Peyton Ramsey has Northwestern in first place in the Big Ten West. Michael Penix has Indiana tied atop the Big Ten East. Penn State is still winless after three weeks.
This is not your usual Big Ten football season. Ohio State looks like the powerhouse we expected, but outside of that, it’s a crapshoot. Wisconsin hasn’t played since week one, Michigan, Penn State and Minnesota all started as ranked teams and are now under .500 through three weeks, and there are five remaining unbeatens.
Here’s how things stack up in an abnormal 2020 Big Ten football season.
14. Illinois (0-3)
Last week: 14-41 LOSS vs Minnesota
Illinois punted on 4th and goal. I think that’s about all you need to know about the Illini. They continue to have to start backup QB Coran Taylor, who completed 6-of-17 passes for just 106 yards. Outside of a 52-yard completion, there wasn’t much life in this Illinois offense.
It could be a long year in Champaign.
Next up: at Rutgers (1-2); Saturday, Noon ET on BTN
13. Rutgers (1-2)
Last week: 27-49 LOSS at No. 3 Ohio State
Rutgers is a competitive 13th-best team in the Big Ten this year. It may not be as talented as most Big Ten teams, but it won’t go down without a fight. The Scarlet Knights will throw it across the field on punts, throw it to linemen in the red zone and blitz all the time. They made it respectable against Ohio State on Saturday.
With Illinois, Michigan, Purdue, Penn State and Maryland still on the schedule, there’s a chance Rutgers could win three or four games. Just a chance.
Next up: Illinois (0-3); Saturday, Noon ET on BTN
12. Penn State
Last week: 19-35 LOSS vs Maryland
Who thought we would see Penn State here after week three? Indiana may have stolen Penn State’s soul after that brutal overtime loss for the Nittany Lions in week one. Last week, Maryland led Penn State 35-7 after the first two minutes of the third quarter. Woah.
The losses of Journey Brown and Noah Cain are proving bigger and bigger each week. The Nittany Lions running backs mustered just 65 yards in this game, and Sean Clifford was forced to throw it 57 times and run it 17 times. That’s a little too much pressure on poor Clifford.
Next up: at Nebraska (0-2); Saturday, Noon ET on FS1
11. Michigan State
Last week: 7-49 LOSS at Iowa
Michigan State is only ahead of Penn State in the East standings because of its lone win over Michigan. But man, the Spartans’ losses are bad. A thumping to Rutgers that included seven turnovers, then a 42-point defeat to a previously winless Iowa team, including three more interceptions from Rocky Lombardi.
It was a sad effort in every phase of the game against the Hawkeyes. An Iowa team that has struggled to score all season, scored at will against Michigan State’s lowly defense. Lombardi went 17-for-37 with three picks, and their leading rusher had just 34 yards.
Michigan State showed what they’re capable of at the Big House, but their losses are huge red flags.
Next up: No. 10 Indiana (3-0); Saturday, Noon ET on ABC
10. Nebraska (0-2)
Last week: 13-21 LOSS at Northwestern
Nebraska is winless, but they haven’t been embarrassed like Michigan State. Sure, they lost by a lot at Ohio State, but most teams will. This week’s game was disappointing, though, after a bye week resulting from Wisconsin’s cancellation. This is the same team that wanted to schedule Chattanooga because it needed more for the College Football Playoff Committee.
Nebraska is already a laughing stock off the field, but they’re becoming one on the field, too. Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez didn’t even finish this week’s game at Northwestern, throwing for 125 yards and a pick. He was also the Cornhuskers’ leading rusher with 102 yards on the ground. This offense has too many weapons to score only 13 points against the Wildcats.
In a wide open Big Ten West, Nebraska may have missed its opportunity to play themselves into the race.
Next up: Penn State (0-3); Saturday, Noon ET on FS1
9. Minnesota (1-2)
Last week: 41-14 WIN at Illinois
Well, Minnesota won a game. It was against lowly Illinois, but they are officially in the win column. After the first two weeks, it was clear everyone was too high on this Gopher team. It’s especially disappointing given the West’s lack of any truly dominant teams this season.
There’s no denying how talented this offense is. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 224 yards and four touchdowns. Star receiver Rashod Bateman caught 10 balls for 139 yards and a touchdown. This was the first time the defense stayed with the offense, holding Illinois to 14 points. Can they do that against the likes of Purdue or Wisconsin? That’s still to be determined.
Next up: Iowa (1-2); Friday, 7 p.m. ET on FS1
8. Michigan (1-2)
Last week: 21-38 LOSS at No. 13 Indiana
Indiana exposed all the problems we thought Michigan had. They can’t defend in one-on-one matchups on the edge, they were bullied in the trenches and Joe Milton missed a lot of throws that could have changed the game.
Milton isn’t the problem, though. The inability to change things up defensively and set the tone up front on both sides of the ball is keeping Michigan from taking the next step.
The Wolverines didn’t look particularly interested in winning a football game on Saturday, and this may be it for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor.
Next up: No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0); Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
7. Iowa (1-2)
Last week: 49-7 WIN vs Michigan State
Iowa looked like a Big Ten West champion against Michigan State. It seemed to rebound nicely after an incredibly disappointing loss to Northwestern the week prior. First-year starter Spencer Petras doesn’t look like a world-beater at QB, but he did what the Hawkeyes needed him to do. The 226 rushing yards are the real reason Iowa dominated this game.
Iowa lost to two undefeated teams in tight games, so I don’t think they’re terrible. But because they have losses to Purdue and Northwestern, they’re likely playing to get to .500 and go to a bowl game.
Next up: Minnesota (1-2); Friday, 7 p.m. ET on FS1
6. Maryland (2-1)
Last week: 35-19 WIN at Penn State
This may end up being too high for this Maryland team, but their recent performances warrant a No. 6 ranking. Maryland has certainly put its embarrassing week one loss against Northwestern behind it, with the offense clicking on all cylinders the past two weeks.
Taulia Tagovailoa looked sharp against the Nittany Lions, finishing 18-for-26 with 282 yards and three touchdowns. The Terrapins have a solid run game to balance out the offense, too. The defense also tallied seven sacks on Sean Clifford.
Maryland may not contend for anything by the end of the season, but they are no cakewalk like they were a year ago. I’m very interested to see how they fair against Ohio State.
Next up: No. 3 Ohio State (3-0); Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET on BTN
5. Purdue (2-0)
Last week: OFF
What a strange top six teams. This is nothing against Purdue, but I didn’t think I would have them, or many of these top couple teams, this high. Iowa may not be very good, and we know Illinois isn’t great, so is Purdue for real?
We will certainly get some answers Saturday, under the lights against a much-improved Northwestern team. If Purdue wins this game, they may become the favorites to win the West.
Next up: No. 23 Northwestern (3-0); Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on BTN
4. Northwestern (3-0)
Last week: 21-13 WIN vs Nebraska
There hasn’t been anything flashy the past two weeks for Northwestern, but they’ve both ended in wins. They’ve dug themselves into holes early but climbed out late. Peyton Ramsey is doing what he did at Indiana, and that’s exactly what Northwestern needed after last season’s debacle.
Much like Purdue, we will find out a lot about the Wildcats this weekend in West Lafayette. Steal a road win and Northwestern may just be the favorites in the West.
Next up: at Purdue (2-0); Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on BTN
3. Wisconsin (1-0)
Last week: OFF
It’s hard to really know where Wisconsin belongs on this list. They’ll never get to play Purdue after that game was canceled. Their only win was against a bad Illinois team week one. And we don’t know who will be able to play and who won’t when they come back, whenever that is.
Wisconsin cannot miss another game or else they will be ineligible for the Big Ten Championship game. With Northwestern and Purdue both playing really good football, Wisconsin better be ready to fight upon its return, if they’re able to return this week.
Next up: at Michigan (1-2); Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
2. Indiana (3-0)
Last week: 38-21 WIN vs No. 23 Michigan
Indiana is the second-best team in the Big Ten. There, I said it. They got lucky in week one, but they proved against Michigan that they are a real threat in the Big Ten. They dominated that game from start to finish, leading by 10+ points from early in the second quarter until the end of the game.
Michael Penix was terrific, throwing for 342 yards and three scores, but Indiana cannot continue relying on him to throw the ball 50 times if they want to keep winning. Late in the game we saw more from Stevie Scott in the run game, finishing with 97 yards.
Indiana will need to be more balanced if it wants to compete with Ohio State in a couple weeks. It also can’t afford to overlook Sparty this weekend in East Lansing.
Next up: at Michigan State (1-2); Saturday, Noon ET on ABC
1. Ohio State (3-0)
Last week: 49-27 WIN vs Rutgers
Don’t let that score fool you, Ohio State was up 35-3 at halftime. If they could be higher than one spot ahead of the next Big Ten team, I would do it. There’s no one in the conference that can really compete with this team. Justin Fields is the best quarterback in the conference, the receiving core is supremely talented and the Buckeyes can run the ball on anyone.
Here’s a sentence you probably thought you would never read. Indiana is the only remaining ranked team on Ohio State’s schedule.