Crucial victory cements Ohio State’s spot atop Big Ten power rankings
1. OHIO STATE (5-0, 2-0)
Previous: 1. Last week: W 27-26 at Penn State.
The No. 4 Buckeyes, as they have so many times before, found a way to get out of a close game with a big-time win. Ohio State knocked off Penn State on the road and took control of the Big Ten East in the process. Now Urban Meyer’s team has this through October: Indiana and Minnesota at home, at Purdue and Nebraska at home. Can OSU keep the pedal down?
2. MICHIGAN (4-1, 2-0)
Previous: 3. Last week: W 20-17 at Northwestern.
The No. 15 Wolverines fell behind 17-0 against Northwestern and then found just enough to get it done. Just win, baby. There’s really no such thing as a bad road league win. The Wolverines have several critical games remaining. After a home game against Maryland, four of UM’s final six are Wisconsin, at Michigan State, Penn State and at Ohio State.
3. PENN STATE (4-1, 1-1)
Previous: 2. Last week: L 27-26 vs. Ohio State.
What a killer loss for the No. 11 Nittany Lions. Even though their playoff hopes are still alive, they need help now to make it to Indianapolis. Trace McSorley played out of his mind. Speaking of out-of-mind: What on earth was that fourth-and-5 play call with the game on the line? PSU has another tough task after a bye week, hosting No. 20 Michigan State on Oct. 13.
4. WISCONSIN (3-1, 1-0)
Previous: 4. Last week: No game.
The No. 16 Badgers stay right where they were coming off a bye week. It’s an odd thing to say, but the key for UW is not to overlook Nebraska before a road trip to Ann Arbor. Alex Hornibrook is second in the Big Ten and Jonathan Taylor averages a nation-best 157 rushing yards per game. And yet, Paul Chryst’s team hasn’t really hit its full offensive stride. Does that spell trouble against the Huskers?
5. MICHIGAN STATE (3-1, 1-0)
Previous: 5. Last week: W 31-20 vs. Central Michigan.
The No. 20 Spartans started slow against CMU but scored 31 points in the middle quarters to pull away. A tough break, literally, that talented receiver Cody White broke his hand against the Chippewas. Even though it’s a crossover game, Saturday’s matchup in East Lansing between MSU and Northwestern feels like a bit of a measuring stick for both sides.
6. IOWA (3-1, 0-1)
Previous: 6. Last week: No game.
The Hawkeyes got a bye week after losing at home to Wisconsin and get back on the horse with a trip up I-35 to Minneapolis. A pair of 3-1 teams that feel like they’re in different places. Kirk Ferentz’s team had 404 yards of offense and led the Badgers until the final couple minutes. Now, can they build on that and make a run in the West?
7. MARYLAND (3-1, 1-0)
Previous: 7. Last week: No game.
A tall task awaits the Terrapins after their bye week in a trip to Michigan. Maryland’s shown some offensive explosiveness, but that will be put to a stiff test against the Wolverines. The Terps have a really fun backfield with Ty Johnson and Anthony McFarland averaging 7.5 and 10.8 yards per carry, respectively, and Tayon Fleet-Davis providing some zing, too.
8. INDIANA (4-1, 1-1)
Previous: 8. Last week: W 24-17 at Rutgers.
The Hoosiers are another mid-tier team off to a really nice start but facing a monster this weekend. For IU, it’s a trip to Columbus. Good luck. Indiana’s done well to pick up four early wins, but their next three weeks are Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State. It’s reality-check time in Bloomington.
9. PURDUE (2-3, 1-1)
Previous: 11. Last week: W 42-28 at Nebraska.
Jeff Brohm’s team won in Lincoln for the first time ever and now has consecutive wins after that dreadful start. David Blough is playing really good football under center, and D.J. Knox and Rondale Moore make a nice skill-position starting point. The Boilermakers are off this weekend and try to make it a three-game winning streak Oct. 13 at Illinois.
10. MINNESOTA (3-1, 0-1)
Previous: 10. Last week: No game.
The Gophers host Iowa in what is always a fun, rivalry-type game, especially for a pair of fan bases that do not like each other. It would be a huge win for second-year head coach P.J. Fleck if Minnesota can pull it off, especially with an Oct. 6 trip to Ohio State waiting.
11. NORTHWESTERN (1-3, 1-1)
Previous: 9. Last week: L 20-17 vs. Michigan.
Northwestern got off to such a great start against the Wolverines and all Pat Fitzgerald’s team has to show for it is a good scare. Now they go to Michigan State to try to avoid a 1-4 start before hosting Nebraska on Oct. 13. That would rank right up there among the most disappointing starts in the conference. Without talented sophomore Jeremy Larkin, Northwestern rushed 34 times for 28 yards against UM.
12. ILLINOIS (2-2, 0-1)
Previous: 12. Last week: No game.
The Illini were off and return to action with a tremendous (OK, that might be stretching it) matchup at Rutgers. And, hey, Illinois is a real, legitimate road favorite. By 3.5 points. The Lovie Smith hype is real.
13. NEBRASKA (0-4, 0-2)
Previous: 13. Last week: L 42-28 vs. Purdue.
It’s not hard to believe Scott Frost when he says his team has things moving in the right direction. It is hard to find a bunch of wins on the Huskers’ remaining schedule. Putting a scare into — or, heck, beating — Wisconsin would be a great start. If NU can just keep the train moving in the right direction, then Northwestern, Minnesota and Bethune-Cookman looks like a stretch to try to get hot.
14. RUTGERS (1-4, 0-2)
Previous: 14. Last week: L 24-17 vs. Indiana.
Rutgers holds in the final spot after losing to Indiana at home. Chris Ash’s team is struggling, checking in last in scoring offense (16.4 points per game) and 13th in scoring defense (36.0). A win against Illinois combined with a Nebraska loss at Wisconsin gets the Scarlet Knights out of the cellar of these rankings. How’s that for drama?