What will it take for Michigan to catch Ohio State?
It's hard to argue that any team has been more impressive through six weeks than the Wolverines. Michigan is charging hard following its third straight shutout win and looking like one of the nation's most formidable forces. But how will the Wolverines unseat the Buckeyes?
Ohio State, for all its supposed woes, has rediscovered its offensive firepower and still boasts the country's most talented roster. The Buckeyes have yet to lose, also, a key point.
Michigan might be the flavor of the last month and a half, but Ohio State hasn't lost a game since last September. Jim Harbaugh's team can make a huge statement this week against Michigan State — as if a 38-0 whitewash of Northwestern wasn't a statement enough.
For now, though, the Buckeyes remain No. 1.
See where all the teams line up in the latest Big Ten Power Rankings.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0)
Last week: 1
While perhaps no team has looked more impressive than Michigan halfway through the season, Ohio State has somewhat quietly affirmed its national championship contender status. Say all you want about the seemingly weekly early struggles that cause mass panic on social media, but the Buckeyes' once-shaky offense is now piling on points, having scored 121 of them over the past three weeks. And Urban Meyer might have finally fixed his quarterback conundrum by rotating Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett depending on situation.
2. Michigan Wolverines (5-1, 2-0)
Last week: 5
It’s hard to keep the Wolverines out of the top spot, really, that’s how terrific they’ve played. Three straight shutouts is unbelievable, especially considering that two of them came against ranked opponents. Saturday’s 38-0 domination of Northwestern was an absolute clinic, with the defense shutting things down completely, allowing just 168 total yards. The rushing attack went over 200 yards again, and special teams chipped in with a 96-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. A huge showdown with Michigan State awaits, and Michigan is rightfully favored.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 2-0)
Last week: 4
How about this Iowa offense? After Wisconsin’s defense did a nice job shutting things down in the conference opener, the Hawkeyes returned to form against Illinois. C.J. Beathard had a pair of touchdown passes, but it was Jordan Canzeri starring with his 256 rushing yards on a school-record 43 carries. While the Illini defense came up with some big stops, Iowa still managed almost 500 yards of offense. This revamped offense is looking the exact opposite of last year’s slow-moving bunch, and it will meet it’s biggest test yet next against a strong Northwestern defense.
4. Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1)
Last week: 2
While nothing really went right for Northwestern on Saturday at the Big House, it’s hard to fault the Cats too much for a loss against a Wolverines team playing as well as it is. It’s one of those “quality” losses that mean far more in college hoops than college football, but the term still applies. That being said, the previous No. 1 scoring defense was handled early by Michigan’s offense, and an offense that’s struggled to score behind a freshman quarterback obviously produced no points. Still, this is one of the country’s better defenses, and a bounce back should be expected.
5. Michigan State Spartans (6-0, 2-0)
Last week: 3
Maybe it’s unfair to keep dropping an undefeated team for continuing to win, but the Spartans find a new way to fail the eye test every week, even though there’s still a zero in the loss column. This week, it was a near defeat at Rutgers that required an LJ Scott touchdown with 43 seconds left to take the lead. On Rutgers. A banged-up Spartan defense was shredded by the Knights’ star wideout, Leonte Carroo, who caught three touchdown passes. Injuries are wreaking havoc on Michigan State, but is that an excuse to be nearly losing winnable games? Sparty survived against Purdue and Rutgers. Against Michigan?
6. Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 1-1)
Last week: 6
Missed field goals aren’t good, and Rafael Gaglianone has missed a lot of kicks this year for the Badgers. He missed two more Saturday before nailing the game-winner with four seconds left to give Wisconsin a big road win at Nebraska. Still, Gaglianone, after going 3-for-5 Saturday, is just 9-for-15 on the season. Yuck. But there was some good news for Wisconsin’s point-scoring people, as Joel Stave threw for 322 yards and Dare Ogunbowale rushed for 117 yards. Life without Corey Clement hasn’t been easy, but the Badgers are right in the thick of the Big Ten West race.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1, 2-0)
Last week: 7
Still no Saquon Barkley or Akeel Lynch, but a date with an Indiana team missing both its starting quarterback and starting running back meant a pretty easy win for Penn State. Christian Hackenberg had a huge day, accounting for four total touchdowns. He passed for 262 yards and a pair of scores and rushed in for two more touchdowns. Long term — or immediately considering the Lions play No. 1 Ohio State this weekend — those running backs are going to need to get healthy.
8. Indiana Hoosiers (4-2, 0-2)
Last week: 8
And speaking of those Hoosiers, there could be some real trouble brewing despite that great 4-0 start. Hopefully Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard are back soon because things didn’t go so well without them. Indiana’s typically high-powered offense mustered just seven points against Penn State, with the team gaining just 234 total yards, only 79 on the ground. Backup quarterback Zander Diamont was knocked out of the game with his own injury. Backup running back Devine Redding rushed for just 32 yards. Those injured stars need to come back if the Hoosiers are going to get the two more wins they need to be bowl eligible.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2, 1-1)
Last week: 9
A costly fourth-quarter fumble looms largest in the Illini’s loss to the Hawkeyes this weekend, but the bad result didn’t mean a bad day for the orange and blue. Wes Lunt passed for 317 yards, and Geronimo Allison — the Big Ten’s leading receiver — added 148 yards and a touchdown to his impressive 2015 totals. But it’s the Illinois defense that continues to impress. Yeah, the Illini allowed 29 points, but they made a couple impressive goal-line stops and forced field goals when Iowa looked primed for touchdowns. Illinois ranks in the top 35 nationally in scoring and total defense.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2, 1-1)
Last week: 12
Was it Minnesota figuring things out or Purdue being awful? Whatever it was, the Gophers will take it. Jerry Kill’s crew entered Saturday’s game second to worst in the country in scoring offense, but it dumped 41 points on the Boilermakers, looking unstoppable in the process. The Boilers have that effect on people. But let’s give credit where credit is due, and that’s to Shannon Brooks, the freshman back who rushed for 176 yards. He kickstarted a 28-point third quarter with a 71-yard touchdown run. The Gophers offense might not be fixed, but it least had one good day.
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-3, 0-2)
Last week: 13
In the least surprising news of the college football season, Rutgers is much better with Leonte Carroo than it is without him. The All-Big Ten wideout returned from suspension Saturday and caught seven passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns. He now has six touchdown catches in just 10 quarters of play. The Knights, on the other hand, lost again, though this time they led Michigan State on multiple occasions and almost won, with the Spartans scoring in the final minute to win the game. Almost usually isn’t good enough, but at least Rutgers played better than it normally does. Fun fact: Chris Laviano has the Big Ten’s highest quarterback rating at 153.9.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-4, 0-2)
Last week: 11
Nebraska can’t stop losing in the final seconds of games. After getting beat by a BYU Hail Mary, losing in overtime at Miami and falling to Illinois on a game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left just last week, Wisconsin handed the Huskers their latest incredible loss, kicking a game-winning field goal with four seconds left. Seriously. It’s not all flukes, though, as this week, Tommy Armstrong completed just 11 passes and the Nebraska defense allowed its fifth 300-plus-yard passer of the season. Four losses already for the Huskers, that’s just not good.
13. Purdue Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2)
Last week: 10
Speaking of not good, Purdue couldn’t follow up its near upset of Michigan State with a win or anything remotely resembling a competitive performance, getting throttled by Minnesota, 41-13. That’s a Minnesota team, by the way, that was averaging 15.7 points a game coming in. The Boilers couldn’t stop the Gophers at all and did a good deal to add to their big day, with David Blough throwing three interceptions. He now has five in three games. A trip to Camp Randall Stadium to next face the Badgers big, bad defense likely won’t help things.
14. Maryland Terrapins (2-4, 0-2)
Last week: 14
Though the Terps fought valiantly in their loss to the No. 1 Buckeyes, scoring four touchdowns and having the game tied in the third quarter, when you fire a head coach in the middle of a season, your program can’t be in too good of shape. Randy Edsall’s tenure at Maryland is over, and his 22-33 record is surely to blame. Edsall’s teams never finished better than .500 in conference play. This season, poor offense, poor defense and a never-ending drama surrounding the quarterback situation meant it was time for Edsall to go. After a bye week, the Terps’ schedule is brutal: Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State. Oof.