Howe: Big Ten Football Power Rankings After Week 8
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Just when we think we have things figured out, the unexpected slaps us in the face. Welcome to the Big Ten.
Highly-ranked Ohio State fell victim to the road upsets the last two seasons. Why the Buckeyes have avoided the pitfall in ’19, Wisconsin learned what it felt like to walk in their shoes.
A 30.5-point underdog, Illinois stunned the then No.6 and unbeaten Badgers, 24-23, on a walk-off field goal Saturday in Champaign. It represented the biggest upset in conference play since 32-point favorite Minnesota stumbled against Northwestern in ’82.
Illinois’ performance certainly makes the West Division more interesting. The Golden Gophers move into sole possession of first place, and the outlook brightens for Iowa, whose schedule softens in the second half of the season.
Here’s how the Big ten teams stack up for me after seven weeks:
1. Ohio State – Wisconsin’s loss takes some luster off its game this weekend in Columbus. What set up as two of the country’s top unbeaten teams squaring off turns into a matchup featuring one playoff contender instead of two. The Big Ten’s reckoning shifts to Nov. 23 when Penn State enters The Shoe. Oh yeah, and the Buckeyes blasted Northwestern in Evanston Friday night and remain the class of the conference.
2. Penn State – The Nittany Lions jumped all over visiting Michigan early Saturday night only to find themselves needing to hang on in the fourth quarter. They won by a touchdown in remaining unbeaten and rising to No. 6 in the AP Poll. Penn State doesn’t look like a national title contender but it’s positioned for the playoff if it can win out. And it’s clearly earned the No. 2 spot here.
3. Wisconsin – What a disaster for the Badgers and the Big Ten. You figured they’d tumble at Ohio State this week, but Saturday’s epic failure at Illinois gut-punched a league trying to get back into the playoff after missing out the last two seasons. Instead of it having three Top 10, unbeaten programs, Wisconsin sunk back to No. 13 and decreased the conference’s margin for error.
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4. Michigan – It’s hard imagining the Wolverines capturing a moral victory, but that’s what Saturday night’s effort in State College feels like. It’s obvious at this point that they’re flawed and not a Big Ten contender. They’ve figured out that they need to grind and accepted it.
5. Minnesota – The Golden Gophers can’t get people to take them seriously despite being unbeaten and playing in one of the country’s top conferences. That’s not going to change this week when they play host to Maryland. They’ll be afforded a chance to prove themselves next month when they face Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin.
6. Iowa – The Hawkeyes’ 26-20 Homecoming victory as a heavy favorite against Purdue Saturday didn’t erase concerns born out of back-to-back losses versus Michigan and Penn State. It did keep them in the West Division race, however, and preserved an opportunity for a memorable season.
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7. Michigan State – After being embarrassed in consecutive weeks by Ohio State and Wisconsin, Sparty needed a bye. Hopefully it rested up and found some answers for its anemic offense. Penn State arrives in East Lansing on Saturday.
8. Indiana – Don’t look now, but the Hoosiers sit one win away from bowl eligibility following Saturday’s 34-28 triumph at Maryland. That’s significant for a program that’s reached the postseason just 10 times overall and on only three occasions since ’94.
9. Nebraska – The Huskers received a much-needed bye after being shellacked at Minnesota without starting quarterback Adrian Martinez. His status for Saturday’s home game against Indiana remains up in the air. With two road games left, and home contests against Wisconsin and Iowa, it’s a win they need.
10. Illinois – Illinois pushed Michigan two weeks ago before springing the shocking upset on Wisconsin. Maybe the Illini are finally improving under Lovie Smith. We’ll find out more Saturday when they travel to Purdue.
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11. Purdue – The Boilermakers showed a lot of grit in pushing Iowa at Kinnick Stadium Saturday. It makes one wonder what might have been had this team not been hit with a rash of injuries.
12. Northwestern – The Wildcats put up no resistance against Ohio State on Friday night. They get another crack at a ranked team Saturday when they play host to No. 19 Iowa.
13. Maryland – After a 2-0 start, the Terrapins have lost four of five games with the lone victory coming against Rutgers.
14. Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights play host to Liberty Saturday. As of Monday, they were a 7-point dog.