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Big Ten Football Power Rankings: Week 6

Sean Clifford’s injury looms large for Penn State.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Week 6 in the Big Ten featured the first top-five matchup in recent history that didn’t include either Ohio State or Michigan. Iowa ended up victorious in a bout with Penn State, though the Nittany Lions looked firmly in control prior to Sean Clifford’s injury. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State also picked up big wins that could foreshadow and wild run in the Big Ten East. Buckle up, folks. The season is just beginning.

1. Iowa Hawkeyes, 6-0 (3-0)

Previous Ranking: 2

Iowa picked up a massive win Saturday afternoon and remains unbeaten on the season. With four of its five hardest games on the schedule in the rear-view mirror, the Hawkeyes will not enter the Big Ten West stretch of the schedule that doesn’t appear to be too difficult on paper. The West is easily theirs for the taking now. If I’m an Iowa fan, I’m starting to look at flights to Indianapolis in early December right about now.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes, 5-1 (3-0)

Previous Ranking: 3

Maryland hoped to play the spoiler on Saturday against Ohio State but came up woefully short. The Buckeye offense continues to be a juggernaut as C.J. Stroud threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns. I’ve stated this many times, but I wholeheartedly believe Ohio State is the most talented team in the Big Ten and should still be the favorite to win the conference. Until someone in the conference knocks them off, you can’t convince me otherwise.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions, 5-1 (2-1)

Previous Ranking: 1

James Franklin and company appeared to be humming along, well on their way to a top five victory over Iowa. Then Sean Clifford left the game with a rib injury and all hell broke loose. The Nittany Lion offense was unable to muster much of anything without their starting quarterback, and the Hawkeyes took advantage. Make no mistake about it, this is a good Penn State football team. That said, they have no room for error from here on out in a Big Ten East that consists of three undefeated teams (in conference) in Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

4. Michigan Wolverines, 6-0 (3-0)

Previous Ranking: 4

Michigan got a much-needed victory over Nebraska late Saturday night in a game that likely won’t be remembered, but was pivotal to the 2021 season. Despite being 3-3 with some bad losses, Nebraska showed up to this game and gave it its best punch. The Wolverines showed some resiliency and fight that many Michigan fans haven’t seen in years. Many large questions still loom, but at the end of the day, this is a 6-0 ballclub.

5. Michigan State Spartans, 6-0 (3-0)

Previous Ranking: 5

It took everything in me to not leapfrog the Spartans over the Wolverines in this week's power rankings. Michigan State easily dispatched Rutgers, 31-13. This is a Rutgers team that hung around with Michigan just a few short weeks ago. We knew Kenneth Walker III was the real deal, but the Payton Thorne to Jalen Nailor connection has been exploding out of nowhere. This is as solid of a Spartan team as they come. The in-state rivalry game at the end of the month will tell us everything we need to know in regards to the power rankings in this section.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 3-4 (1-3)

Previous Ranking: 7

I don’t like moving teams up in the rankings when they lose. Similar to last week, however, no one else deserved to be here at sixth. Nebraska just might be the best 3-4 team in history, as it has played its hearts out and are an overall solid team. The book on the Cornhuskers this season has been untimely mistakes that have doomed them in key situations. That happened again on Saturday night as Adrian Martinez fumbled away a chance at a game-winning drive. They’ll turn the corner eventually, but the question is whether Scott Frost will be there to see it or not.

7. Maryland Terrapins, 4-2 (1-2)

Previous Ranking: 6

Just when you thought Maryland was turning a corner, they get thumped by Ohio State. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough to play back-to-back games against Iowa and Ohio State, but I wanted to see a better fight than 51-14 and 66-17. The question now is what exactly is this Terrapins team? They’ve beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat and been crushed by those they’re supposed to lose to. Just how good are they?

8. Wisconsin Badgers, 2-3 (1-2)

Previous Ranking: 8

Graham Mertz returned but continued to be uninspiring in a 24-0 victory over Illinois. At this point, we know exactly what this Badger team is — a stout defense in the box with some weaknesses in the secondary. On offense, they want to establish the run despite having virtually no passing game whatsoever. They will likely never bottom out in our power rankings, but it’s tough to see them ever getting above sixth this year.

9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 3-3 (0-3)

Previous Ranking: 9

Rutgers completed their schedule gauntlet against Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State by going 0-3 and scoring exactly 13 points in all three contests. That’s not exactly a recipe for success. The wheels have fallen off a bit in recent weeks, but Greg Schiano still has an opportunity to put them back on against Northwestern and Illinois. This still could be a bowl team which would be a great success for this Rutgers program.

10. Indiana Hoosiers, 2-3 (0-2)

Previous Ranking: 10

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 3-2 (1-1)

Previous Ranking: 11

12. Purdue Boilermakers, 3-2 (1-1)

Previous Ranking: 12

13. Northwestern Wildcats, 2-3 (0-2)

Previous Ranking: 13

Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern were all conveniently on byes this week. Seeing as the four of them were 10th through 13th consecutively in our power rankings, I didn’t see the need to re-rank them. Will any of these teams make a move to get up to sixth? It’s very doable with a few solid outings.

14. Illinois Fighting Illini, 2-5 (1-3)

Previous Ranking: 14

What can you say about the Fighting Illini at this point? They were completely run over by Wisconsin, 24-0, and looked listless on offense. Bowl eligibility is all but assuredly gone as they’d have to win four of their last five games on a schedule that includes trips to Iowa and Penn State. The win over Nebraska is looking more and more like a fluke than anything else at this point. Just remember, it’s a rebuilding year.