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Week 5: Big Ten Power Rankings and College Football Playoff Positioning

There are clearly two tiers in the Big Ten this season.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

At the start of the season, this was supposed to be a marquee weekend for the conference; Michigan and Wisconsin to start the day and then Penn State and Indiana in primetime; two good games between four teams expected to be battling for conference supremacy, what more could you want?

Well, good football, for one thing. Not a ton of changes at the top of the Big Ten Power Rankings this week, but there is quite clearly a solidification going on in the upper tier of the conference hierarchy.

As always, keep in mind that these are just my lists, and they are simply looking at where things sit as of this very moment. Things will be fluid, rankings will change, but that’s what’s fun about this crazy ass sport, isn’t it?

I am sure that more astute and discerning college football watchers might have different opinions, so if that’s you, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

My Current Big Ten Power Rankings

1) Penn State (5-0, 2-0) | 24-0 Win Over Indiana | Previously No. 1

As I was prepping this article during the night game window, I went back and forth between having Penn State and Iowa as the top team; I must have switched it in this order four or five times (including twice after I started writing this paragraph). For me, the Nits get the benefit of the doubt based on their analytical standings.

While I am trying to base these rankings on wins, losses, how you play, and who you’ve done it all against, when two teams have such seemingly similar resumes, I have no problem turning to our robot overlords at SP+, F+, and FPI to help cast a deciding vote.

The former two had the Nits ranked significantly higher than Iowa, while it was the other way around from ESPN’s Football Power Index. See, even the computers are split on this one.

2) Iowa (5-0, 2-0) | 51-14 Win Over Maryland | Previously No. 2

I don’t know that I feel great about not having Iowa as No. 1, but I’m not going to cop out and make them 1b or something like that. Fortunately for next week, I won’t have to agonize between the two as they will be facing off head-to-head.

3) Michigan (5-0, 2-0) | 38-17 Win Over Wisconsin | Previously No. 3

I don’t think that Wisconsin is any good this year (see their ranking below), but this is the first time in the Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor (is a whore) that the Weasels actually have an identity on offense. I am still of the opinion that the Buckeyes will #Hang100OnEm come late November, but for now, I’m ok with letting them think that they can finally complete their revenge tour.

4) Ohio State (4-1, 2-0) | 52-13 Win Over Rutgers | Previously No. 4

In what might earn me an eye roll from Captain Obvious, Saturday’s performance against a more than competent Rutgers squad was by far the most complete game played by the Buckeyes in the past two seasons, except perhaps for the playoff win over Clemson.

The offense was nearly flawless while the starters were in, and the defense is now playing with a sense of purpose and aggression that was sadly lacking while Kerry Coombs was calling plays.

While there is still plenty of football left to be played, and far better opponents to square off against, if this is the beginning of what a newly refocused OSU team can do, I think that the playoff dreams are still very much on the table.

5) Michigan State (5-0, 2-0) | 48-31 Win Over Western Kentucky | Previously No. 5

Sparty has a legit beast on offense in Wake Forrest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III; I don’t know that I’m sold on their defense quite yet, but Walker is the perfect weapon for Mel Tucker’s offensive philosophy.

6) Maryland (4-1, 1-1) | 51-14 Loss to Iowa | Previously No. 6

So, here is where there is a dramatic drop off in terms of quality, because I believe that those top five teams in the conference are very strong, while everyone else is decent at best — at least as of now. I really wanted to believe in the Terps, but they had gotten off to their 4-0 start against a mostly mediocre schedule. Then, when they faced a real team, they got absolutely boat-raced. I’ll continue to give them credit for their win over WVU in Week 1, but another game like this, and that will all but be erased.

7) Nebraska (3-3, 1-2) | 56-7 Win Over Northwestern | Previously No. 9

Don’t look now, but the Huskers might actually be pretty decent. They have played a couple of quality teams extremely tight, and then absolutely destroyed a really bad Wildcat team. They did what they were supposed to do on Saturday, and I think that Scott Frost might just be starting to right the ship after a rough early season.

Nebraska has the misfortune of playing both TTUN and the Buckeyes in divisional crossover games this season, but I would not be surprised if they ran the table in their remaining three B1G West games before the regular season finale rivalry game against Iowa.

8) Rutgers (3-2, 0-2) | 52-13 Loss to Ohio State | Previously No. 7

We are all savvy enough to know that the transitive property in college football means nothing, right? Ok. Now that we’ve established that, did Rutgers just play out of their minds against the Skunk Bears last weekend, and then reverted back to the mean against the Buckeyes. Or, does their close 20-13 loss to the Meerkats a week ago suggest that the HarBoys aren’t as good as some might think? Only time will tell.

9) Purdue (3-2, 1-1) | 20-13 Loss to Minnesota | Previously No. 8

Yes, I know that Minnesota beat Purdue on Saturday, but I don’t care. On the whole, Purdue’s season has been better than that of the Gophers’. So they get slotted a spot ahead.

10) Minnesota (3-2, 1-1) | 20-13 Win Over Purdue | Previously No. 12

Hey, a win is a win, especially when your best player is out for the season. #OSUQualityWin

11) Indiana (2-2, 0-2) | 24-0 Loss to Penn State | Previously No. 11

Michael Penix Jr. had a game-ending injury again on Saturday, this time to his shoulder. While they have been really bad even with him this year, you have to feel badly for the kid who just feels like he’s been snakebitten throughout his entire career.

Not that it matters much right now since the whole team is garbage, unfortunately; they were so much fun last year. Where have you gone NineWindiana?

12) Wisconsin (1-3, 0-2) | 38-17 Loss to Michigan | Previously No. 10

Woof. This just ain’t gonna be their year. For the traditional Badger offensive philosophy to work, you have to have an electric tailback... the Badgers do not currently have an electric tailback. Now, we’ll see if quarterback Graham Mertz is forced to miss any extra time following his trip to the hospital on Saturday. I don’t think that he’s all that good, but you don’t want to lose him now.

The one thing that I will say in Wisky’s favor is that their schedule to start the season has been brutal, especially for a team that needs some time to develop unproven players. They were given practically no time to get things put together having to play Penn State, Notre Dame, and the Mitten Men in three of their first four games. With contests against Illinois, Army, and Purdue coming up next, that should give them a chance (just a chance), to get above .500 before they have to play Iowa at the end of the month.

13) Illinois (2-4, 2-2) | 24-14 Win Over Charlotte | Previously No. 14

Bert, Bert, Bert, now what do we have here? For the first time this season, the Fighting Illini have climbed out of the Big Ten basement with a win over a pretty decent Charlotte team out of Conference USA. Congrats, Bert.

14) Northwestern (2-3, 0-2) | 56-7 Loss to Nebraska | Previously No. 13

This pains me, because I always root for Coach Fitz and his team, but this is just going to be a really rough year for them. So, unlike throwing up Bert gifs when I had the Illini in the basement, I take no pleasure in this.

My Current College Football Playoff Positioning

Since there was some confusion on this list, I want to clarify, these are not the teams, nor the order, that I think will happen when the official College Football Playoff seedings are released in early December.

I am not prognosticating what will happen to any of them the rest of the season; these rankings will change nearly every week, especially as the better teams continue to play each other. Instead, this list is designed to highlight the four teams with the best claims to CFP berths as it stands right now.

Feel free to disagree and let me know in the comments below.

1.) Alabama (5-0) | 42-21 Win Over Ole Miss | Previously No. 1

I think Nick Saban enjoyed that popcorn.

2.) Georgia (5-0) | 37-0 Win Over Arkansas | Previously No. 2

If the Dawgs had achieved this outcome against a fully healthy Arkansas, they would have been a no-doubt No. 1. But they didn’t, so they aren’t.

3.) Penn State (5-0, 2-0) | 24-0 Win Over Indiana | Previously No. 3

Since I already struggled between the Nits and the Hawkeyes in the B1G rankings, this one was a considerably easier decision, since I’d essentially already made it. The thing is, Iowa probably has a better path to the CFP, given how stacked the B1G East is, but for now, I’ll give the nod to the Nits.

4.) Cincinnati (4-0) | 24-13 Win Over Notre Dame | Previously NR

Yes, Notre Dame is always, inherently overrated, but Cincinnati hasn’t lost a regular season game since the final week of the 2019 season. They have earned this, and of the teams that are legitimate contenders for the CFP right now, they are absolutely one of the most complete teams.