By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Potential and performance are two different things.
Ohio State without question would be ranked on top of the Big Ten based solely on potential because it has the best overall talent as it showed in Saturday’s 52-13 drubbing at Rutgers.
If your life was on the line and you had to pick one Big Ten team to win a game to save your life, chances are most would pick the Buckeyes.
But rankings are different, at least my rankings are different.
My Big Ten rankings are based solely on which teams are playing the best right now, and on which teams have accomplished the most to this point.
It’s a fluid situation that will continue to change throughout the regular season.
But as of right now, here is how I rank the 14 Big Ten football teams:
- Iowa, 5-0, 2-0 – This marks the third consecutive week in which Iowa occupies the top spot. The Associated Press voters paid their respects by moving Iowa up two spots from fifth to third in its latest poll, and it’s well deserved.
This past Friday’s game at then undefeated Maryland was considered dangerous for Iowa, and some even called it a trap game with Penn State up next on the schedule.
What it proved to be, however, was a mismatch almost from the start as Iowa cruised to a 51-14 victory. Iowa dominated all three phases of the game in spectacular fashion, forcing seven turnovers, while committing zero turnovers.
The Iowa defense is showing signs of being special, while Iowa’s special teams are as strong as they’ve ever been under Kirk Ferentz, and that’s saying a lot.
Some might accuse me of being a homer with this ranking, but there isn’t a Big Ten team that is ranked higher in the the polls than Iowa right now, or one that is playing better.
2. Penn State, 5-0, 2-0 – While rumors persist about James Franklin having interest in the USC job, his team just keeps winning in impressive fashion with this past Saturday’s 24-0 shutout against struggling Indiana the latest example.
Penn State has a veteran quarterback who is performing at a high level right now in junior Sean Clifford, and one of the conference’s most expl0sive receivers in junior Jahan Dotson. Penn State’s defense is also solid, thanks partly to the addition of Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie, and there is quality depth.
Penn State started 0-5 last season, but has since won nine straight games. In fact, its last loss was to Iowa, 41-21, in the fifth game last season.
Saturday’s showdown against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium has the makings of a classic.
3. Ohio State, 4-1, 2-0 – No team in the conference makes scoring touchdowns look easier than the Buckeyes, who served notice against Rutgers that they’re still capable of being elite.
Ohio State has the best receivers maybe in the country and freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud is starting to show on a more consistent basis why he was a five-star recruit.
If the defense keeps improving, Ohio State could ultimately prove to be the class of the Big Ten once again.
4. Michigan, 5-0, 2-0 – Jim Harbaugh might have something special brewing in Ann Arbor, and it’s about time.
His team has a potent ground game, a dependable quarterback and a rock-solid defense. Michigan has used that formula for success to win a lot of games, and a lot of Big Ten titles over the years.
5. Michigan State, 5-0, 2-0 – The undefeated Spartans continue to be the Big Ten’s most improved team under second-year head coach Mel Tucker. Steady play at quarterback, coupled with a productive rushing attack has turned what used to be a weak and listless offense into a formidable unit.
Michigan State is also making big strides on defense, but the schedule gets much tougher with games against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State still left to be played, although, two of those games will be played at home.
6. Nebraska, 3-3, 1-2 – While Michigan State is the Big Ten’s most improved team from last season, Nebraska is arguably the most improved team since the season started.
The same Nebraska team that lost at Illinois 30-22 in the August 28th season opener crushed Northwestern 56-7 this past Saturday in Lincoln.
Nebraska has made huge strides on defense, while dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez is playing with precision and poise, and with consistency.
Scott Frost has made some bold statements since taking over at his alma mater, but has failed to back them up with victories. He is likely to keep making bold statements because that seems to fit his personality, but maybe now his team will start to backup what he says.
7. Minnesota, 3-2, 1-1 – The Gophers probably would top the rankings if it were based solely on which Big Ten teams are the most inconsistent. A week after suffering an inexcusable loss at home to Bowling Green, Minnesota prevailed 20-13 at Purdue this past Saturday. The Gophers also won at Colorado 30-0 a week before the loss to Bowling Green.
8. Maryland, 4-1, 1-1 – The Terps learned the hard way this past Friday against Iowa that they still have plenty of room for improvement in every phase of the game, including from an emotional standpoint. From committing seven turnovers to being penalized 10 times, Maryland unraveled under the spotlight.
9. Purdue 3-2, 1-1 – Jeff Brohm was considered an offensive genius when he took over at Purdue, and he has lived up to that reputation at times, but not now. Purdue has combined to score just 26 points in its last two games against Illinois and Minnesota.
10. Rutgers, 3-2, 0-2 – The Scarlet Knights know exactly how the Maryland players feel in the wake of Saturday’s mismatch against Ohio State. Rutgers had a chance to make a statement under Greg Schiano, but failed miserably. The program appears to be moving in the right direction, but still is suspect in many areas.
11. Wisconsin, 1-3, 0-2 – This sort of feels and looks like Badger football before Barry Alvarez rebuilt the program nearly 30 years ago. Wisconsin is solid on defense, but that’s about it. Quarterback play has been abysmal, the running game is average and special teams are average to below average.
Madison, we have a problem.
12. Indiana, 2-3, 0-2 – The Big Ten’s second most disappointing team behind Wisconsin. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr., has been a turnover machine, the running game has sputtered and the defense isn’t good enough to overcome all of the deficiencies on offense.
In other words, Tom Allen has a mess to clean up.
13. Illinois, 2-4, 1-2 – Speaking of messes to clean up, Bret Bielema certainly has one in Champaign. Illinois ended a four-game losing streak this past Saturday, but it took a home game against North Carolina Charlotte to do it.
14, Northwestern, 2-3, 0-2 – Pat Fitzgerald has defied the odds many times before as the Northwestern head coach, but his teams also have struggled in some seasons, including the current one.
Northwestern looked completely overmatched against Nebraska from a talent standpoint. The game was so lopsided it felt like the 1970s and 1980s all over again for both teams.