Well, the biggest week of the Big Ten season so far has come and gone, leaving two clear contenders with a direct path to Indianapolis. Barring a massive upset, Iowa and Michigan State will play for the Big Ten crown.
But as a whole, the Big Ten has emerged as the top conference in college football. LSU and much of the SEC has been exposed as overhyped and the Big Ten put four teams in the College Football Playoff top 10.
Now the microscope shifts from the top of the league to the middle, where four teams need a victory to get to six wins. Will the Big Ten send only seven teams to the postseason? Or could it be as many as 11? All 14 teams will hit the turf Saturday (or Friday) for six meaningful games (and one Maryland-Rutgers pillow fight).
|1. Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) – Up 2|
|Last Week: Beat #3 Ohio State 17-14||This Week: Sat Penn State (7-4, 4-3), 3:30pm, ESPN|
Mark Dantonio did it again. Nobody gave Michigan State a chance to win in Columbus, especially when star quarterback and future first-round draft pick Connor Cook was ruled out. If the Spartans knock off Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5, they should be a top two seed in the playoff.
|2. Michigan (9-2, 6-1) – Even|
|Last Week: Beat Penn State 28-16||This Week: Sat vs #8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1), 12pm, ABC|
Saturday was a perfect representation of how far Michigan has come under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines dominated Penn State in Happy Valley, electing to take a knee inside the five instead of winning the game by 19 points. The victory gave Michigan a perfect 4-0 road record in conference play and a fourth straight win since the crushing defeat against MSU. If Michigan played Utah or Michigan State today, it would probably win both games. Instead, the Wolverines have a chance to clinch a New Year’s Six bowl game if they can take care of Ohio State at the Big House.
|3. Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) – Down 2|
|Last Week: Lost to #9 Michigan State 14-17||This Week: Sat at #10 Michigan (9-2, 6-1), 12pm, ABC|
You don’t really find out about the character of a team until it faces some adversity, and the Buckeyes didn’t handle it well. After their first loss in over a calendar year, Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott unceremoniously declared for the NFL Draft and Elliott blamed the entire loss on play calling. Then, Urban Meyer seized control of his team by…basically cowering at Elliott’s feet during his weekly press conference. Elliott does not deserve to miss game time for his comments, but the way he attacked his coaching staff created a crack in the seemingly impenetrable wall Meyer built in Columbus. Now that the Buckeyes have a loss, the rest of their resume is fair game for criticism. Ohio State’s best win came at home against a mediocre Penn State team and then it lost its only competitive game to a team with two backup quarterbacks. I think Michigan is going to see an angry, ultra-motivated Buckeye team in Ann Arbor this weekend.
|4. Indiana (5-6, 1-6) – Up 1|
|Last Week: Beat Maryland 47-28||This Week: Sat at Purdue (2-9, 1-6), 12pm, BTN|
Indiana has been the anti-Ohio State this season: Losing close games against very tough competition. The Hoosiers have played five of the top six teams in the conference and nearly knocked off four of those teams. But now it’s time to give Indiana some love. Despite falling behind Maryland 21-3 in the first quarter, Kevin Wilson’s team didn’t fall apart, instead scoring the next 27 points and running away with a 47-28 win. That first conference victory gives the Hoosiers a great chance to clinch a bowl Saturday in West Lafayette.
|5. Penn State (7-4, 4-3) – Down 1|
|Last Week: Lost to #12 Michigan 16-28||This Week: Sat at #5 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1), 3:30pm, ESPN|
Is Penn State any good? I’m really not sure. James Franklin heads into the final game of the season without a single win over a winning power five team. PSU’s best win came against Indiana and it hasn’t won a road game on the year. Christian Hackenberg missed some open receivers by a wide margin Saturday against Michigan and looks beaten down by a terrible offensive line’s ineptitude.
|6. Rutgers (4-7, 1-6) – Even|
|Last Week: Beat Army 31-21||This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-9, 0-7), 12pm, BTN|
Rutgers won at Army by 10 points to snap a four-game losing streak on Saturday. Luckily, the Scarlett Knights get to close out the season against Maryland this weekend.
|7. Maryland (2-9, 0-7) – Even|
|Last Week: Lost to Indiana 28-47||This Week: Sat at Rutgers (4-7, 1-6), 12pm, BTN|
It seems like some strong head coaching candidates are strongly considering that Maryland job, which is the first good news the football program has heard all season. Luckily, the Terrapins get to close out the season against Rutgers this weekend.
|1. Iowa (11-0, 7-0) – Even|
|Last Week: Beat Purdue 40-20||This Week: Fri at Nebraska (5-6, 3-4), 3:30pm, ABC|
With a foot of snow piled on every row of bleachers, Iowa looked like it would give fans an excuse to watch the second half from the warmth of their living rooms Saturday. But a 20-point lead was trimmed to just seven early in the second half after a 13-0 Purdue run. The Hawkeyes woke up just in time to win 40-20 and jump into the top four of the playoff rankings. Iowa already clinched the Big Ten West Division, but it’ll need a win in Nebraska on Friday night to stay alive for the playoff.
|2. Northwestern (9-2, 5-2) – Even|
|Last Week: Beat #25 Wisconsin 13-7||This Week: Sat vs Illinois (5-6, 2-5), 3:30pm, ESPNU|
Another week, another reason Northwestern should be ranked much higher than it actually is. The Wildcats went into Madison and held Wisconsin to seven points to add another quality win to a loaded resume. It’s a shame that losses to a pair of top 10 teams took a very deserving Northwestern team out of the New Year’s Six conversation.
|3. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) – Up 1|
|Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-14||This Week: Fri vs #4 Iowa (11-0, 7-0), 3:30pm, ABC|
It’s been a season full of shock for Nebraska fans: Shocking losses, shocking wins and, most prominently, shocking endings. Mike Riley is two-thirds of the way through the 3-0 finish he needed to make a bowl game. It’s fitting that the Cornhuskers will need a shocking win over undefeated Iowa to polish it off.
|4. Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2) – Down 1|
|Last Week: Lost to #20 Northwestern 7-13||This Week: Sat at Minnesota (5-6, 2-5), 3:30pm, BTN|
Wisconsin played three games against teams without losing record this season and lost all three, scoring an average of 10 points. All eight of Wisconsin’s wins came against teams with five or fewer wins. That makes an SEC non-conference schedule look almost respectable.
|5. Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) – Even
|Last Week: Beta Illinois 32-23||This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2), 3:30pm, BTN|
Coming off three straight losses to current top-10 teams, Minnesota got its first win under Tracy Claeys Saturday against Illinois. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Golden Gophers knock off Wisconsin at home to sneak into the bowl season. Minnesota is one of those pesky teams you don’t want to play in the postseason.
|6. Purdue (2-9, 1-6) – Up 1|
|Last Week: Lost to #5 Iowa 20-40||This Week: Sat vs Indiana (5-6, 1-6), 12pm, BTN|
This is going to sound strange, but Purdue might be the best 2-9 team in the country. The Boilermakers have come within a possession of knocking off three teams with at least nine wins and gave Iowa a bit of a scare in the 3rd quarter Saturday. A rivalry win against bowl-hopeful Indiana would end the season on a positive note.
|7. Illinois (5-6, 2-5) – Down 1|
|Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 23-32||This Week: Sat vs #16 Northwestern (9-2, 5-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU|
Illinois had a perfect opportunity to clinch a bowl win Saturday in Minnesota, but laid an egg in a 32-23 loss. Now it’ll take an upset over an excellent Northwestern team on Senior Night to extend the season for Bill Cubit’s group.