After huge wins by Ohio State and Northwestern, it appears inevitable that the two will square off Dec. 19 in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship. The bottom of the Big Ten continues to be a mess that we haven’t seen in a long time, and then there’s Iowa, stuck in the middle.
Here’s how I see things heading into week six of the Big Ten football season.
14. Penn State (0-5)
Last week: 21-41 LOSS vs. Iowa
Previous ranking: 11
For the first time in school history, Penn State is 0-5. Yeah, 11 to 14 is a big drop, but I think this team is deserving of being in the basement of the Big Ten. They tried Sean Clifford, and he threw a couple interceptions and had a QBR of 40.4. Then Will Levis came in. He didn’t throw any interceptions, but had no touchdowns and a QBR of 56.2. Penn State has been hurt with the losses of Micah Parsons (opt-out), Journey Brown (retirement), and Noah Cain (injury). But even with that, they are still a team with a lot of talent, but they can’t find a quarterback, Pat Freiermuth is now out for the season, and the “tough” defense stinks.
The only chance Penn State could possibly pull itself out of the last spot is a win over Rutgers or Michigan State. For the sake of Penn State football, please win those games.
Next up: at Michigan; Saturday, Noon ET on ABC
13. Michigan State (1-3)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 14
Michigan State benefited from me not having to watch them this past week. I’m sure they would have lost to Maryland, but because the game didn’t happen and Penn State looked bad, again, they were able to move up to 13th.
Next up: vs. No. 11 Northwestern; Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
12. Rutgers (1-4)
Last week: 42-48 LOSS (3OT) vs. Michigan
Previous ranking: 13
Man, Rutgers, you had this one. Up 17-0, the Scarlet Knights controlled the game for the first three quarters. Then they had a field goal to win in first overtime. Somehow, they weren’t able to finish, and now Rutgers is facing another one- or two-win season. They had chances late against Illinois and Michigan, and without those, Penn State might be the last chance to steal a win.
Despite the record, Noah Vedral was a great addition for Rutgers. He has put some life into this offense. He finished with 381 yards and three scores. The offense is not the issue anymore, which is a step in the right direction for Rutgers.
Next up: at Purdue; Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on FS1
11. Nebraska (1-3)
Last week: 23-41 LOSS vs. Illinois
Previous ranking: 8
I’ve had a wrong read on Nebraska for most of the year. I thought they had some talent, albeit a tough schedule, and would be a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team. That has not been the case at all. Luke McCaffrey was bad, throwing for 134 yards and three interceptions. They had to go back to Aidan Martinez, a guy who many put in the Heisman rankings before last season. Man, how things have changed in Lincoln.
Nebraska is not good, but Illinois Twitter is. That tweet is the nail in the coffin for Nebraska’s 2020 season.
Next up: at Iowa; Friday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX
10. Michigan (2-3)
Last week: 48-42 WIN (3OT) at Rutgers
Previous ranking: 10
We’re getting closer to a win over Rutgers meaning a little bit more, but we aren’t there yet. For Michigan, any win would have been welcomed to stop the slide, but that doesn’t mean they are a better football team. Last week I said I thought they had found their quarterback and he wasn’t the issue. Well, turns out he was the issue, and they found a solution mid-game. Cade McNamara entered and threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns, leading Michigan back from a 17-0 hole to win in triple OT.
If Michigan can have balance offensively, which it did on Saturday, there’s a chance the Wolverines could turn this slightly around. 4-4 and is very possible, with Penn State and Maryland the next two weeks. Then it’ll leave a very interesting decision with Jim Harbaugh.
Next up: vs. Penn State; Saturday, Noon ET on ABC
9. Illinois (2-3)
Last week: 41-23 WIN at Nebraska
Previous ranking: 12
The tweet alone is enough reason to move Illinois up to ninth. But the play of late is another reason. Illinois got Brandon Peters back from COVID-19, and he finished 18-for-25 with 205 yards and a touchdown. He was helped with a pair of 100-yard rushers and a defense that forced five turnovers.
Illinois isn’t a very good team, but the Illini seem to have figured out some of the issues they had early in the season (a lot of that is Peters returning). They won’t win this week against Ohio State, but if I’m Northwestern in the final week of the season, I’d be on high alert.
Next up: vs. No. 3 Ohio State; Saturday, Noon ET on FS1
8. Minnesota (2-3)
Last week: 34-31 WIN vs. Purdue
Previous ranking: 9
Minnesota doesn’t deserve this win based on the terrible pass interference call, but people are forgetting the 58 minutes of game play before that moment. Minnesota didn’t get handed the win for 60 minutes. With that being said, it still should have been a loss and Minnesota isn’t gaining a lot of respect from me because of this “win.”
Minnesota’s offense is back? I just don’t know what to think about Minnesota anymore. They are extremely hot and cold and last week, the offense was hot enough to get the win.
Next up: at No. 18 Wisconsin; Saturday, 2 p.m. ET on BTN
7. Maryland (2-1)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 7
These game cancellations could end up helping Maryland when the end of the season comes and they have only a couple losses. This could put them in a game against Wisconsin or Iowa during championship weekend. This week against Indiana will be a good test to see just how good this Maryland team is.
Next up: at Indiana; Saturday, Noon ET on ESPN2
6. Purdue (2-2)
Last week: 31-34 LOSS at Minnesota
Previous ranking: 6
Purdue looked good despite the loss. With a backup quarterback, the offense still put up 31 points, and it really should have been 38. Jake Plummer was plugged in and it didn’t make a difference, throwing for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Purdue still needs a little bit more balance in the run game, but Zander Horvath did have 68 yards on 10 carries. That’s a step in the right direction.
Not sure what’s left for Purdue to play for besides just getting above .500. A win would have kept the Boilermakers alive in the West, but now, with a pretty easy schedule before playing Indiana, they have a chance to finish over .500 and get back to a bowl game.
Next up: vs. Rutgers; Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on FS1
5. Iowa (3-2)
Last week: 41-21 WIN at Penn State
Previous ranking: 5
I don’t know what happened to Iowa, but it looks like a football team that should be in contention in the West. However, the Hawkeyes had two sloppy second halves against Purdue and Northwestern to start the season and are out of the running. Saturday featured another 100-plus yard game and another two touchdowns for Mekhi Sargent. Spencer Petras continues to do what he needs to do and the defense continues to create turnovers.
There’s not much else to say about the Hawkeyes. They have trapped themselves in the middle of the Big Ten West and have no way of getting out.
Next up: vs. Nebraska; Friday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX
4. Wisconsin (2-1)
Last week: 7-17 LOSS at No. 19 Northwestern
Previous ranking: 2
I was impressed by Wisconsin through two games, but still knew that the team had only played Illinois and Michigan. I think we found the real Wisconsin on Saturday. This is a team that has a stellar defense, but, without Jonathan Taylor, struggles to run the ball and doesn’t have the weapons on the outside to challenge a great defense like Northwestern. The Badgers did move the ball, but couldn’t convert for points and turned the ball over five times, very un-Wisconsin like.
Wisconsin is likely out of the West conversation because Northwestern would have to lose twice and its remaining schedule is pretty easy. So now Wisconsin will have its eyes on Indiana and a possible play-in game for a New Year’s Six Bowl or likely a high-tier New Year’s Day bowl.
Next up: vs. Minnesota; Saturday, 2 p.m. ET on BTN
3. Indiana (4-1)
Last week: 35-42 LOSS at No. 3 Ohio State
Previous ranking: 3
Indiana has had a lot of tough losses to Ohio State in the past. This one is right up at the top. Two fumbles in the red zone, costly drops, missed tackles, the list goes on and on. But for the first time in forever, it felt like Indiana deserved to be on the field with Ohio State. Penix was phenomenal (491 yards, five touchdowns), and Ty Fryfogle is the first Big Ten receiver ever to have back-to-back 200 yard games. That’s crazy.
The big concern for Indiana moving forward is the run game. They finished with -1 yards rushing. If Indiana wants to beat Wisconsin and have its hopes alive for a New Year’s Six Bowl, it will need to establish a consistent run game that can help balance out the offense.
Next up: vs. Maryland; Saturday, Noon ET on ESPN2
2. Northwestern (5-0)
Last week: 17-7 WIN vs. No. 10 Wisconsin
Previous ranking: 4
Northwestern is legit. That defense was suffocating. Peyton Ramsey is moving the football and being the smart quarterback we all know him to be. He’s not forced to do a lot, but he does exactly what Northwestern needs from him. They can run the ball, they can defend, they can do it all.
Is Northwestern Ohio-State-level legit? No. But it’s the second-best team in the conference and will have a crack at Ohio State in a couple weeks. The Wildcats also ruined the Indiana vs. Peyton Ramsey championship week game, which is disappointing.
Next up: at Michigan State; Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
1. Ohio State (4-0)
Last week: OFF
Previous ranking: 1
There are certainly issues on this Ohio State team. The offensive line was being beaten up on passing downs, and the secondary was atrocious. But they found a way to win, and they figured out how to beat Indiana: with short passing and running. If Ohio State can run the ball like that, the Buckeyes will be a tough out come playoff time.
I know Indiana is better than usual, but I still come away from that game saying Ohio State isn’t on the same level as Alabama and Justin Fields isn’t a legit Heisman candidate. He threw three picks and was sacked five times against the first real defense he faced. There are issues in Columbus, but Ohio State is still the cream of the crop in the Big Ten.