If you thought Nebraska would hang with Oklahoma through 85 percent of the game, that makes one of us. With Ohio State struggling again and Michigan State handily defeating Miami on the road, the Big Ten continues to be unpredictable at best. Let’s take a look at this week’s power rankings.
1. Penn State Nittany Lions, 3-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 3
Sean Clifford and Penn State took care of business during their annual white-out game, this year vs. Auburn. With an elite secondary, an offense firing on all cylinders, and two top-25 matchups in the rear-view mirror, Penn State has proven to be every bit a conference contender. Until Ohio State shows that it has a capable defense, I’m putting Penn State in poll position in the Big Ten East.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes, 3-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 1
Iowa didn’t necessarily look bad on Saturday against Kent State, but they certainly didn’t do anything to impress. Tyler Goodson appears to be the real deal at running back. However, as always, Iowa will need to prove they can pass the ball effectively when they need to. While I still believe that the Big Ten West is theirs to lose, they’ll need to beat Penn State at home in three weeks in order to be a legitimate college football playoff threat.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2-1 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 2
Ohio State is the most talented team in the Big Ten. They’re also still my prohibitive favorite to win the conference. With that being said, they don’t deserve to be in the top two of my power rankings this week. Ignoring the 41-20 final score against Tulsa, this game was very much in doubt late in the game. Ryan Day elected to switch play-callers on defense but it didn’t seem to matter much. The Buckeye defense is a mess. Will it matter come crunch time or can the offense cover up for the defense’s deficiencies?
4. Wisconsin Badgers, 1-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 4
Wisconsin was off this week prior to their matchup next week at Soldier Field in Chicago against Notre Dame. Will we see shades of Brandon Peters vs. Michigan in 2019? Probably not as Peters didn’t end up playing against his former school due to injury. Jack Coan leads a much more talented Notre Dame squad against his former school in Wisconsin. The Badgers have their backs against the wall if they want to climb back into the national picture. Even with a loss, they can get to Indianapolis, but any chance at a college football playoff appearance hinges on a win against the Irish.
5. Michigan Wolverines, 3-0 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 5
Michigan bowled over another underwhelming team this week in Northern Illinois. The ghost of Rocky Lombardi should no longer frighten Wolverine fans as he accomplished basically nothing in the Big House on Saturday. Up next is another mediocre opponent in Rutgers. To date, Michigan has done what it is supposed to do. A win over Wisconsin in two weeks will finally start to shift their place in the power rankings around.
6. Michigan State Spartans, 3-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 7
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t believe in Mel Tucker and company coming into the season. The Spartans have to be the biggest surprise in the conference so far. Following a dominant showing at Miami, Michigan State is ranked for the first time this season by the AP and the coaches. Kenneth Walker might just be the best running back in the conference outside of Ann Arbor. October 30th can’t come soon enough.
7. Indiana Hoosiers, 1-2 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 6
Indiana put up a resilient fight but was unable to pull off the upset against Cincinnati. Michael Penix Jr. hasn’t looked himself three games into the 2021 campaign and Indiana’s record reflects that. At this point, the Hoosiers have to be the conference’s biggest disappointment. However, the talent is still there to wreak some havoc the rest of the season.
8. Maryland Terrapins, 3-0 (1-0)
Previous Ranking: 8
Maryland narrowly escaped disaster and remain unblemished in 2021 by beating Illinois 20-17. I spent most of the game questioning whether Illinois was better than I thought or if Maryland was worse than I previously thought. In the end, I settled on Maryland playing down to the level of their competition. Expect the Terrapins to remain unbeaten for one more week as they play Kent State next. Next up after that? Iowa and Ohio State. Good luck.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 2-1 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 10
Minnesota had a nice, comfortable 30-0 win against a reeling Colorado team on the road. I can’t shake the feeling that Minnesota already missed their opportunity when they fell short in week one against Ohio State. The Golden Gophers don’t play another ranked team until November 13th at Iowa. It’s tough to see them staying relevant, despite a fairly easy schedule.
10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 3-0 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 11
Rutgers demolished an overmatched Delaware team 45-13 on Saturday in front of a notable crowd. Now 3-0, Greg Schiano has done an impressive job of instilling confidence in his players. His next big test will be the Michigan Wolverines. Many, myself included, believe that the Wolverines will handily defeat Rutgers on Saturday. It was fun while it lasted.
11. Purdue Boilermakers, 2-1 (0-0)
Previous Ranking: 12
Purdue surprisingly hung around with Notre Dame into the fourth quarter until eventually falling, 27-13. The talent gap between the two programs was apparent from the first snap, but the Boilermakers never gave up and were just pesky enough to make it a game. I still don’t expect much from this iteration of Purdue, but this feels like a team that could pull off an upset at any time.
12. Northwestern Wildcats, 1-2 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 9
Indiana’s only competition for the most disappointing team in the conference resides in Evanston, Illinois. Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats fell to a Duke team that, quite frankly, just isn’t very good. Only three games into the season and the wheels have already fallen off for Northwestern. With Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin still on the schedule, this could be a team fighting for bowl eligibility.
13. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2-2 (0-1)
Previous Ranking: 14
It might be hypocritical of me to have Nebraska above Illinois in my power rankings despite the head-to-head results. However, I feel the need to reward Nebraska for the fight they put up against No. 3 Oklahoma. The fact that the Huskers even had the ball with a chance to tie the game with 40 seconds remaining is far more successful than I expected them to be on Saturday. There are no moral victories in football, but Nebraska finally has something to build off of in 2021.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini, 1-3 (1-1)
Previous Ranking: 13
All things considered, Illinois played a decent game against Maryland and had a chance at the win. I only dropped them to the cellar because of Nebraska’s effort against Oklahoma. The Illini have a must-win game on Saturday at Purdue if they want to have any chance to get bowl eligible as the schedule only gets more difficult from here.