1. Ohio State (last week: 1) – The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) were just way too much for Purdue, whom they beat 56-0 this past weekend. It was 28-0 before the first quarter was even over. Here are some other ridiculous stats that OSU put up in that game: 640 total yards of offense, two running backs with over 95 yards on the ground, and only two allowed third down conversions the entire game. OSU decided to pull its starters toward the end of the game to prevent injuries in a game that was decided within the first 20 minutes. The Buckeyes’ next real test won’t be until their final regular season game, when they head to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines. Until then, expect a couple lopsided victories against Illinois and Indiana.
2. Michigan State (last week: 3) – The Spartans (8-1, 5-0) have been inching closer to this ranking for some time, and their 29-6 win vs. Michigan cemented it. Once again, their defense was superb, allowing an unreal -41 yards rushing in the first half. The Wolverines, who averaged 446 yards per game going in, were held to a measly 168. The Spartan offense wasn’t too shabby either, at least according to Michigan State standards. Against Michigan, they put up 394 yards of total offense, which is above their season average, and outscored the Wolverines 20-0 in the second half. Right now, there’s a great chance that Michigan State, which plays Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota in the final three weeks, and Ohio State will face off in the Big Ten Championship Game.
3. Wisconsin (last week: 2) – One of the reasons they have slightly dropped in the rankings is because during the first half against Iowa, their normally stout offense looked nonexistent. The Badgers (6-2, 4-1) didn’t earn a first down until mid-way through the second quarter and went into the half only up 7-6. In the second half, they pulled away for a 28-9 victory but only managed 362 yards of offense overall, well below their season average of 494.6. Does Iowa have an above-average defense? Certainly, but Wisconsin can’t play half a game as poorly as they did on Saturday if they want to win out. Next week they play at home against BYU (6-2), so if they have a great performance in both halves, they may regain the No. 2 spot.
4. Minnesota (last week: 6) – Before the season, if you told Big Ten analysts that the Gophers (7-2, 3-2) would have a legitimate case at eight or nine wins, they would have told you not to quit your day job. Minnesota had only six wins all of last season and went just 2-6 in conference play. After their 42-39 win at Indiana, though, they should be taken seriously, if they weren’t already. Going into the game, Indiana had the second best offense in the entire conference, but in the first half, the Gophers held them to 152 yards. And after not having much success throwing the ball early in the season, quarterback Philip Nelson exploded for 298 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Any questions about whether head coach Jerry Kill's epilepsy troubles would hurt the team appear to have been answered.
5. Nebraska (last week: 7) – A last-second Hail Mary pass helped the Huskers (6-2, 3-1) escape with a 27-24 victory against the Wildcats at home. Nebraska managed to get the job done, despite playing without senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and turning the ball over four times. The game itself was a nail biter, and it seems fitting that the team with the ball last was the one that came out on top. No one expected that it would end on a last-second heave, though. While the Huskers will probably have a lot of momentum from a game like this, they need to improve their rush defense if they want to have continued success. On Saturday, they allowed 245 yards on the ground, and the defense is giving up an average of 182.6 rushing yards per game, which is fourth-worst in the conference.
6. Iowa (last week: 5) – The combined record of the four teams (Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin) that have beaten Iowa (5-4, 2-3) this year is 32-3. Clearly, they’ve had a brutal schedule, and for that, they shouldn’t be penalized in the rankings, even with their latest defeat at the hands of the Badgers. In that game, the Hawkeyes were only down by one at halftime but were unable to keep up with Wisconsin’s ferocious attack in the second half. Iowa has the 12th best defense in the nation, allowing just 325.1 yards per game, and it did a pretty good job, considering it held Wisconsin to just four touchdowns.
7. Michigan (last week: 4) – While it played a superior team on the road, Saturday’s 29-6 defeat was another very poor performance by the Michigan (6-2, 2-2) squad this year, which is why it is so low on this list (they squeaked by Akron 28-24, barely defeated UConn 24-21 and lost to Penn State 43-40). The Wolverine offense was anemic against the Spartans, and they ended the game with -48 yards rushing. That’s just unacceptable for Michigan, which was expected to be a tough competitor in the Legends Division. The issues stem from a poor rushing attack that averages just 154.9 yards per game and an exploitable pass defense that’s the second worst in the conference, allowing 255 yards in the air per game.
8. Penn State (last week: 9) – The Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2) found a way to defeat the Illini 24-17 in overtime on Saturday. After their beatdown at the hands of OSU two weeks ago, the Nittany Lions played well on both sides of the ball en route to victory. They had nearly 500 yards of offense while holding their opponent to less than 100 yards on the ground. Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who’s been under the radar this year, threw for 240 yards and one TD. This might surprise some folks, but Hackenberg is leading the entire conference in passing yards, with 2024. Since the Nittany Lions still have Purdue left on their schedule, it’s more than likely that they finish up the year with at least six wins. With the amount of scholarships they lost due to the Sandusky scandal, it’s quite the feat for this program to have back-to-back successful seasons.
9. Northwestern (last week: 10) – There’s no way to describe how painful of a loss the ‘Cats suffered on Saturday. It’s as if everything has fallen apart for this program, which started off the year 4-0, with hopes for a trip to the Rose Bowl come January. Although the ‘Cats (4-5, 0-5) are still without a Big Ten win, on Saturday they played well enough to be deserving of one. Northwestern was ahead 21-7 at one point mid-way through the second quarter before things started to fall apart. A string of bad offensive series, including a pick-six by quarterback Trevor Siemian, let Nebraska right back into the game. The offense, for the fourth week in a row, had trouble executing, managing only 326 total yards, with just 81 coming through the air. If there’s anything positive to take away from the team’s last several defeats, it’s that they’ve played hard and were in a position to come out victorious each time. It just happens not to be their year.
10. Indiana (last week: 8) – They were three points away from having one of the biggest upsets of the Big Ten season, but just fell short in their 42-39 defeat to the Golden Gophers on the road. The Hoosiers (3-5, 1-3) put up a ton of yards once again, 496 to be exact, but their defense was completely torched for 573 yards. Essentially, this game was just another typical shootout that the Hoosiers seem to find themselves in week after week. Unfortunately for Hoosiers fans, they just haven’t managed to win many of these back-and-forth contests.
11. Illinois (last week: 11) – The Illini (3-5, 0-4) lost to Penn State in overtime over the weekend, but it was their best performance in the Big Ten by far. In their other three conference losses, they lost by an average of 27 points. A major concern for this team continues to be the defense, or lack thereof. The Fighting Illini have given up a whopping 461.8 yards per contest, which is second worst in the Big Ten, just ahead of the Hoosiers, whom they play next week. This game could potentially have over 100 combined points on the board, which is why it’s a “must watch” Big Ten matchup.
12. Purdue (last week: 12) – All year long, the Boilermakers (1-7, 0-4) haven’t had much success on either side of the ball, which can explain the 56-0 pounding they just took from Ohio State. Purdue only managed 116 total yards and gave up over 600, which can explain why the outcome was so one-sided. The game was unwatchable at times, and one couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the Boilermakers, who weren’t in any position to put up a legitimate fight.