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Big Ten Power Rankings: Penn State, Ohio State are the best teams entering Week 7

Barkley continues to make plays for the Nittany Lions, and the Buckeyes forced another blowout.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back at it with another Big Ten Power Rankings. The last time I did this, which was a few weeks ago, Michigan was in third and Ohio State was still suspect—and I didn’t really know where to place the rest of the teams in the conference.

Entering Week 7 of the season, however, it’s a lot easier to determine where teams rank. We’re seeing who the contenders are. We’re seeing who the pretenders are. And we’re seeing what teams are firmly in the basement.

Let’s take a look at what the rankings look like this week:

1. Penn State Nittany Lions

Like the earlier power ranking, the Nittany Lions are at the top. Saquon Barkley, their star running back and favorite for the Heisman Trophy, keeps on dazzling.

Last week, though, Barkley was contained against Northwestern—but he still managed to pick up 75 yards and two touchdowns. PSU rolled to a 31-7 win, and now have their bye week. With the exception of their last-second, night game win at Iowa on Sept. 23, James Franklin’s program has cruised to victories.

The Nittany Lions are the defending conference champs, and at this moment, are on the path to repeating. However, there is one team that has a real shot at taking down the Nittany Lions—and they’re No. 2 on the list.

This week’s opponent: Bye Week

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Oct. 28 showdown in The ‘Shoe between PSU and OSU will be a battle between the top two teams in the Big Ten. Ohio State has found a rhythm, even though their search was in the midst of blowout wins against UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett has found his groove in the air, and there seems to be a greater trust between himself and the receiving corps. The Buckeyes will lose offensive lineman Branden Bowen for the season, but we won’t know the true effect of that injury until the offensive line (and pass protection) gets tested. We’ll see how that line protects Barrett against Nebraska this Saturday night.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State
Drive and Dive: Ohio State posted 62 points against Maryland. Entering their contest with Nebraska, OSU has scored 50+ points in their last three games.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins continue to dominate on the ground, and the defense is stifling the opposition’s passing game. Three weeks ago, the pass defense was suspect at best; now, it’s back up to meeting expectations.

This week’s opponent: at Nebraska (7:30 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: Fox Sports 1)

3. Wisconsin Badgers

After pulling away from Nebraska last week, the Badgers are off to a 5-0 start to their season. A big reason for the perfect start: red zone defense. Once teams get to the Wisconsin red zone, they have a tough time finding the end zone. Only 33.3 percent of red zone drives get past the Badger defense for a touchdown—which is the best in the nation.

This week, Purdue gets to see what the Wisconsin defense is about. If we’re going off history, the Boilermakers’ bid for an upset doesn’t seem likely, as they have lost the last 11 to the Badgers. With Wiscy at home, the tough task of an upset gets a little bit tougher. Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin’s QB, is the most efficient passer in the conference (167.2) and has thrown for a touch over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

This week’s opponent: vs. Purdue (3:30 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: Big Ten Network)

4. Michigan State Spartans

Surging up the conference ranks is Sparty. They come off a victory against Big Brother, Michigan, in what could’ve been described as monsoon conditions last Saturday night in Ann Arbor. Mark Dantonio’s squad forced bad passes from the Wolverines’ QB John O’Korn, and collected a whopping five turnovers in the rivalry game for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Third down efficiency was a problem with the Spartans, granted, nobody really played well once the rain picked up in the second half.

This week, it’s another primetime matchup as Michigan State travels to Minnesota. A win here, and the declaration that MSU is back becomes valid.

This week’s opponent: at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: Big Ten Network)

5. Michigan Wolverines

Who wants a Michigan fun fact? (It’s a good one.)

Since taking over for Michigan two seasons ago, Jim Harbaugh is 1-4 against Michigan State and Ohio State.

Fun fact No. 2: Third place in the Big Ten East has been the Wolverines best finish in the Harbaugh Era.

(Sweet, sweet schadenfreude.)

Michigan looks to get back on track against Indiana this Saturday, and they will need it; the Nittany Lions get the Wolverines on Oct. 21.

Their starting quarterback, Wilton Speight, is out for the foreseeable future with three broken vertebrae, so the contest with the Hoosiers is even more important in terms of making sure the QB and offense are on the same page.

If the Wolverines get the win on Saturday, they’ll hit a milestone: 500 Big Ten conference wins. Which is the best you can do after getting duped at home by Little Brother.

This week’s opponent: at Indiana (noon ET | Game broadcast on: ABC)

6. Iowa Hawkeyes

After beating Illinois, the fighting Kirk Ferentz’s get the week off. The Hawkeyes have done a little bit of everything this season: won a rival game against Iowa State, went 3-0 against non-conference foes, and got their heart ripped out by two conference opponents.

This week’s opponent: Bye Week

7. Purdue Boilermakers

Update: RB Tario Fuller is out again with injury

We learned last week that a train stops a boat. Now, can a train stop a Badger?

It’ll be a tough test, as the Badgers’ running back Jonathan Taylor just came off a Ron Dayne-esque performance against the Cornhuskers. They’ve come close this season in ranked contests, as Louisville and Michigan both avoided upsets from the Boilermakers.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Purdue
(Un)Lucky No. 7?: Purdue faces No. 7 Wisconsin on Saturday. Historically, the Boilermakers are 2-7 against a team that holds the No. 7 ranking in the AP Poll.
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

If the upset does happen, David Blough will need to be near perfect in the air, and the workload of Tario Fuller has to be filled. Even though Fuller is the statistical leader this season at running back (261 yards), he’s missed time with injury. With the updated depth chart for this week released, he is once again a scratch. Even if Blough raids the air, and the running game finds some success, that still may not be enough for the win.

One thing Purdue has going for them: They scare the daylights out of top ranked teams. (At least in Ohio State’s case in the Tressel Era.)

This week’s opponent: at Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: Big Ten Network)

8. Maryland Terrapins

Things were coming up Milhouse for the Terps after beating Texas in Week 1. Like Milhouse (The Simpsons character), things quickly unraveled for D.J. Durkin’s team. They lost to UCF, and then got thoroughly—as the cool kids would say— son’d by Ohio State last week.

(It’s not every game you go out and surrender 62 points—with a third string QB no less!)

Looking past the Ohio State thumping, Maryland gets Northwestern. Just like NU, this is a pick-me-up game for UMD, too. Actually, it’s more than that for Maryland: it’s an afternoon, 5-hour energy shot to keep you moving forward.

After Northwestern, Maryland makes the trek to Camp Randall Stadium to face Wisconsin. If things go badly against the Wildcats, then you can be doubly sure things will fall apart against the Badgers.

Right now is not a good time to be collecting L’s. Maryland is on the edge of that slippery slope.

This week’s opponent: Northwestern (3:30 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: ESPN2)

9. Northwestern Wildcats

The Wildcats got the Barkley experience last week, and now look to move on from getting roasted by the Nittany Lions. They have the perfect pick-me-up game: the Maryland Terrapins.

Running back Justin Jackson leads NU in rushing, and that will come in handy against the Terps. Offensive yards may come as a premium, as UMD gives up an average of 142.2 in the air and 161.1 on the ground.

If that wasn’t bad enough for Northwestern, they have to go on the road this week, and are riding a two-game losing streak.

This week’s opponent: at Maryland (3:30 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: ESPN2)

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Rowing the boat has seem to hit some rocks in recent weeks. P.J. Fleck has dropped games to Maryland and Purdue, and is now on that slippery slope of collecting losses. With Michigan State coming to visit, it may be a bad evening in Minneapolis.

This week’s opponent: vs. Michigan State (8 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: Big Ten Network)

11. Indiana Hoosiers

Going into homecoming fresh off a win against Charleston Southern, the Hoosiers get the Wolverines. That momentum, albeit came from a 27-0 win of CSU, will be needed. The Hoosier defense allowed zero passing yards last week and got their first shutout since 1993.

So far, though, IU has beat the teams they are supposed to beat, and have been throttled by the teams we thought they would get throttled by.

A win on homecoming will move them right up the ranks, and a loss won’t really do much at all.

This week’s opponent: vs. Michigan (noon ET | Game broadcast on: ABC)

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Once again, Nebraska faces a team that is ranked No. 9 in the country. Last week, it didn’t go so well, as they lost to Wisconsin, 38-17. (Granted, they hung in the game at halftime. But still.)

OSU coming to town may sink the Cornhuskers season even more, as another loss seems eminent. However, the last time the Buckeyes rolled into Nebraska, they lost. Times have changed, though—and Joe Bauserman isn’t the Ohio State QB anymore.

This week’s opponent: vs. Ohio State (7:30 p.m. ET | Game broadcast on: Fox Sports 1)

13. Illinois Fighting Illini

After starting the season 2-0, the Fighting Illini have been owned in their last three contests. Big L’s against South Florida, Nebraska and Iowa have slid Lovie Smith’s squad down in the basement of the power rankings.

If they were going to climb up, it will take a couple of conference wins, though, as they get Rutgers at home this week.

While the program from Champaign, Ill., is in the penultimate spot, it’s sorta expected; this season, the Illini have started 13 freshman. That’s more than any team in the nation. If there was a bright spot: Their special teams is doing wellthis year, as they’ve blocked three kicks.

(Another bright spot: Saturday’s game is Social Media Day, so fans will be getting some goodies).

This week’s opponent: vs. Rutgers (noon ET | Game broadcast on: Big Ten Network)

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

I feel bad for Chris Ash. His team has been son’d by literally everyone in the Big Ten. This isn’t a 2017 problem; it happened all of last season, too.

As Ash looks for his first conference win since leaving Columbus, Ohio for Piscataway, N.J., his best shot will be against Illinois. His team comes off a bye week, so that helps in the injury recovery and preparation categories.

However, if he can’t get the win on Saturday, he may once again pull off an 0-fer, as Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State are on the schedule.

(I just really want to see him win a conference game.)

This week’s opponent: vs. Rutgers (noon ET | Game broadcast on: Big Ten Network)