By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Now that every Big Ten team has played at least one game, my conference power rankings look dramatically different than my preseason power rankings.
Ohio State still sits on top, but Wisconsin has dropped from second in my preseason rankings to sixth, while Indiana fell from fifth to ninth and Northwestern dropped from eighth to last.
Iowa, on the other hand, has climbed one spot from third in my preseason rankings to second based on its 34-6 victory over Indiana this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa’s defense was brilliant, special teams were solid and the offense did enough to help create an unexpected mismatch against an Indiana squad that entered the game ranked 17th in the Associated Press poll, and one spot ahead of Iowa.
It’s important to remember that power rankings are very fluid and subject to change during the course of a season. Perhaps the only certainty at this point is that Ohio State will occupy the top spot unless somebody can pull off an upset.
Oregon has the next shot at upsetting the Buckeyes this coming Saturday in Columbus, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Iowa also faces a stiff challenge against Iowa State on Saturday in Ames. The Hawkeye could lose and still not fall very far in the power rankings.
But what would happen to the power rankings if Iowa beats Iowa State and Oregon upsets the Buckeyes?
That might be enough to put Iowa on top, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
- Ohio State, 1-0 – The Buckeyes were expected to be explosive on offense, even with a new starter at quarterback, and that was certainly the case against Minnesota. Freshman C.J. Stroud struggled with accuracy at times in his first career start, but he also threw four touchdown passes and directed an offense that had 495 total yards. The Buckeyes also averaged 7.7 yards per rushing attempt and finished with 201 rushing yards.
Ohio State’s problems against Minnesota were mostly on defense where it allowed 408 yards, including 203 on the ground and three rushing touchdowns.
2. Iowa, 1-0 – An opportunistic and aggressive Iowa defense forced three turnovers against Indiana, including two pick sixes in the first half by cornerback Riley Moss, and turned what was supposed to be an evenly matched game between two ranked opponents into a mismatch right away.
The Iowa offense also has its moments against Indiana, highlighted by Tyler Goodson’s 56-yard touchdown run on the fourth play from scrimmage. But the offense also sputtered at times as quarterback Spencer Petras only completed 13-of-27 passes for 145 and no touchdowns. Perhaps the best thing Petras did was avoid throwing any interceptions. He also had at least three passes dropped.
3. Penn State, 1-0 – A stout Penn State defense led the way to a 16-10 victory at Wisconsin by intercepting two Graham Mertz passes, including the game clincher late in the fourth quarter. The Badgers also self-destructed in the red zone and failed to make any big plays.
The Penn State offense, on the other hand, bounced back from a horrible first half in which it had just one first down to make some big plays in the second half. On Penn State’s first drive of the second half, quarterback Sean Clifford found a wide-open Jahan Dotson for a 49-yard touchdown to open the scoring. And just like that, Penn State had surpassed its entire first-half yardage total in one play.
4. Michigan State, 1-0 – The Spartans wanted to make a statement against Northwestern after a dismal first season under new head coach Mel Tucker, and did they ever behind the running of Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker, who rushed for 264 yards and four touchdowns during a 38-21 victory at home. Walker scored on a 75-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, and that was certainly a sign of things to come as the Northwestern defense looked overmatched.
5. Michigan, 1-0 – By crushing Western Michigan 47-14 in its season opener at home this past Saturday, the Wolverines did what they’re supposed to do against a MAC opponent. Michigan finished with 551 yards, while holding the Broncos to just 317 yards.
Michigan suffered a huge loss, however, as receiver Ronnie Bell was helped off the field with a leg injury in the second quarter. Bell scored Michigan’s second touchdown of the game on a 76-yard pass from quarterback Cade McNamara early in the second quarter.
6. Wisconsin, 0-1 – Turnovers and an inability to convert in the red zone were too much for the Badgers to overcome against Penn State.
The Wisconsin defense looks solid as usual, but the offense is very much a work in progress with former five-star recruit Graham Mertz still struggling at quarterback.
7. Maryland, 1-0 – While Iowa had arguably the best performance of any Big Ten team this past weekend, a case also could be made for the Terrapins, who hung on to defeat West Virginia 30-24 in the season opener at home.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa completed 26-of-36 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns, while the much-maligned Maryland defense held West Virginia to just 319 yards. The Terrapins could be dangerous this season if the defense holds its own because scoring points shouldn’t be a problem with all of the firepower on offense.
8. Purdue, 1-0 – The Boilermakers are similar to Maryland in that scoring points shouldn’t be a problem, especially if quarterback Jack Plummer continues to play as well as he did in Saturdays’ 30-21 victory over Oregon State. Plummer passed for 313 yards and two touchdowns, while star receiver David Bell had what for him is a typical performance with eight catches for 134 yards.
Purdue’s problems under head coach Jeff Brohm have mostly been on defense where it has struggled with the physicality in the Big Ten. The defense did its part against Oregon State, however, limiting the Beavers to just 363 yards, including 73 rushing yards.
It’s too early to know if what happened in Purdue’s season opener says more about its defense, or more about Oregon State’s offense.
9. Indiana, 0-1 – What a difference one horrible performance can make as Indiana drops four spots in my power rankings.
The Hoosiers also entered this past Saturday’s game ranked 17th in the Associated Press poll, but they were clearly overrated, or so it seems. The combination of mistakes, poor play, and poor decision making created an unexpected mismatch, and also has raised concerns that Indiana is more vulnerable than previously thought.
10. Rutgers, 1-0 – Temple was out to show against Rutgers that last season’s 1-6 record was a fluke caused partly by the distractions from the global pandemic. But instead, it was Rutgers that made a statement this past Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights scored at least 12 points in all four quarters, while cruising to a 61-14 victory before a sellout crowd at home.
And though it’s hard to know after just one game, Rutgers appears to be on the rise under Greg Schiano, who is in his second stint as the Rutgers head coach.
11. Minnesota, 0-1 – The Gophers were flirting with an upset against Ohio State until star running back Mohamed Ibrahim suffered a season-ending lower left leg injury late in the third quarter.
Ibrahim had been shredding Ohio State with 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries before he was injured. His injury will put even more pressure on quarterback Tanner Morgan, and on the Minnesota defense, to perform at a higher level.
Minnesota has improved substantially under head coach P.J. Fleck, but Ibrahim’s season-ending injury will test Fleck’s ability to adjust. The loss of Ibrahim is also why Minnesota is ranked so low because it’s a different team without him.
12. Illinois, 1-1 – Bret Bielema after two games is undefeated in Big Ten play, but winless against nonconference opponents. The same Illinois team that defeated Nebraska in the season opener lost to Texas-San Antonio 37-30 this past Saturday in Champaign, Illinois.
The Roadrunners never trailed while facing a Big Ten opponent for the first time.
Texas-San Antonio finished 7-5 overall and 5-2 in Conference USA last season despite having been picked in most preseason forecasts to finish near the bottom of the conference standings. The Roadrunners won’t sneak up on anybody in conference play this season, but perhaps Illinois took them lightly.
Whatever the case, it was a bad loss for Illinois.
13. Nebraska, 1-1 – The Cornhuskers bounced back from their season-opening loss at Illinois to crush Fordham 52-7 this past Saturday at home. Nebraska finished with 633 yards, including 329 on the ground.
It was the kind of dominance that Nebraska fans were used to seeing on a regular basis in the 1980s and 1990s, but it also came against a vastly overmatched FCS opponent from the Patriot League. So let’s hold off with any declaration that Nebraska is back under Scott Frost.
14. Northwestern, 0-1 – I don’t expect the Wildcats to stay at the bottom of the power rankings throughout the season, but they performed woefully on defense against Michigan State, especially against the rush.
First-year defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil already faced a huge challenge in replacing Mike Hankwitz, who retired after 51 years of coaching. But with the way Northwestern performed on defense against Michigan State, the challenge facing O’Neil could be bigger than expected.
It seems likely that Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will spend more time working with his defense, but his offense also leaves much to be desired.
And to think, Northwestern won the Big Ten West Division last season, and has won two of the last three division titles.