For the first time since 1960, three Big Ten teams are in the top 5 of the AP poll. Say it together: “We’re the SEC now.”
1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 55 points
Ohio State was a Michigan State 2-point conversion away from seeing its College Football Playoff aspirations blown to smithereens last Saturday. However, we probably shouldn’t read too much into the Buckeyes’ narrow escape given the adverse weather conditions that tend to be a breeding ground for chaos. Equally important: Mark Dantonio is a perennial thorn in Urban Meyer’s side. The Spartans could swap rosters with Rutgers on the day of the game and Dantonio would still take Meyer’s Buckeyes to triple overtime. Any win over Michigan State is a good win for Ohio State. Now the attention turns to the highly anticipated showdown between the Buckeyes and archrival Michigan. One of college football’s premier rivalries hasn’t had this much at stake in a decade. Buckle up.
2. Michigan Wolverines, 52 points
The Wolverines responded to their loss to Iowa with a victory against Indiana, but it didn’t come easily. The Hoosiers hung with Michigan throughout much of the snowy afternoon, as quarterback John O’Korn—who has taken over for the injured Wilton Speight—was serviceable but not great. However, the Wolverines persevered and held on for the win to move to 10-1 and maintain control of their own destiny in the Big Ten East. Now comes the greatest test Khaki Jesus and his disciples have faced yet: a trip to Columbus to take on No. 2 Ohio State. Down their starting quarterback as they enter a hostile environment, the task at hand looks quite difficult for the Fighting Harbaughs. But fear not, Michigan fans. Through Him, all things are possible.
3. Wisconsin Badgers, 43 points
After a lackluster first quarter, Wisconsin kicked it into maximum overdrive on its way to a blowout win over Purdue. It was about what you’d expect in a game against the Boilermakers: Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston were both fairly effective, the running game was solid and the defense was mostly suffocating. More importantly, the Badgers are a win over Minnesota away from the Big Ten Championship and have found their way into the top 5 of the AP poll for the first time since some fella by the name of Russell Wilson was playing quarterback in Madison.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions, 30 points
Penn State joined in on the Big Ten East’s ritualistic beatdown of Rutgers with a 39-0 victory over the Scarlet Knights. Next up for the Nittany Lions is a regular-season finale with a 3-8 Michigan State team that has shown life in recent weeks. But as long as they take care of business, Penn State will clinch a 10-win season for the first time since 2009. And with a little help from Ohio State, the Nittany Lions could be playing for a Big Ten title in Indianapolis the following weekend.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 19 points
The Cornhuskers breezed past Maryland despite missing starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Instead, they relied on backup Ryker Fyfe (Hall of Fame name, mediocre quarterback) under center to lead them to victory over the Terrapins. Nebraska currently sits at 9-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play, but the Cornhuskers need to beat Iowa and have Wisconsin lose this weekend to win the Big Ten West. That scenario is unlikely, especially if Armstrong is still out, but this still has been a great season for the Cornhuskers after the disaster of 2015 in Mike Riley’s first year as head coach.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes, 5 points
The Hawkeyes easily cruised past Illinois to avoid any chance of a letdown loss following the previous week’s emotional victory over No. 3 Michigan. They’ve already been eliminated from Big Ten West contention, but a win over Nebraska on Black Friday would give Iowa an 8-4 record. Considering how dreary Iowa has looked at points this year, finishing the regular season at 8-4 wouldn’t be bad at all. At the very least, it’ll make the inevitable Kirk Ferentz contract extension through 2030 not feel so bad.
7. Indiana Hoosiers, 4 points
Indiana has carved out a nice niche as a team that most college football fans around the country aren’t paying attention to, but one that fans of other Big Ten teams want nothing to do with. The Hoosiers haven’t been able to convert many of their close games with top Big Ten teams into wins, but they’re still just a victory over Purdue away from back-to-back bowl berths. Move over, Ole Miss; we’ve found the finest six-loss team in the land.
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 2 points
The Gophers picked up a much-needed win against Northwestern to quell some restlessness among Minnesota fans and move the team to 8-3. While that record may not seem bad on the surface, the Gophers have been plagued by undisciplined play and offensive woes, with many fans feeling that they haven’t taken full advantage of an easy schedule. Last weekend’s win over a 5-6 Northwestern team was their best of the year. Nevertheless, if they catch Wisconsin looking toward Indianapolis a little early, the Gophers could pull off the upset and bring home Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2003.