Michigan State’s loss to Nebraska took everyone by surprise.
The Spartans are no longer undefeated — though not dead yet, even when it comes to the College Football Playoff — and many argue that their first loss has been a long time coming the way they’ve narrowly won some games this season.
It means the Big Ten is down to two undefeateds. But it doesn’t do much to clear the conference title game picture, as Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan still have solid chances to win the East Division.
Stay tuned. As for now, here’s how the teams stack up in this week’s power rankings.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0)
Last week: 1
As could have been predicted, Ohio State’s undefeated record wasn’t really in jeopardy despite a one-game suspension for J.T. Barrett. Cardale Jones wasn’t exactly fantastic, but he helped lead the Buckeyes past Minnesota, throwing a touchdown pass and rushing in for a game-sealing score. Ezekiel Elliott was his typically excellent self, and the defense helped out with a pick six. Even when not firing on all cylinders this season, the Buckeyes have ended up in the win column. That’s what’s kept them the conference’s best team.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-0, 5-0)
Last week: 3
Michigan State’s loss is Iowa’s gain, as the Hawkeyes can now claim the title of the conference’s second-best team without argument. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that the Hawkeyes have perhaps the Big Ten’s most impressive team this season, typically defeating their opponents by sizable margins on a regular basis. This past weekend, Iowa staved off Indiana’s upset bid. The defense allowed an unusual amount of rushing success, but the Hawkeyes scored plenty with its stable of ball-carriers and got another interception from Desmond King, his eighth of the season.
[MORE BIG TEN: Illini remove Mike Thomas to put end to months of 'distractions']
3. Michigan Wolverines (7-2, 4-1)
Last week: 4
Yes, I know the Spartans beat the Wolverines in fluky yet awesome fashion. But when you look at the entire season, Michigan has simply been better. That defense ranks among the best in the country, and every win has come in dominant fashion. Even the losses have impressed — coming against ranked Michigan State and Utah teams by a combined 13 points — and the Wolverines still have a way to win the Big Ten East and play for a conference title. Not a bad first year at all for Jim Harbaugh.
4. Michigan State Spartans (8-1, 4-1)
Last week: 2
Sparty went down on Saturday, and a loss to six-loss Nebraska is not what Michigan State needed in a season that already had it earning plenty of doubters. Wins haven’t been overly impressive — even if Connor Cook has — and now the team’s first loss came against a reeling group of Huskers who gave up 55 points to Purdue a week earlier. The Spartans aren’t dead yet, controlling their own destiny when it comes to a Big Ten title, but certainly they’d need some help if they want to make the College Football Playoff.
[MORE BIG TEN: Even after loss, Spartans still control own destiny in Big Ten]
5. Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2)
Last week: 5
The Cats continue to go about things in the most difficult way possible — don’t they always? — but their season to date looks pretty darn good. Northwestern’s schedule ranks among the toughest in the country, and the College Football Playoff selection committee certainly recognized that last week, ranking the Cats No. 21. That ranking should improve after a nail-biting win over seven-win Penn State, in which a game-winning field goal was needed in the final seconds despite a 20-7 halftime lead. Northwestern’s only losses have come against top-20 teams in Michigan and Iowa.
6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 5-1)
Last week: 6
Beating Maryland by a touchdown might not be anything to crow about, but Wisconsin’s winning ways just keep on coming. The Badgers have just two losses on the season, and they came against two top-10 teams in Alabama and Iowa. Other than that, even with a host of injuries on the offensive side, it’s been nothing but victories. The defense continues to play fantastic, ranking in the top four in the country in both scoring defense and total defense. Dave Aranda could be heading for a head-coaching gig with one of the nation’s elite defenses for the second season in a row.
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern expects Clayton Thorson to play vs. Purdue]
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-2)
Last week: 7
Christian Hackenberg fell back to Earth in Penn State’s loss to Northwestern. After going six games without an interception, he had an ugly stat line last weekend, completing 21 of his 40 passing attempts with no touchdown throws and an interception. Saquon Barkley had a big day, but the loss came after the Lions took a lead in the fourth quarter. A typically dominant defense gave up 227 rush yards and couldn’t stop Northwestern’s backup quarterback from accounting for two touchdowns and making a huge play on the game-winning drive.
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-5, 1-4)
Last week: 8
While the Gophers have lost both games they’ve played since Jerry Kill announced his retirement, they’ve been more competitive than they were expected to be against Michigan and Ohio State, two of the conference’s top teams. After a strong offensive showing against the Wolverines, the Gophers lost by just two scores to the highly ranked Buckeyes, with Mitch Leidner having another good game, with 281 passing yards and a couple touchdown tosses. Minnesota hasn’t exactly resurrected its season, but there’s noticeable improvement of late.
9. Indiana Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5)
Last week: 10
The Hoosiers showed off their trademark offensive capabilities against undefeated Iowa, even if it didn’t end in an Indiana win. Few teams have had as much success rushing against the Iowa defense as Indiana did, gaining 227 yards on the ground. Jordan Howard had a pair of long touchdown runs in the second quarter that actually had the Hoosiers in front for a short while. And a late touchdown pass had Indiana a recovered onside kick away from a potential game-tying drive. But that didn’t happen, and the Hoosiers have yet to win a conference game after starting the year 4-0.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-6, 2-4)
Last week: 11
It was a huge win for Mike Riley and the Huskers in a season that seemed to be spiraling further and further out of control each week. The end was a controversial one, for sure, and maybe Nebraska shouldn’t have upset Michigan State in the final seconds. But it was a heck of an effort by Tommy Armstrong, exploiting a banged-up and under-performing Spartans secondary by going 91 yards in 38 seconds. The Nebraska defense is nowhere near fixed and still managed to give up almost 500 yards, but to follow up a loss at Purdue with an upset of a top-10 team was a big accomplishment.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-4, 2-3)
Last week: 12
What a way for the Illini to get back on track after three straight losses with a crushing of Purdue. Illinois got running back Josh Ferguson back, who not-so-coincidentally missed those three straight losses, and he ran wild, going for 133 yards. But backup back Ke’Shawn Vaughn had an even bigger game, rushing for180 yards and two touchdowns, the largest part of a monster 382-yard day on the ground and nearly 600-yard day of total offense. Yeah, it was Purdue, but now Illinois is just a win away from bowl eligibility.
12. Maryland Terrapins (2-7, 0-5)
Last week: 13
The Terps played surprisingly well against a stout Wisconsin defense, scoring 24 points and out-gaining the Badgers. But that doesn’t mean Maryland wasn’t still up to its same old tricks. The defense was exploited despite Wisconsin missing several offensive weapons including running back Corey Clement. Special teams were a nightmare, as the Badgers returned a kickoff for a touchdown and executed a fake punt to perfection. Plus, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe combined for two more interceptions, bringing the season total by Terps quarterbacks to 25.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Terps gear right here]
13. Purdue Boilermakers (2-7, 1-4)
Last week: 9
Unfortunately, it was back to normal for the Boilers a week after dropping 55 in a win over Nebraska. That win might’ve given Darrell Hazell another year of work in West Lafayette, but the following weekend his team looked far too familiar, getting blitzed by Illinois. The Illini gained nearly 600 yards of offense, including nearly 400 rushing the ball, trouble considering they were the Big Ten’s worst rushing team coming in. Purdue just couldn’t stop a thing and couldn’t do anything offensively, either.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-6, 1-5)
Last week: 14
Speaking of not being able to stop anything or do anything, meet Rutgers, which was blasted by Michigan to the tune of 49-16. The Knights allowed almost 500 yards of offense and barely eclipsed 200 themsleves. No Leonte Carroo meant nothing doing offensively, and it’s hard to see that turning around if Carroo stays on the sideline. Winnable games against Nebraska, Army and Maryland close out the season, but will Rutgers be able to figure anything out in time?