The top of the Big Ten stayed mostly static on a weekend that featured almost a full slate of non-conference games, but a series of near-upsets seriously shook up the lower half of the rankings.
As conference play kicks into full swing in the following weeks, the Big Ten looks as wide open as it’s looked all year, with several teams showing promising potential after Week 3.
With the first three full weeks of the season in the books, here’s how the Big Ten is looking following last weekend’s results.
1. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0) Previous rank: 1
The Hawkeyes continued their dominant season on Saturday, beating Kent State 30-7.
Junior running back Tyler Goodson starred in the Hawkeye victory. Goodson rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns off 22 carries.
Junior quarterback Spencer Petras had one of the best games of his season, completing 25-of-36 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown. The performance marked the first time all season the Hawkeyes eclipsed 200 total yards rushing and passing.
The Iowa defense proved its status as the top unit in the conference, stifling Kent State to just 1.9 yards per carry. The pass rush lived in the backfield on Saturday, with the Hawkeye defense notching seven sacks. Freshman defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness led the way, tallying two sacks in the Hawkeye win.
The Hawkeyes also forced a fumble for their only turnover, with senior defensive back Riley Moss recovering it for his third takeaway of the season.
For the third straight game, the Hawkeye defense scored points. With the ball on Kent State’s 15-yard line, a high snap forced Kent State senior quarterback Dustin Crum into his end zone, where he was swarmed by a sea of Hawkeye defenders for a first quarter safety.
Iowa finishes its non-conference slate on Saturday, facing off against Colorado State at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
2. Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0) Previous rank: 2
Penn State proved its status as a top-10 team in the AP Top 25 on Saturday, notching a quality 28-20 victory over then-No. 23 Auburn.
The offense had a great performance, putting up 386 total yards, but it was the defense who put the game away in crunch time.
Down eight with a little over four minutes remaining, Auburn faced a first-and-goal from the Penn State 10-yard line. Auburn got its way down to Penn State’s two-yard line to set up a fourth-and-goal play that Penn State had completely covered, stuffing the Tigers and all-but securing a victory.
Auburn would get the ball back but had little time to make anything happen. The defense made life tough for Auburn junior quarterback Bo Nix all game long, tallying five quarterback hurries and five passes defended, holding Nix to under 200 yards passing and no touchdowns.
The Nittany Lion offense got a big spark from senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Dotson was a key factor of the Penn State game plan, catching ten passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Senior quarterback Sean Clifford turned in another efficient performance, going 28-of-32 with 280 yards and two touchdowns.
With both sides of the ball in solid form, Penn State is showing why it's one of the best teams in the country so far in 2021.
Penn State hosts Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent Villanova on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on Big Ten Network (BTN).
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-1) Previous rank: 3
The final score from Saturday shows a commanding 41-20 win over Tulsa, but the box score tells a different story.
The game remained a one-possession affair well into the fourth quarter, with Ohio State only pulling ahead in its final two possessions. The Buckeye defense struggled all game long, with Tulsa junior quarterback Davis Brin posting a career-high 428 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Brin also threw two interceptions, including a late fourth-quarter pick-six, but a defense allowing a quarterback who previously never eclipsed 300 yards passing to throw for over 400 is still a poor showing for a top team.
Ohio State freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud struggled, only completing 15-of-25 passes for 185 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Following the game, Stroud noted that he was not 100% due to a lingering shoulder injury, but he is still expected to be the starter going forward for Ohio State.
However, the running game more than made up for the issues in the passing game. Freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson proved every bit of his high school status as a five-star recruit, rushing for a remarkable 277 yards and three touchdowns.
His performance joined him with legendary company, breaking two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s school record for rushing yards as a freshman. Henderson also earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for his play.
Despite the concerns on defense, an offense filled with talent like Henderson keeps the Buckeyes within the top three of these rankings for another week, but Ohio State is not currently playing like the team that’s won four straight Big Ten Championships.
Ohio State hosts Akron on Saturday at 6:30 on BTN.
4. Michigan State Spartans (3-0) Previous rank: 5
The Spartans picked up their most impressive win of the season on Saturday, trouncing then-No. 24 Miami 38-17. The game was close up until the fourth quarter, when Michigan State scored 21 points to extend its lead and secure the victory.
Michigan State's high-powered offense was in full force, with sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne having his most impressive game of the season, tossing four touchdown passes with no interceptions. Two of those touchdown passes were to junior receiver Jalen Nailor, his second multi-touchdown game of his career.
Junior running back Kenneth Walker III continued his outstanding season, rushing for 172 yards on 27 carries. After Saturday, Walker’s 493 rushing yards are first in Division I, with over fifty yards separating him from the next-closest rusher.
The defense had Miami senior quarterback D’Eriq King’s number, forcing two lost fumbles and catching two interceptions. The Spartan defense also had three sacks and six pass deflections, showing great potential to make big plays in big games.
Michigan State has its conference home opener this Saturday, taking on Nebraska at 6:00 p.m. on FS1.
5. Michigan Wolverines (3-0) Previous rank: 4
Michigan opened the season with its third straight blowout win, defeating Northern Illinois 63-10.
Once again, it was the rushing attack that vaulted Michigan to victory, with the Wolverines scoring eight rushing touchdowns. The leader of the backfield, sophomore running back Blake Corum starred on Saturday, rushing for 125 yards and three touchdowns, including a 51-yard scamper for a score in the third quarter.
Freshman running back Donovan Edwards also had a big game, rushing for two touchdowns with a 58-yard touchdown the highlight. Edwards averaged over 10 yards per carry on eight rushing attempts, making the most of his first extended action as a Wolverine.
Senior running back Hassan Haskins also scored multiple touchdowns, rushing for two scores to extend his streak to five straight games with at least one rushing touchdown.
Michigan hosts Rutgers in a battle of the unbeaten for its conference opener at 2:30 p.m. on ABC.
6. Maryland Terrapins (3-0) Previous rank: 6
The Terrapins emerged victorious after a competitive conference opener against Illinois on Friday. A 10-point fourth-quarter comeback gave Maryland the 20-17 edge.
Trailing 17-10 with just under five minutes left, junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa marched Maryland down the field, with the drive culminating in a game-tying touchdown pass to senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis with 2:13 remaining.
Maryland’s defense would then prove up to the task, forcing a third-and-28 where Illinois got called for an intentional grounding after completing a pass to an offensive lineman. Tagovailoa led the Terrapins back into field goal range, where senior kicker Joseph Petrino drilled the game-winning 32-yard kick as time expired.
Maryland had its sloppy moments, namely losing two fumbles with one coming in the red zone, but it made plays when it mattered most and emerged victorious. In the ultra-competitive Big Ten, emerging victorious in low-scoring, slugfest-type games are critical, and Maryland proved up to task on Friday.
The Terrapins host Kent State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on BTN.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-0) Previous rank: 7
Rutgers earned its first 3-0 start since 2012 on Saturday, defeating Delaware 45-13.
A huge second quarter for the Scarlet Knights helped propel them to victory over their FCS foe. Rutgers scored 28 points in the second quarter, finding the end zone on every offensive possession. Junior wide receiver Aron Cruickshank capped off the quarter by speeding through the Blue Hens’ punt coverage for a 62-yard punt return touchdown.
Senior quarterback Noah Vedral had an excellent performance, completing 21 of his 26 pass attempts for a season-high 323 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Isaiah Pacheco also had a two-touchdown performance, rushing for a twenty-yard score in the second quarter and a one-yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter.
The defense continued its strong streak of third-down conversions, only allowing three Blue Hen conversions on thirteen attempts.
Rutgers faces its toughest test of the season so far, traveling to the Big House to face No. 19 Michigan this weekend.
8. Wisconsin Badgers (1-1) Previous rank: 8
Wisconsin had a bye week on Saturday, giving it a much-appreciated week of practice in anticipation for the showdown with No. 12 Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Badgers will be facing former Wisconsin starting quarterback Jack Coan. Coan started the entire 2019 season for Wisconsinand threw for 3,278 yards and 23 touchdowns in his three-year Badger career with only eight interceptions.
After getting injured in 2020, Coan lost the starting job to sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz and subsequently entered the transfer portal before landing at Notre Dame.
While Coan will be looking for revenge, the Badgers will look to get their first statement win of the season, after letting a winnable game against Penn State slip away from them in Week 1.
Wisconsin and Notre Dame kick off from Chicago’s Soldier Field on Fox at 11 a.m.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1) Previous rank: 11
Minnesota rebounded nicely after a slim victory over Miami (OH), blanking Colorado 30-0.
The Golden Gopher defense had arguably the most impressive performance of any defense in the conference on Saturday, holding Colorado to just 63 total yards. The run defense was particularly stingy, holding the Buffaloes to an abysmal -19 yards rushing. Colorado only got into Minnesota territory twice, turning it over on downs both times.
The defense excelled at making big plays, forcing four fumbles and recovering two of them. Minnesota added four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Senior defensive lineman Thomas Rush and Boye Mafe led the defense with two sacks apiece.
Minnesota also impressed offensively, with sophomore running back Treyson Potts continuing to step up in place of injured senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Potts had 121 yards and three scores on 26 carries, being the focal point of the Golden Gopher offense on almost every drive.
Minnesota finishes its non-conference schedule against Bowling Green at 11:00 a.m. on ESPNU.
10. Nebraska Huskers (2-2) Previous rank: 13
Even though they lost, the Huskers put up a great fight on the road against the then-No. 3 team in the country, falling 23-16 to Oklahoma. Nebraska’s improvement week-to-week has been noticeable, but it still struggles with similar issues to what cost it the Illinois game earlier in the season such as special teams blunders and penalties.
This team has shown it can compete with the top teams in the country, putting up a better effort against Oklahoma than what a lot of teams are capable of, leading to the jump from 13th-to-10th.
Nebraska gets a second crack at a ranked road win, facing No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday.
11. Indiana Hoosiers (1-2) Previous rank: 10
The Hoosiers had a slightly worse showing in their loss to a Top-10 opponent, leading 14-0 on No. 8 Cincinnati before falling 38-24 after a second-half Bearcat comeback. Junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. continued to struggle, throwing three interceptions and completing just 42.5% of his passes.
Indiana goes on the road against Western Kentucky this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
12. Purdue Boilermakers (2-1) Previous rank: 9
Purdue fell on the road at No. 12 Notre Dame, 27-13. The game was close in the third quarter, with Purdue only trailing 17-13, but Notre Dame pulled away in the end, aided by a 51-yard touchdown run by Notre Dame sophomore running back Kyren Williams that featured multiple broken tackles.
The running game for Purdue struggled on Saturday, with the Boilermakers only gaining 57 rushing yards, 31 of those coming on a single play.
Purdue opens its conference slate on Saturday, hosting Illinois at 2:30 p.m. on BTN.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-3) Previous rank: 14
The Fighting Illini lost their third straight game, but this time they showed they can be competitive against a solid conference opponent, moving them one spot out of the basement.
Illinois next travels to Purdue on Saturday.
14. Northwestern Wildcats (1-2) Previous rank: 12
Northwestern had its worst loss of the season, losing 30-23 to a Duke team that previously lost to Conference USA opponent Charlotte. The Wildcats trailed by as many as 27 points in the game, but their late comeback was not enough.
Having five turnovers and giving up 558 yards to a mediocre Duke team is still enough to give Northwestern its first week at the bottom of the power rankings.
Northwestern hosts Ohio this Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on BTN.