MOLINE, Ill. — It's the midway point of the college football season, and the Big Ten Conference championship contenders are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Let's take a look at WQAD's Big Ten power rankings as we head into the second half of the season.
14. Northwestern Wildcats (1-5)
Result: L, 7-42 vs. Wisconsin
Previous power ranking: 14
Analysis: Northwestern got obliterated 42-7 at home by a shell of a Wisconsin team. The Wildcats continue their descent to the bottom of Division 1 football. Their season is nearly beyond recovery, with all six remaining matchups against solid Big Ten opponents.
Despite winning the Big Ten West during the 2020 COVID-shortened season, the Wildcats are headed towards their third losing season in four years. Seventeen-year veteran head coach Pat Fitzgerald may be on the hot seat as the Wildcats need to win five of their final six games in order to reach bowl eligibility.
Rebuilding has been the narrative as of late, with Northwestern recently revealing plans to build a new Ryan Field to replace the existing 97-year-old stadium, but there have been no indications to suggest any coaching changes in Evanston.
Next week: Bye
13. Michigan State Spartans (2-4)
Result: L, 20-49 vs. Ohio State
Previous power ranking: 11
Analysis: The Spartans returned a CJ Stroud interception for a touchdown to tie the game at seven in the first quarter, but that would be the last juncture in which the Spartans were competitive. Michigan State was dominated in every facet of the game by the No. 3 Buckeyes. The Spartans' defense allowed 377 passing yards and 237 rushing yards, as Ohio State coasted to a 29-point victory. After finishing last season 11-2, the Spartans are struggling mightily to reach bowl eligibility this year.
Next week: hosts Wisconsin
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3)
Result: L, 13-14 vs. Nebraska
Previous power ranking: 9
Analysis: On Sunday, Rutgers fired offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson after mounting offensive frustrations, highlighted by Saturday's scoreless second half. At halftime, Rutgers led 13-0; but Nebraska scored two unanswered second-half touchdowns to beat the hosting Scarlet Knights, 14-13. Three second-half interceptions and nine total penalties incapacitated the Scarlet Knight offense. Rutgers' season outlook is bleak with remaining games against Michigan and Penn State.
Next week: Bye
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-3)
Result: W, 14-13 vs. Rutgers
Previous power ranking: 12
Analysis: Nebraska traveled to Rutgers and handed Rutgers its second home conference loss of the season. The Cornhuskers now have two straight conference victories, beating Indiana previously. Since interim Head Coach Mickey Joseph took the helm, Nebraska is 2-1, the highest win percentage for a Nebraska head coach since Bo Pelini began his tenure with three straight wins in 2008. Despite losing to Northwestern and Georgia Southern to open the season, Nebraska is tied for first place in the Big Ten West. They'll travel to Purdue on Saturday intent on gaining sole possession of first place.
Next week: @ Purdue
10. Indiana Hoosiers (3-3)
Result: L, 10-31 vs. Michigan
Previous power ranking: 13
Analysis: On Sunday, Indiana announced that they fired offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Darren Hiller after their third consecutive loss was highlighted by offensive woes. Indiana couldn't keep up with Michigan's talent in the end, as the Hoosiers' offensive line gave up seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss, while producing just 19 rushing yards.
Indiana felt great heading into halftime at home against No. 4 Michigan tied at 10 apiece. But Michigan marched 98 yards to score on their initial second-half possession, and eventually scored 21 unanswered second-half points to defeat the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers travel to face Maryland this Saturday.
Next week: hosts Maryland
9. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-3)
Result: L, 6-9 vs. Illinois
Previous power ranking: 8
Analysis: Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras was under pressure all night Saturday, as the Iowa offensive line gave up five sacks. The offensive line was out of sync for most of the game, rushing for just 52 yards on 30 carries. Petras hit a stride in the first half and completed some big passes to lead the Hawkeyes into field goal position on two occasions, but they scored just six points. The Hawkeyes' defense even forced a fumble which they recovered at the Illini five-yard line, but the offense was held to a field goal.
The Illinois defensive front was relentless throughout the game, logging five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The Hawkeyes never established their running game, and the Iowa offense continues its streak as the worst-scoring offense in all of Division 1 football. They'll use this week to prepare before traveling to Ohio State in Week Eight.
Next week: Bye
8. Wisconsin Badgers (3-3)
Result: W, 42-7 vs. Northwestern
Previous power ranking: 10
Analysis: In his first game as interim head coach, Wisconsin's Jim Leonhard led the Badgers to victory over a bottom-feeding Northwestern team. Quarterback Graham Mertz was efficient, throwing for 299 yards and five touchdowns while completing 20 of 29 pass attempts. Star running back Braelon Allen rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries, and Chimere Dike contributed 185 receiving yards on 10 receptions to help the Badgers trounce the Wildcats.
Wisconsin had 515 total yards offensively while forcing three turnovers on defense. They'll travel to Michigan State on Saturday with hopes of remaining in the hunt for a Big Ten West title.
Next week: @ Michigan State
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1)
Previous power ranking: 7
Analysis: Minnesota had a bye last week. They'll travel to Illinois this Saturday in a battle for first place in the West Division.
Next week: @ No. 24 Illinois
6. Maryland Terrapins (4-2)
Result: L, 29-31, Purdue
Previous power ranking: 5
Analysis: Despite outgaining Purdue offensively, Maryland dropped a close game to a solid Purdue team. Down 31-23 with just 1:12 remaining in the game, Maryland marched down the field and scored a touchdown with 35 seconds left. But a successful game-tying two-point conversion attempt was overturned by an ineligible man downfield penalty, and the subsequent two-point attempt failed.
Star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns, but the Maryland offense failed to sustain drives due to an ineffective run game paired with nine overall penalties.
The Terrapins' had no answer for the Purdue passing attack, as quarterback Aidan O'Connell threw for 360 yards and completed 30 of 41 attempts.
Currently favored to win by 11 points on Saturday when they host Indiana, Maryland still has lots of good football remaining this season.
Next week: @ Indiana
5. Purdue Boilermakers (4-2)
Result: W, 31-29 vs. Maryland
Previous power ranking: 6
Analysis: Despite losing the turnover battle by two, Purdue held on to a two-point lead as they thwarted Maryland's game-tying two-point conversion attempt. Purdue blocked a fourth-quarter Maryland extra point in order to force the two-point conversion attempt.
The Boilermakers high-powered passing game yielded 360 yards for quarterback Aidan O'Connell and 109 yards for the game's leading receiver, tight end Payne Durham.
Purdue is now in a three-way tie for first place in the West Division.
Next week: hosts Nebraska
4. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-1)
Result: W, 9-6 vs. Iowa
Previous power ranking: 4
Analysis: Bret Bielema's Illinois team is ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2011, coming in at No. 24 after defeating Iowa for the first time since 2008. The Fighting Illini continue building momentum heading into the second half of the season. Despite losing star quarterback Tommy Devito early on Saturday to an ankle injury, running back Chase Brown propelled the Illinois offense with 146 yards on 31 carries against an elite Iowa defense. Defensively, Illinois gave the young Iowa offensive line fits all game, forcing five sacks. Illinois held Iowa to just six points and no touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters continues to impress with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.
2022 Moline High School graduate and true freshman safety Matthew Bailey made two big plays on Saturday, including a game-sealing interception with 1:36 remaining in the game. He also had a brilliant pass break-up at the end of the first half to force a missed Iowa field goal attempt. After the game, Bailey said, "I see the ball tipped in the air, and it was almost like it was in slow motion ... I grab it ... just went down, was like man, that was amazing."
Bielema spoke about Bailey after the game saying, "I just love his demeanor, his personality ... I just had a feeling after that first couple weeks in camp that he's one of these kids that good fortune happens to."
Minnesota travels to Champaign on Saturday in a battle for first place in the Big Ten West.
Next week: hosts Minnesota
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0)
Previous power ranking: 3
Analysis: No. 10 Penn State had a bye this week. They'll travel to Ann Arbor to battle No. 4 Michigan in the biggest conference match-up of the season thus far.
Next week: @ No. 4 Michigan
2. Michigan Wolverines (6-0)
Result: W, 31-10 vs. Indiana
Previous power ranking: 2
Analysis: The Wolverines had a tough first half after running backs coach Mike Hart suffered a seizure and was carted off the field. Though he is now in stable condition, players were visibly emotional after witnessing the scene. The Wolverines gained just 43 yards of offense in the second quarter and entered halftime tied at ten with Indiana. But Michigan dominated the second half, shutting out the Hoosiers and scoring 21 unanswered points. Quarterback JJ McCarthy had a stellar game, throwing for 304 yards and completing 28 passes on 36 completions. Running back Blake Corum ran for 124 yards on 25 carries. The stout Wolverine defense sacked Indiana seven times and racked up 10 tackles for loss. Michigan has its toughest test of the season this week when they host Penn State.
Next week: hosts No. 10 Penn State
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)
Result: W, 49-20 vs. Michigan State
Previous power ranking: 1
Analysis: Ohio State came to East Lansing and waxed Michigan State, 49-20. Despite throwing an early pick-six to tie the game at seven, quarterback CJ Stroud bounced back big with six touchdown passes and just five incompletions on 26 pass attempts. Running back TreVeyon Henderson ran for 118 yards on 19 carries, and wide receivers Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. both had at least 131 yards receiving. The Buckeyes' defense held the Spartans to just seven rushing yards, and only allowed 11 completions from starting quarterback Payton Thorne. Ohio State will have a bye before Iowa comes to town in Week Eight.
Next Week: Bye
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