Big Ten Power Rankings: Badgers keep racking up signature wins
Wisconsin scored another victory over a top-10 foe, its third such win of the season, by dispatching of Nebraska in overtime in Madison. And despite a bigger challenge than expected, Michigan stayed perfect. Find out where everyone stacks up in this week's Big Ten Power Rankings.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh’s crew got a better test than many expected from free-falling Michigan State, but the game was a far more dominant performance by Michigan than that nine-point margin of victory suggests. Jabrill Peppers continued to cement his status as football’s best all-around player, scoring a rushing touchdown, making big defensive plays and returning a failed two-point conversion try for a two-point score. Surprising, yes, that it was the typically low-scoring Spartans who have had the most offensive success against this Wolverines defense in a while. But fear not, Michigan fans, your team still has the No. 1 scoring defense and No. 3 scoring offense in the country.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Super sorry to the one-loss teams from Columbus and Lincoln, but the residents of Madison are playing the second-best football in the Big Ten right now. Wisconsin clashed with a top-10 opponent for the fifth time this season this past weekend and won for the third time, besting Nebraska behind — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — another terrific defensive performance. Yes, the Badgers have two losses, but their College Football Playoff resume is stunning, with wins over three top-10 opponents and the only two losses coming by a grand total of 14 points to two of the top six teams in the latest AP poll. Will the selection committee agree? We’ll find out Tuesday.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Your first reaction to a narrow win at home over Northwestern that followed up that loss at Penn State is that Ohio State must be broken. The Buckeyes looked like an unstoppable force early in the season, when they rolled over Oklahoma. And it’s true that Ohio State has looked anything but dominant in its past two games. Now a combined 7-3 conference record for Penn State and Northwestern indicates that the competition is better than it was when the Buckeyes were steamrolling Rutgers by 58. But folks have been freaking out about J.T. Barrett and his Jekyll-and-Hyde passing numbers. He still won the game with clutch plays on the Buckeyes’ final drive Saturday, so the fact that he didn’t hit the end zone — even though Mike Weber did twice — maybe shouldn’t be too worrisome.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Mike Riley’s group is undefeated no more, though the Huskers won big in the perception department with the way they played this past weekend in Madison. Nebraska hung right with Wisconsin’s elite defense, forcing overtime by pulling off its usual fourth-quarter dominance. Tommy Armstrong hit the end zone at the start of the quarter, and Nate Gerry’s two interceptions of Badger quarterbacks were huge, even though they should’ve resulted in more than just three points. Still, it was a stellar effort from the Huskers on the road against one of the best teams in the country, and they’re still in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten West Division title — though that could change after this weekend’s game in Columbus.
5. Penn State Nittany Lions
Is Penn State really the fifth-best team in the Big Ten? Well, yeah, considering it still sits in second place in the Big Ten East Division standings. This past weekend’s whomping of Purdue looked like something a heavyweight would do. The Lions and Boilers were knotted at 17 at halftime, only for Penn State to explode in the second half for a 62-24 win. Goodness, that’s an awful lot of points in 30 minutes. James Franklin got his signature win over Ohio State, and Saquon Barkley ran wild against Purdue, racking up 277 combined rushing and receiving yards, scoring two rushing touchdowns. So everything’s happy in Happy Valley? It’ll be even happier if Michigan slips up and Penn State is somehow prepping for a trip to Indy.
6. Northwestern Wildcats
It’s downright unthinkable that a team that started the season 1-3 and scored just seven points in a loss to Illinois State could be looking this good right now. But here we are. No, Northwestern’s winning streak did not continue in Columbus, falling by a mere four points to Ohio State. But 406 total yards and persistent offensive success against one of the best defenses in the country shows just how far the Cats have come in so short a time. Despite seeing his touchdown streak come to an end, Austin Carr continues to be the hands-down best receiver in the Big Ten, catching eight passes for 158 yards this past weekend. And though J.T. Barrett was able to beat the Northwestern defense and seal the game late, the Cats deserve credit for forcing five straight punts in the second, third and fourth quarters against an offense with the capability — if not the recent results — to be a high-powered force.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Big Ten West Division continues to be wild, and Minnesota is silently in the thick of things when it comes to chasing the division’s berth in the conference title game. The Gophers are one of four teams with a 3-2 conference record, alongside Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. Nebraska sits on top with a 4-1 league mark. So yeah, though it might not be the most impressive team out there, Minnesota is in the mix. And boy did it look dominant against Illinois this past weekend, spoiling the Illini’s Homecoming with a 40-17 beatdown. The numbers weren’t as gaudy as the score would lead you to believe — mostly because Illinois kept turning the ball over inside its own 20-yard line — but Rodney Smith continues to be one of the league’s best backs, rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns in Champaign.
8. Indiana Hoosiers
Good on the Hoosiers, who were able to stop their slide this past weekend with a 42-36 shootout win over Maryland. Indiana’s defense has gotten most of the attention this season for being more, well, present than usual. But this was an old-fashioned (as old-fashioned as 2015 gets, I suppose) display of offensive firepower by Indiana, which racked up 650 total yards behind a jaw-dropping 414-yard performance on the ground. Three different Hoosier ball-carriers went over 100 yards: Devine Redding had 130, Tyler Natee had 111 and Zander Diamont had 104, with the trio combining for four touchdowns. Don’t let allowing 517 yards to Maryland sour you on the Indiana defense, but this definitely a throwback for Kevin Wilson’s crew.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes
Certainly, the Hawkeyes have not impressed this season. But looking at their schedule, which features three losses through eight games, the two Big Ten defeats are looking mighty excusable these days and actually even quality: a seven-point loss to Northwestern and an eight-point loss to Wisconsin. Not bad, really. The two-point loss at home to North Dakota State still stings, and without it Iowa might be in the same class as its Big Ten West division-mates. Technically it still is, one of four squads tied for second place with a 3-2 league mark. Things, though, could get much uglier in the resume department, with three of the Hawkeyes’ last four games coming against top-20 teams.
10. Maryland Terrapins
A 4-0 start had things looking good in DJ Durkin’s first season, but since conference play began, things have not gone quite as well. There have been wins, though they’ve come against bottom-feeding Purdue and inexplicably awful Michigan State. The Terps sure put up some huge numbers this past weekend against Indiana, but again, no win. Maryland can be happy with 36 points, 517 total yards and Ty Johnson’s big day: 142 yards and a touchdown. But the opportunities for wins are running out, with an absolute gauntlet the next three weeks in matchups with top-10 teams Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. If things go as expected in those contests, then a season-finale win against Rutgers will be necessary for the Terps to go bowling.
11. Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio’s team can’t seem to do much of anything right, but give it credit for putting up far more of a fight than anyone expected against arguably the nation’s best team this past weekend. The 32-23 score was hardly indicative of how things went — Sparty came away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one with just one second remaining — but Michigan State had some surprising offensive success against the previously believed to be impenetrable Michigan defense, scoring on its opening drive and racking up more than 400 yards of offense. Still, though, The Spartans have now lost six straight and need to win out if their going to make a bowl game. That seems unlikely with Ohio State and Penn State still on the schedule.
12. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue is bad. But it has been tied or leading at halftime in each of its past two games. That means little when teams go bonkers against them in the third and fourth quarters, which is what happened this past weekend, with Penn State putting up a 45-7 scoring edge in the game’s final 30 minutes. Good news: David Blough is still the Big Ten’s leading passer with 293.3 yards a game. Bad news: Purdue has to play four more games this season, the next three against Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini
What’s the deal with Wes Lunt? Lovie Smith’s secret-agent approach to injury news means we have no idea when the starting quarterback could be healthy enough to play (he dressed this past weekend). But here’s what we do know: The Illini really need him back if they’re going to win any more games this season. Jeff George Jr. has been pressed into starting duty in each of the last two games, and Illinois hasn’t had a prayer in either, blown out by Michigan 41-8 and then by Minnesota 40-17. This past weekend’s game against the Gophers was a disaster, the Illini turning the ball over repeatedly inside their own 20-yard line. The offense mustered just 245 yards, only 89 on the ground. We all kind of knew this was going to take a while for Lovie Smith to turn things around in Champaign, but here’s a question: Are they playing worse now than they were under Bill Cubit last season?
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
No game for the Knights this past weekend, which means no loss. Poor Rutgers has had a brutal schedule, having to play three of the top six teams in the country so far: Michigan, Washington and Ohio State. But that doesn’t necessarily explain losses to Iowa and Illinois. The good news is that the Knights performed way better in their most recent game under new quarterback Gio Rescigno, only losing to Minnesota on a last-second field goal. Indiana and Michigan State are next. Rutgers won’t be favored, but it might be able to make those games look more like the Minnesota one and less like all the others.