By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the first time ever, the Iowa football team sits on top of my weekly Big Ten power rankings.
I tried to think of another time that Iowa rose to the top, but drew a blank.
Ohio State has been a fixture as the conference’s No. 1 team, but that changed on Saturday when the Buckeyes lost at home to No. 12 Oregon, while Iowa prevailed at ninth-ranked Iowa State.
That doesn’t mean that Iowa is better than Ohio State, but at this moment, Iowa deserves to be on top after defeating two ranked opponents in the first two games for the first time since 1960.
Iowa crushed then 17th-ranked Indiana 34-6 in the season opener at home, and then defeated No. 9 Iowa State 27-17 this past Saturday in Ames in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score might suggest.
These rankings are very fluid, but Iowa should be heavily favored to win its next two games against Kent State and Colorado State, so the Buckeyes might have to get used to looking up at Iowa for a while.
- Iowa, 2-0, 1-0 – Offensively, the Hawkeyes still are a work in progress as the running game continues to sputter and quarterback Spencer Petras continues to be average at best.
However, it takes three categories to make a quality football, and right now, Iowa is thriving in two of those categories: defense and special teams, namely punter Tory Taylor, who is bringing back memories of the late, great Reggie Roby.
Taylor, a 24-year old sophomore from Melbourne, Australia, was Iowa’s MVP against Iowa State on Saturday, punting eight times for a 51.1 average. His longest punt covered 69 yards, and he also had five punts downed inside the Iowa State 20-yard line.
The Iowa defense has forced seven turnovers in two games, including six interceptions.
Iowa doesn’t match Ohio State’s overall talent, but right at this moment, Iowa deserves to be on top of the rankings after defeating two ranked opponents in its first two games.
2. Ohio State, 1-1, 1-1 – One of the few problems with being Ohio State is that one loss, even a nonconference loss against a ranked opponent, is considered a potential season-changing disaster because the expectations are so high in Columbus in that it’s playoff or bust.
Ohio State had over 600 yards in the 35-28 loss to Oregon on Saturday, but there was little balance as the running game only produced 128 yards despite having three quality backs and a veteran offensive line. Oregon also stopped Ohio State three times on fourth down.
The biggest problems for Ohio State, however, are on defense where seven new starters are trying to live up to a high standard.
Oregon shredded the Buckeyes for 269 rushing yards in Saturday’s game in Columbus.
3. Penn State 2-0, 1-1 – The Nittany Lions had 493 yards and forced two turnovers in Saturday’s 44-13 drubbing of Ball State in the home opener.
Quarterback Sean Clifford had another strong performance, completing 16-of-21 passes for 178 yards in the first half.
Penn State has now won six straight games after having started 0-5 last season. The roster is filled with talent on both offense and defense as James Franklin has recruited well at Penn State. And if Clifford keeps performing well at quarterback, Penn State will be a factor on the national stage.
4. Michigan State, 2-0, 1-0 – The Spartans scored on the first play of the game for the second week in a row, built a 28-point lead early and cruised to a 42-14 win against Youngstown State on Saturday afternoon in East Lansing.
Quarterback Payton Thorne completed 15-for-21 passing for 280 yards, a career-high four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also had three carries for 19 yards and a touchdown against the Penguins, an FCS program.
And while Michigan State relied heavily on its passing attack against overmatched Youngstown State, it was Michigan State’s running game that led the way against Northwestern in the season opener as Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker rushed for 264 yards and four touchdowns during a 38-21 victory.
Second-year head coach Mel Tucker didn’t have much time to prepare for the 2020 season after taking over for Mark Dantonio, who retired abruptly. But with a year under his belt, Tucker has the Spartans playing good football, especially on offense where they have struggled recently.
5. Michigan, 2-0, 0-0 – This is an important season for Jim Harbaugh in his quest to make his alma mater elite again.
And so far, so good.
Michigan pounded Washington 31-10 on Saturday at the Big House behind a running game that produced 343 yards.
“I mean, obviously, if you rush for (343) yards, that’s gonna be the case, but it was even more than that,” Harbaugh said. “Washington kept changing their defense — from four down, to three down, to bear, to strong safety SAM blitz, corner blitz, double corner blitz — they were doing everything they could, but they were just having a hard time tackling the backs.”
Michigan’s defense also had four sacks and seven tackles for loss.
6. Wisconsin, 1-1, 0-1 – The Badgers bounced back from the season-opening loss against Penn State to crush Eastern Michigan 34-7 Saturday in Madison.
The game was supposed to be a mismatch and it was as Wisconsin led 24-0 at halftime and had 275 rushing yards in the first two quarters.
Wisconsin’s defense looks solid as usual, but there still are questions on offense, especially at quarterback where Graham Mertz has struggled. It was hard to judge Mertz against Youngstown State because the score was so lopsided.
7. Purdue, 2-0 0-0 – The Boilermakers played on the road Saturday at hapless UCONN and it was a mismatch from the beginning as Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer threw four touchdown passes in the first half, three to star receiver David Bell.
It’s no surprise that Purdue can score a lot of points under Jeff Brohm. But this team will ultimately be judged by how well it performs on defense. To pitch a shutout is always a worthy accomplishment, but Saturday’s shutout against UCONN might say more about the Huskies’ offense than Purdue’s defense.
Only time will tell.
8. Maryland, 2-0, 0-0 – The only way Maryland could have passed the test against Howard on Saturday was to win decisively, and that’s what happened.
The Terrapins outgained Howard 574-146, averaged 7.1 yards per play and had eight players score a touchdown, with four of the team’s scores in the air and four on the ground, during a 62-0 shellacking.
But much like with Purdue, scoring points isn’t a problem for Maryland under head coach Mike Locksley. Defense is where the Terrapins have struggled, and don’t read too much in Saturday’s shutout because Howard leaves much to be desired as a measuring stick.
9. Rutgers, 2-0, 0-0 – Head coach Greg Schiano has the Scarlet Knights moving in the right direction with victories over Temple and Syracuse in the first two games.
Rutgers struggled on offense against Syracuse, gaining just 195 yards. But the defense compensated by holding Syracuse to 67 rushing yards and 2.2 yards per carry.
The game was scoreless at halftime.
One sign of a team on the rise is the ability to win on the road and in a game where you struggle in some areas. And that describes Rutgers’ win at Syracuse on Saturday.
10. Indiana, 1-1, 0-1 – A home game against an overmatched opponent is just what Indiana needed after the debacle at Iowa in the season opener.
After failing to score a touchdown last week against Iowa, Indiana scored three in the first quarter Saturday night and then cruised to a 56-14 victory over Idaho.
11. Minnesota, 1-1, 0-1 – There is no such thing as a bad win, but the Gophers had to hang on to defeat Miami (Ohio) 31-26 on Saturday in Minneapolis.
Treyson Potts rushed for 178 yards as Minnesota’s new featured running back, but nobody else on the team had more than four rushing yards. Potts was a nice complement to starter Mohamed Ibrahim at running back. But now the Gophers have to develop more depth with Ibrahim lost for the season due to a lower leg injury that he suffered in the season-opening loss to Ohio State.
12. Illinois, 1-2, 1-0 – Bret Bielema’s Fighting Illini showed little fight during Saturday’s 42-14 beat-down at Virginia.
Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong completed 27-of-36 passes for 436 yards and five touchdowns.
Illinois has now lost back-to-back games since defeating Nebraska in the season opener.
Bielema had to realize that rebuilding the Illinois program wouldn’t be easy and back-to-back losses to Texas-San Antonio and Virginia showed why.
13. Nebraska, 2-1, 0-1 – The Cornhuskers defeated Buffalo 28-3 this past Saturday in Lincoln and have now won back-to-back games for the first time in two years.
Nebraska pounded Fordham 52-7 in week two.
But now the competition will improve significantly with Oklahoma up next on the schedule. Should Nebraska make it three wins in a row, then there will be something to talk about.
14. Northwestern, 1-1, 0-1 – The Wildcats defeated FCS opponent Indiana State 24-6 on Saturday in Evanston, Illinois.
Northwestern rushed for 209 yards in Saturday’s game after being held to 117 yards on the ground against Michigan State in the season opener.
“When you look at where you’re at as a Big Ten team playing against a FCS team, you have to pound the ball,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “For the most part, when we targeted things right and executed I thought we did a good job.”
It also helped that Northwestern’s opponent was completely overmatched. So this win does little to ease the concerns about Northwestern after how poorly it played against Michigan State, especially on defense.