Big Ten football power rankings after Week 6: Return of the king

·10 min read

What a week of college football. Not just in the Big Ten, but across the country as the CFB gods blessed us with several epic games and drama we crave. And it never gets old. Just when you think college football has served up one of the best seasons ever, we seem to do it all over again the following year.

So far this season, we’ve seen several of the top dogs go down not even halfway through the schedule. Ohio State and Clemson lost early on, Notre Dame fell last week, and Alabama received a mark in the right-hand column this past weekend. If any year is wide open, it’s this one.

Now, about the Big Ten. Each week we rank teams based on who is playing best in our weekly power rankings, and it sure looked like the league was as wide open as it had been in a long time. Ohio State struggled to find its identity and personnel early, while teams like Iowa, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State defeated all challengers.

Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State are still unbeaten, but Penn State fell from the top of the hill to No. Iowa on Saturday. Then, there’s the big scarlet and gray elephant in the room. Not so quietly, the Buckeyes are again looking like the Buckeyes with arguably the best offense in the country and an ever-improving defense.

That all has changed our Big Ten power rankings after Week 6, with what we call a return of the king.

Northwestern Wildcats (2-3, 0-2)

Sep 11, 2021; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats safety Brandon Joseph (16) runs back a punt against the Indiana State Sycamores during the second half at Ryan Field. Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

The good news is that Northwestern did not lose an American football game this week. The bad news is that the Wildcats were on a bye and not on the field showing signs of life. Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best coaches in the game, but he just doesn’t have a lot to work with this year.

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14

Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5, 1-3)

Sep 4, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema enters the field with his team before the start of Saturday’s game with the UTSA Roadrunners at Memorial Stadium. Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

There is absolutely no way that the Illini would beat Nebraska if the two matched up again at this point in the season. Bret Bielema’s rebuild is alive and well with another loss, this time to his former Wisconsin club.

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13

Indiana Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2)

Sep 18, 2021; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) throws a pass during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Memorial Stadium. Bearcats won 38-24. Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Indiana still has the talent to make life miserable for one of the teams in contention, but something is just missing with this squad. There’s been way too much inconsistency to expect the Hoosiers to do a quick turnaround. Maybe having this past week off will assist.

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12

Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-4, 1-3)

Sep 25, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (5) walks off the field with his head down after the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

From a talent standpoint, Nebraska probably deserves to be ranked higher. However, when a team continually loses close games, there’s something that just isn’t clicking. The ‘Huskers went toe-to-toe with Michigan but lost again in heartbreak fashion. Until Scott Frost finds a way to make his team one that can find ways to win instead of losing, we can’t have Big Red rise in the power rankings.

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11

Maryland Terrapins (4-2, 1-2)

Maryland Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (3) is pursued by Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison (9) during the first half of Saturday’s NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on October 9, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

It sure looks like history is repeating itself once again in College Park. Maryland seems to always look like a threat to teams outside of the league, but fold and wilt once league play begins. The Terps simply don’t have the depth to absorb some of the injuries they are dealing with evidenced by two straight embarrassing losses, the last of which was at the hand of Ohio State 66-17. In one word; ouch.

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6

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Wisconsin Badgers (2-3, 1-2)

Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) walks from the field after being injured during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium. Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Wisconsin got back in the win column, but it was against Illinois. Teams aren’t going to get credit for beating a hapless Illini team right now, and there are still some real issues on the offensive end that need to show signs of life. No change this week for the Badgers. We still need to see more in the improvement department.

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Purdue Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1)

Purdue running back Zander Horvath (40) runs the ball during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Purdue was off this week so there’s really no reason to make a change from where the Boilermakers were last week. The team has looked OK so far this year but we haven’t seen anything close to a statement win to really gauge the ceiling in West Lafayette.

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Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3, 0-3)

Ohio State Buckeyes defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau (44) brings down Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Cole Snyder (15) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA Division I football game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

A season that looked so promising is starting to unwind a bit. There is still marked improvement we’ve seen under Greg Schiano, but simply playing good teams close for a half of football isn’t going to get you to the stretch goals we’re sure Rutgers had in mind this season. This still isn’t a bad team, but the Scarlet Knights needed to make a statement against Michigan State and that didn’t happen in the second half.

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7

Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-2, 1-1)

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck motions during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Minnesota was off this week so there wasn’t anything we can take from what we saw on the field. So far, the Golden Gophers have looked really good at times, and befuddling at others. That’s probably what we’ll see the rest of the year, so we’ll boost Minnesota one spot more on what Rutgers couldn’t do rather than the faith we have in where this team is headed.

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Michigan State Spartans (6-0, 3-0)

Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III, right, celebrates after a run against Nebraska during overtime on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Michigan State just keeps grinding away. The Spartans aren’t flashy and don’t always look fantastic, but they just keep doing everything they need to do to win, and the confidence is growing. As the team continues to win, it’s continuing to believe and develop into one that might just throw a wrench into the rest of the East Division’s plans.

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5

Michigan Wolverines (6-0, 3-0)

Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua talks to defensive lineman Christopher Hinton (15) and Michigan linebacker David Ojabo (55) during the first half Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Michigan continues to win, but doing it a lot like its rival Michigan State. The Wolverines are a physical bunch that can get it going on the ground and play good defense, and the win over Nebraska in Lincoln is a very underrated one. The maize and blue are beatable, and we wonder what will happen when they face a team with more superior athletes. Big games still linger against Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

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4

Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1, 2-1)

Oct 2, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs with the ball during the third quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Indiana 24-0. Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Penn State lost a tough one at Iowa City, but we’ll never know what would have happened had quarterback Sean Clifford not gotten injured. This team is still a good one and will still have a say in who comes out of the East Division to head to Indy for the Big Ten Championship Game

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Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 3-0)

Iowa freshman wide receiver Keagan Johnson (No. 6, left) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against Colorado State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

There are still some concerns with Iowa’s offense, but man the defense continues to play well and force opponents into a lot of mistakes. The Hawkeyes found a way to squeeze out just enough offense and beat a Penn State team that was left to try and do some work without its starting quarterback. Say what you want, but a win, is a win, is a win, and now the Hawkes are ranked No. 2 in the country.

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Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0)

Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Cody Simon (30) and Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marcus Williamson (5) bring down Maryland Terrapins running back Tayon Fleet-Davis (8) during the second quarter of an NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

The reason for the ranking

Anyone watching the league the last couple of weeks has to understand that Ohio State is looking like Ohio State again. The offense now knows what it is and who to play, and while the defense is still improving, it is much better and much more aggressive than what we saw the first few games. Yes, it’s the return of the king at the top of the Big Ten power rankings and the team will probably continue to get better.

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