For much of the season, Ohio State and Michigan State have held rightful spots near the top of the AP top 25. But questions have popped up fairly often about whether or not these two teams really look like national-championship contenders.
Well, this weekend’s wins might have come over Rutgers and Indiana, but they were the blowout wins the Buckeyes and Spartans needed to pass the dreaded eye test and firmly establish themselves as deserved undefeateds and deserved College Football Playoff frontrunners.
The Buckeyes blew out the Scarlet Knights, 49-7, with J.T. Barrett shining in his first start of the season. The Spartans crushed the Hoosiers with an avalanche of fourth-quarter points, with Connor Cook having a monster afternoon.
All eyes are still on Nov. 21, when Ohio State and Michigan State meet in Columbus.
Here’s how the teams line up in this week’s power rankings.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0)
Last week: 1
J.T. Barrett’s 2015 debut as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback went pretty good, I’d say. Barrett went off for five total touchdowns as Ohio State destroyed Rutgers, 49-7, a game that would’ve been a shutout if not for a Knights touchdown in the game’s final seconds. Joining Barrett in huge offensive days were Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas, and the defense turned in a stellar performance, as well. The Buckeyes never stopped being national-title favorites — No. 1 in the AP poll all season — but this win and the fashion it came in ought to cement that status moving forward.
2. Michigan State Spartans (8-0, 4-0)
Last week: 2
Speaking of cementing statuses, Michigan State proved it continues to belong in the CFP discussion with its first true blowout victory of the season, wiping the floor with Indiana, 52-26. Connor Cook was excellent, throwing for 398 yards and four touchdowns. The Spartans racked up 540 yards of total offense The size of this win — thanks to 24 fourth-quarter points — was a great sign following the narrow escapes against Purdue, Rutgers and Michigan, three wins that came by a combined 14 points. Michigan State has a bye week this week, then games against Nebraska and Maryland before the big showdown with Ohio State.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0)
Last week: 3
No game this week for the undefeated Hawkeyes, but it was a winning one nonetheless, as losses elsewhere in the top 10 of the AP poll moved Iowa to the No. 10 ranking in the country. Iowa has a very favorable schedule to finish out the regular season: Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska. Should the Hawkeyes win all those games — and they should be favored rather heavily in all five — it’d set up a (likely) battle of undefeateds in the Big Ten Championship Game with Iowa having as good a shot as anyone to reach the College Football Playoff.
4. Michigan Wolverines (5-2, 2-1)
Last week: 4
The Wolverines were also on bye this weekend. With the College Football Playoff likely out of play for Jim Harbaugh’s team, it’ll have to focus on getting the best bowl slot it can get, and that shouldn’t be too difficult, considering how good Michigan has looked so far this season. After Week 8, the Wolverines boast the country’s best defense, No. 1 in scoring defense (9.3 points allowed per game) and total defense (210.6 yards allowed per game). Michigan should be favored in its next four games (Minnesota, Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State) before the season-ending bout with Ohio State.
[MORE BIG TEN: QB change goes swimmingly for Buckeyes as J.T. Barrett goes off]
5. Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2)
Last week: 5
A big win this weekend for the Wildcats, going into Lincoln and walking out with a 30-28 win. Nebraska is struggling, but it was a major bounce back for Northwestern, which was flattened in two straight games by Michigan and Iowa. Clayton Thorson was terrific, going for 303 yards combined passing and rushing and accounting for two total touchdowns. The Cats’ defense was back on track, too, getting a huge pick six. It’ll be tough for Northwestern to make the Big Ten title game, what with Iowa rolling and the Cats already saddled with a pair of conference losses. But they’re bowl eligible already for the first time since 2012.
6. Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1)
Last week: 6
The Badgers picked up an impressive win Saturday, not necessarily because Illinois is an overly impressive opponent but because a flood of injuries couldn’t stop Wisconsin. Already without top two running backs Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal, the Badgers lost starting quarterback Joel Stave early and starting wide receiver Robert Wheelwright and starting center Dan Voltz in the second half. But Wisconsin still pulled out a 24-13 win and remains close to Iowa in the West standings. The injuries are troubling moving forward, but it was a heck of a display of resiliency in Champaign.
[MORE BIG TEN: Joel Stave, other key offensive pieces go down in Badgers' win]
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-1)
Last week: 7
It was a big day for Christian Hackenberg as things almost became disastrous for Penn State in a one-point win over lowly Maryland. Hackenberg and his receivers teamed up for a bevy of big plays, providing enough offense to outlast the Terps. Considering Maryland quarterback Perry Hills turned the ball over five times, it probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. But it was a win for Penn State, nonetheless, and the Lions — despite the first rough day running the ball for Saquon Barkley — still remain just one game back from Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten East race.
8. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-3, 1-2)
Last week: 8
The Illini didn’t look good Saturday, but no one in the bottom half of the conference did. Illinois’ defense looked terrific the first few series against Joel Stave, but once Wisconsin’s starting quarterback was knocked out, backup Bart Houston carved up that defense and marched the Badgers down the field on nearly every possession. The Illini are being plagued by their own injuries, unable to run the ball without Josh Ferguson and missing a ton of passing targets, too. Still, Illinois has the nation’s No. 33 total defense ranking, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
[MORE BIG TEN: Banged-up Illini can't keep up with banged-up Badgers in loss]
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-5, 1-3)
Last week: 11
It’s tough to vault up two spots for losing your fifth game of the season, but that’s what the Huskers did because Rutgers and Indiana looked that bad. There were positives for Nebraska in yet another razor-thin loss, this one coming by just two points to Northwestern. Tommy Armstrong threw for nearly 300 yards and scored three total touchdowns. And the Huskers rush defense played well outside of two quarterback dashes that totaled 117 yards. The Cats gained just 39 yards on the ground outside of those two runs. But those are merely the silver linings from a game that has furthered how bad things are getting in Lincoln.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3, 1-2)
Last week: 12
No game for the Gophers this weekend meant no opportunity for us to see just how embarrassing that offense is. Minnesota ranks 101st in the country in total offense and is tied for 110th in scoring offense. It gets even uglier when you realize the only time this season when that offense has looked overly capable was against Purdue. And the schedule the rest of the way is brutal: Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa — three top-15 teams — then Illinois and Wisconsin to finish things off. Four of those five teams have defenses ranking in the top 13 in the country. That’s insane. Will the Gophers even hit 30 points combined over their last five games?
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern holds off Huskers to end two-game skid]
11. Indiana Hoosiers (4-4, 0-4)
Last week: 10
Poor Indiana. It’s back to its old terrible-defense self. After an exciting 4-0 start that had the Hoosiers two games away from their first bowl trip since 2007, it’s been four straight losses to open conference play. The fourth quarter has been Indiana’s downfall in each of the last two games against Rutgers and Michigan State, getting outscored in those two periods a combined 46-0. Yikes. Nate Sudfeld has lit up the scoreboard and stat sheet since returning from injury, but he’s also getting a little too turnover-prone. He’s got three picks in the last two games after just one through his first five.
12. Maryland Terrapins (2-5, 0-3)
Last week: 13
In the first game since the firing of Randy Edsall, Maryland almost got a signature upset win over Penn State for the second year in a row. The Terps came within a point, but five turnovers from Perry Hills wrecked any chance of a win. Hills threw three more interceptions Saturday, bringing the total for Terps quarterbacks to 20 on the season. In seven games. Goodness. Maryland gets deserved props for being a point away from toppling Penn State, but it gets few props after that.
[MORE BIG TEN: Christian Hackenberg throws three TDs as Penn State edges Terps]
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-4, 1-3)
Last week: 9
It was supposed to be a blowout when Rutgers hosted No. 1 Ohio State, and maybe dropping the Knights this low for an expected outcome is a little unfair. But if not for a touchdown with 13 seconds left, it would’ve been a 49-0 thumping, and that’s just not OK on any level. Rutgers couldn’t even muster 300 total yards, all while letting Ohio State run over the defense like a truck, surrendering 528 total yards and seven touchdowns. It’s pretty clear that a not fully healthy Leonte Carroo made for an ineffective offensive attack. That or Ohio State’s top-15 defense. Things don’t get any easier with upcoming road trips to top-10 defenses in Wisconsin and Michigan.
14. Purdue Boilermakers (0-3, 1-6)
Last week: 14
Purdue didn’t play, so it didn’t lose. There is some opportunity against its next two opponents, as Nebraska and Illinois are clearly struggling. But even still, the Boilers have played and lost (badly) to struggling teams already this season. After those two games, road trips to top-20 defenses in Northwestern and Iowa shouldn’t go well for Purdue ahead of the annual season-ending rivalry game with Indiana. One more loss, and Purdue is officially eliminated from bowl eligibility.