By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the Iowa football team now two-thirds of the way through the regular season, and coming off it second bye week, this seems like a good time to unveil my first Big Ten power rankings for the season.
Iowa still has a chance to win the Big Ten West Division, but a loss at Wisconsin this coming Saturday would silence that talk.
These rankings have one thing in common with so many of my previous Big Ten football rankings in that it starts in Ohio and ends in New Jersey.
1. Ohio State, 5-0 8-0 – I had to look up the name of Ohio State’s first-year head coach just to make sure, and that probably says something about both of us. His name is Ryan Day, by the way, and so far, he has met the challenge of replacing Urban Meyer at one of college football most storied programs in spectacular fashion.
Of course, it helps to have an incredible wealth of talent that includes arguably the nation’s best college player in junior defensive end Chase Young and a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia.
2. Penn State, 5-0, 8-0 – Speaking of Justin Fields, the former five-star recruit once was committed to Penn State, but then switched to his home-state Georgia Bulldogs, where he played behind Jake Fromm last season as a true freshman.
As for this Penn State team, well, you can’t be any better than 8-0 after eight games.
The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in rushing defense and are ranked third in passing offense and fourth in total offense.
That is a recipe for winning.
3. Minnesota, 5-0, 8-0 – Say what you want about the self-promoting energizer bunny named P.J. Fleck, as I certainly have, but the guy apparently can coach.
He might rub some people the wrong way with his silly catch phrases like “Row the Boat, but they aren’t nearly as silly when you’re winning, and the Gophers are undefeated in November.
Minnesota’s true identity should come into better focus over next two games against Penn State this coming Saturday in Minneapolis, and at Iowa the following week.
Win those two games and the Gophers would become maybe the biggest story in college football, and Fleck would become even more annoying.
4. Wisconsin 3-2, 6-2 – As a way to cope with rare back-to-back losses, Barry Alvarez probably looks in the mirror at Wisconsin’s next head coach multiple times each day for temporary relief.
5. Michigan, 4-2, 7-2 – Jim Harbaugh probably will spend Michigan’s upcoming bye week doing odd things as a recruiter.
6. Iowa, 3-2, 6-2 – Iowa is bowl eligible for the 18th time in the past 19 seasons under Kirk Ferentz, but only one of its six wins is close to being a signature win, with that being the 18-17 victory at Iowa State, which is currently 5-3 overall.
That certainly says something about Iowa at this stage, but probably says more about the bowl system.
Iowa’s three Big Ten wins have come against Rutgers, Purdue and Northwestern, who have a combined record of 2-16 in conference play.
However, Iowa’s next two games are at Wisconsin this coming Saturday and against Minnesota on Nov. 16th at Kinnick Stadium. Those eight quarters of football will go a long way in defining Iowa's season.
7. Indiana, 4-2, 7-2 – The Hoosiers enter a bye week on a roll after having won four Big Ten games in a row for the first time since 1993.
And with three regular-season games left, Indiana is positioning itself for a solid bowl bid. It hasn’t won eight games in a season since 1993 and hasn’t won nine since its 1967 Big Ten championship season.
8. Michigan State, 2-3, 4-4 – The Spartans have been trending in the wrong direction for an extended period under Mark Dantonio, and most of the problems start on offense, where Michigan State is ranked 13th in the conference in rushing, averaging just 112.9 yards per game.
Michigan State compiled a 65-16 record from 2010 to 2015 and won at least 11 games in five of those six seasons, but is just 24-22 since then.
Combine being average on the field with being disobedient off the field, as has been the case with too many Michigan State players lately, and there is reason for Spartan fans to be concerned.
9. Illinois, 3-3, 5-4 – Have to admit that I didn’t see this surge coming from the Fighting Illini, but you have to feel good for Lovie Smith.
Illinois’ soft-spoken head coach is highly respected and admired by his peers, and it’s just nice to see a good person rewarded with a little success.
It’s way too early to say that Illinois has turned the corner under Smith, but the program is finally moving in the right direction.
10. Purdue, 2-4, 3-6 – Though the opponent was only Nebraska, what a gutty, resilient and creative win that Jeff Brohm and the injury-riddled Boilermakers pulled off this past Saturday at home.
Injuries have derailed Purdue’s season, but like a wounded animal, the Boilermakers still are dangerous.
11. Nebraska, 2-4, 4-5 – Nebraska’s 45-9 victory against Bethune-Cookman last season still ranks among Scott Frost’s top 10 wins as head coach for his alma mater because he only has eight.
12. Maryland, 1-5, 3-6 – It seems that Maryland always does something early in the season that makes you think it could be on the rise, only to crash and burn.
The same Maryland team that pounded then No. 21 Syracuse 63-20 on Sept. 7th is now getting pounded on a regular basis, this past Saturday’s 38-7 loss to Michigan at home the latest example.
When Maryland is good, it’s real good.
But when Maryland is bad, it’s real bad, with that pattern now continuing under first-year head coach Mike Locksley.
13. Northwestern, 0-6, 1-7 – This is one of those seasons when Pat Fitzgerald reminds his players about the value of a Northwestern education, and reminds himself that he is making $5 million a year coaching at his beloved alma mater that sits so beautifully on the shore of Lake Michigan.
14. Rutgers, 0-6, 2-7 – Are words even necessary at this stage? I don’t think so.