Big Ten Power Rankings (Week 6): A New, Yet Familiar Face Returns to the Top

By Nick Polak on October 13, 2021 at 8:30 am
Ohio State football players sing "Carmen Ohio" following a 66-17 win over the Maryland Terrapins in Saturday's NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on October 9, 2021.
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch

No. 14 – Northwestern Wildcats

  • Record: 2-3 (0-2)
  • Previous Rank: 14
  • Last Week: Bye
  • Next Week: vs. Rutgers

I'm not so sure that Northwestern wouldn't beat Illinois if they played this week, but the Wildcats look completely hapless and at least Illinois still has what is becoming a better and better win over Nebraska from Week One. The Fighting Fitzgeralds get a shot at Rutgers this week before a three-week stretch that includes Michigan and Iowa.

No. 13 – Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Record: 2-5 (1-3)
  • Previous Rank: 13
  • Last Week: Loss vs. Wisconsin, 24-0
  • Next Week: Bye

Well, Illinois did the one thing that is unforgivable in the Big Ten in the year 2021 – let the Wisconsin offense look competent. Granted, of the 491 yards the Badgers racked up, a whopping 391 of them came on the ground, but this was a brutally bad outing for the Illini. As a team, they picked up just 9 first downs and 93 total yards. Yiiiiiiikes.

No. 12 – Purdue Boilermakers

  • Record: 3-2 (1-1)
  • Previous Rank: 12
  • Last Week: Bye
  • Next Week: at Iowa

Purdue was off last week, as much of the Big Ten West was, and given the teams below them were off or terrible I'm not going to move them down. However, I'm also not going to move them up. I will add, though, that I'm not disinterested in their matchup with Iowa this weekend.

No. 11 – Indiana Hoosiers

  • Record: 2-3 (0-2)
  • Previous Rank: 11
  • Last Week: Bye
  • Next Week: vs. Michigan State

Hopefully, the Hoosiers got healthy over the bye week because Sparty remains very knock-off-able if they can just move the ball and give their offense some support. If they can at least show a pulse against Michigan State, they will likely move up at least a spot on this list.

No. 10 – Maryland Terrapins

  • Record: 4-2 (1-2)
  • Previous Rank: 7
  • Last Week: Loss at Ohio State, 66-17
  • Next Week: Bye

Remember when we said that Maryland might be able to hang with the Buckeyes since they can pass the ball? Guess not! This makes two straight dismantlings for the Terps who are looking more and more like the same team they've been for most of the decade – one that starts hot in the non-conference schedule and folds once Big Ten play comes around.

No. 9 – Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Record: 1-3 (0-2)
  • Previous Rank: 10
  • Last Week: Bye
  • Next Week: vs. Nebraska

Minnesota moves up simply as a result of how outmatched the Terps looked. Good work, Gophers!

No. 8 – Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Record: 3-2 (0-2)
  • Previous Rank: 8
  • Last Week: Loss vs. Michigan State, 31-13
  • Next Week: at Northwestern

Similar to Maryland, Rutgers just doesn't look ready to make a move in the Big Ten yet. However, same for a poor matchup with Ohio State that ended in a blowout, the Scarlet Knights have held their own against both Michigan schools. I don't know that their style of play is conducive to pulling off an upset in 2021, but they are not a fun team to play.

No. 7 – Wisconsin Badgers

  • Record: 2-3 (1-2)
  • Previous Rank: 9
  • Last Week: Win at Illinois, 24-0
  • Next Week: vs. Army

This is how easy it is to move up if you're Wisconsin. That defense is so good that if the offense can do even half of what it did last week against other teams, this team can win every remaining game on its schedule. The Badgers get what should be a pair of straight-forward wins with Army and Purdue before they get a shot to show Iowa that they're still the class of the division.

No. 6 – Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Record: 3-4 (1-3)
  • Previous Rank: 6
  • Last Week: Loss vs. Michigan, 32-29
  • Next Week: at Minnesota

Nebraska is simultaneously perhaps one of the scariest teams in the Big Ten to face, while also inspiring the most confidence that you can beat given that it can't get out of its own way late in games. I am not at all confident that this isn't the best team in the Big Ten West, but they just cannot stop finding ways to lose football games. I want to make sure that this is on the record right now, though – Nebraska is going to beat Iowa in the last game of the regular season, and they're going to do it handily.

No. 5 – Michigan State Spartans

  • Record: 6-0 (3-0)
  • Previous Rank: 5
  • Last Week: Win at Rutgers, 31-13
  • Next Week: at Indiana

The Spartans just continue to do what they need to do to pick up wins. Rutgers is a solid team with a strong defensive unit and Michigan State went ahead and put up 588 yards of total offense on it anyway. None of the wins until now have been dominant and you could still argue they still don't have a good win. But they've taken care of business and there's something to be said for that.

No. 4 – Michigan Wolverines

  • Record: 6-0 (3-0)
  • Previous Rank: 4
  • Last Week: Win at Nebraska, 32-29
  • Next Week: Bye

It finally happened. Michigan finally had a game in which it threw for more yards than it ran. Does that mean that the Wolverines are about to unleash the most balanced and dangerous offense in the conference? Doubtful. Would we be talking about them in such a positive light had Adrian Martinez not fumbled away a win last week? Doubtful. But unless Michigan State wins the Paul Bunyan Trophy again, the Wolverines are likely to stay near the top here.

No. 3 – Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Record: 5-1 (2-1)
  • Previous Rank: T-1
  • Last Week: Loss at Iowa, 23-20
  • Next Week: Bye

Of course, if Sean Clifford is forced to miss any of the Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State games due to injury, the Nittany Lions are in for a fall further down this list. With a well-timed bye week and a date with lowly Illinois afterward, however, the quarterback has two full weeks plus the leadup to Ohio State to recover if he needs it. This defense remains elite and is the best in the conference (yes, better than Iowa's), but there's only so much it can do if the offense is going three-and-out on every drive.

No. 2 – Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Record: 6-0 (3-0)
  • Previous Rank: T-1
  • Last Week: Win vs. Penn State, 23-20
  • Next Week: vs. Purdue

Call me biased if you want, but I came away thoroughly unimpressed with Iowa after Saturday. Through a quarter and a half of game time with Clifford healthy, Iowa yielded as many points as they had in any full game this season. The horrific offensive unit then proceeded to need the entirety of the final two and a half quarters to score the requisite 13 points needed for a win despite the Penn State offense and its backup quarterback gaining a total of 48 yards in that span of time. I don't see this team escaping the rest of its schedule without at least one loss, despite how weak the schedule is.

No. 1 – Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Record: 5-1 (3-0)
  • Previous Rank: 3
  • Last Week: Win vs. Maryland, 66-17
  • Next Week: Bye

I'm not ready to say that the Ohio State defense is fixed because they blew out Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, and Maryland, but it at least seems to be in a better place than it was over the course of the first two weeks. And when you have an offense like what the Buckeyes have, you really don't need too much from the defense. It would really be a shame if Sean Clifford is sidelined for the Penn State-Ohio State game at the end of October because given how good both of these teams look to be when healthy, that could be an all-timer.