Welcome back, Sparty.
It was just two weeks ago that a loss at Nebraska bumped Michigan State down the power rankings, but the Spartans are back near the top following a terrific performance in an upset win over Ohio State.
The Buckeyes’ first loss of the season also allows the Iowa Hawkeyes to take over as kings of the Big Ten hill. Iowa’s still perfect at 11-0 and into the Big Ten Championship Game as the West Division champ.
Michigan State has the inside track to the East Division crown, needing just a win over Penn State to get there. But a loss would send the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game to the Big Ten title game instead.
There’s still a lot on the line with just one week to play in the regular season.
Here’s how the teams stack up in this week’s power rankings.
1. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0)
Last week: 2
The Hawkeyes ascend to the top of the rankings with Ohio State suffering its first loss of the season, but when you look back on the season’s first 11 weeks, despite an admittedly weaker schedule than many teams have played, has any team impressed more than Iowa? The margins of victory have been big, the play on both sides of the ball has been consistently strong and the signature win of the season — a 40-10 drubbing at Northwestern — looks better and better each week. Iowa will be in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings this week, and with good reason.
2. Michigan State Spartans (10-1, 6-1)
Last week: 4
Call it an implosion by Ohio State if you must, but Michigan State looked great in its all-important victory this weekend in Columbus. A Spartans defense that’s been scorched on a fairly regular basis snuffed out the Buckeyes to the tune of just 132 total yards, all 14 of their points coming on short fields off fumbles. And for Michigan State to do what it did without Connor Cook is downright amazing. The Spartans are a win away from a trip to the Big Ten title game, and a win there would figure to land them in the Playoff. Not a bad change of events for a team that lost to Nebraska two weeks ago.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1)
Last week: 1
It was an ugly showing for the Buckeyes on Saturday night. Perhaps Michigan State is a little better than most everyone assumed — and certainly played the Spartans played that way — but as Ezekiel Elliott said afterward, this was a game Ohio State should’ve won. The Buckeyes boast one of the best defenses in the country, were going up against a team without its senior quarterback and have Elliott, a now-former Heisman candidate, who was given just 12 carries. Ohio State isn’t quite dead yet, still technically alive for a spot in the Big Ten title game. But in its first true test of the season, the Buckeyes failed.
4. Michigan Wolverines (10-1, 6-1)
Last week: 3
Michigan’s defense looked as good as it’s looked all season in a win over Penn State, coming up with some huge stops against the Nittany Lions. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, though, Michigan State’s win means they’ll need help to sneak into the Big Ten title game. Michigan has probably looked better on a consistent, week-to-week basis than both Michigan State and Ohio State, but that insane loss to the Spartans on a fumbled punt will likely keep the Wolverines away from the conference championship and subsequently the Playoff. Still, the regular-season finale against the Buckeyes still will be a big deal.
[MORE BIG TEN: Ezekiel Elliott rips Buckeyes coaches, says he's off to NFL]
5. Northwestern Wildcats (9-2, 5-2)
Last week: 5
After a couple years of finding more and more ridiculous ways to lose football games, the Cats are finally benefitting from wacky endings. After strong finishes by the defense and good breaks led to three straight wins against Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue, Northwestern won Saturday after Wisconsin had six game-tying points wiped off the board twice in the final seconds. And that’s after a second-half punt-return touchdown for the Badgers was called back, too. The Cats avoided the embarrassment of losing a game in which they forced five turnovers, and now they have a shot at a 10-win regular season.
6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 5-2)
Last week: 6
The Badgers continued their 2015 tradition of losing when playing good teams, though they probably should have won this one, stripped of a game-tying touchdown not once but twice in the final seconds — not to mention the called back punt-return touchdown earlier in the second half. But a loss was certainly the deserved outcome in a game where they turned the ball over five times. Wisconsin has three losses, all to quality, ranked teams in Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern. Problem is, those are the only good teams it’s faced all season, meaning we still don’t really know how good the Badgers are.
[MORE BIG TEN: After ridiculous finish, Northwestern holds on to beat Badgers]
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3)
Last week: 7
It was a valiant effort by Penn State up against a strong Michigan defense on Saturday. But the Nittany Lions offense couldn’t capitalize on red-zone chances, settling for field goals at every turn, and because of it, the effort of the Wolverines’ defense was enough to prevent an upset. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is the end of the Christian Hackenberg Era, the regular-season finale against Michigan State perhaps his last regular-season game at Penn State. The real guys the Lions will be sad to see go, though, play on a monstrous defensive line. Can the Lions play spoiler against the Spartans?
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-4)
Last week: 8
No game for the Huskers this weekend, a team that needed a bye with a bunch of nagging injuries to key players. After that embarrassing loss at Purdue that sent it to 3-6, Nebraska has won both its games since, upsetting Michigan State with nearly 500 yards of total offense and cruising past Rutgers. Undefeated Iowa is all that’s left on the regular-season schedule, and the Huskers will be playing for a trip to the postseason, while the Hawkeyes’ College Football Playoff hopes will be on the line. Can Nebraska shock the world again? The Huskers have the offensive firepower. The Hawkeyes better bring their A-game.
[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes at No. 3, five Big Ten teams ranked in AP poll]
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-6, 2-5)
Last week: 9
The Gophers got an important win over Illinois to keep their bowl hopes alive, requiring a win in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin to go to the postseason. Shannon Brooks tore up the Illini defense, and unsurprisingly, running the ball seems to remain the key for this Gophers offense, despite Mitch Leidner having some passing success in the season’s final month. Wisconsin’s defense is as good as they come, meaning a bowl-clinching victory in the Axe Game could be unlikely. But Minnesota has put itself in position, which is all you can ask for.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (5-6, 1-6)
Last week: 10
Don’t look now, but it looks like the Hoosiers could be heading to the postseason. After starting 4-0, six straight losses followed, but Indiana won the first of two must-win games this weekend, coming back from a 21-3 deficit with three straight touchdowns to overtake Maryland, then pouring on more to cruise to a 19-point win. There’s no doubting the always-dangerous strike power of the Hoosiers, it’s just whether they can stop their opponents. The Terps rolled over and died against the Hoosiers. Equally inept Purdue is all that stands between Indiana and a trip to its first bowl game since 2007.
[MORE BIG TEN: Gophers run past Illini, who need win in finale to reach bowl]
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-7, 1-6)
Last week: 12
Congratulations, Rutgers, you beat Army in the least-anticipated November game featuring a Big Ten team maybe ever. The Scarlet Knights could still possibly go bowling if they beat Maryland and then there aren’t enough 6-6 teams to fill all the bowl slots. Beating Maryland seems like a pretty simple thing to do these days, so even Rutgers should manage to do so. There’s no doubt this has been a bad season for the Knights, but to be fair, a 5-7 finish wouldn’t be far off from what most predicted back in August.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-6, 2-5)
Last week: 11
The Illini offense just can’t do a thing when it needs to, and when the defense is allowing big running days, that’s a rough combination. Wes Lunt looked as good as he has all season, and Josh Ferguson went over 100 yards on the ground, but where were the points to show for it? Red-zone offense has been a disaster for Illinois all season, and it was again in a loss to Minnesota. The Illini need a regular-season-closing win over Northwestern to reach bowl eligibility and potentially to keep Bill Cubit on as the permanent head coach. It’s tough to see a 5-7 finish earning Cubit a full-time gig, especially with his unit, the offense, struggling as it has.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]
13. Purdue Boilermakers (2-9, 1-6)
Last week: 13
Purdue gave Iowa more of a scare than anyone anticipated, that’s for sure, but it didn’t come away with much to show for it, losing by 20. After going down, 20-0, early in the second quarter, quarterback David Blough was knocked out and replaced with ex-starter Austin Appleby, who led three straight scoring drives. Problem was, while all three drives reached inside the 10-yard line, two only produced field goals, keeping the Boilers down. And then the Hawkeyes woke up and pulled away. Purdue will need to beat Indiana in the season finale if it wants to avoid double-digit losses for the second time in three seasons under Darrell Hazell.
14. Maryland Terrapins (2-9, 0-7)
Last week: 14
Despite a monster of a day for Brandon Ross running the ball — 250 yards and three touchdowns — and zero interceptions thrown by its quarterbacks, Maryland was crushed by Indiana, letting a 21-3 lead turn into a 47-28 final score. The Terps’ defense totally fell apart, allowing Nate Sudfeld to throw four touchdown passes. There’s one game left, against Rutgers, before Maryland begins a new era under a new head coach. Good thing, too, because this season cannot end soon enough in College Park.