When it comes to Big Ten football, the conference is slowly starting to earn a little respect back from national media members. The conference will have three opportunities this weekend to continue adding to the love. Michigan State heads to South Bend to take on the Irish, Ohio State visits Oklahoma and Nebraska plays host to Oregon. While those three teams have a chance to improve the national perception, Northwestern looks to surprisingly avoid their third loss of the year after coming off a 10-win season in 2015. What do the power rankings look like with a potentially big shakeup coming this weekend?
14. Purdue (Last week: 13)
That was a short visit out of the bottom of the Big Ten for the Boilermakers. Though their initial win against Eastern Kentucky probably didn’t warrant them moving out of dead last in our rankings, the expectations for Darrell Hazell given some of the underrated talent on his team may have played a role in that. It’s back to reality now for Purdue after falling to Cincinnati 38-20, despite David Blough throwing for over 400 yards. They have a bye this week before taking on Nevada.
Tied 12. Rutgers (14)
The Scarlet Knights were trailing 14-0 against Howard. They then rattled off 52 straight points, sparked by Janarion Grant’s electrifying 84-yard punt return for a touchdown, to close out the Bison. He also had six rushes for 106 yards and two scores. He has firmly placed his name along William Likely and Jabrill Peppers for the most versatile player in the conference. Rutgers plays New Mexico this weekend.
Tied 12. Northwestern (10)
This is not how the Wildcats planned on starting their season. Though the loss to Western Michigan initially seemed overblown given the circumstances that closed the game and the fact the Broncos are probably underrated, the loss to Illinois State confirmed the majority of the opening impressions. Clayton Thorson was subpar and Justin Jackson couldn’t get it going on the ground before he missed most of the fourth quarter with an injury. A win against Duke could help Northwestern regain some momentum, but a loss would give them number three on the year. That would match Northwestern’s total losses from last season.
11. Illinois (11)
The Illini stay put despite losing to North Carolina 48-23. We didn’t know what to expect from Illinois in the first season of Lovie Smith, but it is clear this won’t be an overnight fix. The Tar Heels aren’t a terrible team, but it’s not like Illinois matched up against them on the basketball court. Ke’Shawn Vaughn looked pretty good once again as he went for 116 yards on 15 carries and could be enough to help Illinois pull off a few upsets down the road. They take on Western Michigan this weekend in a game that may ultimately clear up our current perception of Northwestern.
Tied 9. Maryland (12)
The Terrapins are admittedly a little high here. They looked better against Florida International than Indiana did, but we don’t have too much to go on this early in the year. D.J. Moore stole the show against the Golden Panthers as he pulled in six catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 21-yard pass to his quarterback Perry Hills at one point. Maryland is 2-0 as they stay in Florida to take on UCF this weekend.
Tied 9. Penn State (8)
It was the most anticipated game in conference play as the Nittany Lions and Pitt renewed their rivalry. Penn State dug themselves into a deep whole, trailing 28-7 early in the second quarter. The Nittany Lions fought back but never held the lead throughout the contest. Saquon Barkley continued doing what Saquon Barkley does, going for 85 yards and four touchdowns. It might not have been enough against Pitt, but it could be enough against Temple, who the Nittany Lions play this weekend.
8. Indiana (10)
The Hoosiers move up thanks in part to Penn State and Northwestern taking losses last Saturday. It obviously helps that they took care of business themselves, as they beat Ball State 30-20. The score looks closer than the game actually was, as Indiana tallied the first 30 points. Richard Lagow once again looked solid, as he is trying to fill the shoes of Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosiers continue hope to keep capitalizing on their weak non-conference schedule as they host Wake Forest after their bye week.
7. Minnesota (7)
The Golden Gophers beat up on Indiana State 58-28 on Saturday. Mitch Leidner looked very good, as he completed 20 of 30 passes for 295 yards and four scores, while Kobe McCrary took control on the ground. He had 17 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Another early bye week for the Big Ten, as Minnesota takes a week off before playing Colorado State on September 24th.
6. Nebraska (6)
The Huskers capitalized on six Wyoming turnovers as they pounded Cowboys 52-17. In the fourth quarter, Tommy Armstrong connected with Jordan Westerkamp for his 57th career touchdown pass, setting a Nebraska record. It’s looking like things could be clicking for what many people felt was the dark horse of the Big Ten West. We’ll see how serious they are about competing, as they get Oregon next.
Tied 4. Wisconsin (3)
The Badgers fall despite dominating Akron 54-10. Corey Clement had 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 attempts, while Bart Houston continued to show an upgraded passing attack from last season. The Badgers are undefeated in their last 36 non-conference home games and hope to extend their streak against Georgia State this Saturday.
Tied 4. Michigan State (3)
With Eastern Michigan backing out late (replaced by BYU in week five), the Spartans had a poorly placed bye week last Saturday. They now only have one game under their belt with seven new offensive starters as they get ready to travel to South Bend to take on the Irish. Was Michigan State keeping things vanilla against Furman like Dantonio tends to do before a big game, or were those struggles something to be legitimately concerned about? We’ll find out Saturday.
3. Iowa (4)
The Hawkeyes hopped MSU and Wisconsin even though they only beat Iowa State. Though Iowa was playing the Cyclones, they dominated a team 42-3 that had given them issues in the past, which may have played a part in their jump for the other voters taking part in our power rankings. They take on North Dakota State on Saturday in a game that would have been more interesting if it took place when the Bison had Carson Wentz.
2. Michigan (2)
The Wolverines stay put after picking apart UCF 51-14. The running game had issues getting going against the Knights, but Wilton Speight helped make up for those struggles, completing 25 of 37 attempts for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson all helped Speight control the air, as they combined for 281 of the 312 yards. Michigan wraps up a weak non-conference schedule against Colorado this weekend.
1. Ohio State (1)
The Buckeyes continued to roll through the early portion of their schedule, beating Tulsa 48-3. Like Nebraska, Ohio State forced their opposition into six turnovers. Two of those came within the last four minutes of the second quarter, as Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore both returned interceptions for touchdowns. Before that momentum swing, the Buckeyes were only beating the Golden Hurricane 6-3. They can’t afford a slow start like that this weekend as they take on the Oklahoma Sooners in what is the premier Big Ten contest this weekend.