Big Ten Power Rankings: Michigan takes top spot after handling Ohio State
During a jubilant postgame news conference at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, linebacker Michael Barrett was asked if Michigan had wrested control of the rivalry against its archrival following a second consecutive win in dominating fashion.
Barrett, a fifth-year senior who had just helped the Wolverines topple the Buckeyes, 45-23, unfurled one of the championship T-shirts given to players and coaches for securing the Big Ten East crown to reach the league title game in Indianapolis. That was his answer.
"I would say yes," Barrett eventually replied. "I would say as of now we’re just kind of playing our ball, being the kind of team that we knew we were, and just going from there."
First, they’ll be visiting Lucas Oil Stadium to face Purdue for the Big Ten Championship. Then they’ll almost certainly be included in the College Football Playoff regardless of whether they beat the Boilermakers next week. Their win over Ohio State made the conference’s pecking order quite clear.
Here are the Big Ten power rankings entering championship week:
Record: 12-0, 9-0 Big Ten
Last week: 45-23 win over Ohio State
Up next: Big Ten Championship game vs. Purdue.
Previous ranking: 2
What a statement by head coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan in Columbus on Saturday. A year after demolishing the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor on the broad shoulders of tailback Hassan Haskins and the dogged pursuit of edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, the Wolverines did it again at Ohio Stadium without their best players at both aforementioned positions. Star tailback Blake Corum lasted only two carries before removing himself from the game following a knee injury suffered in the win over Illinois two weeks ago. And ace pass rusher Mike Morris, who leads the team in sacks with seven, played a handful of snaps before spending the rest of the afternoon on the sideline with an injured ankle. Instead, No. 2 running back Donovan Edwards carried 22 times for 216 yards and two scores to pull away from the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter, while the defense led by first-year coordinator Jesse Minter surrendered just three points in the second half to an offense that entered the game tied for first nationally in scoring. The Wolverines are going back to Indianapolis — and most likely the CFP, too — for the second consecutive season.
2. Ohio State
Record: 11-1, 8-1 Big Ten
Last week: 45-23 loss vs. Michigan
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 1
How sullen the mood must be in Columbus after losing to Michigan at home for the first time since 2000. It wasn’t just that the Buckeyes fell to their archrival for the second year in a row after getting pushed around at Michigan Stadium last November. It was the fact that head coach Ryan Day and his players spent months addressing the lack of toughness and grit they showed in 2021 only to be punched in the mouth even harder in a three-score defeat at Ohio Stadium. First-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was brought in with big expectations and a bigger salary to ensure future rivalry games would look nothing like last year’s pummeling. He improved the Buckeyes immeasurably throughout the regular season but watched his unit get thrashed for 530 yards of total offense and allow a 47.1% conversion rate on third and fourth downs. Few people would argue that Michigan has more talent than Ohio State — and the 2023 NFL draft is likely to confirm that assumption — but Day’s team was outplayed, out-coached and out-toughed by the Wolverines for the second year running.
3. Penn State
Record: 10-2, 7-2 Big Ten
Last week: 35-16 win vs. Michigan State
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 3
Penn State clobbered the Spartans in the regular season finale to cement its third-place standing in the Big Ten power rankings. Outside of losses to Michigan (41-17) and Ohio State (44-31), the Nittany Lions won their remaining conference games by an average of 23.9 points per game in a reflection of the East’s overwhelming firepower. Veteran quarterback Sean Clifford played excellently in his final game at Beaver Stadium by completing 19 of 24 passes for 202 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw just one INT in the final month of the regular season while accounting for seven touchdowns during that stretch. Star freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen finished with a combined 1,771 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns to foreshadow what the future of Penn State’s offense should look like. There’s still a chance the Nittany Lions can reach the Rose Bowl if Ohio State gets invited to the CFP, but a 10-win season in which the only losses came against two of the five best teams in the country isn’t that bad for head coach James Franklin. After all, Penn State would have qualified for an expanded 12-team playoff.
Record: 8-4, 6-3 Big Ten
Last week: 30-16 win at Indiana
Up next: Big Ten Championship game vs. No. 3 Michigan
Previous ranking: 5
Somebody had to win the Big Ten East this season, and the Boilermakers seized their opportunity after Iowa got demolished by Nebraska the day after Thanksgiving. Purdue clinched its spot in Indianapolis by toppling in-state rival Indiana, despite being outgained by the Hoosiers 421-388 in total offense and only converting twice on third down. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell completed 18 of 29 passes for 290 yards and two scores to post consecutive interception-free performances for the first time since Week 1 against Penn State and Week 2 against Indiana State. The Boilermakers lost consecutive games to Wisconsin and Iowa as the calendar changed from October to November, but responded with three straight wins to close the regular season. They’ve posted back-to-back seasons with at least eight wins for the first time since 2006-07 under former head coach Joe Tiller. Head coach Jeff Brohm’s team opened as a 14-point underdog against Michigan in next week’s Big Ten title game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Record: 8-4, 5-4 Big Ten
Last week: 41-3 win at Northwestern
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 6
The Illini will be kicking themselves for a September loss to lowly Indiana and an October loss to Michigan State when the Spartans had several key players suspended following a brawl in the Michigan Stadium tunnel. Those two results were the only eyebrow-raising defeats for a team whose other conference losses came at No. 3 Michigan and home against eventual division champion Purdue by a combined nine points. It’s hard to question what head coach Bret Bielema has done when Illinois reached eight wins for the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 2000. Tailback Chase Brown entered Saturday’s game as the nation’s leading rusher but had one of his poorer performances of the season with 61 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. But his twin brother, Sydney Brown, chipped in with two defensive scores on a 53-yard fumble return and a 39-yard interception return in the third quarter. Northwestern became the sixth opponent to score fewer than 10 points against a stifling Illinois defense.
Record: 8-4, 5-4 Big Ten
Last week: 23-16 win at Wisconsin
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 7
Minnesota finished the regular season by winning four of its last five games to reach eight wins for the second consecutive year and third time in the last four under head coach P.J. Fleck. The player of the game was freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, whose 319 passing yards and two touchdowns constituted the finest performance of his young career. His previous high was 175 yards in a blowout loss at Penn State earlier this year, and Kaliakmanis had never thrown for multiple scores in the same game. A surprisingly productive passing attack papered over the season’s lowest output from terrific running back Mohamed Ibrahim. The Badgers limited Ibrahim to 70 rushing yards on 27 carries — the first opponent to hold him below 100 yards all season — and they also kept him out of the end zone to snap a streak of 11 consecutive games with a score. But Ibrahim still finished the season fifth nationally in rushing with 1,594 yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns with 19. He might be the most underappreciated player in the Big Ten for 2022.
Record: 7-5, 5-4 Big Ten
Last week: 24-17 loss vs. Nebraska
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 4
Everything had shaped up beautifully for Iowa entering the final week of the regular season. All the Hawkeyes had to do was find a way to beat Nebraska at home, and head coach Kirk Ferentz would be bringing his team to the Big Ten title game for the second year in a row. Instead, Iowa laid an egg against a hapless opponent that arrived in Iowa City on a five-game losing streak. Starting quarterback Spencer Petras, whose level of play had improved in recent weeks, left the game with an injury in the first quarter to thrust backup Alex Padilla into the fray. Padilla completed fewer than 50% of his passes while throwing for 141 yards, one touchdown, one lost fumble and one interception in the final moments that extinguished his team’s last-gasp attempt at a comeback. The Hawkeyes gave the ball away four times (three lost fumbles, one interception) to finish the game minus-3 in turnover margin. An injury to ace cornerback Cooper DeJean left Iowa thin at cornerback, and the Cornhuskers capitalized with 278 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.
Record: 7-5, 4-5 Big Ten
Last week: 37-0 win vs. Rutgers
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 9
The Terrapins bounced back from a crushing defeat to Ohio State by obliterating Rutgers to snap a three-game losing streak. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, whose season has been checkered by nagging injuries, played brilliantly by throwing for 342 yards and a touchdown without a turnover. It was Tagovailoa’s first 300-yard effort since a narrow loss to Purdue on Oct. 8 and his fourth such game this season. Tailback Roman Hemby furthered his claim as one of the more impressive rookies in the league by scoring three more rushing touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights. He ranks 43rd nationally with 924 yards and tied for 39th with 10 scores, but those totals rank fourth and tied for fourth, respectively, among freshmen. Maryland achieved seven wins in a regular season for the first time since 2014 and has a chance to reach eight total wins for the first time since 2010. Head coach Mike Locksley is 20-28 overall in four seasons with the Terrapins.
Record: 6-6, 4-5 Big Ten
Last week: 23-16 loss vs. Minnesota
Up next: TBD
Previous ranking: 8
The season thudded to a halt over the weekend in a disappointing home loss to the Gophers, who played without their starting quarterback Tanner Morgan due to injury. Wisconsin carried a 16-13 lead into the fourth quarter only to surrender 10 points in the final 7:58 to lose control of a rivalry game. The Badgers played without one of their best offensive weapons in tailback Braelon Allen (ankle) and struggled to move the ball on the ground against a stout Minnesota defense. They needed 33 carries to amass 143 yards and only converted five of their 16 third-down attempts. Quarterback Graham Mertz tossed an interception for the third consecutive game and failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the second time all year. News broke Sunday afternoon that Wisconsin was planning to hire Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell as the replacement for Paul Chryst, thus depriving interim Jim Leonhard of the full-time job. The school confirmed this decision in a press release Sunday evening. It’s unclear what Fickell’s impending arrival means for Leonhard in the long run. He’s a well-respected defensive coordinator who should receive plenty of interest at both the collegiate and professional levels.
Record: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten
Last week: 24-17 win at Iowa
Up next: Offseason
Previous ranking: 12
Credit to the Cornhuskers for playing through the whistle, so to speak, with an excellent performance in the season finale despite having nothing to play for. Quarterback Casey Thompson enjoyed one of his finer outings with 278 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the first time this year he threw three touchdowns in a single game and his second straight appearance without an interception after tossing seven in his previous four combined. Wideout Trey Palmer broke Nebraska’s single-season school record for receiving yards with 1,043. The Cornhuskers shored up their future over the weekend by hiring ex-Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule for the full-time job. Rhule guided Temple to consecutive 10-win seasons in 2015-16 and led Baylor to an 11-3 record in 2019 before jumping to the NFL. He won five games in each of his first two years with the Panthers and was fired after a 1-4 start to the 2022 campaign.
11. Michigan State
Record: 5-7, 3-6 Big Ten
Last week: 35-16 loss at Penn State
Up next: Offseason
Previous ranking: 10
A season head coach Mel Tucker would like to forget ended with a whimper Saturday when Michigan State was blown out by Penn State. Not only will the Spartans miss a bowl game for just the third time in the last 16 years, but they’re still dealing with the fallout from the brawl at Michigan Stadium earlier this season. Seven Michigan State players were charged with crimes by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office following a lengthy review of the unsightly events in Ann Arbor. Defensive back Khary Crump, who was seen on video striking a Wolverine with his helmet, was charged with felonious assault, while linebacker Jacoby Windmon was charged with one count of assault and battery. Five other players — Itayvion Brown, Angelo Grose, Justin White, Brandon Wright and Zion Young — were charged with aggravated assault. There’s plenty for Tucker to navigate in addition to rebuilding an underachieving team.
Record: 4-8, 2-7 Big Ten
Last week: 30-16 loss vs. Purdue
Up next: Offseason
Previous ranking: 11
The Hoosiers snapped a seven-game losing streak by knocking off Michigan State two weeks ago but failed to build on that momentum in a season-ending loss to Purdue. Connor Bazelak returned at quarterback after missing parts of several games with nagging injuries and threw for 201 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one fumble. The Missouri transfer finished the year with final tallies of 2,312 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions that weren’t much different than his final season with the Tigers in 2021: 2,548 yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions. The Hoosiers ranked 111th nationally and 12th in the Big Ten in total offense and fared even worse on defense by checking in 119th overall and last in the league. With just six wins in the last two seasons combined, head coach Tom Allen is drawing heavy criticism from fans and local media members. A sizable buyout in his contract is the only thing protecting him right now.
Record: 4-8, 1-8 Big Ten
Last week: 37-0 loss at Maryland
Up next: Offseason
Previous ranking: 13
After another crushing season, Rutgers might be looking forward to the potential dissolution of divisions in the Big Ten more than anyone else. The Scarlet Knights are wildly overmatched in the East and enter every year with the understanding that games against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are likely to be lopsided losses. The combined scores of those three matchups in 2022 was 156-37 in favor of the league’s heavyweights. Three consecutive victories to begin the season gave way to eight losses over the final nine games as Rutgers finished with one league win or fewer for the fifth time since joining the Big Ten in 2014. Head coach Greg Schiano faces another offseason of change on his coaching staff.
Record: 1-11, 1-8 Big Ten
Last week: 41-3 loss vs. Illinois
Up next: Offseason
Previous ranking: 14
It’s all but impossible to take anything positive from a season that opened with a nationally televised win over Nebraska in Ireland and then nosedived with 11 consecutive defeats. The Wildcats finished with their lowest win total since 1989 and their third campaign with a single Big Ten win since head coach Pat Fitzgerald took over in 2006. A defense that ranked 66th nationally was undercut by a horrific offense that ranked last in scoring among Power 5 schools and 128th overall at 13.8 points per game. Northwestern scored just 22 combined points in the month of November. Another program in need of a significant overhaul between now and the spring.
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Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.