(Editor’s note: After a two week hiatus, our power rankings are back and now being led by new contributor Bill Tharp. Here is how he sees the Big Ten landscape heading into week 10 and welcome Bill! - Aaron)
14.Purdue (3-5; 1-4)
For one half, Purdue looked like a team ready to have a season defining win at home against Penn State but the wheels fell off turning a competitive game into a blow out. Like most of the bottom tier Big Ten teams, the Boilermakers showed flashes of great play but weren't consistent enough to get the win. Another rough season for Purdue as they struggle to find footing in the Big Ten.
13. Illinois (2-6; 1-4)
Tough first year for Lovie Smith huh? I firmly believe Rutgers was going to beat them without Gio’s fourth quarter pick six and besides that Rutgers game, the Illini do not have a win against an FBS opponent. They have a strong running game and have a chance to surprise some people against Michigan State this weekend.
12. Rutgers (2-6; 0-5)
Call me crazy, call me a homer, but make sure you call me when Rutgers wins this weekend. While the Rutgers program is not where they want to be, they are on their way and the game against Minnesota and Iowa prove that there is more here than meets the eye. To quote Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing and that good thing never dies.” Two weeks ago the Scarlet Knights found hope in Gio Rescigno. If the Scarlet Knights pass rush shows up and the secondary plays well Rutgers can win. A month ago it felt like if the other team scored 14 points the game was over. Not anymore, not with an offense that is starting to show a knack for the end zone and is threatening on the ground and through the air. Rutgers hosts Indiana in a must win game Saturday.
11. Michigan State (2-6; 0-5)
What a fall from grace for Sparty. From the College Football Playoff to 2-6, the fall has been quick and harsh. Losing a quarterback like Connor Cook is always going to hurt but Sparty seemed like a team that was more than just its players and would be able to succeed no matter who was at the helm but clearly that is not the case. State showed some fire against Michigan last week and their running game looked dangerous. Sparty should roll this weekend against Illinois.
10. Maryland (5-3; 2-3)
After romping through an easy early season schedule, the Terps have come back to Earth. Part of that definitely has to do with injures but also the simple fact that they are playing better competition. A game against Michigan will be interesting for Rutgers fans to see if they put up more of a fight.
9. Indiana (4-4; 2-3)
I might have egg on my face after Saturday, but I believe Rutgers is the better team. Indiana has looked solid this year in spurts, especially against Ohio State and Nebraska and has an able quarterback in Richard Lagow. This is a program on the rise and in a few years will be a real threat in the Big Ten.
8. Northwestern (4-4; 3-2)
The Wildcats have been feisty this season showing an opportunistic defense and an offense that has shown it can score in bunches or grind it out. A one point loss to Western Michigan looks better every week and competitive losses against Nebraska and Ohio State show that coach Pat Fitzgerald has something he can build on. The Wildcats are similar to Minnesota in the sense that they are very inconsistent and they need to take that next step and close out a win because while moral victories are nice, at the end of the day a win is what truly matters. The Wildcats host Wisconsin this weekend.
7. Minnesota (6-2; 3-2)
College football is weird. Example A: Minnesota 34 Rutgers 32. Example B: Minnesota 40 Illinois 17. Example C: Illinois 24 Rutgers 7. Will the real Minnesota please stand up? The Golden Gophers also have an overtime loss to Penn State so they have proven they potentially could be a top tier Big Ten team but lack the week to week consistency. Minnesota hosts Purdue and win pushes them to a four game winning streak and a 7 win season for only the third time since 2010.
6. Iowa (5-3; 3-2)
This is where the power rankings get hard, there are three or four teams who all look similar but Iowa seems to be the cream of the crop. Coming off a Rose Bowl appearance last year, hopes were high but an early season loss to FCS power North Dakota State University put the Hawkeyes on another path. Coming off a bye, the Hawkeyes will look to use their ball control offense to take the air out of the ball against Penn State and try and pull off the upset in Happy Valley.
5. Nebraska (7-1; 4-1) College Football Playoff Ranking: 10
First off, I am pretty sure Tommy Armstrong has been in college for ten years, but besides that, the Huskers face a big test against Ohio State Saturday with an opportunity to show they are for real. Coming off their first loss of the season to Wisconsin, the Huskers need to get their offense back on track. On paper, their best win on the season is either Oregon or (gulp) Wyoming which just feeds the idea that Nebraska rode an easy schedule to a 7-0 start. Will Nebraska prove itself Saturday or will they fold against the Buckeyes?
4. Penn State(6-2; 4-1) College Football Playoff Ranking: 12
There is definitely some recency bias in this ranking. After a largely unimpressive start to the season, the Nittany Lions have won four straight including the huge upset against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have a couple things going for them that constantly make them hard to beat and that is Happy Valley and Sequan Barkley. Happy Valley is absolutely electric at night and if that Ohio State game was played at the Horseshoe, I think that game would have ended differently. Throw in Barkley, who might be the best running back in America not named Donnel Pumphrey or Leonard Fournette, and they are going to be in every game. That being said, I expect this ranking to fall as I don’t think Penn State is for real. Trace McSorley is going to have a stinker and the offensive line is going to reveal its true colors, but for now it’s hard to have Nebraska ahead of them. Penn State hosts Iowa this weekend.
3. Ohio State (7-1; 4-1) College Football Playoff Ranking: 6
The Buckeyes struggles continued against Northwestern last weekend where they escaped with a 24-20 win. The defense again did its job allowing 406 total yards but only gave up 20 points and held Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson to 5.9 yards per attempt. The running game returned to the tune of 201 yards, including several clutch runs from Mike Weber and J.T. Barrett to kill the clock at the end of the game. Even after losing to Penn State, the Buckeyes remain in prime playoff position if they can upend Michigan and grab another win against Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes host Nebraska in primetime Saturday night.
2. Wisconsin (6-2; 3-2) College Football Playoff Ranking: 8
This is a gut call more than anything else. The Badgers are not going to score a lot of points, but if they get to 21, it feels like they can win any game. T.J. Watt leads their stellar defense and Corey Clemont leads a grind it out offense desperate for a spark. The Badgers travel to Northwestern this weekend.
1. Michigan (8-0; 5-0) College Football Playoff Ranking: 3
Michigan has separated itself from the pack and has firmly established itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten. Wins against Colorado, Wisconsin, and Penn State look better and better every week and have the Maize and Blue in prime playoff position. Michigan hosts Maryland this weekend.