Big Ten Week 13 Power Rankings: The Final Week

The college football regular season is in the books, and one Big Ten team remains unbeaten. It must be Ohio State, Michigan State, or Michigan, right? Wrong! The Iowa Hawkeyes who were unranked at the beginning of the season, are 12-0 and the victors of the Big Ten West. They will head to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship and attempt to continue their perfection into the postseason.

It came down to the final week to decide who will represent the Big Ten East in Indianapolis, but it was the Michigan State Spartans who came out on top and will try to spoil Iowa’s perfect resume in Indy. Things are shaping to be quite interesting in the Big Ten. It appears very likely that the winner of the Michigan State-Iowa game will head to the College Football Playoff. Could the Big Ten repeat as national champions? These next few weeks will surely be climactic, but first, let’s take a look at how the rest Big Ten fared in its final week of the regular season.

  1. Iowa

The Hawkeyes defeated Nebraska 28-20 to cap off what has truly been a Cinderella story. For the first time in program history, Iowa has gone 12-0, and who could have guessed it?

No one would have believed that Kirk Ferentz’s team would be 12-0 at the beginning of the year. As far as the nation was concerned, Iowa was just some “nobody” out of the Big Ten. Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes have defied all expectations and achieved perfection.

Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and many other teams have losses. How has Iowa done what the “big boys” of college football have not? It comes from consistency. For example, Michigan State’s only loss came from a Nebraska team who has a losing record. They rebounded to beat Ohio State, where running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for merely 33 yards, only to follow up with 214 yards against the powerful defensive front of the Michigan Wolverines. These numbers do not add up. How could MSU beat OSU, yet manage to lose to Nebraska? How could Elliott and the Buckeye offense do nothing against MSU and then rack up 42 points against Michigan?

It is because college football teams are inconsistent. They have their highs and lows. Their lows can cost them a playoff appearance—but this is a problem Iowa has never had. They worked hard and won battles in the trenches every week. Granted, Iowa has had a very easy schedule thus far, but few teams can play their best football every game, without any major slip-ups. The Hawkeyes have shown tremendous poise under pressure, and will receive a chance to shock the nation against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game with a playoff berth on the line.

  1. Michigan State

The Spartans punched their ticket to Indianapolis by annihilating Penn State, 55-16.

Michigan State looked unimpressive early in the season. Every week, the odds heavily favored the Spartans, yet MSU consistently went down to the wire with teams as bad as Rutgers and Purdue. Many doubted the Spartans, who limped into Ann Arbor with nine starters out (six of which were on defense), only to win on a miraculous fumble recovery for a touchdown. Some thought that MSU’s luck finally ran out when they lost to Nebraska in heartbreaking fashion, seriously hurting their playoff dreams.

Then, in one fell swoop, it all changed. After a convincing win against Maryland, the Spartans marched into Columbus without Connor Cook, and gave the Buckeyes a beating that 42 points against Michigan could not heal. MSU crawled their way back into playoff contention, and is finally receiving the national attention they rightfully deserve.

Why has MSU’s season been such a rollercoaster? A big reason is injuries. For a large portion of the season, Michigan State had key members of the offensive line and defense on the sidelines. Slowly, but surely, these men are making their way back on to the field, and MSU’s victories over Ohio State and Penn State show the NCAA what the Spartans are capable of when healthy.

However, the Spartans are more than a “wheelchair” team who finally got healthy. So much of MSU’s success comes from head coach Mark Dantonio. He instills a strong mindset in his players, causing them to step up when they need to. Unlike Michigan State coaches in the past, Dantonio yearns for the spotlight. He and his players have a strong will to win, which is why MSU is consistently fighting for Big Ten Titles. They play their best football in big games.

  1. Ohio State

Since destiny lied out of their control, the Buckeyes needed to give the playoff committee every thing they had in their 42-13 obliteration against archrival Michigan. Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s 139 rushing yards complemented Ezekiel Elliott’s 214 yards to create a “one-two punch” that would be too much for the Wolverine defense to handle.

OSU showed a tremendous amount of mental strength against Michigan. It appeared that the Buckeyes were falling apart after their loss to MSU. After the game, Elliott blasted the coaching staff on the loss and declared that there was “no chance” of him returning in 2016. Since Ohio State was so used to winning, they could not take it when they lost. They responded selfishly to the MSU game, and refused to declare it as a “team loss.” Just when it seemed as if the Buckeyes were on the brink of an internal disaster, they came together and won their hardest-fought game of the year. Instead of taking their anger and frustration out on each other, Ohio State took it out on U-M, and the effects will be positive moving forward.

Although not impossible, it appears unlikely that Ohio State will make the playoffs, but there is a lot worth fighting for in Columbus. Making the playoffs every year is impractical, and there is still a major bowl game waiting for the one-loss Buckeyes. Their season is far from lost.

  1. Michigan

Needless to say, things did not go as planned in Ann Arbor as the Wolverines got steamrolled, 42-13 by their most hated rival—Ohio State. Michigan’s defense had great difficulty stopping the sensational running game of OSU led by Ezekiel Elliott, who racked up over 200 yards. It took up to three U-M players to tackle Elliott, who the Wolverines were completely unprepared for. Ohio State was quick to abandon the passing game in the previous week against Michigan State, and Michigan should have expected the same. Nearly every one of Ohio State’s plays was either a handoff to Elliott or a designed quarterback run. The Buckeyes’ entire offense is surrounded by this style, so one would think that the fourth best run defense in the nation should have been able to limit these two players to less than 350 yards on the ground.

The Wolverines finished the regular season at 9-3, which should bring them to a decent bowl. Although U-M has failed to rise up in their biggest games of the year (Utah, Michigan State, Ohio State), it is tough to ignore the success head coach Jim Harbaugh has achieved in just one year. No, he did not make the playoff run that fans anticipated before the Big Ten season even started. However, he did put U-M on the map again, and will likely make Michigan strong with time.

  1. Northwestern

The Wildcats received their tenth win on Saturday by defeating Illinois 24-14.

Wins are never easy to come by for Northwestern. They are not particularly talented, and they struggle to put teams away. The Wildcats had to crawl their way up to power. Nothing was given to them. Every game was a battle for head coach Pat Fitzgerald, but it has made them strong and, more importantly, it gave them ten wins. The Wildcats have not been pretty, but the goal is not to look good—the goal is to win.

Perhaps struggling to put teams away is why Northwestern has not received much national attention. The Wildcats have not displayed the same dominance as other 10-2 teams, but they brought success to Evanston with their strong defense and power running back, Justin Jackson.

Pat Fitzgerald’s system is obscure, but it has led them to the fourth ten-win season in school history, and what will hopefully be a major bowl game.

  1. Wisconsin

Dare Ogunbowale rushed for a career-high 155 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin’s twelfth straight victory over Minnesota. The Badgers held the Gophers to a total of eight yards in the first quarter, and won the time of possession 40:35 to 19:25. Quarterback Joel Stave only threw for 79 yards, but passing the football was hardly needed, as the Badgers out rushed the Gophers 257-53.

Wisconsin improved their record to a respectable 9-3, but there is one thing they lack. The Badgers are 0-3 against ranked opponents. They are ranked No. 15 in overall defense, but Ogunbowale, Stave, and the Badger offense have failed to show up on the big stage. Wisconsin will make a bowl, but how good of a bowl is still up in the air.

  1. Penn State

The Nittany Lions were swept away from the face of the earth, losing to Michigan State 55-16. The Lions’ 7-5 season has been a bit disappointing, but you can hardly blame them, considering that they are in arguably the best division of college football. Penn State is able to play well in spurts, but they never play for the full 60 minutes. They also struggle holding on to the football and avoiding sacks. For these reasons, Penn State has never been able to pull off big upsets against MSU, OSU, or U-M.

Penn State will make a mediocre bowl, but their future is bright. Since sanctions administered to Penn State in 2012 are lifted, many believe that the Nittany Lions will be on the rise for the following years. Will there be enough room in the Big Ten East for Penn State? With Michigan State and Ohio State standing strong, and Michigan and Penn State on the rise, things could get very interesting for the Big Ten East in the future.

  1. Indiana

Nate Sudfeld and the Indiana offense came through yet again, putting up 54 points against rival Purdue and winning the Old Oaken Bucket. Sudfeld threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, which complemented over 300 total rushing yards. For the first time in 2007, the Hoosiers are eligible for the postseason with a 6-6 record. Indiana still lacks a strong defense, but they are capable of playing with any team they meet with their high-powered offense.

Watch out for Indiana in their bowl game. Since the Hoosiers do not traditionally make the postseason, it is likely that they will be projected to lose, but Indiana is much stronger than most people realize. If they need to put up 40 points to get their first bowl win since 1991, they will.

  1. Nebraska

The Cornhuskers hung tough against Iowa, but Tommy Armstrong and the Nebraska offense could not produce enough points to spoil an opponent’s undefeated season for the second time in 2015. Armstrong had four interceptions in the 28-20 loss—a deficit the Cornhuskers are used to. Saturday marked the eighth Nebraska game decided by a single score, making wins hard to come by in Lincoln.

This was not the ideal season the Huskers were looking for. College football is popular in Nebraska, and fans are used to winning. This season was just the third time Nebraska has had a losing season since 2004. Many rejoiced when Mike Riley replaced Bo Pelini as head coach, but fans are now left to wonder if this was the right decision. Granted, Riley deserves more than one year to turn a program around, but Nebraska consistently made bowl games under Pelini. As the Cornhuskers fall to 5-7, it seems remains up in the air whether or not Riley will make the postseason in his first year as head coach.

  1. Minnesota

Ex-head coach Jerry Kill, who was forced to retire due to epilepsy, led the Golden Gophers out of the tunnel and waved a “Jerrysota” flag, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. The Gophers were hoping to bring Paul Bunyan’s Axe back to Minnesota in Kill’s honor, but they could not do it. Quarterback Mitch Leidner was just 16-37 with 223 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions, and a fumble in the loss to Wisconsin. Running the ball was even less successful for the Gophers, who ran for only 53 yards. Minnesota has not won the Axe since 2003, the longest drought from either school in the 125-year-old rivalry. The Gophers also needed a win to stay bowl eligible. Unfortunately for the Gophers, Saturday was not their day.

It has been a frustrating and emotional season for Minnesota, and it is up to Kill’s successor, Tracy Claeys, to prove that he is the right fit for this program’s future.

  1. Illinois

The Illini likely destroyed their chances of making a bowl game as they fell to archrival Northwestern 24-14. The hopes of a postseason are dwindling away for Illinois, who started the season 4-1, only to win one more game for the rest of conference play.

Bill Cubit, who took over as head coach for Tim Beckman just before the season started, accepted a two-year contract extension. Quarterback Wes Lunt applauded the move to extend Cubit’s contract. “I think it means a lot just to the stability within the program with so much going on,” he said. Lunt has been the biggest–and sometimes the only–catalyst on the Illini offense, but he will likely return for his senior year, along with a heavy 2016 senior class. If Bill Cubit is as good as Lunt believes, then Illinois may be poised for a run next season.

  1. Purdue

The Boilermakers received their fourth straight loss by giving up 659 total yards, four turnovers, and six personal fouls to Indiana.

Nebraska is the only team Purdue has beaten in conference play, so it has been a frustrating season. Many believe that quarterback David Blough is not the answer to the Boilermakers moving forward, but this is an unjust accusation. Blough is an extremely talented quarterback, but it is unfair to start a redshirt freshman on one of the worst teams in the conference and expect immediate results. Sometimes, Blough has not even received the start due to a concussion, and backup quarterback Austin Appleby’s results have been no better than Blough’s. David Blough will improve with time, but he will need help from players around him if he is to turn Purdue into a success story.

  1. Maryland

The Terrapins have done it! They got a conference win! It took them all season to beat an equally bad Rutgers team, but no longer is Maryland winless. The Terps put up 656 yards of total offense to defeat the Scarlet Knights 46-41.

Needless to say, Maryland has not had a good season. Going into Saturday, they were riding an eight-game losing streak that got their head coach fired. The Terps were down by 21 points late in the first half against Rutgers, but they did not give up. Maryland did not have much to fight for, but they refused to leave the field without getting a conference victory. Running back Brandon Ross ran for an 80-yard touchdown with 4:40 left in the final quarter, propelling the Terps above Rutgers for a win.

  1. Rutgers

Rutgers handed Maryland their only Big Ten win of the season after blowing a large lead and falling 46-41.

With only one conference win, it has been a difficult season for the Scarlet Knights, who are rethinking their entire football program. Head coach Kyle Flood has officially been fired, along with athletic director Julie Hermann. With these changes, it is difficult to predict what the future will be for Rutgers, but the good news is that they cannot sink much lower.