In the last two weeks, Northwestern has gone from looking like a potential Big Ten bottom-feeder to first place in the West Division. It’s still early in conference play, but Michigan State and Ohio State have established themselves as the top teams in the East — as expected.
1. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0); Last week: 1
The Spartans held off a late rally by then-No. 19 Nebraska to secure a 27-22 win in a Big Ten showdown last week. Michigan State led 27-3 going into the fourth quarter.
The No. 8 Spartans lead the conference in scoring at 45.6 points per game. They’ve also limited opponents to 20.6 points per game and 297 yards per game, good for third-fewest yards allowed in the conference.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has been efficient, throwing for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Wide receiver Tony Lippett leads the Big Ten with 105 receiving yards per game, in addition to hauling in seven touchdowns.
The team’s lone blemish came in a loss to Oregon in Week 2. Michigan State takes on Purdue on the road this week.
2. Ohio State (4-1, 1-0); Last week: 4
Since Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in Week 2, the Buckeyes have lit up the scoreboard in three straight blowout wins. Ohio State, now ranked 15th, scored at least 50 points in all three wins, most recently beating Maryland 52-24 in its Big Ten opener.
Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, a question mark with starter Braxton Miller out for the season, appears to have found his comfort zone leading the Buckeyes. In his last two games against Cincinnati and Maryland, he’s completed 74.6 percent of his passes and thrown for eight touchdowns and no interceptions, in addition to rushing for 150 yards and a score.
Ohio State has a bye this week.
3. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1); Last week: 3
Despite suffering its first loss of the season, Nebraska stays put as other teams have failed to impress.
The Huskers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of its loss at Michigan State. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah accounted for two of those scores, but he was limited to 45 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Still, Abdullah leads the nation with 878 yards rushing.
He also leads the conference in all-purpose yards, tallying 195.8 per game. He also leads the Big Ten with 12 touchdowns.
The Huskers rank first in total offense in the conference and third in scoring offense. Nebraska has a bye this week.
4. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1); Last week: 2
Wisconsin dropped its Big Ten opener 20-14 to Northwestern last week.
But the Badgers figure to be a factor in the West Division race with running back Melvin Gordon and its defense.
Gordon ranks first in the nation with 174.2 yards on the ground per game. He piled up 259 yards and scored a touchdown on 27 carries in the loss to the Wildcats. He’s averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in total defense (285.6 ypg) and ranks second in scoring defense (15.6 ppg). The Badgers battle Illinois on Saturday.
5. Northwestern (3-2, 2-0); Last week: 14
Northwestern skyrockets up the rankings after consecutive wins over Penn State and then-No. 17 Wisconsin. The Wildcats got off to a slow start, but they looked like a different team starting with a 29-6 victory over the Nittany Lions two weeks ago.
Northwestern built on that win with a 20-14 win over Wisconsin. The Wildcats led from start to finish and rode a 162-yard effort by freshman running back Justin Jackson to glide past the Badgers.
Despite an impressive start to conference play, Northwestern still has plenty to prove. The Wildcats lost seven of their final eight games last year.
6. Penn State (4-1, 1-1); Last week: 5
The Nittany Lions’ flaws, notably the struggles of the offensive line, finally caught up with them in their loss to Northwestern two weeks ago.
Coming off a bye week, Penn State will face Michigan at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Nittany Lions are among a handful of teams yet to separate themselves at this point in the season.
Penn State ranks at the bottom of the conference in scoring offense (11th) and rushing offense (13th). But the Nittany Lions are first in scoring defense and second in total defense.
Linebacker Mike Hull leads the conference with 10.6 tackles per game. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is second in the conference with 295.4 yards passing per game, but he’s thrown just four touchdowns and six interceptions.
7. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1); Last week: 8
Rutgers picked up its first Big Ten win last week with a 26-24 victory over Michigan.
Quarterback Gary Nova passed for 404 yards and three touchdowns. The Scarlet Knights blocked a 56-yard field goal attempt in the final minutes to preserve the win.
Rutgers’ lone loss came to Penn State in Week 3.
The Scarlet Knights have a bye this week. That’s a good thing, as they are in for a challenge on the road against No. 15 Ohio State next week.
8. Maryland (4-2, 1-1); Last week: 6
Maryland was overmatched in a 52-24 loss to Ohio State last week.
The Buckeyes led 31-10 at halftime and finished with 533 total yards. It was the third time this season the Terrapins allowed more than 500 yards. Maryland is allowing 451.2 yards per game, ranking 13th in the Big Ten.
Maryland linebacker Yannick Ngakoue is first in the conference with 8.5 tackles for loss.
9. Iowa (4-1, 1-0); Last week: 7
The Hawkeyes had a bye last week. They overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Purdue 24-10 in their Big Ten opener the previous week.
Iowa ranks fourth in the Big Ten in both scoring and total defense.
Offensively, they’ve struggled in the red zone, converting at a 68.2 percent rate. Iowa has scored 13 touchdowns and made 2-of-6 field goals in 22 chances.
Iowa hosts Indiana this week.
10. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0); Last week: 11
Minnesota’s best win is a 30-14 victory over a Michigan team that’s now lost three straight.
David Cobb led the way in that win, rushing for 183 yards on 32 carries. Minnesota also returned an interception for a touchdown in the win over the Wolverines. Cobb is fourth in the conference and sixth in the nation in rushing with 144.4 yards per game.
The Gophers’ defense has allowed just 19 points per game.
After a bye last week, Minnesota faces Northwestern on Saturday.
11. Indiana (3-2, 0-1); Last week: 9
After falling 37-15 to Maryland two weeks ago, Indiana beat North Texas 49-24 last week in its final nonconference game.
Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman has seven straight 100-yard rushing games and 14 straight games with a touchdown. Both are the longest current streaks in the nation. Coleman set the school record for consecutive games with a touchdown against Maryland, surpassing Anthony Thompson’s mark of 12 straight games from 1988-89.
Coleman ranks second in the nation in rushing yards per game with 168.2. He rushed for 150 yards and a score against North Texas.
The Indiana defense has allowed 28.6 points per game, second most in the Big Ten.
12. Michigan (2-4, 0-2); Last week: 10
Michigan’s season has been a train wreck so far.
The Wolverines have lost three straight games and endured criticism for their handling of a concussion suffered by quarterback Shane Morris against Minnesota. It’s all resulted in calls for coach Brady Hoke to be fired and athletic director Dave Brandon to step down.
Michigan is 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967.
Hoke announced Monday that running back Derrick Green is out for the season with a broken collarbone. That leaves De’Veon Smith in line to lead the rushing attack. Smith has rushed for 282 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries.
Quarterback Devin Gardner has thrown five touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
13. Purdue (3-3, 1-1); Last week: 13
Purdue beat Illinois 38-27 last week, ending a nine-game losing streak in Big Ten play dating back to 2012.
The Boilermakers went 0-8 in the conference in 2013 and dropped its conference opener to Iowa this season.
Akeem Hunt rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries to lead Purdue to the win.
The Boilermakers host Michigan State this week.
14. Illinois (3-3, 0-2); Last week: 12
Illinois has lost three of its last four games, with the lone win coming vs. Texas State.
Washington and Nebraska throttled the Fighting Illini during that span. Purdue hadn’t beaten a Big Ten opponent since 2012, then downed the Illini last week.
Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense. The unit has allowed 482.3 yards per game. The Fighting Illini have also given up the most points per game (35.5) in the Big Ten.