1. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0); Last week: 1
Michigan State has lived up to lofty expectations so far. The No. 8 Spartans have taken care of inferior competition and edged Nebraska in their biggest conference clash to this point. Their lone loss came on the road to Oregon, currently ranked No. 6 in the country.
Michigan State hosts Michigan this week. The Spartans have won five of the last six games against their in-state rivals.
Michigan State is the only team in the Big Ten ranked in the top three in total offense and total defense. The Spartans also lead the conference and rank third in the nation in scoring offense (47 points per game).
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2. Ohio State (5-1, 2-0); Last week: 2
Since suffering an upset loss to Virginia Tech in early September, Ohio State has operated with machinelike efficiency. The Buckeyes have scored at least 50 points in every game since, picking up four wins and climbing nine spots to No. 13 in the AP Poll.
Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett came into the season as an unknown after starter Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Barrett has emerged as the star of the Buckeyes’ impressive run.
In the last four games, Barrett has thrown for 17 touchdowns and one interception. He’s rushed for three touchdowns and surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground in a 56-17 win over Rutgers last week. He’s also completed 71.7 percent of his passes over the last four games.
3. Nebraska (6-1, 2-1); Last week: 3
Nebraska bounced back from its loss to Michigan State with a three-touchdown win over Northwestern last week.
Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah made headlines once again. The Heisman Trophy candidate rushed for 146 yards on 23 carries and scored a career-high four touchdowns. Abdullah has rushed for 1,024 yards, placing him third in the country and Big Ten. The conference boasts the top four rushers in the nation.
Abdullah, who has 14 rushing touchdowns, remains first in the country in all-purpose yardage with 1,349 (192.7 ypg).
4. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1); Last week: 4
Wisconsin has used a similar formula to Nebraska.
The Badgers have a Heisman Trophy candidate in their backfield, running back Melvin Gordon, who ranks one spot ahead of Abdullah in rushing with 1,046 yards. Gordon has also rushed for 13 touchdowns.
He spearheads the No. 1 rushing attack in the country, as the Badgers have rolled up 343 yards per game.
Coming off a bye, Wisconsin hosts Maryland this week.
5. Minnesota (6-1, 3-0); Last week: 10
Who sits behind Gordon and Abdullah at fourth in the country in rushing?
Minnesota’s David Cobb, who has piled up 1,013 yards to help the Gophers to their best start in the Big Ten since 1990. That’s the last time Minnesota was 3-0 in conference play.
The first major test appears to be Nov. 15 against Ohio State. Until then, Minnesota takes on Illinois this week and Iowa on Nov. 8.
6. Maryland (5-2, 2-1); Last week: 8
Maryland earned a big win over Iowa to move to 2-1 in conference play last week.
The Terrapins have a chance to prove themselves with a win over Wisconsin on the road this week.
Dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown has been banged up this season, but he leads Maryland in rushing (51.7 ypg) in addition to passing for 169.6 yards per game, seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
7. Iowa (5-2, 2-1); Last week: 9
Iowa built an early lead against Maryland last weekend and quickly watched as it evaporated. By the end of the game, the Hawkeyes were playing catchup.
Their comeback ended a touchdown short.
8. Northwestern (3-4, 2-2); Last week: 5
Northwestern followed back-to-back wins over Penn State and Wisconsin with consecutive losses to Minnesota and Nebraska.
The Wildcats’ up-and-down season leaves them right in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Still, Northwestern is an average team at best in a down year for the conference. The Wildcats have a bye this week to regroup before heading to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes on Nov. 1.
9. Michigan (3-4, 1-2); Last week: 12
Can the Wolverines string back-to-back wins together for the first time in more than a year? The last time they did so they were coming off a Week 4 bye last season, had beaten Connecticut in Week 3 and then beat Minnesota in their next game.
In the time since, Michigan has endured losing streaks of three games twice and two games once. The good news for Michigan is they’ve had a week to rest after beating Penn State and needed it with No. 8 Michigan State up next.
10. Penn State (4-2, 1-2); Last week: 6
The Nittany Lions got as far as they did winning four straight games despite fielding what may be the worst offensive line in the country.
But the ineffectiveness up front has caught up with them, and Penn State hasn’t looked good or instilled confidence on offense against a respectable foe since Week 1. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has not had time to throw and the 20 sacks he’s taken have slowed his development.
On the positive side, the Nittany Lions continue to field a fierce defense that is capable of keeping them in games.
11. Rutgers (5-2, 1-2); Last week: 7
The Scarlet Knights continue to truck along despite having lost arguably their best offensive player, running back Paul James, to a season-ending injury.
But the defense looked extremely shaky against the Buckeyes, who hung 56 points on Rutgers last week. That fact, combined with the inconsistent nature of the Rutgers offense, doesn’t bode well for a squad that still has games against No. 16 Nebraska, Wisconsin, No. 8 Michigan State and Maryland remaining.
Indiana is the lone team left on Rutgers’ schedule with a losing record.
12. Indiana (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten); Last week: 11
The Hoosiers are sporadically good and routinely dreadful.
Continuously trotting out a defense that can’t stop anyone hasn’t yielded much save for big points against. The Hoosiers have allowed 101 points in the last two games. The good news is the Hoosiers can’t get much worse, especially considering they’re off this week.
13. Purdue (3-5, 3-1); Last week: 13
The Boilermakers have made progress and have gotten their offense going of late and have scored 107 points in their last three games. Unfortunately, the offensive output only resulted in one win in that span, to lowly Illinois.
The rise of quarterback Austin Appleby has been a nice storyline for Purdue. With him at the helm, the Boilermakers scored 31 points against Michigan State, the most points the Spartans gave up in a conference game since 2011.
14. Illinois (3-4, 0-3); Last week: 14
Tim Beckman has won just nine games, and just one against a Big Ten foe, in two and a half seasons as the Illini coach. This team is a mess.