Every Big Ten football team was in action last week, as the parity of the league was on full display. The middle of the conference is as tight as ever heading into the final stretch of the season. The weekend offered many surprising results, including some big upsets.
Here’s how the Big Ten stacks up after week 10:
1. Michigan (9-0) Previous Rank: 2
For the first time this season, we have a new No. 1 in these rankings.
The Wolverines trounced Rutgers on Saturday 52-17, despite a slow start. They racked up their usual 200+ rushing yards with ease, while holding Rutgers, a serviceable rushing offense, to just 14 yards on the ground. The Scarlet Knights managed only five first downs throughout the contest, but led at halftime thanks to a punt block returned for a touchdown.
The second half was all Wolverines as Rutgers sustained only one drive over ten yards. Michigan deserves props for its halftime adjustment that allowed it to score 38 unanswered points.
However, the main reason the Wolverines jump to number one is the flaws Ohio State has flashed over the last three weeks. The Buckeyes have stayed undefeated, to their credit, but their victories have not been as dominant as Michigan’s. Most recently, Ohio State struggled with 1-8 Northwestern in a game heavily influenced by the elements.
The Buckeyes couldn't stop the run against the Wildcats, a daunting sign given Michigan’s incredible rush attack. Ohio State has more potential on offense, but should the matchup on Thanksgiving weekend have less than ideal weather conditions as it did last year, the Wolverines will have a clear advantage. The Buckeyes had the better offense last year, but they didn’t match up well with Michigan. That may be the case again.
2. Ohio State (9-0) Previous Rank: 1
Sure, the Buckeyes are happy with a 9-0 start, but it's impossible to feel like they have not underperformed as of late. We know they have the potential to be the best team in college football, but getting into a dog-fight with Northwestern — who has lost to Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) — is not a good look for Ohio State.
Regardless of how the weather impacted the Buckeyes, there is no excuse for taking their first lead of the game with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Northwestern sophomore quarterback Brendan Sullivan threw for more yards than Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, and the Buckeyes couldn't stop Northwestern’s rush attack. The Wildcats controlled the time of possession and were much better on third down. If Northwestern can do that against Ohio State, Michigan will have no problem doing the same.
Still, the Buckeyes are one of the nation’s best teams and could easily jump back to the number one spot in coming weeks. After chaos across college football in week 10, there is a solid chance that Ohio State could make it into the College Football Playoff even with a close loss to Michigan. Put the Buckeyes in a dome with perfect conditions, and there’s no telling how explosive their offense will be.
3. Penn State (7-2) Previous Rank: 4
The Nittany Lions have compiled an incredible season, despite being third in their own division. Penn State likely never had a chance to compete for a Big Ten title, but it has not let losses to Michigan and Ohio State prevent it from beating up on everyone else.
Indiana was the latest victim, losing to the Nittany Lions 45-14 in dominant fashion. Penn State outgained the Hoosiers by nearly 300 yards, controlled the time of possession and forced three turnovers. The Nittany Lions now have the Big Ten’s third-highest scoring offense, notching at least thirty points in all but one of their victories.
This year has been a massive improvement over last season, when Penn State lost five conference games. The Nittany Lions have three extremely winnable games remaining, so a national top-10 finish is certainly possible.
4. Illinois (7-2) Previous Rank: 3
Illinois got a reality check this weekend by way of a devastating 23-15 loss to Michigan State. The Fighting Illini had a clear path to the Big Ten Championship game prior to this matchup, and although they are still the West division front runners, the road becomes more difficult.
Despite outgaining the Spartans by nearly 150 yards, Illinois struggled to cash in drives. The Fighting Illini turned the ball over on downs three times deep in Michigan State territory, while going 1-for-6 on fourth down. Had they kicked field goals on each of those drives, they likely would have remained a one-loss team.
Illinois has only scored 30+ points three times this season, but has managed to pull off wins thanks to a stifling defense. The Spartans became just the second team all year to score over 20 points on the nation’s top defensive unit, the other occurrence coming in a loss too. The Fighting Illini are 7-0 when they allow less than 15 points, but 0-2 when they allow more than that mark.
If it's any consolation, junior running back Chase Brown continues to lead the nation in rushing yards, adding another 136 in the loss.
With a matchup against Michigan looming in two weeks, Illinois likely needs to defeat Purdue in week 11 if they want to win the Big Ten West. Wisconsin, despite being squashed by the Fighting Illini in early October, sits right on their tail in the divisional standings. Lose two of their last three, and the Fighting Illini may find themselves watching the Big Ten Championship at home.
5. Wisconsin (5-4) Previous Rank: 6
The Badgers have rallied like no other since starting 2-3. Under interim head coach Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin has found a spark — all the proof he needs to remain at the helm going forward.
Maryland presented a worthy challenge for the Badgers in week 10, given the Terps’ strong season thus far, but Wisconsin dispatched them with ease. The Badgers led 17-0 at halftime, and cruised to a comfortable victory while holding the Terrapins’ offense under 200 yards. Wisconsin leaned heavily on the ground game, rushing 46 times for 278 yards, compared to just 18 pass attempts.
Junior quarterback Graham Mertz struggled, completing only 27% of his passes for 77 total yards. Luckily for Wisconsin, it held junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to an arguably even worse performance. The lone extended drive that Maryland put together came in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Wisconsin’s defense dominated throughout.
The Badgers, who have three winnable divisional games remaining, surprisingly find themselves in second place in the Big Ten West. Illinois, the only team above them, has a much more difficult schedule down the stretch.
6. Maryland (6-3) Previous Rank: 5
The Terrapins swap spots with Wisconsin after the matchup between the two.
Tagovailoa returned from injury after missing a game but struggled mightily. He completed just 10 of 23 pass attempts for 77 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He might not have been ready given the huge fall-off from his average of 259 passing yards per game.
The offense as a whole looked uncharacteristically poor. The running backs averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, and the team as a whole was 5-of-17 on third down. Wisconsin didn’t blow Maryland out, but a massive rushing day from the Badgers made it nearly impossible to bounce back from an early deficit.
This loss may spiral into multiple, as the Terrapins are set to face Penn State and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. Still, Maryland has clinched a bowl game and can ensure its best finish since 2010 with a few wins down the stretch.
7. Minnesota (6-3) Previous Rank: 8
The Golden Gophers overcame a 10-0 halftime deficit to defeat Nebraska 20-13, largely due to the Huskers’ ineptitude at quarterback. The victory marked Minnesota’s first back-to-back wins since September.
The offense looked completely stale in the first half, an extremely concerning sight given Nebraska's defensive struggles this season. However, the second half was largely a different story as the Golden Gophers scored 20 unanswered points. Redshirt freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis relieved long-time senior starter Tanner Morgan after halftime, and operated the offense to much more success.
Kaliakmanis finished with 137 passing yards compared to Morgan’s 38. The substitution also coalesced with senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim heating up after a slow start. Ibrahim rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns, almost all of which came in the second half. The adjustment came just in time as Minnesota walked away with a far-from-dominant win.
The Golden Gophers’ defense looked great after allowing Nebraska to march down the field on its first drive. However, had Nebraska possessed a fully healthy offense, this result may have been different.
Minnesota still has a path to the Big Ten West title, but its three-game mid-season losing streak has significantly decreased those odds.
8. Iowa (5-4) Previous Rank: 9
Iowa’s offense looked good. How weird is that to say?
The Hawkeyes clobbered a worthy opponent in Purdue, 24-3, in just their fourth game scoring over 20 points this season. The offense put up 376 yards — granted against an increasingly bad Purdue defense — in a balanced effort. Both the rushing and passing attacks had solid outings, scoring three offensive touchdowns for just the third time this season.
The defense was stout as usual, holding the Big Ten’s top passing attack to 168 yards. The Boilermakers mustered just 255 total yards of offense, reached the red zone only once and turned the ball over twice. If Iowa’s defense can get any production from the other side of the ball, the Hawkeyes have the capability to beat most teams.
9. Michigan State (4-5) Previous Rank: 11
The Spartans now have arguably the best win of any Big Ten team outside of Michigan and Ohio State with their 23-15 victory over then-No. 16 Illinois.
It has been a rollercoaster of a year for the Spartans, but to bounce back from a rough week to defeat a ranked team is impressive. Even if Illinois was overrated or due for an upset, Michigan State did what Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota — all teams above them in these rankings — could not.
Surprisingly, it was the defense that carried the Spartans in this game, holding an opponent under 27 points for the first time in Big Ten play. They executed a bend-don’t-break scheme to perfection, turning the Illini ball over multiple times in Michigan State territory. Despite Illinois beating them in nearly every statistical category, the Spartans still found a way to win and keep their bowl hopes alive.
The Michigan State offense was nothing special, but it did score over 20 points for just the second time in conference play.
10. Purdue (5-4) Previous Rank: 7
The Boilermakers continue to drop after yet another poor performance, in a loss to Iowa. Purdue has not won a game since mid-October and hasn’t won a game by two scores since week five.
The offense has disappeared over the last two games. Granted, the Boilermakers have faced solid defenses, but three points, even against Iowa, reflects poorly. Senior quarterback Aiden O’Connell had the fewest passing yards of his career when attempting 20 passes or more. Purdue averaged just 2.8 yards per carry while scoring under 10 points for the first time since 2019. It was a historically poor day for the offense.
The defense didn’t help out either, allowing Iowa to churn out one of its best offensive performances of the year. The Boilermakers still have a chance to win the Big Ten West, thanks to Illinois’ loss this week, but will need to defeat the Fighting Illini this weekend if they have any hope.
11. Nebraska (3-6) Previous Rank: 10
The Huskers have solidified themselves as the 11th-best team in the conference. They are capable of beating the teams below them and compete with — but never beat — the teams above them.
The season may have turned out much differently had starting quarterback junior Casey Thompson not been injured a week ago, with two winnable games turned to losses in his absence. The backup quarterback situation for Nebraska is less than ideal, but redshirt freshman Chubba Purdy got the start against Minnesota and proved that he wasn’t ready. Sophomore Logan Smothers saw some late game action, and flashed some potential, but didn’t do enough to prevent a 20-13 loss.
The defense has improved significantly, allowing under 400 yards of offense in four of their last five. This may seem trivial, but for a team that gave up 600+ regularly at the beginning of the year, it is a step in the right direction.
Nebraska gets the fortune of traveling to The Big House to face No. 3 Michigan this week, a game that will surely eliminate them from bowl contention.
12. Rutgers (4-5) Previous Rank: 12
The Scarlet Knights have lost five of their last six games after starting 3-0, their latest defeat coming at the hands of Michigan.
It wasn’t all bad though, as Rutgers became the first team this season to lead Michigan at the half. A blocked punt and solid defense held the Wolverines off for 30 minutes, but they couldn’t prevent the mudslide that was Michigan’s 38-0 run in the second half.
Sophomore quarterback Gavin Wimsatt saw his first significant action in the loss, tossing 166 yards and a touchdown. However, he got no help from the run game, as Rutgers compiled 14 total yards on the ground.
13. Indiana (3-6) Previous Rank: 13
The Hoosiers were thrashed by Penn State for their sixth-straight loss. With a game at Ohio State looming, another blowout may be in order. Head coach Tom Allen has won only 16 Big Ten games in six seasons at the helm, and only one over the past two years. Questions about his job security will surely arise.
14. Northwestern (1-8) Previous Rank: 14
The Wildcats gave a valiant effort as 38-point underdogs, but ultimately fell short to Ohio State. Junior running back Evan Hull was the biggest standout, taking his 30 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Northwestern has three tough divisional games remaining, so a 1-11 finish seems likely.