Big Ten rankings: Iowa's next opponent — Nebraska — comes in as fourth-worst team
The Big Ten’s most consequential football matchup in the final weekend of the season may not be its most intriguing.
No, it's not Iowa vs. Nebraska.
Wisconsin-Minnesota will decide the conference’s western division champion, but Michigan-Ohio State still tops the marquee.
The Buckeyes are undefeated and on the verge of securing a spot in the College Football Playoff. Michigan is surging, having won four consecutive games in dominating fashion.
Meanwhile, Iowa travels to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on a Nebraska team still shy of bowl eligibility.
The latest installment of one of college football’s greatest rivalries will be appointment viewing. And based on the latest edition of the Free Press’ power rankings, it’s a matchup of the conference’s two best teams.
1. Ohio State (11-0)
Last week: 1. On Saturday, Ohio State advanced one step closer toward securing an opportunity to play for the national championship. A victory over Penn State in a game that was competitive into the fourth quarter allowed the Buckeyes to clinch the Big Ten East title. But their work is not done. The rivalry game against Michigan remains, and Ohio State will look to defeat the Wolverines for the eighth straight year.
Next up: at Michigan, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.
2. Michigan (9-2)
Last week: 3. The Wolverines are on the verge of winning 10 games for the fourth time in Jim Harbaugh’s five-year tenure. After years of mediocre results, Harbaugh has brought Michigan back to life. But for as much he has accomplished as the Wolverines’ coach, Harbaugh has yet to beat Ohio State. This may be his best chance since 2016, given how well Michigan is playing; the Wolverines have won their past four games by an average margin of 30.3 points.
Next up: vs. Michigan, 11 a.m. Saturday, Fox.
3. Minnesota (10-1)
Last week: 4. P.J. Fleck’s wish has come true. ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Minneapolis for the first time in the show’s history Saturday. Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso will make the trek to preview the Golden Gophers’ matchup with Wisconsin that will determine the Big Ten West champion. Fleck has created a buzz in the Land of 10,000 Lakes by leading Minnesota to its first 10-win season since 2003 and inserting the Golden Gophers into the College Football Playoff discussion.
Next up: vs. Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC.
4. Penn State (9-2)
Last week: 2. It seems like eons ago when Penn State was included the first College Football Playoff bracket of 2019. Since then, the Nittany Lions have tumbled down the rankings, falling out of the top five and dropping to No. 12 in both polls. Losses to Minnesota and Ohio State revealed Penn State’s weaknesses and proved the Nittany Lions were overvalued in early November, when their record peaked at 8-0.
Next up: vs. Rutgers, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.
5. Wisconsin (9-2)
Last week: 5. The Badgers have regained their balance after two consecutive losses to Illinois and Ohio State staggered Paul Chryst’s bunch in October. Wisconsin has won three straight and has been powered by Jonathan Taylor – the prolific running back who has rushed for more than 200 yards in each of those victories. All eyes will be on him during the battle for the division title.
Next up: at Minnesota, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC.
6. Iowa (8-3)
Last week: 6. Iowa isn’t a team that likes to deviate from the norm. The Hawkeyes run the football, play staunch defense and typically win somewhere between eight and nine games. The consistency, in many ways, is admirable. Credit goes to Kirk Ferentz, who guided Iowa to – surprise, surprise – its eighth victory last week against a surging Illinois squad.
Next up: at Nebraska, 1:30 p.m. Friday, BTN.
7. Indiana (7-4)
Last week: 7. No team is better suited to be in the middle of the Big Ten power rankings than Indiana. The Hoosiers have shown they’re better than the conference’s worst members and inferior to its best. Indiana’s four league wins have come against opponents that have earned four Big Ten victories combined. Three of the Hoosiers’ four losses, meanwhile, were handed to them by Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan – all of which are currently in the top 15 of both polls.
Next up: at Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2.
8. Illinois (6-5)
Last week: 8. Does it really matter what Illinois does the rest of the season? The Illini could lose to hapless Northwestern on Saturday and the bubbly would still be popping in Champaign. That’s because the Illini have already qualified for a bowl, an achievement unlocked for the first time since 2014. A loss to Iowa last Saturday may have ended a four-win surge by the Illini but it hasn’t killed the vibe around the program.
Next up: vs. Northwestern, 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1.
9. Michigan State (5-6)
Last week: 9. For as bad as this season has gone for Michigan State, the Spartans are on the verge of earning bowl eligibility for the 12th time in the past 13 seasons. Mark Dantonio has presided over that run, and he plans to continue leading the program into the future. Some additional practice time beyond the season finale against Maryland could be valuable for Michigan State as it attempts to negotiate a turnaround in 2020.
Next up: vs. Maryland, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1.
10. Purdue (4-7)
Last week: 10. Purdue has been decimated by injuries. The Boilermakers’ top two quarterbacks went down. So did their best receiver. Head coach Jeff Brohm has spent the season patching together a lineup, overcoming the bad hand he was dealt to deliver victories over four Power Five teams. But at 4-7, Purdue won’t play in a bowl. Perhaps that’s a good thing. After all, there will have more time to heal.
Next up: vs. Indiana, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2.
11. Nebraska (5-6)
Last week: 11. For one week, the Cornhuskers looked like of those Nebraska teams of yesteryear. Remember when Big Red would steamroll is opponents in clinical fashion? Well, that’s what happened last Saturday against Maryland – a team that has completely unraveled. Nebraska gained 531 yards in 54-7 victory, ending a four-game losing streak while inching closer towards qualifying for the postseason.
Next up: vs. Iowa, 1:30 p.m. Friday, BTN.
12. Northwestern (2-9)
Last week: 13. It has been written in this space before. But it was only a year ago that Northwestern claimed the Big Ten West title! This weekend, the Wildcats will have to beat Illinois just to win a conference game. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season for Pat Fitzgerald’s squad. But the offense, which flatlined for much of the fall, has at least started to show some life.
Next up: at Illinois, 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1.
13. Maryland (3-8)
Last week: 12. Mike Locksley, Maryland’s head coach, probably wishes the season would end now to save the Terrapins from further embarrassment. The season has gone completely off the rails. In early September, Maryland beat a ranked Syracuse team by 43 points. By late November, the Terps fell by 47 to a Nebraska team that has lost more games than it has won. The collapse has been stunning.
Next up: at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1.
14. Rutgers (2-9)
Last week: 14. Imagine if Rutgers was an English soccer club. The Scarlet Knights would have started the season in the drop zone and stayed there until the very end before mercifully being relegated to a lower division where they’d stand a chance. Alas, Rutgers is a Big Ten team. So, New Jersey’s finest will be back next season – most likely with a 21-game conference losing streak in tow.
Next up: at Penn State, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN.