Big Ten football power rankings: Wisconsin's shocking loss creates opening in West for Iowa Hawkeyes

Rainer Sabin
Detroit Free Press

Life near the top isn’t easy.

Just ask Wisconsin.

The Badgers’ shocking 24-23 loss to Illinois rocked the college football landscape and altered the complexion of the Big Ten title race.

It also joggled the conference rankings below while resetting the hierarchy within the league.

As Wisconsin tumbled, Minnesota continued its steady rise within the pecking order. And Iowa continues to lurk with still-alive hopes in the Big Ten West. 

With that said, here's this week's Big Ten Power Rankings: 

1.  Ohio State (7-0)

Last week: 1. Ohio State hasn’t faced much competition this season. The Buckeyes have blitzed through their schedule thus far, outscoring opponents 348-56. After destroying Northwestern on Friday in a 49-point blowout, Ohio State turns its attention to Wisconsin. Entering this past weekend, the meeting with the Badgers invited a lot of intrigue. Then, Wisconsin lost in stunning fashion to Illinois, moving this game off the marquee.

Next up: vs. Wisconsin, 11 a.m., Saturday, Fox.

2. Penn State (7-0)

Last week: 3. If not for KJ Hamler, there is a good chance Penn State wouldn’t be in this position – undefeated with all its dreams still alive. The speedy receiver was the difference Saturday in a 28-21 victory over Michigan, catching a pair of touchdown passes and scoring the decisive points in a game the Nittany Lions nearly frittered away. Hamler gives Penn State’s offense an explosive element that few Big Ten teams have. And that includes Michigan State, the Nittany Lions’ next opponent.

Next up: at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC.

3. Minnesota (7-0)

Last week: 6. Minnesota’s tour through the bottom half of the Big Ten continues this week with Maryland. The Golden Gophers have already beaten up on Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers. The easy schedule has allowed P.J. Fleck to gain some momentum in the third year of his coaching tenure after he initially struggled to make much headway. 

Next up: vs. Maryland, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN.

Wisconsin players walk off the field as Illinois celebrates their 24-21 win in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct.19, 2019, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)

4. Wisconsin (6-1)

Last week: 2. Before last Saturday, Wisconsin appeared a worthy challenger to Ohio State. The Badgers had a dominant defense, yielding 29 points in their first six games. But then came the most stunning result of the weekend, a 24-23 loss at Illinois that reverberated all the way back to Madison. The Badgers, 31-point favorites, were undone by uncharacteristic miscues. Now they must pick themselves up and get ready for the Buckeyes.

Next up: at Ohio State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.

5. Michigan (5-2)

Last week: 4. Heading into this season, U-M was touted as a contender. But as the ninth week of the 2019 campaign begins, the Wolverines are no longer in the national title conversation. Their outlook in the Big Ten looks murky as well with two conference losses. It will be interesting to see how Michigan navigates the remainder of its schedule and whether it continues to show the fight it exhibited in the second half of a loss to Penn State. 

Next up: vs. Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC.

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Mekhi Sargent leaps into the end zone to score a touchdown against the Purdue Boilermakers during the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium.

6. Iowa (5-2)

Last week: 5. After falling to Michigan and Penn State, it appeared Iowa would have it easy against Purdue this Saturday. But everything is a struggle these days for the Hawkeyes and their malfunctioning offense. Iowa resorted to kicking four field goals and its championship-level defense had to hold strong in order for the Hawkeyes to outlast the injury-ravaged Boilermakers.

Next up: at Northwestern, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2.

7. Michigan State (4-3)

Last week: 7. Not in the amount of time this sentence was written has any MSU player entered his name in the transfer portal, which may come as a surprise for those who have followed the steady stream of defections in the last month. Six members of the Spartans are on their way out of East Lansing, where there is a climate of unrest enveloping Mark Dantonio’s program. Two consecutive losses haven’t helped ease concerns and now a date with undefeated Penn State awaits.

Next up: vs. Penn State, 2:30 p.m., ABC.

8. Indiana (5-2)

Last week: 8. The basketball school is showing it can play a little football. Quietly, the Hoosiers have won three out of their last four games. And the only loss since Sept. 15, a nine-point defeat to Michigan State, was determined in the final seconds of regulation. Indiana’s surge has been helped by an offense averaging more than 33 points per game.

Next up: at Nebraska, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.

9. Nebraska (4-3)

Last week: 9. Scott Frost said Nebraska was going to be better in his second year there. He promised progress and marked improvement to a fan base thirsting for the return of the glory days. But it just hasn’t gone the way he envisioned. The Cornhuskers are once again a mediocre outfit who will be challenged again to earn a victory this Saturday against Indiana. Big Red looks like a big bust once again.

Next up: vs. Indiana, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.

10. Illinois (3-4)

Last week: 13. A week after Illinois seemed on the cusp of pulling off a miracle against Michigan, the Illini shocked Wisconsin in a thrilling 24-23 victory. James McCourt’s 39-year-old field goal in the final seconds gave Lovie Smith his first signature win since coming to Champaign in 2016. Could this be the turning point in Smith’s tenure? It at least made Illinois relevant for the first time in years.

Next up: at Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.

11. Purdue (2-5)

Last week: 10. Despite its two top players, quarterback Elijah Sindelar and receiver Rondale Moore, being sidelined for multiple weeks, the Boilermakers have remained competitive. Last Saturday, the Boilermakers pushed Iowa to the brink before falling by six points. The resolve Purdue has showed in the face of adversity has been impressive even if its record isn’t.

Next up: vs. Illinois, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.

12. Maryland (3-4)

Last week: 11. This time last year, Mike Locksley was coordinating Alabama's offense on the way to the national championship game for the fourth consecutive season. On Saturday, he coached a team that would fall to Indiana and lose for the fourth time in its last five games. Locksley is living in a different world these days and that reality has become increasingly stark with each passing week.

Next up: at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN.

13. Northwestern (1-5)

Last week: 12. It’s hard to imagine Northwestern ever falling to the depths it sank in the 1970s and 80s when it was a perennial doormat in the Big Ten. But after the first eight weeks of this season, it’s safe to declare this Wildcats team is bad. Northwestern has managed to score only eight touchdowns in its first six games, the lowest total in the FBS.  

Next up: vs. Iowa, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2.

14. Rutgers (1-6)

Last week: 14. Rutgers’ season of misery shows no signs of improving. The Scarlet Knights took it on the chin once again last Saturday, losing 42-7 to Minnesota. But at least they cracked the end zone. In three of their four previous conference games, they didn’t produce a single point, which is why they’re ranked dead last in the entire FBS in scoring.

Next up: vs. Liberty, 11 a.m. Saturday, BTN.

Contact Rainer Sabin at Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Big Ten newsletter