Big Ten Power Rankings: After Big 2 1/2, conference at best a muddle of mediocrity

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch

We’ve seen enough to know it’s the Big 2½ and Little 11½, depending how you slot Penn State. The Nittany Lions either belong among the also-rans or join Ohio State and Michigan as contenders in the East. We won’t know for sure until PSU visits Michigan Oct. 15.

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Until then, we’ll stick with the Buckeyes and Wolverines as towering above the pack of pretenders. Minnesota remains the most intriguing team in the conference, and should be favored to win the West, while Indiana and Rutgers came back to earth, as we knew they would. Last thing: watch out for Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ defense is good enough to make up for a horrible offense. At least in the West. And maybe this week against Michigan?

Sep 24, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) during the first half of the NCAA Division I football game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

1. Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 1

This week: Rutgers

What to know: Ohio State could oversleep, miss kickoff by 15 minutes and still crush the Scarlet Knights by 30 points. Must be nice to name your score.   

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy high-fives fans after the Wolverines defeated Maryland 34-27 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

2. Michigan (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 2

This week: at Iowa

What to know: Coming off something of a scare against Maryland, the Wolverines face another potential fright in Iowa’s defense. Then again, UM can score 20 points and be fine.

Sep 24, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs with the ball during the third quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Central Michigan 33-14. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

3. Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 3

This week: Northwestern

What to know: What is this? Alabama? When did Penn State begin scheduling high school teams? 

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck during the second half of the 34-7 win over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

4. Minnesota (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 4

This week: Purdue

What to know: It feels like 23-year-old quarterback Tanner Morgan is entering his 10th season with the Golden Gophers. Expect the Tom Brady of the Big Ten (in age only) to have a big game against the Boilermakers. 

Sep 24, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Antwain Littleton II (31) celebrates after he dives in for a touchdown in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

5. Maryland (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 7

This week: Michigan State

What to know: Maryland typically hits the wall when conference play arrives, but the Spartans apparently are made of wet drywall, so the Terrapins will bust right through.  

Sep 24, 2022; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Riley Moss (33) breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Aron Cruickshank (1) during the first half at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

6. Iowa (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 8

This week: Michigan

What to know: The Hawkeyes rank No. 6 nationally in total defense, but 131st (and last) in offense. Pickle juice and peanut butter are an easier combo to swallow. 

Sep 24, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Cryst asks about a no call on a play to a referee in the third quarter of the NCAA football game between Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio Stadium.

7. Wisconsin (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 5

This week: Illinois

What to know: Something seems amiss in Madison. Coaching? Failure to adjust ancient offense to modern times? Whatever it is, the Badgers better fix it before the Illini come to town.

Illinois head coach Brent Bielema, center, looks at the scoreboard during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

8. Illinois (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 12

This week: at Wisconsin

What to know: Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema goes back to Badgerland for the first time since leaving the Dub for Arkansas 10 years ago. Upset special: BB makes a triumphal return.   

Sep 24, 2022; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano leads the Scarlet Knights football team onto the field before a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

9. Rutgers (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 9

This week: at Ohio State

What to know: Rutgers enters a second straight blackout game at the Horseshoe, except this time it’s the Scarlet Knights blacking out. 

Michigan State's Jacoby Windmon (4) walks off the field after the 34-7 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Spartan Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

10. Michigan State (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 6

This week: at Maryland

What to know: The Spartans looked undisciplined, uninterested and unprepared during their uninspiring 34-7 loss to Minnesota, leading unimpressed MSU fans to wonder if Mel Tucker should go unpaid for overseeing the unfortunate mess.

Sep 24, 2022; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Austin Burton (12) talks with Purdue Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm during the fourth quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium. Boilermakers won 28 to 26.  Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

11. Purdue (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 10

This week: at Minnesota

What to know: The Boilermakers struggled against Florida Atlantic last week. Don’t expect sea change this week. 

FILE - Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle (14) throws during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Bloomington, Ind. Illinois has lost its last three matchups against Indiana. The Hoosiers enter this season opener trying to snap an eight-game losing streak. Both teams are hoping for a strong start Friday night when they open Big Ten play. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

12. Indiana (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 11

This week: at Nebraska

What to know: A litmus test of a game that doubles as a COVID-19 rapid test, telling us which of these  programs is more negative than the other. 

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald signals after the team scored a touchdown against Southern Illinois during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton

13. Northwestern (1-3, 1-0 Big Ten)

Last week: 13

This week: at Penn State

What to know: The Wildcats have lost back-to-back games to Southern Illinois and Miami University. Losing back-to-back-to-back is an affront to Pat Fitzgerald’s reputation.

Nebraska interim head coach Mickey Joseph chats with defensive back Quinton Newsome as he exits the field following an Oklahoma touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. Oklahoma defeated Nebraska 49-14. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

14. Nebraska (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 14

This week: Indiana

What to know: The Cornhuskers remain the unfinished basement of the Big Ten. Can they add some 1970s-style faux paneling by “upsetting” Indiana? Probably not.


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