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BIG TEN: Power Rankings

With the kickoff of Big 10 play this weekend, where do the teams stand? Is OSU a lock, or will Michigan, Penn State or Wisconsin have something to prove?


It's official, the Big Ten is back! The Big Ten is projected to play an 8-week, 8-game regular season followed by Champions Week. Champions week will highlight the Big Ten championship and 6 other tiered games in the ultimate clash between East vs. West. It's a very interesting strategy to not have any wiggle room for byes, cancelations, or rescheduling. Every other conference has had to reschedule games already, so the chances of every game getting played seem slim. Ohio State is the clear favorite to win the Big Ten, with Wisconsin and Penn State being the only other two to have better than a 200-1 odds to win. With only 9 games, Ohio State has the potential to be undefeated heading into the Playoffs. Like any other season, they still need to get through Penn State, Michigan, and most likely Wisconsin in the championship.


Power Rankings


Tier 1: Playoff Caliber Teams


1. Ohio State Buckeyes (13-1)


Game 1: Nebraska at Ohio State | 12 p.m. | FOX

Ohio State is the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten and head into the College Football Playoffs, possibly undefeated. They have won 3 years in a row, including Ryan Day's inaugural season where they won 13 games by 11+ points. They have two "major" hurdles this year, @Penn State week 2, and likely Wisconsin in the championship game. These games may not be the toughest challenges for Ohio State this year, but they are must-win games to win the conference and head to the playoffs, which is the real goal for Ohio State this year.


Tier 2: Rose Bowl Favorites


2. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2)


Game 1: Penn State at Indiana | 3:30 p.m. | FS1

Penn State won 11 games last season for the third time in four seasons. They return QB Sean Clifford (23TD-7INT record in 2019), RB Journey Brown (890 yards, 12TD), and TE Pat Freiermuth (507 yards, 7TD). However, All-American LB Micah Parsons has opted out on defense. Penn State still has a shot at the championship, and we might know the winner real soon. Week 2, Halloween night, they host the reigning champs and heavy favorite, Buckeyes, in a must-win and only chance of winning it all. I'm not sure why they decided to have this game this early, but everyone is already looking forward to it.


3. Wisconsin Badgers (10-4)


Game 1: Illinois at Wisconsin | 8 p.m. ET | Big Ten Network (Friday)

Paul Chryst has led his team to win 3 division titles and in the mix for the other 2. They should still have a solid defense as normal but could struggle on offense without Jonathon Taylor as a workhorse RB. Although, it's usually not too hard to have success running behind a Wisconsin O-line. They still remain the team to beat in the West and really could just need an off-night by Ohio State or Penn State in the championship to win it.


4. Michigan Wolverines (9-4)


Game 1: Michigan at Minnesota | 7:30 p.m. | ABC

A lot of college football fans (especially non-Big Ten fans) always wonder why Michigan is ranked so high when they haven't even won a conference title since '04. The reality is they haven't really been overrated. Jim Harbaugh has consistently led them to 9-10 win seasons, with an overall record of 47-18. The problem is the same as Clayton Kershaw; they blow it in big games. They are 0-5 against Ohio State and 4-10 against teams ranked higher than them under Harbaugh. Even with his impressive W-L record, Harbaugh may just be in the hot seat this year with another loss to Ohio State.


5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-2)


Game 1: Michigan at Minnesota | 7:30 p.m. | ABC

Minnesota sneaks into the high tier after the best season in program history since going undefeated in 1940 and 1941. Minnesota also returns the 2nd best QB in the conference with Tanner Morgan (30 TD - 7 INT). Their ceiling has expanded to a Penn State/Wisconsin level team, but the floor remains the same. With both Minnesota and Wisconsin missing Ohio State and Penn State this year, the division likely comes down to their week 6 matchup at Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan's Axe.


Tier 3: Potential Dark Horses


6. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-3)


Game 1: Iowa at Purdue | 3:30 p.m. | Big Ten Network

The biggest question for Iowa will be "how good is the new QB?" The rest of the team seems solid. They return talent at WR and RB and their defense is always strong. The program has won 8+ games every year since 2015. This team definitely won't roll over halfway through the season but haven't proven enough to be a top tier team, yet.


7. Indiana Hoosiers (8-5)


Game 1: Penn State at Indiana | 3:30 p.m. | FS1

Indiana fans should have been very happy with last year's 8 win season and only losing to Penn State and Tennessee by single digits, all while being in the very tough East conference. QB Michael Penix completed 69% of his passes for 1,394 yards, 10TD, and only 4 INT. He also rushed for 119 yards and 2 TD with an average of 5.4 yards/rush. The biggest problem for the Hoosiers is the schedule. While they play 4 easier games, they also play the top 4 teams in the conference in Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. One or two upsets might be possible, but good luck with any more.


Tier 4: Shooting for a bowl game


8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-7)


Game 1: Nebraska at Ohio State | 12 p.m. | FOX

Nebraska made it clear they wanted to play this season, so the Big Ten gave them Ohio State and Wisconsin right off the bat. They also pulled Penn State and Minnesota later on. A tough break for a team that was looking to turn heads this season; perhaps they SHOULD go play Uzbekistan. Dual-threat QB Adrian Martinez has talent and can lead a decent offense this year with his dual-threat talent. The defense will likely struggle, however, with many players on last year's defense leaving. They got talent coming in with the #20 overall recruiting class, but it'll take time for them to get experience. Scott Frost's goal should be a winning record and a bowl game, both of which are possible and much needed for this loyal fanbase.


9. Purdue Boilermakers (4-8)


Game 1: Iowa at Purdue | 3:30 p.m. | Big Ten Network

Purdue got good news when All-American WR Rondale Moore said he was returning for another year, and then bad news when he opted out for Covid concerns. Thankfully for the Boilermakers, Moore has opted back in. Purdue has a decent offense but the defense isn't nearly as good. Their best shot is winning shootouts, which they have the talent to do sometimes. Purdue and Northwestern are the only west division teams to miss Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan, so they do have that going for them.


10. Northwestern Wildcats (3-9)


Game 1: Maryland at Northwestern | 7:30 p.m. | Big Ten Network

Northwestern is known for its defense. But last year, the offense imploded, averaging 12.7 points/game. Northwestern did hit the transfer market, receiving former Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey (42 TD - 23 INT) and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian from Boston College. If the offense can string together some points this year, they could pull off a .500 or better season, as they were gifted one of the easiest Big Ten schedules. Never doubt Coach Pat Fitzgerald's ability to put together a great Wildcats team out of nowhere.


11 Michigan State Spartans (7-6)


Game 1: Rutgers at Michigan State | 12 p.m. | Big Ten Network

Mark Dantonio shocked the program with his surprise retirement. They got a late hire from the coaching carousel in Colorado HC Mel Tucker. He's training a brand new QB, creating a new offense, and changing everything on defense. There really isn't too much to start with, so if the Spartans pull off a decent year, then Mel Tucker will be one of the best coaches ever. This should be a standard first-year rebuild; a lot of L's but progress.


12. Illinois Fighting Illini (6-7)


Game 1: Illinois at Wisconsin | 8 p.m. ET | Big Ten Network (Friday)

Illinois got the upset of the year over Wisconsin last season, and now they get them week 1 of this year. Illinois brings back talent at QB with Brandon Peters (18 TD - 8 INT), their top four receivers, and three four-year starters on the O-line. With the majority of the defense being freshman that were thrown in early, they have a lot of potential considering the improvement they made throughout last season. The defense will have to step up alongside QB Peters offensively to see solid improvement this year. The Illini were smart to give Lovie Smith time; thanks to his savvy recruiting in the transfer portal, he might be able to finally put it all together this year.



Tier 5: Just Trying to Get a Win


13. Maryland Terrapins (3-9)


Game 1: Maryland at Northwestern | 7:30 p.m. | Big Ten Network

With VT transfer QB Josh Jackson opting out, after seemingly providing the only spark last year, the offense likely leans on transfer QB Taulia Tagovailoa. Even if Tagovailoa is the key to the offense, the defense was one of the worst in college football, ranked 115th (out of 130). Mike Locksley has proven he can recruit, landing five-star Rakim Jarrett, and transfer QB Tagovailoa, and earning the 31st rated recruiting class for 2020. That being said, they take time to develop and looks like another dismal rebuild year.


14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-11)


Rutgers at Michigan State | 12 p.m. | Big Ten Network

Rutgers seems to have made a solid hire in Greg Schiano. He has rebuilt the program before, but it took five years to get a winning record. Having said that, Schiano has been the only coach to have sustained success at Rutgers. Schiano will have a lot of work to do with this mess he signed into. He's working with an 8-win team...in the last 4 years; a team that hasn't had a real winning season in nearly a decade. He might have a decent program in a few years, but this year's goal should be to win a game.




Champions Week

Alongside the conference only schedule, the Big Ten introduced Champions Week. After the regular season, teams will be ranked 1-7 in their respective divisions and matched up to the corresponding ranked team in the other division. The two 1st-ranked teams will play for the championship like normal, but the rest of the conference gets to play a challenging conference matchup, too. It will be interesting to see how much these games resemble rivalry games. The East can probably win the top three ranked games with OSU, PSU, and Michigan, but the bottom of the East in Rutgers and Maryland will be much easier to beat. Below is a projection of what this week's matchups could look like by the end of the season.


Champions Week Predictions:


East vs. West

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Penn State vs. Minnesota

Michigan vs. Iowa

Indiana vs. Nebraska

Michigan State vs. Purdue

Maryland vs. Northwestern

Rutgers vs. Illinois




2020 Week 1 Big Ten football schedule


Friday, Oct. 23

Illinois at Wisconsin | 8 p.m. ET | Big Ten Network


Saturday, Oct. 24

Rutgers at Michigan State | 12 p.m. | Big Ten Network

Nebraska at Ohio State | 12 p.m. | FOX

Penn State at Indiana | 3:30 p.m. | FS1

Iowa at Purdue | 3:30 p.m. | Big Ten Network

Michigan at Minnesota | 7:30 p.m. | ABC

Maryland at Northwestern | 7:30 p.m. | Big Ten Network




Predictions


Locks

Illinois at Wisconsin

Nebraska at Ohio State

Penn State at Indiana


Tossups

Rutgers at Michigan State

Iowa at Purdue

Maryland at Northwestern


Game of the Week

Michigan at Minnesota

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