Big Ten play started in earnest last week, and it was hard to watch. There were some tight games, but many were plodding and low-scoring affairs. Indiana led Ohio State 10-6 at halftime. Michigan went into the half up 6-0 against Maryland. Northwestern was up 10-0 at the break and Iowa led Wisconsin 10-3 after two quarters. Nebraska and Penn State both led 10-0 at the half in their games. Does anyone see a pattern here? These games were positively brutal to watch.
Watching Maryland and Minnesota attempt to play offense against the likes of Michigan's and Northwestern's defense was pitiful. I feel for those who rooted for Maryland and Minnesota over the weekend. Watch TCU play if you want to know what offense is supposed to look like.
There were some close games last week that had some exciting finishes. With that in mind, let's dive into the rankings.
Big Ten East
The top teams are still the top teams but Indiana put fear in the belly of Ohio State fans across the nation. I have been saying it all season long. 2015 Ohio State IS 2014 FSU. FSU was the insanely talented defending national champion who was supposed to wipe the floor with everyone but ended up beating Oklahoma State and Clemson by six (in OT), Florida by five, Notre Dame and Miami by four, Boston College by three, and Georgia Tech by two.
You don't think there are any similarities?
1) #1 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0)
The Buckeyes are not invincible and both Michigan State and Michigan might be able to knock them off. I'm less sure about Penn State's chances. Ohio State had to fend off Indiana's last-ditch Hail Mary in order to get the win last week. The Buckeyes have their homecoming game this week and they will be hosting Maryland, a team that doesn't seem to be able to score as of late. Ezekiel Elliott should get plenty of touches and I expect Ohio State to have this one finished off after three quarters.
Up Next: Maryland (2-3, 0-1) at home
2) #4 Michigan State (5-0, 1-0)
After taking a 21-0 lead into halftime, Michigan State got gashed on the ground and had to fend off Purdue. The Spartans prevailed 24-21 but that was not a good win and Michigan State fell from No. 2 to No. 4 in the rankings. Rutgers had a week to prepare for them but it shouldn't matter.
Up Next: at Rutgers (2-2, 0-1)
3) #18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0)
Michigan's lone loss was by one touchdown to No. 5 Utah on the road. It definitely doesn't look bad right now. The Wolverines pitched shutouts in back-to-back games for the first time since 2000. In their last four games, Michigan is outscoring their opponents 122-14. Jim Harbaugh has this group playing inspired and authentic Michigan football. This week brings a tough test in undefeated and ranked Northwestern. Points will be hard to come by in this one but luckily for the Wolverines, they will be playing this one in the Big House.
Up Next: #13 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) at home
4) Indiana (4-1, 0-1)
The Hoosiers suffered their first loss of the season against the Buckeyes but they proved that they are not to be taken lightly. They can play with the toughest teams in the conference and Nate Sudfeld can lead this program to a very successful season if he continues playing like this. Indiana cannot afford to stumble at Happy Valley. They have to take their moral victory from last week and prove that it wasn't a fluke.
Up Next: at Penn State (4-1, 1-0)
5) Penn State (4-1, 1-0)
Penn State beat Army at home, 20-14, last week and might be the worst 4-1 team in the country. They crushed Rutgers at home. Can they do the same to an Indiana team that almost took the top-ranked Buckeyes to overtime?
Up Next: Indiana (4-1, 0-1) at home
6) Rutgers (2-2, 0-1)
By virtue of the fact that they had a bye week, the Scarlet Knights move up to the sixth spot in the Big Ten East power rankings. Rutgers heads to East Lansing this week and afterwards might be headed back to the bottom of the rankings.
Up Next: at #4 Michigan State (5-0, 1-0)
7) Maryland (2-3, 0-1)
The Terps got shutout by Michigan, 28-0, at home last week. They were spanked by West Virginia in Morgantown, 45-6, the week before that. This week, they head to Columbus to take on the No. 1 team in the country. The spread right now for the game has the Buckeyes as 33-point favorites. Avert thine eyes this weekend Maryland fans.
Up Next: at #1 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0)
Big Ten West
Many of these games were close but that doesn't mean they were played well. Wisconsin couldn't move the ball at Camp Randall and fumbled around the goal-line. Nebraska had numerous chances but couldn't put Illinois away, allowing the Fighting Illini to score a last-minute touchdown in Champagne. Northwestern suffocated Minnesota's offense. The Golden Gophers looked lost at best and have to find some solutions quickly. Northwestern and Iowa have established themselves as the teams to beat in the Big Ten West right now.
1) #13 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0)
The Wildcats are for real. Their defense is outstanding and they can run the ball effectively. They average almost 200 yards a game on the ground but they might not have that kind of success against Michigan's outstanding defense in Ann Arbor. Both of these teams are red-hot and this should be a very competitive game. The quarterbacks aren't great so the run games will be the key.
Up Next: at #18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0)
2) #22 Iowa (5-0, 1-0)
The Hawkeyes went into Camp Randall and left with a win, something that only about a half dozen teams have done in the last decade. It was an impressive win to be sure but I think Wisconsin shot themselves in the foot a lot and that was a huge factor in Iowa's win. Wisconsin was punting in Iowa territory and generally made play-calling decisions that didn't set them up to try and win this game. Iowa is a scrappy team and they are the real deal too. If I had to take them or Northwestern, I'd take the Wildcats right now. It's very important for the Hawkeyes not to let up against an Illinois team that hung around and found a way to win last week.
Up Next: Illinois (4-1, 1-0) at home
3) Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1)
Joel Stave had a terrible game and Wisconsin's play-calling and general decision making was abysmal last week. The offensive line and running game are not as strong as they were when the season started. The Badgers can ill afford another loss and they head to Lincoln this week.
Up Next: at Nebraska (2-3, 0-1)
4) Illinois (4-1, 1-0)
Credit to Illinois, they found a way to win. A win is a win, even if it came about mostly because of the terrible performance of Tommy Armstrong Jr. The veteran Cornhusker quarterback went 10-31 passing and Illinois' Wes Lunt was 23-45 for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns came in the fourth quarter. That is getting it done in crunch time. The task gets much, much tougher as Illinois faces their toughest opponent of the year on the road. This did not go well for Illinois in Chapel Hill. Let's see how they fare in Iowa City.
Up Next: at #22 Iowa (5-0, 1-0)
5) Nebraska (2-3, 0-1)
Another gut-wrenching loss for the Cornhusker faithful. With the right argument, I might be able to be convinced that Mike Riley may be under a voodoo curse. It has been Bad News Bears for Nebraska this season and this week they get a Wisconsin team that is in desperate need of a win. Tommy Armstrong Jr. can't be 10-31 for 105 yards with no touchdowns and a pick if Nebraska wants to win games. The fact that they almost won the game despite his awful numbers is a testament to their talent on defense.
Up Next: Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) at home
6) Minnesota (3-2, 0-1)
That loss at Northwestern was UGLY. This offense looked completely toothless and disorganized. The Golden Gophers need to solve their offensive issues quickly or else their season will quickly circle the drain. You do not want to be the team that loses to Purdue.
Up Next: at Purdue (1-4, 0-1)
7) Purdue (1-4, 0-1)
Their three point loss to Michigan State was a moral victory but I'm not sure how much will transfer over throughout the course of this season. Purdue can beat Minnesota this week at home. They might be favored. Can the Boilermakers follow through on expectations and start to build respectability in the Big Ten West?
Up Next: Minnesota (3-2, 0-1) at home