IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football team is three-fourths of the way through the regular season, which means it’s time for my third of four Big Ten power rankings.
Nothing has changed at the top with defending national champion Ohio State still undefeated, but most of the other 13 spots have changed since the midway point of the season, mostly notably with undefeated Iowa climbing into second place. The Buckeyes will remain on top until when or if they lose. I feel that way not only in regard to the Big Ten power rankings, but also the four-team playoff.
1. Ohio State 9-0 5-0 – The Buckeyes haven’t been the same wrecking ball that they were at the end of last season when they crushed opponents on the way to the winning national title. Close calls against Northern Illinois (20-13) and Indiana (34-27) have fueled skepticism, but Ohio State also has won six games this season by at least 18 points and has arguably the most talented roster in college football. And, yes, that includes the teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett is expected to return this week after serving a one-game suspension for operating a vehicle under the influence. Barrett appears to have made a poor decision off the field, but he rarely makes poor decisions on it.
No disrespect to fellow quarterback Cardale Jones, but Ohio State is better with Barrett behind center because of his ability to extend plays as a dual-threat option. Barrett playing quarterback would make the Buckeyes a far worse matchup for Iowa than if Jones were behind center.
2. Iowa 9-0 5-0 – From a perception standpoint, Iowa is sort of a poor man’s Ohio State in that being undefeated isn’t above being criticized. Some of the national pundits still refuse to give Iowa much credit because of its schedule and because it’s Iowa. The Hawkeyes mostly were irrelevant for the past five years and it takes time to gain respect again.
It also takes a balanced offense, an aggressive defense and solid special teams and Iowa has all three of those attributes, in addition to having a special playmaker at quarterback in junior C.J. Beathard.
3. Michigan 7-2 4-1 – Speaking of playmakers at quarterback, Jake Rudock’s decision to transfer from Iowa to Michigan continues to pay huge dividends for him and for the Wolverines. He got off to a rough start in the season-opening loss to Utah by throwing three interceptions, but has mostly been solid since then, including on Saturday when he threw for a career-high 337 yards and two touchdowns during a 49-16 beat-down against Rutgers.
Rudock was described as a game-manager during his two seasons as Iowa’s starting quarterback, but he still has managed to win 21 games as a starter in college. He also has one of the best defenses in the country helping him to win games for Michigan, along with the influence of first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. I rarely rank a team ahead of a team that it lost to in the same season, but made an exception by putting Michigan ahead of Michigan State. The Wolverines lost to Michigan State on a freak play, but are currently playing at a higher level in my opinion.
4. Michigan State 8-1 4-1 – The Spartans have flirted with disaster all season and it finally caught up to them on Saturday against a desperate Nebraska team. Take away the 52-26 victory over Indiana on Oct. 24 in East Lansing, Mich., and Michigan State’s other three Big Ten victories were by seven points or less, including an uninspiring 24-21 win against hapless Purdue on Oct 3 at home.
5. Wisconsin 8-2 5-1 – Currently on a five-game winning streak, the Badgers have quietly been on a roll since losing to Iowa 10-9 in the Big Ten opener at home. Wisconsin’s other loss was to Alabama in the season opener.
The Badgers defeated Maryland 31-24 this past Saturday on the road and still have a chance for a 10-win season despite playing most of the season without star running back Corey Clement and with an inexperienced offensive line.
6. Northwestern 7-2 3-2 – Praise to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald for keeping the ship steered in the right direction under difficult circumstances. The Wildcats performed horribly during back-to-back losses to Michigan and Iowa in October, losing by a combined score of 78-10, but have since rebounded with back-to-back victories over Nebraska and Penn State, each by two points.
7. Penn State 7-3 4-2 – The Nittany Lions lost on Saturday for just the second time in over two months as Northwestern made a last-second field goal to prevail 23-21 in Evanston, Ill. Penn State has mostly been forgotten since losing to Temple in the season opener. It had a chance to make a statement against Ohio State, but failed miserably by losing 38-10 on Oct. 17 in Columbus.
8. Minnesota 4-5 1-4 – You could argue that I have the Gophers ranked too high, but that’s my way of paying respect to Jerry Kill, who recently resigned as head coach for health reasons. The Gophers still play solid defense at times and much-maligned quarterback Mitch Leidner has shown life as a passer in recent games.
9. Illinois 5-4 2-3 – Interim head coach Bill Cubit has done a respectable job under tough circumstances both on and off the field. He was promoted shortly before the season started and he’s been without star running back Josh Ferguson for part of the season because of injury. Illinois is a different team with Ferguson in the lineup.
10. Nebraska 4-6 2-4 – By defeating Michigan State on Saturday at home, the Cornhuskers accomplished what I fear they might do against Iowa in the regular-season finale. Nebraska has too much talent to play as poorly as it has under first-year coach Mike Riley.
So maybe the players finally are starting to realize that.
11. Indiana 4-5 0-5 – This season is showing once again that Indiana’s inability to play defense at a respectable level will overshadow a potent offense.
12. Maryland 2-7 0-5 – The Terrapins have some nice individual pieces, including star return specialist William Likely, but not enough to be competitive in the conference.
13. Rutgers 3-6 1-5 – The Scarlet Knights are a mess off the field and not much better on it.
14. Purdue 2-7 1-4 – The Boilermakers surrendered 383 rushing yards during a 48-14 loss to Illinois this past Saturday at home. Need I say more?