love you deserve but believe me, NFL teams will notice and you will be rewarded. These Nittany Lions are worlds better than they were a month ago. James Franklin went from the hot seat to coach of the year candidate in the same amount of time it took Saquon Barkley to sprint to the end zone for his 13th touchdown this season. If Penn State had gotten it together a little earlier in the season, they’d be a possible playoff spoiler but even now they’re a threat to crash the New Year’s Six.
5. Nebraska [5.1] Record: 7-2 (4-2) Previous Rank: 4
Welp, that was fun while it lasted. Nebraska went from undefeated but untested to two losses and floundering in the Big Ten West race all in the span of two weeks. The loss to Wisconsin hurt but the shucking they received at the hands of the Buckeyes was nauseating. Tommy Armstrong looked lost for the second straight week and the Cornhuskers were stripped in totality of any effectiveness in all facets. If they can recover, winning out is doable but they’ll need Wisconsin to drop a game along the way (less likely) to find themselves in the Big Ten Championship game.
6. Iowa [6.3] Record: 5-4 (3-3) Previous Rank: 6
They didn’t do that thing I said they needed to do and it was indeed a long night in Happy Valley. If you’re quiet, you can still hear the ankle bones of Hawkeye defenders cracking as they try to bring Saquon Barkley down. The offense was just as listless in another disappointing effort for an Iowa team that came into the season with high hopes. Nine games in, they’re still looking to become bowl eligible. Akrum Wadley had a solid game, though! #optimism
7. Minnesota [7.0] Record: 7-2 (4-2) Previous Rank: 8
Minnesota is a very quiet 7-2 albeit deservingly so. They’re just not that good. Yay, you beat the trainwreck that is the Boilermakers. Too bad you couldn’t actually put them away, at home no less. Mitch Leidner should NEVER exceed twenty passes in a game you’re trying to win. 31 points allowed? To whom? A high school pick-up team, that’s whom. Better bring a better effort to Cornhusker territory against a Nebraska team reeling from two straight losses.
8. Indiana [8.1] Record: 5-4 (3-3) Previous Rank: 9
As soon as I praise the Hoosiers for doing the thing, they stop doing the thing and barely beat Rutgers. DO THE THING! Why are you scrapping an offense that worked brilliantly? Stop throwing every play. Do mix up your quarterbacks because it actually works. Indiana earned a crucial win but the margin for error on the path to bowl eligibility remains razor thin. Two games against rolling Penn State and then Michigan don’t look like W’s which makes the season finale against Purdue a must win. Please run the ball.
9. Northwestern [8.3] Record: 4-5 (3-3) Previous Rank: 7
I see you, Austin Carr. Win or lose, the Wildcats talented receiver balls out. Unfortunately, the rest of Northwestern’s offense had very little answers for Wisconsin’s defensive wall. Hanging tough for a half is respectable but there were no surprises brewing for the final stanza. The Wildcats finish with three very winnable games to hopefully salvage a season that couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.
10. Maryland [10.0] Record: 5-4 (2-4) Previous Rank: 10
The Terrapins started a difficult stretch in the worst way, getting manhandled in Ann Arbor. It wasn’t surprising although it was disheartening. Maryland moved the ball at times, particularly on the perimeter but couldn’t turn those yards into points. They avoided the shut out but things won’t get any easier as they welcome the Buckeyes to town this week. They’re just one win from a bowl game in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the helm but their best chance to get it comes on the final weekend against the Scarlet Knights.
11. Illinois [11.1] Record: 3-6 (2-4) Previous Rank: 12
The Fighting Illini didn’t have the ball for long against the Spartans but it didn’t prevent them from racking up 31 points and coming up with a confidence boosting win at home. Neither team has much of anything to play for but continued improvement should be expected under Lovie Smith and though Michigan State is drowning, it’s still a good win for this Illinois squad.
12. Michigan State [12.3] Record: 2-7 (0-6) Previous Rank: 11
Every week, people ask if this is rock bottom for Michigan State. It’s hard to imagine there’s any further to fall but until the Spartans show some life, we just don’t know. They find new ways to lose and at this point, it appears there’s just one winnable game left on the schedule. This week is a toilet bowl of sorts in East Lansing when the Spartans host equally bad 2-7 Rutgers who are also winless in conference play. The only bright spot in this game is someone has to win.
13. Purdue [12.6] Record: 3-6 (1-5) Previous Rank: 13
Do I have to come up with new material to write about the Boilermakers every week? They’re bad, OK? Let’s be real. This season means nothing. There’s nothing to play for and Purdue is basically auditioning for the coaches they’ll try to woo in the offseason. They played Minnesota tough on the road and David Blough showed some more promise at quarterback so it’s not all armageddon but Purdue isn’t likely to be relevant in the near future and I’m running out of ways to make fun of them.
14. Rutgers [14.0] Record: 2-7 (0-6) Previous Rank: 14
They tried. Chris Ash’s kids might not be ready to do much more than that but they didn’t embarrass themselves and that’s probably the most you can ask for right now. GG.