We are two full weeks into the 2021 college football season and chaos has already ensued in the Big Ten. With Oregon’s stunning 35-28 win in the horseshoe, Ohio State appears vulnerable for the first time in years. Week Two also brought about a Michigan beatdown in the Big House over Washington and a resounding Iowa victory for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Were these results enough to shake up the hierarchy in the Big Ten?
1. Iowa Hawkeyes, 2-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 3
Am I overreacting to Iowa’s top-ten win over Iowa State in Ames? Probably. Will Ohio State come back with a vengeance and wipe the floor with the rest of the Big Ten as usual? Also probably. But for right now, it is indisputable what Iowa has accomplished on the field. With two victories over ranked teams already in their pocket and Ohio State not on the schedule, Iowa is sitting firmly in the driver's seat in the Big Ten West.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes, 1-1 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 1
Without their star defensive end, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon came into the Horseshoe and downed the Buckeyes. Ryan Day and company looked surprisingly vulnerable given the state of Ohio State football over the last decade. C.J. Stroud looks every bit the part of an all-conference quarterback, but the defense couldn’t make any stops when they needed to. It’s very possible this game was an aberration and the Buckeyes will still steamroll the Big Ten. However, there are cracks in the armor now that can and will be exploited come the meat of the conference schedule.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions, 2-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 2
Penn State did was it was supposed to do and handled Ball State at home 44-13. A larger test awaits next week as Penn State hosts No. 22 Auburn on Saturday night. We didn’t learn much about the Nittany Lions this week as it was par for the course. Through two weeks, I am unconvinced that Sean Clifford and the offense can beat elite teams, despite the victory over Wisconsin.
4. Wisconsin Badgers, 1-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 4
Similar to Penn State, Wisconsin handled its business against a very overmatched Eastern Michigan team, 34-7. No longer a doormat in the MAC, Eastern Michigan could have been a trap game for the Badgers before their game with Notre Dame coming up. However, Paul Chryst and company took care of business. Wisconsin has a bye in Week Three, followed by back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Michigan in what could be a season-defining stretch. With a loss to Penn State already on the books and Iowa rolling, there is no room for error if they want to stay in the Big Ten title conversation.
5. Michigan Wolverines, 2-0 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 5
In what was supposed to be a marquee game against a tough opponent, Michigan over Washington both figuratively and literally. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum have proven themselves to be the best running back tandem in the conference. However, Michigan’s strength of schedule has crumbled, at no fault of their own. The Wolverines continue their homestand with Northern Illinois and Rutgers before traveling to Camp Randall in what should be appointment viewing.
6. Indiana Hoosiers, 1-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 6
Indiana bounced back from their season-opening loss to Iowa by hammering the Idaho Vandals 56-14 as expected. The Hoosiers still have a long way to go to claw back into contention in the Big Ten, but they have a massive opportunity this coming week to repair their national reputation. Indiana hosts eighth-ranked Cincinnati at noon on Saturday. This is a Cincinnati team that is currently ranked higher than Ohio State. The Hoosiers will be the underdog but have the talent and coaching to pull off the upset and completely change the course of their season.
7. Michigan State Spartans, 2-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 7
Continuing the trend of Big Ten teams handling their business against inferior opponents, Michigan State defeated Youngstown State 42-14. Mel Tucker’s offense continues to look formidable, albeit against inferior defenses. No. 24 Miami awaits in Week Three which should be a good litmus test for the Spartans.
8. Maryland Terrapins, 2-0 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 8
Mike Locksley’s offense continued to roll and the Terrapins remained unbeaten by destroying Howard. The schedule doesn’t get much more difficult as Maryland travels to Illinois before hosting Kent State. Expect Maryland to be 4-0 and unranked before they travel to Iowa.
9. Northwestern Wildcats, 1-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 10
I flipped Northwestern and Minnesota in the rankings this week, but it had more to do with Minnesota’s struggles than it did Northwestern’s successes. The Wildcats beat Indiana State but only scored 24 points in the process. Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats have to be the biggest disappointment in the conference early into the season.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 1-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 9
Minnesota narrowly escaped Miami of Ohio, 31-26. After putting up a solid showing against Ohio State, I had faith in the trajectory of PJ Fleck and the Golden Gophers. Their thoroughly uninspiring effort in Week Two allowed quite a bit of doubt to creep into my mind on just how good Minnesota is.
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 2-0 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 11
It shows how well Greg Schiano has done at Rutgers that I was disappointed by a Rutgers win because I expected them to beat Syracuse by more. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Orange 17-7 in what was a sloppy game all the way around. Rutgers hosts Delaware next week before traveling to Ann Arbor in their first true test.
12. Purdue Boilermakers, 2-0 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 12
Purdue got the first crack at the Randy Edsall-less UConn Huskies and took care of business, 49-0. It’s tough to glean much from this game as UConn hardly qualifies as a division-one opponent nowadays. However, Jack Plummer was 16-20 for 245 yards and four touchdowns. The Boilermakers have some early momentum here and will need all of it that they can get before visiting Notre Dame in South Bend this weekend.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini, 1-2 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 13
Illinois is becoming more and more grateful that they were able to pull out a victory over Nebraska in Week Zero. It’s the only thing keeping them out of the power rankings cellar. The Fighting Illini were smacked by the Virginia Cavaliers, 42-14. It’s tough to win any game when you give up 423 yards and five touchdowns through the air alone. Illinois will always have Week Zero though.
14. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 14
Don’t look now, but Nebraska has a winning record. The Cornhuskers defeated Buffalo 28-3. Up next: a former rival in the Oklahoma Sooners. If that game stays within four touchdowns I will be surprised. But hey, anything can happen in college football.