Now that conference play is underway for every team in the Big Ten, North by Northwestern has started its weekly power rankings. You might be surprised that the three teams in the AP Top 25 aren't the top three on this list.
1. Ohio State: The win versus the ‘Cats on the road should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Buckeyes are the class of the Big Ten thus far. OSU (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is top 20 in the nation in scoring offense, rushing offense, total offense, rushing defense and total defense. None of its games this year have been decided by less than seven points. What’s particularly scary about this squad is that it seems to be able to beat teams in all phases of the game. The ‘Cats defense did a nice job preventing the execution of the deep ball but were unable to stop the Buckeyes from torching them on the ground.
For a team to beat OSU, it will have to play a mistake-free game, stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback. Clearly, every one of the Buckeyes' opponents will have their work cut out for them. Don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes go undefeated for a second straight year.
2. Northwestern: While the final score against the Buckeyes read 40-30, anyone who watched the end of the game understood that the ‘Cats (4-1, 0-1) only fell by four points. On Saturday night, they played their best football of the season, but it just wasn’t enough to dethrone OSU. Their secondary looked fantastic against the Buckeyes, and if it weren’t for a costly interception and a controversial spot on senior quarterback Kain Colter’s QB sneak, the ‘Cats might have come out of that game with a victory. However, there is one major concern for the ‘Cats going forward: Their rush defense looked deflated in the second half against OSU, and their pass rush was basically ineffective against an above-average offensive line.
3. Wisconsin: Some people might argue against this decision, but the Badgers (3-2, 1-1) only fell to OSU by seven, and if not for a botched call by the referees at the very end of their game against Arizona State, they most likely would have won and their record would be 4-1, rather than 3-2. Also noteworthy is that both losses came on the road. The Badgers are top 20 in rushing offense, total offense, rushing defense, passing defense, scoring defense and total defense.
One could make the case that they are still undeserving of this ranking because they haven’t had an impressive win yet, (their three wins came against UMass, Tennessee Tech and Purdue). While that’s a valid point, they still played extremely well in their two losses, so critics shouldn’t judge them solely on their record. In order for Wisconsin to prove it is truly worthy of this spot, it needs to get some wins. All I ask is that the Badgers save their dominant play until after the Northwestern game this Saturday.
4. Michigan: Why put the Wolverines (5-0, 1-0) below the Badgers, even though they are undefeated and had an impressive victory against Notre Dame? It’s because they looked awful at home this season against the likes of Akron and UConn. If it were a one-time aberration, I would let it slide, but it happened twice, and they deserve to be held accountable for that. Against Akron, they nearly lost on the last play of the game, in what would have been the worst program loss since their infamous defeat at the hands of Appalachian State in 2007. The UConn game almost ended in disastrous form as well: At one point the Wolverines were down by two touchdowns, but found a way to eke out a victory in the end.
5. Michigan State: The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) just came off an impressive win against Iowa on the road. Yet, what makes MSU stand out from the rest of the Big Ten is that they currently lead the nation in total defense, allowing an average of only 203.8 yards a game. That’s mightily impressive, considering they have played teams such as Notre Dame, Iowa and South Florida. The Spartans could easily find themselves at 7-1 by the time they face their interstate rival, Michigan, considering they play at home against Indiana and Purdue and on the road against Illinois.
6. Nebraska: One thing preventing the Huskers (4-1, 1-1) from being higher on this list is that their only somewhat impressive win came against Illinois. It also hurts that they lost by 20 at home to UCLA, and while the Bruins are formidable, there is really no excuse to lose a game by that much in your own building, especially if you want to be considered a legitimate threat in the Big Ten. The Huskers do have a few things going for them, though. They have the ninth-best rushing attack in the country, coupled with 12 combined picks and fumble recoveries.
7. Iowa: After Nebraska, it's tough to see any of the remaining teams making a serious push to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. Nonetheless, the Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1) have played pretty well this year against their competition. Their only losses came against Northern Illinois and Michigan State, which is nothing to be ashamed of. The Hawkeyes' next three opponents are Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin, which will give them a chance to see how they stack up against the best of the Big Ten. It could determine whether or not they end the season bowl-eligible.
8. Illinois: The Illini (3-2, 0-1), have gotten off to a decent start this year but just haven’t been able to win the biggest games on their schedule, apart from a surprising victory over Cincinnati. They lost to No. 16 Washington at home before falling to Nebraska on the road two weeks later. If the Illini lose badly at home to both Wisconsin and Michigan State in the next two weeks, their spot on the power rankings will be jeopardized.
9. Indiana: I was shocked when I found out that Hoosiers (3-2, 1-0) had the tenth-best passing attack in the nation. Sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld is having a fantastic season thus far: through five games, he has a 64.2 completion percentage with 13 TDs and six picks. Not bad for a team that wasn’t expected to compete in the conference this season. Last week, the Hoosiers defeated Penn State by 20 at home, letting the rest of the Big Ten know that IU it shouldn’t be looked at as an easy win on the schedule. If it weren’t for a bad loss to Navy at home, the Hoosiers would be higher up on this list.
10. Penn State: The Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-1) haven’t carried momentum from their unlikely success last season in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal when they went 8-4. So far, they have lost by 20 on the road to the Hoosiers (whom they beat by 23 last season) and at home to lowly Central Florida. The only positive note of the season is the defense, which is allowing only 325 yards per game. That’s good for No. 18 in the country.
11. Minnesota: One reason why the Gophers (4-2, 0-2) aren’t higher on this list is that they haven’t beaten a relevant opponent; all of their wins came against lower-tier FBS teams or FCS programs. In addition, they only put up seven points at home to Iowa (during their homecoming, nonetheless) and got beaten down by Michigan on the road. Their total offense and defense is ranked 106and 55, respectively. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they didn’t manage more than one victory for the rest of the season.
12. Purdue: Now for the laughing stock of the Big Ten. The Boilermakers (1-4, 0-1) have the worst offense in the conference, averaging a whopping 17 points per game. To put that into perspective, the Wildcats, along with several other conference teams, double that total. Their only win this season came against their in-state “rival” Indiana State. If they don’t fix their offensive woes fast, they could be on their way to one of the worst seasons in program history.