Just when you think you know what’s going on in the Big Ten, the conference upends itself. Michigan handed Ryan Day his first conference loss, and Minnesota spoiled Wisconsin’s title hopes.
Here is our final installment of the 2021 Big Ten Power Rankings.
1. Michigan Wolverines, 11-1 (8-1)
Previous Ranking: 2
Complete and utter domination. That’s all you can say about Michigan’s performance in The Game on a snowy Saturday afternoon. The Wolverines dominated in all three phases of the game and proved once and for all to be the best team in the Big Ten. All the glory resides in Ann Arbor for at least the next four days.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes, 10-2 (8-1)
Previous Ranking: 1
It’s clear Ohio State is still an incredibly talented team. The Buckeye wide receiver group, as well as CJ Stroud, certainly did their part on Saturday. However, Michigan simply dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Ohio State’s inability to stop the run, specifically in short-yardage situations proved to be a fatal flaw. I don’t think anyone outside of Columbus will be feeling any sympathy for them.
3. Michigan State Spartans, 10-2 (7-2)
Previous Ranking: 3
Mel Tucker defeated James Franklin in the battle of the mega contract extensions on Saturday in snowy East Lansing. Given the way the college football landscape looks now, both schools appear fortunate to have locked up their coaches long-term. The Spartans reached 10 wins in a season which virtually no one expected them to even be a factor in the conference. Despite finishing third in the Big Ten East, this season has to be considered a major success.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes, 10-2 (7-2)
Previous Ranking: 5
It’s easy to forget Iowa was once No. 2 in the country earlier this season. Following the Hawkeyes’ rough patch in the middle, they figured it out and rose back to the top of the Big Ten West. Kirk Ferentz owes PJ Fleck a Christmas card as the Gopher’s surprise win over Wisconsin is the only reason why the Hawkeyes get to travel to Indianapolis. Michigan awaits with the Big Ten crown on the line.
5. Wisconsin Badgers, 8-4 (6-3)
Previous Ranking: 4
Wisconsin controlled its own destiny going into Saturday afternoon at Minnesota, and threw it all away. The Badger running game looked stunningly pedestrian, only rushing for 62 yards and no touchdowns. The Badgers have no one to blame but themselves.
6. Purdue Boilermakers, 8-4 (6-3)
Previous Ranking: 7
Purdue took care of business against a listless Indiana team, 44-7. In a year in which the Spoilermakers took down two top 10 teams and finished with eight wins, it will be fascinating to see what kind of bowl matchup they receive. Purdue has proven it play with just about anyone.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 8-4 (6-3)
Previous Ranking: 8
Minnesota was oh so close to the four-way tiebreaker we talked about last week! Purdue took care of business against Indiana and the Golden Gophers themselves stunned Wisconsin. The final piece of the puzzle for a Minnesota Big Ten West title was an Iowa loss. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards as Iowa took down Nebraska. PJ Fleck did an admirable job this year and already knows he has Mo Ibrahim and Tanner Morgan back next year. Is some momentum building?
8. Penn State Nittany Lions, 7-5 (4-5)
Previous Ranking: 6
It has to be a disappointing end to the regular season for James Franklin and Penn State. Going under .500 in conference play is certainly something new for the Nittany Lions. With that being said, this was always going to be a team that lived and died with Sean Clifford. Almost every game this season could be summed up by Clifford’s injury status. Penn State was unable to get it done in the season finale at Michigan State on Saturday.
9. Maryland Terrapins, 6-6 (3-6)
Previous Ranking: 9
Maryland is bowl eligible after beating Rutgers with a lot on the line (relatively speaking) for both programs. That’s about all there is to say about that game.
10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 5-7 (2-7)
Previous Ranking: 10
Rutgers’ late season collapse is complete after it failed to become bowl eligible at home against Maryland. It’s hard to believe this team was ranked at one point in time.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini, 5-7 (4-5)
Previous Ranking: 11
Illinois crushed Northwestern, 47-14, to finish the year 5-7. All things considered, this was a mildly successful first full season for Bret Bielema. The Fighting Illini proved they can run the ball and respond to adversity. I mocked Illinois when Bielema called out his players, but they responded to his criticism far better than I could have imagined. Keep an eye on when/if Illinois hits the transfer portal this offseason.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 3-9 (1-8)
Previous Ranking: 12
Yet again, heartbreak for the Cornhuskers. Logan Smothers performed admirably in Adrian Martinez’s place, but his back-breaking interception late the fourth quarter cost Nebraska the game. Now that their season is officially done, I can confidently say this is the best 3-9 team ever.
13. Indiana Hoosiers, 2-10 (0-9)
Previous Ranking: 13
For the first time all season, I was genuinely tempted to drop Indiana to dead-last in the Big Ten. The only reason I couldn’t pull the trigger was due to the main reason for their struggles: injuries. I have no doubt in my mind a healthy Indiana team beats a healthy Northwestern team. Countless injuries across the board doomed the Hoosiers from the start. Tom Allen has already taken a pay cut and fired his offensive coordinator, former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan. What’s next?
14. Northwestern Wildcats, 3-9 (1-8)
Previous Ranking: 14
Northwestern completed the most disappointing season in recent memory by getting blasted by Illinois. Pretty much anything that could have gone wrong this year has gone wrong. Better luck next year.