Sitting upon his throne made of the skulls of his vanquished foes while sipping from a goblet of virgin blood, Nick Saban gazed down on the unwashed masses before shifting his Chaos Lever into maximum overdrive. And with that, a cloud of unbridled chaos descended over the college football landscape like a dense pea soup fog.
When the dust settled, five top-10 teams had gone down and the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 ranked teams had all lost on the same day for the first time since Oct. 19, 1985. Only the Dark Lord of Tuscaloosa’s Alabama death machine and Western Michigan remain undefeated at this point in the season.
What does all of this have to do with the Big Ten power rankings, you may ask? Nothing really. Get over it.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 57 points
The Buckeyes make their triumphant return to the top of the Big Ten power rankings after trouncing Maryland 62-3 and getting a little help from Iowa, who beat Michigan. However, everything isn’t hunky-dory for Ohio State. Even if they beat the Wolverines in a couple weeks, the Buckeyes still need Penn State to trip up against either Michigan State or Rutgers in order to make the Big Ten Championship Game. There’s a decent chance an 11-1 Ohio State team that doesn’t win the Big Ten East earns a spot in the College Football Playoff, but it’s far from certain. How convenient that Michigan’s loss actually hurt Ohio State in a sense. Khaki Jesus works in mysterious ways.
2. Michigan Wolverines, 51 points
“Trust in the Harbaugh with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths to the College Football Playoff straight.” — Proverbs 3:5-6
Yes, last Saturday’s 14-13 loss to Iowa was a setback for the Wolverines. But they didn’t lose like everyone else. They attacked their loss with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. Not to mention, this really doesn’t change much for Michigan. The Wolverines still control their own destiny to the Big Ten East title and the College Football Playoff. Plus, this wasn’t even that bad of a defeat. The Wolverines may have lost to an unranked opponent, but it’s important to remember that they lost to the team that beat Michigan. That, my friends, is what we call a quality loss. No résumé would be complete without one.
3. Wisconsin Badgers, 42 points
As ranked teams around them were dropping like flies, the Badgers were quietly grinding Illinois into a fine paste at Camp Randall Stadium. It was the kind of game that Wisconsin football thrives on. The Badgers ran the ball a whole bunch and then ran it some more just for fun. The Wisconsin defense was stout and Illinois looked like it had only discovered the concept of the forward pass last week. The Badgers won 48-3 to move to 8-2 and now just need to beat Purdue and Minnesota to capture the Big Ten West crown. It was an extremely uneventful weekend for the Badgers, but that’s definitely a good thing given how other ranked teams around them fared.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions, 30 points
Penn State survived quite a scare from Indiana this past Saturday to push its winning streak to six games. A flea flicker helped spark a 24-7 fourth-quarter rally to help the Nittany Lions escape with a 45-31 victory. They also got a major assist from Iowa in the form of a Michigan loss. Now, as long as Penn State doesn’t stumble against Rutgers or Michigan State, an Ohio State win over Michigan would propel the Nittany Lions into the Big Ten Championship Game. If the Nittany Lions were to get that far and then win in Indianapolis, there’s a solid chance they could end up in the College Football Playoff. That would’ve seemed absolutely inconceivable when they were sitting at 2-2 following a blowout loss at the hands of Michigan.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 20 points
Tommy Armstrong Jr. might be tougher than every other quarterback in the Big Ten combined. Earlier this season, he led a game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive against Oregon not long after being hooked to an IV on the sideline to deal with dehydration. Two weeks ago against Ohio State, he had to be carted off the field in an ambulance and taken to a hospital after being knocked unconscious. He started last week’s game against Minnesota. In that game, he had to be helped off the field after suffering an ankle injury with the score tied 17-17. But the very next drive, he was back out there to guide the Cornhuskers 91 yards in 13 plays for the go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter. He capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run on his bum ankle. Upon reaching the end zone, he clutched his hamstring and had to be carried to the sidelines by his teammates. But his work was already done. He’d delivered Nebraska a lead it would not relinquish to move to 8-2.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes, 6 points
I laughed, you laughed, we all laughed when Iowa gave Kirk Ferentz yet another massive contract extension earlier this season. It didn’t make a lick of sense for the Hawkeyes to further handcuff themselves to a coach that no one is coming for. But this is what that wonderful man does. He’ll sign a huge contract extension, lose to an FCS opponent and beat the No. 3 team in the country in a game uglier than a mud fence all in the same year. The Hawkeyes handed Michigan its first loss of the season by passing for a total of 66 yards and scoring 14 points on a safety, two field goals and a touchdown with a missed two-point conversion. This is Kirk Ferentz’s magnum opus. Don’t try to understand it, just bask in its enigmatic glory.
7. Northwestern Wildcats, 2 points
The Wildcats bounced back from back-to-back losses at the hands of Ohio State and Wisconsin with a blowout win over Purdue. Northwestern now sits at 5-5, with games remaining on the road against Minnesota and a home game against Illinois in its regular-season finale. The Wildcats need to win just one of those games to reach bowl eligibility for a second straight year. Given that all three of their losses in Big Ten play have been competitive and came against quality opponents, that shouldn’t be much of a problem for Pat Fitzgerald’s team.
T8. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 1 point
This has been a mostly disappointing season for Minnesota fans. The Gophers aren’t overloaded with talent, but they had enough to go along with a very favorable schedule, where it was a reasonable expectation that they should at least compete for a Big Ten West title. However, Minnesota now sits at 7-3 overall and 4-3 in conference play, with all three losses (Penn State, Iowa, Nebraska) coming by one possession. They’ve beaten the teams they should have and lost to teams that are comparable or slightly better. But the Gophers often haven’t looked impressive even in victory and you can point to plenty of mistakes and missed opportunities that they’d like to have back in their losses. Nevertheless, a win against Northwestern this weekend would be a nice boost, and an upset of Wisconsin in Madison to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe would nearly forgive any and all disappointments they’ve endured this season.
T8. Indiana Hoosiers, 1 point
The Hoosiers helped kick off the opening night of the season with a thrilling 103-99 overtime win over No. 3 Kansas. James Blackmon Jr. scored a team-high 26 points in his return from a knee injury to help guide Indiana to one of the biggest non-conference wins of the Tom Crean era. What’s that you say? We’re not talking about shooty hoops? Well, the football version of the Hoosiers almost beat Penn State but couldn’t finish the job and fell to 5-5. A game against a pissed-off Michigan team seems like a sure loss, but Indiana should still make a bowl game as long as it doesn’t faceplant against Purdue in its regular-season finale.