Big Ten football power rankings: Iowa stays at No. 6 despite beating Minnesota

Rainer Sabin
Detroit Free Press

It’s hard not to look back at October and wonder what might have been.

Had Ronnie Bell caught Shea Patterson’s pass in the end zone and Michigan prevailed in overtime against Penn State, the Big Ten race would look much different.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and the Wolverines have been eliminated from contention for a title.

But an argument can be made that Michigan is as strong as any Big Ten team not named Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh’s squad is on the rise and the latest set of power rankings reflect that:

1.  Ohio State (10-0)

Last week: 1. Maybe the Buckeyes were bored. It must get a bit tedious wrecking opponents over and over again. So, excuse Ohio State for not beating Rutgers by 53 points, the margin it was favored to win by Saturday. The Buckeyes still put up 35 points in the first half before hitting the snooze button and winning 56-21. 

Next up: vs. Penn State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.

2. Penn State (9-1)

Last week: 3. The Nittany Lions survived a taut, tense affair against upstart Indiana Saturday, rebounding from the crushing loss to Minnesota. Penn State is a good team. But it still doesn’t look like an elite one. That should be confirmed this Saturday, when the Nittany Lions visit Columbus. Chase Young will be there waiting for them.

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

3. Michigan (8-2)

Last week: 4. To use one of Harbaugh’s words, the Wolverines are ascending. Michigan demolished Michigan State on Saturday, reasserting its dominance in a rivalry the Spartans had controlled much of the past decade. Harbaugh’s bunch is performing at a level that matches the preseason expectation as the favorite to win the Big Ten title. That won’t happen this year, but Michigan has made marked progress since September.

Next up: at Indiana, 2:30 p.m., ESPN.

4. Minnesota (9-1)

Last week: 2. Their 11-game winning streak is over. They have been removed from their spot in the Top 10. The buzz has been silenced. It was fun while it lasted, Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s wildest dreams were dashed at Kinnick Stadium in a loss to Iowa, forcing P.J. Fleck to right the ship, err, row the boat. An easy test against Northwestern awaits before the Golden Gophers face Wisconsin in the regular-season finale.

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

5. Wisconsin (8-2)

Last week: 5. It’s a shame that Jonathan Taylor has become an afterthought in the Heisman Trophy race. The Wisconsin running back continues to amaze. Against Nebraska, he posted the 11th 200-yard rushing game of his career, helping the Badgers continue their resurgence after a deflating two-loss stretch that knocked Taylor out of the running for college football’s greatest individual prize.

Next up: vs. Purdue, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

6. Iowa (7-3)

Last week: 6. Up until last Saturday, Iowa appeared to be a notch below the Big Ten’s best. Losses to Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin pushed the Hawkeyes into the conference’s second tier. But Iowa finally showed it had enough in the arsenal to beat one of the league’s better teams by tarnishing Minnesota’s surprising season and hoisting the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the fifth straight year.

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

7. Indiana (7-3)

Last week: 7. Indiana’s appearance in both polls was a brief one. But, hey, at least the Hoosiers were there. The basketball school in Bloomington has shown it can play a little football this season. It did again Saturday, when it hung tough against Penn State deep into the fourth quarter before the Hoosiers suffered their first defeat since Sept. 28.

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

8. Illinois (6-4)

Last week: 8. Illinois was conspicuously absent from the Big Ten schedule last weekend, which was disappointing. The Illini, after all, have become one of the most compelling stories in college football. The same team that lost to Eastern Michigan earlier this season has won four straight conference games to earn bowl eligibility. Lovie Smith and his splendid beard hope the magic continues at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium.

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

9. Michigan State (4-6)

Last week: 9. There was a time this season when Michigan State was ranked. Hard to believe, right? The Spartans haven’t won since late September, and in many of their recent games they haven’t been competitive. Take for instance Michigan State’s 44-10 loss to Michigan last Saturday. That one turned ugly — much like the mess Mark Dantonio’s program has become.

Next up: at Rutgers, 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1.

10. Purdue (4-6)

Last week: 10. Technically, Purdue can still make a bowl game. And that is amazing considering the injuries that have ravaged its roster. But to advance to the postseason, the Boilermakers must beat Wisconsin and Indiana, which is a tall order for a team that is down to its third quarterback and missing its top receiver. Head coach Jeff Brohm can take solace in the fact that he has outperformed the reduced expectations.

Next up: at Wisconsin, 3 p.m. Saturday, Fox.

11. Nebraska (4-6)

Last week: 11. Scott Frost received a two-year contract extension, and then Nebraska lost again. The Cornhuskers have suffered four straight defeats and are in danger of missing a bowl game for the third consecutive season. This wasn’t what anybody anticipated in the second year of Frost’s regime. But now he’s selling a rebuild, which prompted the extension that seemed to come out of left field.

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

12. Maryland (3-7)

Last week: 12. Only Maryland’s second bye week prevented the Terrapins from sinking deeper into the abyss. The Terps have suffered five consecutive losses and were annihilated in their last three games — falling by a combined margin of 132 points. Mike Locksley won’t be able to salvage a winning record in his first full season as the head coach, but he can at least save Maryland from disastrous ending to the 2019 campaign.

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

13. Northwestern (2-8)

Last week: 13. Northwestern added another win to its record last Saturday when it stepped out of conference and beat up on UMass. The Minutemen, it should be noted, don’t have a defense. Need evidence? The Wildcats scored six touchdowns against them in a 45-6 rout. Entering the game, the Wildcats had produced 11 all season.

Next up: vs. Minnesota, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC.

14. Rutgers (2-8)

Last week: 14. Most teams wouldn’t be happy about losing by 35 points. But Rutgers appeared pleased with the outcome in a 56-21 defeat to Ohio State, knowing it could have been far worse. The Scarlet Knights even tied the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter as both teams scored one touchdown apiece. In the aftermath, interim coach Nunzio Campanile crowed about Rutgers’ growth. Within the context of the Scarlet Knights’ season, it seemed a reasonable claim.

Next up: vs. Michigan State, 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1.