A year ago at this time, the general chorus in Iowa, and anywhere else where they cared enough to talk about Hawkeyes football, was calling for major changes in Kirk Ferentz’s program. Now, the head coach needs a raise. The 11-0 Hawkeyes have climbed to the top of the Big Ten Power Rankings as the last unbeaten team in the league.
Urban Meyer’s first regular-season conference loss as Ohio State’s head coach bumps the Buckeyes from their perch at the top. The middle of the conference still remains a toss-up for many spots as we head into the final week of the regular season, but the top and the bottom are as clear as they’ve been all season.
1. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten): The Iowa offense went to sleep for the middle portion of its 40-20 win over Purdue but still had more than enough firepower for a comfortable victory. Ferentz’s team locked up its spot in the Big Ten championship game and will likely be the Big Ten’s highest-ranked playoff contender in the new rankings that come out Tuesday.
2. Michigan State Spartans (10-1, 6-1): Without starting quarterback Connor Cook, coach Mark Dantonio leaned heavily on his defensive front to slow Ohio State at the Horseshoe. Dantonio has now gotten the better of Meyer’s Ohio State squad twice in the past three years. This one, a 17-14 win clinched with a walk-off field goal, was maybe Dantonio's best coaching job in nine years as the Spartans' leader.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1): The postgame fallout Saturday night after a conservative offensive game plan led to Ohio State’s first loss in 23 games made it seem as if disaster had arrived in Columbus. Ohio State’s playoff hopes are likely shot, but with 10 wins, the Buckeyes won’t fall far in our Power Rankings.
4. Michigan Wolverines (9-2, 6-1): Jim Harbaugh will have a chance to bump Meyer down another rung or two in the season finale next weekend at Ann Arbor. Michigan hasn’t officially been eliminated from the conference title hunt yet. The Wolverines' defense shined in a 28-16 win in Happy Valley on Saturday.
5. Northwestern Wildcats (9-2, 5-2): The Wildcats needed five turnovers and a wild finish to beat the Badgers 13-7, but a win in Wisconsin shows Northwestern has rebounded well from a couple of blowout losses earlier in the conference schedule. Pat Fitzgerald has a 10-win season within reach, which would match Northwestern's win total from the previous two seasons combined.
6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 5-2): The loss on Senior Day, and the way it happened, will be a hard pill to swallow for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s previous two losses came against two top-five opponents. This one takes a little more luster off Paul Chryst’s first season back at his alma mater.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3): It’s an impressive and unexpected feat that Penn State was still in the running to win the East Division heading into Saturday’s matchup with Michigan. An offense that is struggling to find direction in James Franklin’s second season makes it hard to put the Nittany Lions any higher than the halfway point in our Power Rankings.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers(5-6, 3-4): The Cornhuskers are climbing, and still unbeaten in November after taking a late bye this week. Mike Riley's first season has largely been a disappointment, but a win against undefeated Iowa this Friday would get Nebraska to a bowl game and ruin the dreams of its neighbor to the East.
9. Minnesota Gophers (5-6, 2-5): The Gophers snapped a four-game losing streak and picked up Tracy Claeys’ first win as the program’s leader with a 32-23 victory over Illinois. After close battles with three of the league’s top teams, Minnesota got a big day from freshman running back Shannon Brooks to step over the Illini in the conference standings.
T-10. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-6, 2-5): Illinois is one of four Big Ten teams that heads into the final week of the season with a chance to get bowl eligible. The Illini couldn’t pick up a sixth win this week in Minnesota but remain tied with the Hoosiers, one step above the Big Ten bottom-feeders.
T-10. Indiana Hoosiers (5-6, 1-6): Kevin Wilson’s offense has been impressive all season, and this week the Indiana defense ran into an opponent with enough problems to help a struggling defense. The Hoosiers skirted disaster after falling behind 21-3 to Maryland in the first 10 minutes before pulling away for a comfortable 47-28 win.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-7, 1-6): Rutgers’ 31-21 win against Army didn’t do much to quiet the conversation about Kyle Flood’s future with the program. The Scarlet Knights didn’t put away 2-9 Army until running-back-turned-safety Josh Hicks picked off a pass in the end zone to end a scoring threat midway through the fourth quarter.
13. Purdue Boilermakers (2-9, 1-6): The Boilermakers showed some flashes of fight against No. 5 Iowa at snowy Kinnick Stadium but couldn’t stick with the Hawkeyes. That’s largely been the story of the year in West Lafayette, where a team that has shown improvement at times is still a far cry from looking like a competitive bunch in the Big Ten.
14. Maryland Terrapins (2-9, 0-7): The Terps have firmly planted themselves in the Big Ten basement with another uninspiring performance, this time against Indiana. The good news is Maryland fans have to slog through only one more week before the program can get a fresh start in the offseason.