1. Michigan State (7-1, 4-0); Last week: 1
The No. 8 Spartans have rolled right along after a loss to Oregon in Week 2.
Save for a close game with No. 17 Nebraska, Michigan State hasn’t really been challenged. The Spartans are riding a steady, consistent offense led by Connor Cook, who is completing 60 percent of his passes and has thrown 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Meanwhile, the Spartan defense remains solid and has forced a conference best 22 turnovers.
Michigan State has outscored opponents 136-59 in its last three games. A rematch of the Big Ten title game with No. 16 Ohio State is next week’s big game. The Spartans have a bye this week.
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2. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1); Last week: 4
The Badgers still aren’t ranked in the AP Top 25 but soon will be if they keep making statements like they did last week in a 52-7 romp over what looked to be an improving Maryland squad.
The Terrapins had played well in road games but were completely decimated by a team that racked up 311 rushing yards and allowed just 46. It’s been a theme all season for the Badgers, who field the nation’s No. 3 rushing attack and a Top 15 rushing defense.
The rest of the schedule sets up nicely for the Badgers, who have Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota left. Their Nov. 15 game against Nebraska is the big one and could very well decide the Western Division title.
3. Nebraska (7-1, 3-1); Last week: 3
Ameer Abdullah is having himself a season. The Nebraska senior is averaging just over 156 yards per game and has rushed for 17 touchdowns. Only Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin (19) has more than Abdullah.
Right now the No. 15 Cornhuskers are hitting big plays but they could be getting more from their defense. Overall, the Huskers rank sixth in total defense in the Big Ten. A game against lowly Purdue shouldn’t be too much trouble this week.
4. Ohio State (5-1, 2-0); Last week: 2
No. 16 Ohio State came back to Earth and needed two overtimes plus a few controversial calls to get past a gritty Penn State team in a rowdy environment.
The Buckeye defense is still pretty solid and Joey Bosa should continue to wreak havoc in the remaining games. It’s hard to imagine Bosa is only a sophomore. Illinois is up next for the Buckeyes.
J.T. Barrett sprained a knee against Penn State and may have to rely more on his arm in the near future.
5. Penn State (4-3, 1-3); Last week: 10
Penn State makes the biggest leap up the rankings after a promising showing against Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions continue to field an elite defense that is keeping their offense in games. Improvements in the running game could do wonders for a team averaging only 82 yards per game on the ground.
The rest of Penn State’s schedule looks manageable, with away games against Indiana and Illinois and home games against Maryland this week and Temple on Nov. 15. Christian Hackenberg will have to return to form over the final five games if the Nittany Lions want to have a chance to beat Michigan State in the regular season finale.
6. Minnesota (6-2, 3-1); Last week: 5
The Gophers’ hopes to win the West took a hit with a loss to Illinois last week.
Minnesota’s offense had nothing in the fourth quarter. The Gophers missed a field goal, turned the ball over on downs and had a fumble returned for the game-deciding touchdown. The good news is Minnesota still has a chance to win its division.
The bad news? The road ahead is brutal. After Iowa this week, the Gophers have Ohio State followed by back-to-back road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin.
7. Maryland (5-3, 2-2); Last week: 6
Maryland is a tough team to categorize. The Terrapins have vaunted skill players who have made big plays, particularly receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback William Likely, but they haven’t really outclassed any FBS team other than Indiana.
In the meantime, Maryland has looked bad in losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin, having surrendered 52 points in each loss.
We should know if the Terps are for real and can make a run at a nice bowl destination as another daunting task awaits at Beaver Stadium.
8. Iowa (5-2, 2-1); Last week: 7
The Hawkeyes are a middle-of-the-pack team in nearly every major statistical category and don’t do anything particularly great.
They’ve made a habit of winning close games — against Northern Iowa, Ball State and Pittsburgh — but have lost close games to Iowa State and recently to Maryland, too. Iowa was idle last week along with its opponent Northwestern.
9. Northwestern (3-4, 2-2); Last week: 8
Talk about up and down, the Wildcats started off 0-2 before an inspiring three-game stretch that included wins at Penn State and a big upset against Wisconsin.
Since then Northwestern has dropped games to Minnesota and Nebraska.
The Wildcats had a week to rest and travel to Kinnick Stadium to play the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
10. Rutgers (5-3, 1-3); Last week: 11
The Scarlet Knights are on to Game 3 of the toughest fourth of their schedule with Wisconsin visiting High Point Solutions Stadium this weekend.
Rutgers put up points against Ohio State and Nebraska but couldn’t keep either of those teams’ powerful offenses out of the end zone during its current two-game skid.
11. Michigan (3-5, 1-3); Last week: 9
Michigan’s nightmare season continued with a beatdown from rival Michigan State last week. Really, the Wolverines were never even in this game, scoring their first touchdown with 3:40 left in the game.
Indiana will visit the Big House next and it shows how far the Wolverines have fallen that this is a big game simply because wins are rare nowadays in Ann Arbor.
12. Illinois (4-4, 1-3); Last week: 14
Handing a 6-1 Minnesota team its second loss was a big win for the Illini simply for the fact that it could be the last one for this team.
With Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and a trip to Northwestern to finish, it’ll take all the Illini have to become bowl eligible.
13. Indiana (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten); Last week: 12
The Hoosiers haven’t beaten Michigan since 1987.
They have a good chance to do so this weekend — not because they’re particularly good, but because Michigan is that bad.
14. Purdue (3-5, 1-3); Last week: 13
The Boilermakers have had an extra week to prepare for their trip to Nebraska.
Time isn’t a great substitute for talent, however.