Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh commends trust between players and coaches, leading to 52-0 blowout of Rutgers at Michigan Stadium, Sept. 28, 2019. Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Almost a month into the season, the picture is beginning to crystallize in the Big Ten. There is a distinct line of demarcation between the top and bottom of the conference. Ohio State once again appears to be the most formidable team in the league. But Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa have also positioned themselves well.
The question is whether Michigan football and Michigan State football can reset the order in the coming weeks after beginning the 2019 campaign with mixed results. Here's a look at where the Big Ten's teams stack up at this juncture of the season:
1. Ohio State (5-0)
Last week: 1. The Buckeyes have established themselves as a contender in Ryan Day’s first full season as head coach. A 48-7 rout of Nebraska in prime time only affirmed Ohio State’s status as the Big Ten’s preeminent team. Now, the Buckeyes welcome the Spartans.
Next up: vs. Michigan State, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC.
2. Wisconsin (4-0)
Last week: 2. After powering through Michigan the week before, Wisconsin’s offense shriveled against Northwestern. Troubling? Perhaps. But the Badgers’ top-ranked defense rose to the occasion, producing two touchdowns to lift Wisconsin to a nine-point victory.
Next up: vs. Kent State, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPNU.
3. Penn State (4-0)
Last week: 4. Penn State’s Big Ten debut was a smashing success. The Nittany Lions visited Maryland on Friday and crushed the Terrapins, 59-0 – continuing their dominance of the series between the two teams. Just how impressive the victory was is difficult to discern because the Terrapins have vacillated between formidable and dreadful. But Penn State remains in the national conversation with a difficult stretch in its schedule fast approaching.
Next up: vs. Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN.
4. Iowa (4-0)
Last week: 3. Iowa wrapped up its non-conference schedule with a 48-3 rout of Middle Tennessee — the same team that lost by 19 points in Michigan’s opener. The Hawkeyes’ win this past weekend provides a nice lead-in to its game against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Middle Tennessee, meanwhile, can commiserate with Rutgers about what it’s like to get pummeled by both Iowa and Michigan.
Next up: at Michigan, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.
5. Michigan (3-1)
Last week: 5. After weathering criticism from every corner of the Internet following its calamitous loss to Wisconsin, Michigan rebounded by routing Rutgers, 52-0. Are the Wolverines back? That won’t be determined until this week, when Michigan faces Iowa and begins tackling a segment of its schedule that looks unforgiving on paper.
Next up: vs. Iowa, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.
6. Michigan State (4-1)
Last week: 6. MSU was involved in the most deceiving score of the weekend. The Spartans claimed a 40-31 victory over Indiana. But this was a game that was won in the final seconds, when Matt Coghlin booted a 21-yard field goal to vault MSU ahead. Most surprising – and concerning -- was the fact the Hoosiers produced 31 points against the Spartans, which came into the game ranked 10th in scoring defense.
Next up: at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC.
7. Minnesota (4-0)
Last week: 9. Minnesota keeps making a steady climb up this list, but P.J. Fleck’s bunch hasn’t exactly been rowing the boat upstream. The Golden Gophers’ four victories have come against South Dakota State, Fresno State, Georgia Southern and Purdue. But Minnesota won’t face a quality team until November, so the Gophers should be able to enjoy this ride for a bit longer.
Next up: vs. Illinois, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.
8. Indiana (3-2)
Last week: 11. The Hoosiers pushed MSU to the brink last Saturday and moved up three spots in the rankings. That probably says more about the bottom half of the Big Ten than it does about the Hoosiers. But it’s clear Indiana is far from the worst team in this league, which is why it holds a single-digit position this week.
Next up: Bye.
9. Nebraska (3-2)
Last week: 8. Nebraska has been living off its name for a while. Ever since returning to Lincoln, head coach Scott Frost has been clinging to his reputation as well. But together, both have underwhelmed and the disastrous loss to Ohio State only emboldened skeptics who wonder if the Cornhuskers will ever be elite again.
Next up: vs. Northwestern, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox.
10. Northwestern (1-3)
Last week: 10. It’s not hard to find the source of Northwestern’s problems: It is the offense. Only two teams in the entire FBS average fewer points than the Wildcats. And neither one of them is Rutgers, which has been blanked twice. Pat Fitzgerald’s email address may be “#Idontcare,” but he should have some apprehension about what is taking place.
Next up: at Nebraska, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox.
11. Maryland (2-2)
Last week: 7. Most people wanted to believe in Maryland after it whipped Syracuse to move to 2-0. But since then the Terrapins have retreated into their collective shell. The Terrapins have been beaten by a pair of teams in Pennsylvania – Temple and Penn State. The latest loss, a 59-0 defeat to the Nittany Lions, may have damaged Maryland’s psyche.
Next up: at Rutgers, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.
12. Purdue (1-3)
Last week: 12. Purdue is practically the polar opposite of Northwestern, its Big Ten brother with the same record. The Boilermakers can score, but they don’t have much of a defense. Purdue is conceding 32.5 points per game. And now they face Penn State, which dropped 59 on Maryland last Friday. Good luck.
Next up: at Penn State, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN.
13. Illinois (2-2)
Last week: 13. Illinois didn’t play last weekend and it’s safe to say the majority of people outside Champaign didn’t know that. But the Illini are back in action this week against Minnesota. If they bring some defense with them, they may be able to steal a victory. At the very least, this Illinois team has shown it can score, producing at least 30 points in each of its first four games.
Next up: at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.
14. Rutgers (1-3)
Last week: 14. Rutgers is once again nestled in the cold basement of the Big Ten standings. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Scarlet Knights have managed only eight victories. Their latest setback was a 52-0 beatdown delivered by Michigan. It was apparently the final straw for Chris Ash, who was fired as head coach on Sunday.
Next up: vs. Maryland, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.