Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Big Ten power rankings: State News football writers rank all 14-teams

November 23, 2020
<p>MSU quarterback, Rocky Lombardi (12), looks to throw a pass during a football game against Indiana University at Spartan Stadium on Nov. 14, 2020.</p>

MSU quarterback, Rocky Lombardi (12), looks to throw a pass during a football game against Indiana University at Spartan Stadium on Nov. 14, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

With Michigan State having what essentially is a bye-week after this Saturday’s matchup against Maryland was canceled due to COVID-19, it gave time for football reporters Joe Dandron and Eli McKown to evaluate all the other Big Ten teams in their matchups. Here’s our power rankings for the Big Ten conference just over halfway through the Big Ten regular season, from last place to first.

14. Penn State (Joe)

This one isn’t very close. PSU came in as the No. 7 team in the country this season and after falling to Indiana on a two-point conversion to end the game in week one, things have spiraled out of control. The Nittany Lions look better without Sean Clifford under center but have still not won a game. With the amount of talent this roster has, they still are missing key pieces: Micah Parsons at linebacker opting, Journey Brown at RB doing the same with health concerns and receiver KJ Hamler, who left for the NFL. This team had holes coming into the year still and it's showing now.

14. Penn State (Eli)

There are no positives for this Penn State football team. Without a competent quarterback on the roster, even the extreme amount of talent on the team cannot withstand. It’s crushing to think this team once had Justin Fields as a commit at one point in time. The lingering question? Is James Franklin on the hot seat now?

13. Nebraska (Joe)

Scott Frost, wasn’t he supposed to be a savior? Illinois was a 15-point underdog coming into Saturday’s matchup — then wins on the road in blowout fashion. You can’t have that happen and the guy who was supposed to be in the Heisman conversation two years ago now, Adrian Martinez, isn’t even starting. When is enough, enough? I thought Frost was on the hot seat already and with one win this year, it isn’t looking good. 

13. Nebraska (Eli)

When Illinois can roast you for your play on the field, that’s when you know there’s a problem. Nebraska is still looking for someone to step up at quarterback and the defense is nowhere to be found. Head coach Scott Frost’s return to his alma mater is off to a rough start in year two.

12. Minnesota (Joe)

Minnesota realistically shouldn’t have won the game against Purdue on Friday. That was an awful call on offensive pass interference to nullify what would’ve been the winning touchdown for the Boilermakers. So, in retrospect, the Golden Gophers should have one win, but they are 2-3 on the year and look considerably worse than the 11-2 team that fans saw last year at the midway point. The offense for Minnesota is good, but the defense has serious problems that showed in their losses to Michigan and Maryland. 

12. Rutgers (Eli)

The Scarlet Knights have blown two straight losses when leading by double digits after losing to Michigan. Head Coach Greg Schiano in year one has brought the energy back to the program, but they’re still a couple of years away from being a true competitor in the Big Ten. In the meantime, they’re starting to look like a team that at least belongs in the conference.

11. Rutgers (Joe)

It is easy to make Rutgers the scapegoat in the Big Ten. But Greg Schiano is the right coach for this job and Saturday’s game against U of M was proof. A triple OT marathon that saw Cade McNamara jumpstart the Wolverines offense against a Rutgers team that looked even better than it did week one was proof that Michigan just knew how to win in the late stages of that game and Rutgers doesn't quite yet. Rutgers is young and learning, this team is only going to get better under Schiano, but just isn’t quite there yet at 1-4 on the season.

11. Michigan (Eli)

Michigan may have found its new quarterback in Cade McNamara after leading the Wolverines back from a 17-point deficit. The defense still has its problems and a three-overtime down to wire game against Rutgers isn’t necessarily the result you want, but it snaps a three-game losing streak for the Wolverines who are looking to get back on track this season.

10. Michigan (Joe)

It’s hard to explain exactly what transpired when Michigan fell in Ann Arbor to MSU, other than that the secondary of Michigan has some serious problems, particularly that Don Brown chooses to constantly trot Vincent Gray onto the field. But this offense — and really, the team — looked more consistent once McNamara took over at QB. It’s the same thing that saw Michigan State’s Rocky Lombardi benched against Indiana. Michigan isn’t good, but not much of the Big Ten really is.

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10. Michigan State (Eli)

Michigan State is essentially getting a much-needed bye-week with Maryland opting out of Saturday's game due to COVID-19. The Spartans' defensive effort looks even more impressive after Indiana’s heartbreaking loss against Ohio State over the weekend. The offense is what is lacking though. Michigan State will use the upcoming week to rest up and attempt to fix the ongoing problems on offense.

9. Michigan State (Joe)

This one is hard to determine; this team could be 2-2 and really would be if they hadn’t turned it over seven times against Rutgers to open the year. But this offense is averaging 3.5 turnovers a game and its only bright spots have been the receiving corps. Quarterback problems abound, but with a pretty good defense in a first-year scheme, MSU has had its moments. It just hasn’t had enough of them to put it all together and could just as easily be No. 13 on this list as they are No. 9. Mel Tucker has some work to do.

9.  Illinois (Eli)

Illinois is an interesting one. The Fighting Illini showed little fight in their opening three losses of the season. However, after getting their starting quarterback Brandon Peters back against Nebraska this week, Illinois looked tough in their win over Nebraska and showed grit in their win over Rutgers the week prior. The defense as always looks stout and could give teams fits down the line.

8. Illinois (Joe)

Illinois is an odd fit in here, they’ve given up 41 to Minnesota and got shelled by Wisconsin, but then won against Rutgers, Nebraska and gave Purdue a game. Brandon Peters isn’t a world-beater, but he gets the job done when he has to and has top-end receivers to help him do it. Illinois is stuck, like many of the teams this year in the Big Ten, right in the middle of being awful and average.

8. Minnesota (Eli)

This Minnesota offense is absolutely lethal, the defense is much to be desired though. In five games, the Golden Gophers have allowed nearly 35 points per game, including 49 and 45 to Michigan and Maryland to open the season. That’s not a winning formula in the Big Ten unless the referees assist you to like they did last Friday against Purdue.

7. Maryland (Joe)

Maryland fans can rest easy knowing this: Their program has a quarterback. But they can lose sleep at night knowing this too: They’ve only played three games. At 2-1 with games canceled against MSU and Ohio State, it would be interesting to see where Maryland would be, but in the small sample size, particularly outside of a blowout loss to a now undefeated Northwestern team to open the year, this team could be pretty good.

7. Maryland (Eli)

Maryland enters week three of their quarantine after 22 positive cases within the football program last week. This team has an explosive offense that when healthy and ready to play can score in a hurry. With a lack of quality in play from the rest of the Big Ten at this point, a 2-1 record with wins over Minnesota and Penn State gets you seventh at this time.

6. Purdue (Joe)

Jeff Brohm and his team got absolutely hoodwinked against Minnesota. That final flag that took away what would’ve been the game-winning score for the Boilermakers was atrocious. But this team keeps on chugging along, its offense can win in multiple ways even without future NFL receiver Rondale Moore, who might be the best wide receiver in the country when healthy. This team has shown flashes but just doesn’t have the resume to get into the top 5. 

6. Purdue (Eli)

Purdue was robbed on Friday night against Minnesota after a series of questionable calls by the officials. With star wideout Rondale Moore back, Purdue has a versatile offense and can give any team trouble in the Big Ten on the right day. Head coach Jeff Brohm has got the start of a solid program in West Lafayette. 

5. Iowa (Joe)

Football is a game of inches, Iowa has proven this week in and week out. Few teams can lose by the thinnest of margins two times in a row: A 24-20 loss to Purdue and a 21-20 loss to Northwestern opened the Hawkeyes season. Northwestern might very well be the second-best team in the Big Ten, Iowa should have won that game with how its offense has looked the last three weeks, since the first two games Iowa has scored 49, 35, and 41. This team is good, just the record doesn’t necessarily show that.

5. Iowa (Eli)

Iowa is just five points away from being 5-0 instead of 3-2. Iowa this season is what we expect of them every season, stout on defense and a quality run game. If quarterback Spencer Petras can take another step, this team could be right up there in the top four of the Big Ten.

4. Wisconsin (Joe)

Wisconsin looked rusty against Northwestern on Saturday. Graham Mertz is a guy they can keep going to at QB, but the offense sputtered against one of the best defenses in the country. Its offensive line struggled to command the line of scrimmage and Northwestern forced the Badgers into four turnovers in the first half alone. This team needs to get right in time for its matchup with Indiana in week seven.

4. Wisconsin (Eli)

Wisconsin after rolling in their first two games of the season had no solution in breaking the stout Northwestern defense. Wisconsin doesn’t have their typical bell-cow running back to assist the quarterback this season and true freshman quarterback Graham Mertz finally looked like a freshman after multiple turnovers. Wisconsin will look to stay in the hunt for a Big Ten title against rival Minnesota.

3. Northwestern (Joe)

Payton Ramsey is exactly what the Wildcats needed after last season left them with no semblance of continuity under center. Then you add a team that is dominating both lines on offense and defense, this football team is good. Northwestern proved their guts in a nice win over No. 10 Wisconsin that will probably propel them into the AP Top-10. Also: they have Brandon Joseph and Blake Gallagher, Joseph has five of his teams 11 interceptions and Gallagher, who was the best linebacker in the Big Ten West last year, got even better.

3. Northwestern (Eli)

With a legitimate defense and an experienced quarterback in Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern is currently leading the Big Ten West and is on a collision course with Ohio State for the Big Ten title game. However, this team is limited on offense which slots them behind a balanced Indiana squad.

2. Indiana (Joe)

Wow. What a game between No. 9 Indiana and No. 3 Ohio State. Not many thought that would be a top-10 matchup, but Tom Allen has his team playing and maximizing their potential. Mix in a dominating defense that forced the best quarterback in the Big Ten into three interceptions and a dominant passing game against a weak secondary? That’s how the Hoosiers were able to stick around, they can play with anyone in the country.

2. Indiana (Eli)

Indiana was so close to shocking the world but fell just short. This is a legitimate team with fantastic defense and a lethal passing game. Should things get messy in the playoff race and the Hoosiers take care of business, they have an argument to slip in as a playoff team.

iu-msu-katilius-11-14-20-19

1. Ohio State (Joe)

Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten and it’s not particularly close. Cornerback Shaun Wade is a saving grace for a secondary with major issues, OSU’s offense is dominant and can win any shootout they get themselves into. The pass defense needs to be retooled immediately, but Ohio State’s road to Indianapolis and the Big Ten title game just got a lot smoother.

1. Ohio State (Eli)

Ohio State and Fields looked human against Indiana. The Hoosiers laid the formula for opposing teams to attack going forward, get pressure on Fields, and test a secondary that beat a few times on Saturday. The Buckeyes should have a smooth road to Indianapolis now.

Michigan State will return next weekend to play Northwestern in East Lansing.

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