Michigan State didn’t play this week, so they could neither help nor hurt their position in the Big Ten. But after three weeks of play, the Big Ten is starting to show signs of what it is and there is already plenty of movement.
The top of the conference is going to look pretty similar, but the middle of the pack is starting to thin out.
1. Penn State Nittany Lions 3-0
There is no doubt who the best team in the Big Ten is right now. Penn State has looked every bit a national title contender. Two of their three wins came against much lesser opponents, but Penn State looked dominant against Pittsburgh. The Nittany Lions finally get into something resembling real competition this week, going on the road against Iowa. If Saquon Barkley keeps rolling, he’s going to win the Heisman.
2. Wisconsin Badgers 3-0
The Badgers haven’t had the most consistent games so far this season, getting off to slow starts in their first two games, but they are a real threat to win the Big Ten title. Against BYU, Wisconsin finally hit on all cylinders. If that team shows up in the Big Ten, they will have no trouble winning the West.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes 2-1 (1-0)
Their title hopes weren’t killed after losing to Oklahoma, but Ohio State needs to be perfect through the rest of the season. They got things back together against Army in a big way and look to be The Ohio State again. Up and down the roster, Ohio State probably has the most talent in the conference, but the team hasn’t played perfect quite yet. They have plenty of time to clean things up this week against UNLV then a soft landing in the Big Ten opener against Rutgers.
4. Michigan Wolverines 3-0
Michigan keeps winning and keeps things from getting too close. But man, they don’t look elite just yet. The Wolverines have been able to keep their mid-major opponents the last two weeks at arms-length but never confidently put them away. Their best win of the season is still the impressive Week 1 win over Florida. Michigan has some major questions at the quarterback position, but their defense is for real and will win them plenty of games in the Big Ten.
5. Purdue Boilermakers 2-1
Well there isn’t much question as to the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this year. So far, Purdue has progressed from “not bad” against Louisville, to “maybe good” against Ohio and finally “holy crap Purdue is good” after a dominant win over Missouri on the road. Purdue has a team that is going to win plenty this year and should have no problem getting back to a bowl game. Purdue is going to surprise someone in conference this year, but no one watching them early this year will be all that shocked.
6. Maryland Terrapins 2-0
Maryland had a Week 3 bye, so it’s tough to tell exactly how good they are. But those first two games were more than enough to show, if nothing else, they are no pushover in the Big Ten. Maryland still has arguably the most impressive win in the conference so far, winning at Texas. They followed that up with a blowout win over Towson. This week they host a UCF team that is all but a total unknown at only 1-0 on the year.
7. Michigan State Spartans 2-0
The Spartans could be a really good team – they could also be a younger version of last year’s three-win team. For now, things are looking up for Michigan State and there are reasons to be optimistic, specifically with their defense, young quarterback and a potential star at running back. This week against Notre Dame will show a lot for MSU, but with a team this young, the entire year will be a building process.
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-0
After a shaky start to the season Buffalo, Minnesota seems to have found its form the last two games, which included a big win on the road at Oregon State. There is still some doubt as to how good the Golden Gophers are, but they are looking much better than their Week 1 performance. Row the Boat has Minnesota trending in the right direction, but they have a lot to prove early in their Big Ten season against fellow question marks – Maryland, Purdue and Michigan State.
9. Indiana Hoosiers 1-1 (0-1)
After a closer game than the score would show against Ohio State to start the season, Indiana went on the road to Virginia to get a tough out-of-conference Power 5 win. With only two games, it’s too early to say how good Indiana is, but they look like they could return to a bowl game again this year. Putting together an impressive bowl streak for a team like the Hoosiers.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes 3-0
Iowa is a bit of a problem. There is no real reason why they have looked as mediocre as they have at times. But with all that being said, they haven’t lost yet. None of those wins featured anything resembling dominance, even though two were wins by 17-points or more. Iowa may still find its rhythm and be a force in the Big Ten West, but not the way they have played so far.
11. Northwestern Wildcats 2-1
After the first two weeks were extremely troubling for Northwestern, they had a nice bounce back against Bowling Green. It’s still open for debate whether Northwestern is as good as they were supposed to be, but at least it’s things in Evanston aren’t quite as ugly as they looked after the blowout loss to Duke. Northwestern looks perfectly on track to have the standard Northwestern season of the last five years.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers 1-2
So I think Nebraska may just be bad? It’s tough to say for sure, only three games in, Week 1 against Arkansas State was ugly, but still a win, and the Week two loss against Oregon is explainable. But holy crap, losing at home to Northern Illinois? That can’t happen to a good team. Nebraska is definitely not the power house it was in decades past, but they may have hit rock-bottom this season. The Cornhuskers have a chance to bounce back against Illinois and Rutgers over the next two weeks, but those are pretty much empty wins.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini 2-1
Speaking of Illinois, what’s the deal with Lovie Smith? I’m going to work under the assumption that his job is still safe, because Illinois isn’t exactly a coaching destination if they decide to make a change, and Smith still has some credibility built up in Illinois. But his young players need to start improving. At 2-1, things aren’t a total dumpster fire, but the Illini couldn’t have looked much worse than they did against USF.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights 1-2
Sure, Rutgers is at the bottom of the Big Ten. Sure, any win they get from this point on. But things almost feel like they are improving for Rutgers. That’s a pretty low bar, I know, but they are on a one game win-streak and fresh off of a 65-0 win. We will find out how bad Rutgers really is this week when they play Illinois in a loser-takes-all battle royale for last place in the Big Ten.