Much like the College Football Playoff Committee, I don’t believe in doing rankings before any meaningful games have been played. Unlike them, this committee of one is far too impatient to wait any longer. In fact, I did a preliminary conference ranking last week. It turned out to be a fruitful exercise with a whopping total of zero teams moving. Conference play is well underway as evidenced by the country’s best atmosphere in Happy Valley a couple weeks ago and the Spartans shocking (to some) home loss against the suddenly dangerous Wildcats. I’ll do my best not to James Franklin my way through these teams.
Important: These are Power Rankings NOT standings. Best team on a neutral field right this second. Full stop. Teams can and WILL be ranked behind teams they’ve beaten. Any given Saturday, right?
1. Ohio State Record: 6-0 (3-0) Previous Rank: N/A State: Status Quo
They’re the most talented team in the Big Ten and they’ve already logged two wins away from home over top 25 teams. They silenced the white noise in (much less) Happy Valley, overcoming a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit in the process. Dwayne Haskins elevates the offense higher than it ever was under J.T. Barrett and the Big Ten road very much runs through Columbus. They aren’t without weakness, however, with a more vulnerable defense than year’s past. They could use the return of Nick Bosa but it’s unclear if he will play for the Buckeyes again this season – or ever.
2. Michigan Record: 5-1 (3-0) Previous Rank: N/A State: Better than yesterday and the day before that…
They survived in Evanston. It won’t always be pretty but this Wolverine squad avoided the road trip letdown their 2016 counterpart couldn’t. Nebraska’s ineptitude might’ve lulled Michigan to a sleepwalk but an early Wildcat storm certainly woke them up. While the trip to Evanston wasn’t what many expected, shutting out the Northwestern offense for almost three quarters and recovering from a 17 point deficit to escape unscathed is commendable in its own right. The defense is arguably the best in the country and Michigan believes (at least internally) in their new-look offense led by Shea Patterson. They responded by hammering Maryland behind Patterson’s best game in a Michigan uniform. Now the real tests begin during a “prove it” three-game stretch starting with Wisconsin on Saturday.
3. Penn State Record: 4-1 (1-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: Licking their wounds
Oof. That fourth down play call deserves its own place all alone at the bottom of the Big Ten barrel. I’m not spending the next 2500 words explaining how awful that atrocity of a finish in Happy Valley was though. Penn State barely survived Appalachian State but ravaged the rest of their tune-up schedule with ease. The Nittany Lion defense has performed admirably given the turnover from last season. Trace McSorley, while still being an average passer, is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country by virtue of his excellent decision making and vastly underrated legs. This is a good team. James Franklin let them down in their biggest moment. After a week off to get over their collapse, they need to regain their footing at home against a suddenly toothless Michigan State before they put their season on the line in Ann Arbor in a few weeks. Here’s to keeping the ball in the hands of your best player for those season-defining moments, OK?
4. Wisconsin Record: 4-1 (2-0) Previous Rank: N/A State: Treading Water
They’re better than their AP ranking but the distance between the Badgers and the hump they can’t get over remains the same. Quarterback. Oh, things were supposed to be different this season. This was the year Wisconsin’s quarterback broke from the game manager mold that’s stuck with the position since Russel Wilson made a brief stop in Madison. A difference maker at the position could catapult this team to the playoff. Alex Hornibrook just isn’t that guy. Against BYU he could only muster 190 yards on 28 attempts without a touchdown. He threw a costly pick. The ground game eclipsed the 200-yard mark but it wasn’t enough and Wisconsin suffered an early, devastating loss before their real tests even begin. A mauling offensive line full of NFL talent and a defense that doesn’t make many mistakes will carry Wisconsin to another good season. Familiar deficiencies under center will once again hold them back from a great season. This week in Ann Arbor will tell more than my words ever could.
5. Michigan State Record: 3-2 (1-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: On the edge of the cliff
I’ve been told his spot is high. Maybe it’s just me. I said Michigan State was overrated before the season. Now that they’ve vastly underperformed, could the Spartans be underrated? They’re not a conference contender but I assure you they’re better than they’ve played. I think. Probably. They’re going to lose the next two games to teams that are flat out better. How they perform and fight in those games will determine whether D’Antoni’s team is a middling team that had a rough start or a true bottom feeder. I’m still a believer in the former.
(Editors Note: The misspelling is intentional.)
6. Iowa Record: 4-1 (1-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: Harvesting
The loss to Wisconsin will sting eternal when Hawkeye fans look back. The Badgers were on the ropes and down at Kinnick with a minute to play. Iowa just couldn’t close and against a soft schedule, that may very well keep them out of Indy at the close of conference play. This team should win nine, maybe ten games but it will ring hollow when watching Wisconsin represent the Big Ten West again.
7. Northwestern Record: 2-3 (2-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: Healthier and confident
Pat Fitzgerald’s squad is much better than people think. A slow start to the season hindered by a quarterback returning from a torn ACL had the Wildcats written off in September. The loss of running back Jeremy Larkin just piled on. They still have an uphill battle for a bowl bid but things have quickly changed in the past two weeks. The loss to Akron is the lone real disappointment but the otherwise harmless Zips have been known to put a scare into a Big Ten team here and there. It wasn’t long ago Michigan needed a goal-line stand to avoid the same fate in Ann Arbor. That very talented team from Ann Arbor, Northwestern just had on the ropes for four quarters. The Wildcats proved that was no fluke by taking down that other school in Michigan IN East Lansing. They have a vastly underrated secondary in addition to All-Big Ten candidates in Paddy Fisher (LB) and Joe Gaziano (DL). Clayton Thorson (now fully healthy) is the most accurate passer in the conference with a clean pocket. I’m talking about precision ball placement in small windows. If you sleep on this team, you will lose. Just ask Michigan State.
8. Maryland Record: 3-2 (1-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: Still unknown
That surprising win over Texas looks better with each passing week. It also looks… flukier with each passing week. With a tumultuous offseason and their head coach on leave, it’s no surprise the Terrapins have been up and down. They’ve mostly taken care of business but lost to an underwhelming Temple team and didn’t look competitive in Ann Arbor last week. Sandwiched between those disappointments was a pounding of Minnesota. The only concrete sentiment I’ve gathered is that Ty Johnson is good. Really good. As to where they really stand on a weekly basis, your guess is as good as mine.
9. Indiana Record: 4-2 (1-2) Previous Rank: N/A State: Spunky
It’s fitting that Maryland precedes the truly clustered bottom portion of the Big Ten. You can order these next four teams any way you’d like, I won’t complain. If there’s one thing the Hoosiers are good at, it’s giving Buckeye fans anxiety issues for multiple quarters – final score be dammed. They still don’t play much defense and probably won’t finish off any good teams but they’ll scare plenty along the way to fighting for a still up in the air bowl bid.
10. Purdue Record: 2-3 (1-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: Rebounding
Their season profiles similar to Northwestern, but against a weaker slate. That narrow loss to those Wildcats doesn’t look as awful but there’s no sugarcoating an inexplicable failure against Eastern Michigan. The last three weeks have provided a breath of hope with a valiant effort against Missouri followed by convincing wins over (then ranked) Boston College and Nebraska. Brohm’s team isn’t likely to reach back to back bowl games but there’s no reason to panic yet. Unless another school (looking at you Louisville) lures him away after the season. Then just quit. Turn in your Big Ten card at the door.
11. Illinois Record: 3-2 (1-1) Previous Rank: N/A State: Taking what’s there
Illinois is basically Minnesota except they’ve looked better in their losses and Lovie Smith might be the human being least like P.J. Fleck on the planet. Falling a tad short against USF looks commendable and for the fleetest of seconds, they looked like they could play with Penn State. If you don’t look at the final score and you squint really hard, you can imagine a planet where the Fighting Illini make a bowl. That planet probably isn’t Earth but hey, better than recent years have been.
12. Minnesota Record: 3-2 (0-2) Previous Rank: N/A State: Rowing Slowly
The Rowin’ Gophers breezed through nonconference play before running into the wrong Terrapin hood. If it weren’t for those meddling turnovers, they might’ve had a shot against Iowa last week. Good enough to beat the bad teams, probably not good enough to beat anyone else. Yawn. Wake me up in year five of the P.J. Fleck era. If he’s still around of course.
13. Nebraska Record: 0-5 (0-3) Previous Rank: N/A State: LOL
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA SCOTT FROST SUCKS HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
14. Rutgers Record: 1-5 (0-3) Previous Rank: N/A State: FCS Playoff Contender
That’s being generous.