The Big Ten’s biggest week in the national spotlight this season produced an instant classic of a game, a top-10 team surviving an upset scare and a dominant divisional blowout shaking up the standings.
Only one team remains in its position from last week’s rankings. Here’s how the conference with six teams ranked in the initial College Football Playoff rankings shapes up headed into Week 10.
1. Michigan State Spartans (8-0) Previous rank: 3
Michigan State had a statement comeback victory against Michigan last Saturday, defeating the Wolverines 37-33 to earn the title of the Big Ten’s last undefeated team.
Trailing 30-14 in the third quarter, the Spartans needed a spark. Michigan State got the exact spark it needed from the player it trusts the most. Down 30-14, junior running back Kenneth Walker III punched in a 1-yard touchdown, with the ensuing 2-point conversion cutting the lead to 30-22 late in the third quarter.
After forcing a Michigan punt, Walker made the biggest play of his season at the moment, bursting through the hole in the Michigan defense for a 58-yard touchdown. Another clutch two-point conversion tied the game up for the Spartans early in the fourth quarter.
Michigan got into the red zone on its next drive, but a strong defensive hold left Michigan with three points, setting the stage for Michigan State’s signature moment. Walker sped through a hole in the middle of the defense, slipping a tackle in the secondary for the go-ahead touchdown.
Walker finished with 197 yards and a remarkable five touchdowns, skyrocketing the running back’s Heisman trophy chances.
The Michigan State defense stepped up big late in the game as well, forcing a turnover on downs after Michigan got down to a third-and-three at the Michigan State 27-yard line with 1:43 to go. The Spartan offense failed to get a first down, but freshman cornerback Charles Brantley sealed the game with an interception on Michigan’s next offensive play.
Michigan State opened the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings at No. 3, setting up a sure return to the playoffs if it can win out.
Michigan State’s journey continues on Saturday against the upset-minded Purdue Boilermakers at 2:30 p.m. on ABC.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1) Previous rank: 1
No. 5 Ohio State defeated Penn State last Saturday 33-24.
Penn State hung with the Buckeyes for most of the way, but Ohio State made big plays at the right time to earn the victory.
Holding on to a 3-point lead with Penn State around midfield, Ohio State forced a fumble on a sack that senior defensive tackle Jerron Cage took all the way to the end zone for a rare big-man touchdown. The defensive score was the sixth of the year for Ohio State.
Later in the third quarter, when Ohio State had a 20-17 lead, freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson broke off a monster 68-yard run to set up a Henderson score from one-yard out.
Freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud continued his string of efficient performances, completing 22-of-34 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown. He completed passes to seven different receivers, and had three completions go for over 30 yards.
The defense made big plays as well, recovering two fumbles and catching a key fourth-quarter interception.
Ohio State still controls its own destiny in the Big Ten East with division leader Michigan State remaining on the schedule. It survived its first big conference test of the season against Penn State and is hoping for similar results against the finishing stretch of Michigan State and Michigan.
Ohio State goes to Nebraska on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on Fox.
3. Michigan Wolverines (7-1) Previous rank: 2
Michigan suffered its first setback of the season, losing to in-state rival Michigan State 37-33.
Michigan was in the driver’s seat early in the third quarter, leading 30-14 after a touchdown throw from junior quarterback Cade McNamara to junior wide receiver Mike Sainristil. Disaster soon struck for the Wolverines, as they had no answer for Walker and their offensive momentum stalled at the worst time.
Michigan turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, including the game-clinching interception thrown by McNamara. The bright spot for the Michigan offense was freshman wide receiver Andrel Anthony, an East Lansing, Michigan native.
Anthony took his first reception of the season 93 yards for the game’s first touchdown, and kept up solid production as the game went on, making an impressive touchdown catch over a Spartan defender’s back in the second quarter. He finished with 155 yards and 25.8 yards per catch.
While Michigan remained competitive, it lost to Michigan State for the second straight season and failed to deliver in clutch moments in rivalries, continuing a problem for the Wolverines.
Now No. 7 in the first CFP rankings, Michigan looks to bounce back against Indiana this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on FOX.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (5-3) Previous rank: 5
Wisconsin had its best win of the season yet, pummeling then-No.9 Iowa 27-7 last Saturday. Unlike the Purdue contest, which was close in the first half, this game was dominated by Wisconsin.
The Badgers were up 20-0 at halftime, holding the Hawkeyes to negative net yardage for most of the first two quarters. Turnovers played a big part in the huge start, as Wisconsin recovered three fumbles inside the Iowa 20-yard line.
One fumble came at the perfect opportunity for the Badgers. After being stuffed on a fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, the Wisconsin defense hopped on a botched handoff to set up a quarterback sneak touchdown by sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz the next play.
The defense was led by Butkus award semifinalist junior linebacker Leo Chenal, who had nine total tackles with two for loss and one quarterback hurry. Sophomore linebacker Nick Herbig also had a standout performance, tallying a season-high 2.5 sacks and forcing a fumble.
Wisconsin jumped Iowa for second place in the Big Ten West, and took home the Heartland Trophy for the fifth time in six years. With the head-to-head against fellow second-place Purdue locked up, and three teams with losing records remaining on its schedule before the clash against division leader Minnesota, the Badgers are once again in position to capture their fifth division title since the division’s inception in 2014.
No. 21 Wisconsin faces Rutgers this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network (BTN).
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-2) Previous rank: 6
Minnesota continued its hot streak, winning its fourth straight game in an emphatic fashion with a 41-14 thumping of Northwestern last Saturday.
As has been the case throughout the Golden Gophers’ win streak, the rushing attack willed them to victory. Minnesota rushed for 308 yards in the win, its second straight game with over 300 yards on the ground.
Freshman running back Mar’Keise Irving led the way, rushing over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, and scoring a season-high two touchdowns. His 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was his longest rush so far of his impressive freshman campaign. Freshman running back Ky Thomas also eclipsed 100 yards in both his last two games, putting up 106 yards on a team-high 21 carries.
Junior running back Bryce Williams, who led the team in rushing yards against Nebraska and scored a touchdown against Maryland, went down with injury in the first quarter last Saturday. Williams is the third Golden Gopher running back to suffer a season-ending injury this year.
Replacing WIlliams’ spot in the running back rotation is converted walk-on sophomore linebacker Derik LeCaptain, who played running back in high school. LeCaptain showed great potential in the Northwestern game, breaking six tackle attempts on a fourth-quarter 24-yard touchdown run.
Minnesota has improved mightily since its non-conference loss to Bowling Green, and the Golden Gophers find themselves sitting in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West.
No. 20 Minnesota hosts Illinois on Saturday at 11:00 on ESPN2.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3) Previous rank: 7
Penn State has lost three straight games, but kept it closer than most anticipated on the road against Ohio State in its 33-24 loss last Saturday.
The Nittany Lions struck first on a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Sean Clifford to sophomore tight end Brenton Strange, taking the lead into the end of the first quarter. Penn State would fall behind 17-7 in the second, but rallied to tie it up on its first drive of the third quarter.
Penn State fell behind two possessions again, but cut the lead to 27-24 and had the ball with a chance to take the lead early on in the fourth quarter, but the dream was not to be realized as Clifford threw an interception.
Ohio State would only muster a field goal to make it 30-24, but Penn State punted the ball back just three plays later, and Ohio State kicked the dagger field goal for the 33-24 win.
While Penn State faltered in big moments, it was clearly a different team from the one that fell in nine overtimes against Illinois. Besides his one interception, Clifford had a solid game, showing his progress in recovering from injury. Clifford threw for 361 yards and a touchdown, and averaged 6.9 yards per completion. Senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson had a great performance, catching 11 passes for a season-high 127 yards, and adding a two-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter.
Penn State looks to get back in the win column against Maryland at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
7. Purdue Boilermakers (5-3) Previous rank: 8
Purdue bounced back from its letdown against Wisconsin, defeating Nebraska 28-23 last Saturday.
The defense was the star of the Boilermakers’ victory, particularly junior linebacker Jalen Graham. Graham intercepted Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez twice, taking the first interception back 45 yards for a touchdown. Graham was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.
The defense controlled the game in the second half, with six drives ending in three-and-outs or interceptions. Purdue intercepted Martinez four times, tying a season-high from the Boilermakers’ game against Iowa. The lone second-half touchdown drive came with under three minutes to go, where Purdue was able to pounce on the onside kick and secure its victory.
The Purdue offense stepped up when it mattered with two 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drives. Both drives were important to the game, as the first tied it up before halftime and the second gave Purdue a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter.
The win puts Purdue in a tie with Wisconsin for second in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin holds the tiebreaker over Purdue, but Purdue still has an outside chance to take the division if the right dominos fall.
Purdue has a chance to play the “Spoilermaker” role again this Saturday, hosting No. 3 Michigan State.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2) Previous rank: 4
Iowa continued its slide, dropping its second straight game by three possessions against Wisconsin, 27-7 last Saturday.
The Iowa offense had an abysmal start to the game. It went three-and-out on its first three drives, lost fumbles on the following two and followed that up with another three-and-out. Iowa only had one first down in the opening half, and had no plays in Wisconsin territory.
The Hawkeyes got some momentum going offensively in the second half, scoring on their second possession, but were unable to make it last with two drives ending on a turnover-on-downs in Wisconsin territory.
Iowa’s rushing game was absolutely stifled, only gaining 27 net rushing yards off 30 carries. The shutting down of the run and early deficit forced junior quarterback Spencer Petras to throw more. Petras was not up to the task, completing under half of his passes and being benched for sophomore quarterback Alex Padilla in the fourth quarter.
Iowa is not looking like the same team that topped the power rankings for multiple weeks, and will need to find some momentum fast to get back in the divisional race.
Iowa goes to Northwestern on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. on BTN.
9. Maryland Terrapins (5-3) Previous rank: 12
Maryland broke its three-game losing streak last Saturday, outlasting Indiana 38-35.
Junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had his best performance of the season, tossing for a season-high 419 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a season-high 84.2 quarterback rating and threw far more yards than he did in the Minnesota and Iowa game combined.
Maryland jumped out to a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Indiana gained new life after a missed 40-yard field goal by senior kicker Joseph Petrino. The Hoosiers then scored 17 unanswered points to take the lead in the third quarter.
Indiana’s lead did not last for long. Maryland drove down the field in two-and-a-half minutes, punching it in from one yard out on a halfback plunge by senior running back Challen Faamatau. The Terrapins would not trail the rest of the way, and were up two possessions at multiple points in the second half.
Maryland looks to pick up another conference win against Penn State on Saturday.
10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-4) Previous rank: 14
The Scarlet Knights snapped a four-game losing skid, emerging victorious over Illinois thanks to a strong defensive performance.
Rutgers held Illinois to only 10 first downs, and dominated the time of possession with over 35 minutes of control. Rutgers got first downs when it mattered, going a perfect three-for-three on fourth down conversions, including a crucial fourth-and-five on the fourth quarter go-ahead touchdown drive.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (3-6) Previous rank: 9
Illinois fell flat after its nine-overtime marathon victory over Penn State, going scoreless in the second half against Rutgers. Head coach Bret Bielema’s squad will look to rebound against a surging Minnesota squad this weekend.
12. Nebraska Huskers (3-6) Previous rank: 10
Another game, another one score loss for head coach Scott Frost and the Huskers. Nebraska’s final three games are against squads currently ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25, starting with No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday.
13. Northwestern Wildcats (3-5) Previous rank: 13
Northwestern was once again on the wrong side of a blowout, falling 41-14 to Minnesota, its fourth conference loss by three or more scores. The Wildcats have an opportunity to pull a home upset of reeling Iowa this weekend.
14. Indiana Hoosiers (2-6) Previous rank: 11
As the only team in the conference without a conference win, Indiana finds itself in the last place spot for the first time this season. The Hoosiers’ outlook doesn’t look much brighter this weekend with a battle at No. 9 Michigan looming.