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Big Ten Week 6 power rankings: Illinois surges, Wisconsin slides

The East division juggernauts continue their conference dominance, and Illinois and Purdue are surging after conference road victories.

14. Northwestern Wildcats (1-4)

Northwestern finds themselves at the bottom of the Big Ten for a second straight season. The Wildcats gave Penn State some fits on Saturday in a rain-filled affair, including a failed fourth-down-and-one conversion from the Penn State one yard line that nearly made the game 17-14 with 11 minutes to play. After a promising start to the season with their Week 0 victory over Nebraska, the Wildcats have now lost four straight, including home losses to Southern Illinois and Miami (OH).

13. Indiana Hoosiers (3-2)

Head Coach Tom Allen’s Hoosiers are 3-2 with only one win over a Power 5 team, squeaking by Illinois in Week 1. Since then, the Hoosiers beat Idaho and Western Kentucky in overtime, and then lost road matches to Cincinnati and Nebraska. The Hoosier defense is among the worst in the country, and their schedule is only going to get tougher in the East division.

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3)

With Scott Frost out, interim head coach Micky Joseph led the Cornhuskers to a 35-21 victory over Indiana on Saturday, their first football bowl subdivision (FBS) win of the season. The defense is ranked last in the Big Ten, allowing nearly 33 points per game. Despite this, the Cornhuskers (2-3) have only a single conference loss and just one ranked match-up remaining against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Nebraska might not win the Big Ten West, but they could make strides heading into next season with their manageable remaining schedule.

11. Michigan State Spartans (2-3)

After starting the season 2-0, 2021 Big Ten Coach of the Year Mel Tucker’s Spartans have dropped three straight to Washington, Minnesota and Maryland in games that were not close. Entering Week 3 ranked No. 9 in the Coach’s Poll, MSU (2-3) now will set their sights on becoming bowl-eligible with remaining matches against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Illinois and Wisconsin.

10. Wisconsin Badgers (2-3)

After taking a beat-down in Madison on Saturday, Wisconsin fired head coach Paul Chryst and named defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard as interim head coach. With two conference losses already, the Badgers (2-3) are very close to being removed from Big Ten West title contention in the first half of the season. 

9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-2)

Rutgers fell to 3-2 after Saturday’s 49-10 loss to Ohio State (OSU). After starting the season 3-0 with strong defensive play, Rutgers has now dropped two straight to Iowa and OSU, and they still have Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota and Maryland remaining on the schedule. The climb to six wins and bowl eligibility will rely on their performances against Nebraska, Indiana and Michigan State.

8. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2)

The anemic Iowa offense once again forced the Hawkeye defense and special teams units to keep them in the game, but the task was too tall. It'd be fair to say that Iowa performed the way that should be expected given their offensive woes. The Iowa offensive line is improving, giving quarterback Spencer Petras plenty of time to pass against the Michigan defensive front. Petras threw his best game of the season thus far, completing 21 of 31 pass attempts for a season-high 246 yards and a touchdown. Now 3-2, Iowa’s remaining schedule includes Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1)

After entering the AP Poll at No. 21 last week, Purdue traveled to Minneapolis and handed the Gophers their first loss of the season. After four victories to start the year, Minnesota entered Saturday’s match without star running back Mohamed Ibrahim. The offense struggled without him, and aside from a second-half opening drive touchdown, the Minnesota offense was stifled by the Purdue defense. Minnesota (4-1) fell from the AP Poll and will take this bye week to prepare for a tough road match against Illinois in Week Seven.

6. Purdue Boilermakers (3-2)

After a disappointing start to their season in which they lost to currently ranked No. 10 Penn State and No. 22 Syracuse by a combined 7 points, the Boilermakers bounced back on Saturday with a 20-10 road win over No. 21 Minnesota. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell and Iowa wide receiver transfer Charlie Jones have been showing out, with Jones leading all Power Five receivers in total yards, receptions, and touchdowns. The Boilermakers (3-2) control their destiny in the Big Ten West and will have a significant road test this Saturday when they travel to Maryland.

5. Maryland Terrapins (4-1)

After nearly upsetting Michigan a week earlier, Maryland’s offense walked all over Michigan State, racking up nearly 500 yards in a 27-13 victory. Star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had himself a day, completing 32 passes on 41 attempts for 314 yards. The Maryland passing offense ranks second in the conference in yards per game. Maryland finds itself 4-1 with Purdue coming to town this Saturday. Bowl eligibility seems likely with remaining matches versus Indiana, Northwestern and Rutgers. Maryland figures to be favored in all three matches. If they can win those games, the Terrapins have a good chance of winning eight games for the first time since 2010.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1)

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema had a happy return to Madison, Wisconsin, where he began his head coaching career and won three straight Big Ten Titles between 2010 and 2012. The Fighting Illini (4-1) dismantled the Badgers by a score of 34-10, scoring 17 points off of three forced turnovers. An efficient passing performance from quarterback Tommy Devito, 142 rushing yards and a stout defensive performance paved the way for victory. Though none of their wins have come against ranked teams, traveling to Wisconsin and beating the Badgers by 24 points is enough reason to believe that Illinois is a force to be reckoned with, at least until Saturday when Bielema's alma mater, the Iowa Hawkeyes, come to town. 

3. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0)

Rain poured down throughout Penn State’s 17-7 victory over Northwestern. The weather made for a sloppy game, in which the Nittany Lions turned the ball over five times. Despite this, the Penn State defense held Northwestern to just 31 rushing yards, and forced Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski to throw 22 incompletions on 37 attempts. At the end of the day, head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions were most focused on escaping the soggy turf with a victory, and that’s what they did. Penn State (5-0) has a bye this week before traveling to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in a Week Seven battle of top-10 ranked teams.

2. Michigan Wolverines (5-0)

Against an Iowa defense that entered Saturday allowing just six points per game, Michigan put up an extremely impressive offensive performance, winning 27-14. The Wolverine offense scored on five of six first-half drives; in fact, the only reason Iowa forced a first-half Michigan punt is because Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy tripped and lost five yards on a first down play during Michigan’s second offensive drive. The Wolverines put up an equally impressive defensive performance, allowing just two Iowa touchdowns, one of which came with eight seconds remaining in the game. The Wolverines travel to Indiana this week before a highly anticipated match next week against Penn State.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0)

The third-ranked Buckeyes stampeded Rutgers 49-10. Rutgers got off to an early 7-0 lead after a muffed punt, but it was all OSU from that point on. The Buckeye defense stymied the Rutgers’ offense, allowing just 80 yards through the air and 187 total. Running back Miyan Williams had five touchdown runs to go along with his 189 rushing yards. The Buckeyes have convincingly defeated every team they’ve played, and will likely do so again this week when they travel to East Lansing to play a struggling Michigan State team.

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