It only took 12 weeks, but it finally feels as though the conference power rankings have been settled, as not much changed from last week to this week. All that’s left to decide is who gets the top spot, and we’ll find out on Saturday in the Big House. For the rest of the pack, Week 12 separated the legitimate contenders from the pretenders across the board.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 10-1 (8-0)
Previous Ranking: 1
Seven touchdowns in their first seven possessions is all you really need to know about the Buckeye vs. Spartan clash on Saturday in Columbus. The Ohio State offense was quite literally unstoppable in the first half, and the defense shut down Kenneth Walker III like no one else has done all season. Ryan Day and company are a win over Michigan away from returning to Indianapolis and, likely, the College Football Playoff.
2. Michigan Wolverines, 10-1 (7-1)
Previous Ranking: 3
Michigan took care of business as expected on Saturday by defeating Maryland 59-18. The Wolverines looked solid and sound in all three phases of the game, a Jim Harbaugh special. The question now is whether being sound across the board is enough to beat the juggernaut that is Ohio State. For now, Wolverine fans can revel in the fact that the debate is now unequivocally over about who should be second in these rankings.
3. Michigan State Spartans, 9-2 (6-2)
Previous Ranking: 2
Mel Tucker must be wanting to sign his extension as soon as possible before the offer gets pulled. Michigan State put up undoubtedly its worst performance of the Mel Tucker era and looked uninspired throughout. We knew the secondary was a weakness thanks to Cade McNamara’s ability to carve it up a few weeks ago. This weekend proved it isn’t just a weakness, it’s a glaring hole that can doom the Spartans at a moment’s notice. Michigan State will look to bounce back next week against Penn State with a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl on the line.
4. Wisconsin Badgers, 8-3 (6-2)
Previous Ranking: 4
Like virtually everyone else in the conference, the Badgers struggled to put away a pesky Nebraska team before eventually winning by single-digits. Graham Mertz still wasn’t a game-changer, but at this point Wisconsin doesn’t need him to be. Braelon Allen has taken the team over by rushing for 228 yards and three touchdowns. The Badgers control their own destiny and have a chance to lock up the Big Ten West at Minnesota on Saturday. Due to their head-to-head win over Iowa, it’s simply win-and-you’re-in for Wisconsin.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes, 9-2 (6-2)
Previous Ranking: 5
Iowa looked like the superior team throughout the entire game against Illinois on Saturday. Yet the Fighting Illini jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead that had me questioning if an upset was in the cards. Alas, it was not as Iowa pulled it out, 33-23. The Hawkeyes have quietly won three games in a row following their back-to-back losses against Purdue and Wisconsin. While they’ll need a Wisconsin loss this weekend to reach Indianapolis, a 10-win season is still very much in play as they travel to Lincoln for their regular season finale.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions, 7-4 (4-4)
Previous Ranking: 6
No Sean Clifford, no problem for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions. Clifford started the game for Penn State, but got a off to a putrid 2-for-8 start for 23 yards. Whether he was 100% healthy is up for debate, but Franklin decided to pull Clifford for true freshman Christian Veilleux. All he managed to do was lead Penn State to a 28-0 victory while throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns. It will be fascinating to see who gets the start next week as the Nittany Lions face the Spartans with quite a bit on the line with regards to bowl placement.
7. Purdue Boilermakers, 7-4 (5-3)
Previous Ranking: 7
Purdue handled Northwestern fairly easily at Wrigley Field in Chicago after getting off to a slow start. Aidan O’Connell had another 400+ yard passing day while Milton Wright caught eight passes for 213 yards and three scores. O’Connell now only needs 100 yards to reach the 3,000-yard passing mark. I, for one, never would have guessed Purdue’s quarterback would have the third most passing yards in the Big Ten (behind only CJ Stroud and Taulia Tagovailoa).
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 7-4 (5-3)
Previous Ranking: 8
Minnesota had no trouble putting away Indiana on Saturday, but at this point nobody really does. More importantly, Minnesota is the key to causing chaos in the Big Ten West race this Saturday. Minnesota hosts Wisconsin on Saturday. If (and only if, to my knowledge) the Golden Gophers beat the Badgers, Iowa loses to Nebraska, and Purdue beats Indiana, there would be a four-way tie at the top of the West. The first way the four teams would be differentiated is via record vs. the other three teams. This would eliminate 1-2 Purdue and 1-2 Iowa, leaving 2-1 Wisconsin and 2-1 Minnesota alive. Due to Minnesota’s hypothetical head-to-head victory over Wisconsin, they would then head to Indianapolis.
Will all of this happen? Probably not. But how cool is it to know there is a chance for the Little Brown Jug to be played for at the same time as the Big Ten Championship!
9. Maryland Terrapins, 5-6 (2-6)
Previous Ranking: 9
Mike Locksley and Maryland could have kept it so much closer against Michigan if only they executed early in the first half. Untimely penalties and Tagovailoa air-mailing passes to at least three wide open receivers ultimately led to the Terrapins’ undoing. At this point, Maryland is what its record says it is: a scrappy, pass-happy team that beats the teams it’s supposed to but can’t beat anyone of substance. Luckily, up next is Rutgers with a shot at bowl eligibility on the line.
10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 5-6 (2-6)
Previous Ranking: 10
Things used to be so promising for Rutgers. It’s hard to believe this Rutgers team put a scare into Michigan back in September. Losers of six of their last eight, the Scarlet Knights now have one last shot at a bowl game with Maryland coming to town. Although with only six total points scored in their last three games combined, I struggle to see how the Scarlet Knights will be able to hang with the Maryland offense.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini, 4-7 (3-5)
Previous Ranking: 11
Illinois finally kissed bowl eligibility goodbye, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a successful season in Champaign. The Illini have wins on the road at both Penn State and Minnesota, and they also hung with Purdue, Maryland and Iowa. Lastly, I mocked them for losing to UTSA early in the season, but that take has aged very, very poorly due to the shocking success of the Roadrunners. All-in-all, Bret Bielema has something to build off of in year one.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 3-8 (1-7)
Previous Ranking: 12
At this point it’s becoming expected Nebraska will lose in close, heartbreaking fashion. The Cornhuskers hung in there against a Wisconsin team that has finally found its identity. At the end of the day, Nebraska just couldn’t stop the run. Last up is a matchup with their “rivals” in Iowa. Adrian Martinez will miss the game with a shoulder injury so there isn’t much optimism in Lincoln these days.
Another large gap
13. Indiana Hoosiers, 2-9 (0-8)
Previous Ranking: 13
Losers of now seven in a row, it’s hard to even judge this Indiana team due to how far down on the depth chart it is at many positions. The injury bug has hit this team hard. Even without injuries, the calamity of this 2021 season was inevitable for the Hoosiers. Tom Allen will have to pick this team up off the mat next year.
14. Northwestern Wildcats, 3-8 (1-7)
Previous Ranking: 14
Northwestern was competitive with Purdue for most of the first half at Wrigley on Saturday. However, Purdue eventually pulled away as it was the far superior team. The bottom of the power rankings has become a comfortable spot for the Wildcats this year with no change in sight.