Big Ten power rankings: Where is Penn State after escaping with a win?

November 9, 2018

Every week here at the Centre Daily Times, we’ll release our Big Ten power rankings.

We had a ton of movers and shakers this weekend -- including four teams that moved multiple spots -- so let’s get straight to it. How far did Penn State rise? How much did Ohio State fall? Take a look.

1. Michigan Wolverines (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten)

Game result: W, at Michigan State, 21-7

Movement from last poll: Up (1 spot)

This is a different team from the early part of the season. The offense has taken a big step forward -- both RB Karan Higdon and QB Shea Patterson are having solid seasons -- and the defense is elite. Against Michigan State, the Wolverines limited the opposition to 0.7 yards per rush and 7-of-28 passing. This is the best team in the conference -- and Ohio State didn’t have to lose for that to be true.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-1)

Game result: W, vs. Maryland, 23-0

Movement from last poll: Up (1 spot)

We’ve been high on the Hawkeyes for a while now and, after another convincing win, this seems like the right place to put them. Their last three Big Ten games have all been 17-plus-point victories, and their only loss came against Wisconsin -- and, even then, the Badgers needed a fluky special-teams play to cement the win. This is one of the most exciting offenses Kirk Ferentz has put together.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1, 4-1)

Game result: L, at Purdue, 49-20

Movement from last poll: Down (2 spots)

Is Ohio State just a pretender? The Buckeyes have a week to gather themselves here with the off week and, right now, that’s not an easy question to answer. Purdue played how many expected OSU to play. The Boilermakers didn’t just slip by with a narrow upset; they dominated. How Urban Meyer and Co. respond in the next two weeks will determine the fate of their season.

4. Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 3-1)

Game result: W, vs. Illinois, 49-20

Movement from last poll: None

Let’s be honest: Wisconsin hasn’t done enough to earn this spot yet. Outside of Iowa, the Badgers’ victories have come against some awful teams: Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico and Western Kentucky. RB Jonathan Taylor and the running game may be the best in the Big Ten, but the passing game is anemic and the defense isn’t nearly as potent as past seasons. (Wisconsin has the nation’s No. 54 total defense.) There’s a clear drop-off after the Big Ten’s No. 3 team.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2)

Game result: W, at Indiana, 33-28

Movement from last poll: Up (1 spot)

Penn State is good. Not great. The last nine quarters have been incredibly underwhelming for Nittany Lions fans, and there’s not just one weakness on this team to shore up. Special teams has made some puzzling plays, the defense has gone stretches where it more resembles a sieve, and the offensive play-calling and four-minute offense have been straight-up bad. The ceiling for this team is the Rose Bowl; the floor is ... not pretty.

6. Purdue Boilermakers (4-3, 3-1)

Game result: W, vs. Ohio State, 49-20

Movement from last poll: Up (3 spots)

Let’s just remind you what we wrote last week, “We say this every week, but Purdue has ‘trap game’ written all over it for opponents.” Jeff Brohm is a miracle worker, and all of a sudden the Boilermakers are in the thick of the Big Ten West race. Brohm’s crew has a difficult stretch of games ahead -- Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin -- but it’s shown it’s not far behind, maybe at all, with those teams. Purdue is, by far, the biggest surprise of the conference.

7. Michigan State Spartans (4-3, 2-2)

Game result: L, vs. Michigan, 21-7

Movement from last poll: Down (2 spots)

Sparty hasn’t been an easy team to figure out this season. It seemed to get its footing after the upset win over Penn State, but the offense against Michigan this past weekend was pathetic. RB LJ Scott had 10 carries for 25 yards, and QB Brian Lewerke went 5-of-25 passing for 66 yards. Is Michigan State a good team, or was the win over Penn State just an aberration? We should find out Saturday against Purdue.

8. Maryland Terrapins (4-3, 2-2)

Game result: L, vs. Iowa, 23-0

Movement from last poll: Down (1 spot)

Two of Maryland’s three losses came against Michigan and Iowa, our top-two teams in the power rankings. And the Terps opened the season with a win over No. 6 Texas. This is a one-dimensional offense, but there’s still a lot to like on this team. As usual, however, how the rushing offense goes is how this team goes.

9. Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 4-1)

Game results: W, at School-from-New-Jersey, 18-15

Movement from last poll: Down (1 spot)

Usually, there’s a twinge of guilt when we drop a team after winning -- but not in this case. The Wildcats barely held on against the worst team in the Power Five, and Purdue obviously deserved to leap-frog it after beating Ohio State. Pat Fitzgerald’s program might be the hardest to figure out this season. One week, it’s taking care of Sparty in convincing fashion and, the next two weeks, wins against Scott Frost and Chris Ash aren’t coming easy.

10. Indiana Hoosiers (4-4, 1-4)

Game result: L, vs. Penn State, 33-28

Movement from last poll: None

Unfortunately, Indiana doesn’t get a lot of style points for not losing as bad as most analysts thought. It put up a good fight against Penn State and hung in against Ohio State for a half, but the talent disparity here is obvious. Tom Allen is a good coach, and the Hoosiers should be better next year. For now? This team is right on the verge of going to a bowl; it’ll likely finish with five or six wins.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-6, 1-4)

Game result: W, vs. Minnesota, 53-28

Movement from last poll: Up (2 spots)

Don’t look too much into the Huskers’ rise up a few spots. The fact is that the bottom of the Big Ten is just really bad. This season will wind up a disappointment no matter what happens next, but at least fans are starting to see some progress. Some.

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-4, 0-4)

Game results: L, at Nebraska, 53-28

Movement from last poll: Down (1 spot)

The Gophers are 0-4 in Big Ten play. Here are their losses: 42-13 to Maryland, 48-31 to Iowa, 30-14 to Ohio State and 53-28 to Nebraska. Doesn’t that say enough? This team spent its first three games picking on Group of Five teams, and it hasn’t been able to make a game of conference competition. It’ll play Indiana and Illinois next, so that’s as good a chance as any to pad the season record.

13. Illinois Fighting Illini (3-4, 1-3)

Game result: L, at Wisconsin, 49-20

Movement from last poll: Down (1 spot)

There’s good news and bad news for Illinois. The good news? It has the easy stretch of its conference season coming up, with opponents including Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern. The bad news? Illinois is so bad, that favorable slate probably won’t matter. Against its top opponents in Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin, the defense allowed an average of 53 points per game.

14. School-that-doesn’t-deserve-to-be-named (1-7, 0-5)

Game result: L, vs. Northwestern, 18-15

Movement from last poll: None

Four weeks ago, we decided that New Jersey’s Big Ten school didn’t deserve to be named until it won another game. So, yeah, this might be a while. We’ve been to high school plays that cost more than some tickets from this school on the secondary market. And, sadly, that’s not a joke. (The program’s existence in this conference, however, is.)

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