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Big Ten bowl projections, Week 6: Michigan shines, MSU stunned again

The Big Ten takes shape as Wisconsin gets ready to host Ohio State.

Michigan v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

1. Michigan (6-0)

In video-game fashion, Michigan downright obliterated Rutgers 78-0 in the most dominating Big Ten performance of 2016. This one was about as lopsided as it gets: the Wolverine offense produced a slow-clap-worthy 600 yards (481 via the run game) while the defense held Rutgers to an incredible 39 total yards. Michigan has earned the right to be called the Big Ten’s best team through six weeks of college football play with impressive balance in all three facets of the game. Jabrill Peppers, the consensus All-American who can start at safety and punt returner, was utilized on the offensive side of the ball, rushing for 74 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Another week means another win for Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines, and expect that trend to continue after the bye in Week 7.

Up Next: Bye

Previous Ranking: No. 2

Bowl Projection: College Football Playoff

2. Ohio State (5-0)

The Buckeyes didn’t look quite as crisp in Week 6, sputtering at times against a focused Indiana squad. Despite not looking its best, Ohio State was able to pull away in the second half to earn a 38-17 victory over the Hoosiers. Urban Meyer’s offense was one-dimensional throughout the night as J.T. Barrett was held under 100 yards passing and under 50 percent completion rate. The dimension that worked was the run game: Barrett turned into a run-first player, finishing with more rushing attempts (26) than he did passing attempts (21) and 137 yards on the ground. The Buckeyes displayed impressive aptitude by adapting to an Indiana team that was able to shut down their passing attack, while also leaning on their talented defense to contain Indiana’s capable offense. Still, the Buckeyes drop a notch on this list due to relatively lackluster play against Indiana, combined with the fact that Michigan is playing top-tier football. Urban Meyer and his youthful bunch will need a higher level of output in Week 7, when the lights of Camp Randall will shine bright on their biggest test of 2016.

Next Week: at No. 8 Wisconsin

Previous Ranking: No. 1

Bowl Projection: Rose Bowl

3. Wisconsin (4-1)

Paul Chryst and his Badgers were off in Week 6 after going through one of the more interesting first five games in program history. Wisconsin will play host to No. 2 Ohio State in Week 7, and the extra week of preparation and rest is much needed for a team that was dealing with a plethora of injuries. The big question going into college football’s game of the week (College GameDay comes to Madison for the sixth time) is how will UW’s offense bounce back after being held completely in check two weeks ago in Ann Arbor, and specifically, will Alex Hornibrook and his receivers be able to open things up for the running game? The Badgers will need Hornibrook to mature quickly and rebound after an ineffective game against Michigan, as a similar performance this week will certainly doom Wisconsin.

Up Next: vs. No. 2 Ohio State

Previous Ranking: No. 3

Bowl Projection: Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

Patrick Barron

4. Nebraska (5-0)

The Huskers stay put at No. 4, as they were idle in Week 6 and still maintain a 5-0 record. Nebraska looks improved in 2016, mainly due to the notable play of senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong. There are questions about its strength of schedule, specifically around the fact that the Huskers have only left home once this season. That should change when Nebraska heads to Indiana this week, but keep an eye on this one—Indiana is playing inspired football and is better than most of what Nebraska has seen this year.

Up Next: at Indiana

Previous Ranking: No. 4

Bowl Projection: Outback Bowl

5. Penn State (4-2)

The Nittany Lions played an impressive brand of offensive football in Week 6, thoroughly beating Maryland en route to a 38-14 victory. Penn State was led by its quarterback-running back duo of Trace McSorley (three total touchdowns) and Saquon Barkley (202 yards rushing) and was able to easily pull away in the second half. James Franklin and his squad get a bye week before they play host to Ohio State on Oct. 22. A win would be a season-changer for the program.

Up Next: Bye

Previous Rank: No. 8

Bowl Projection: Holiday Bowl

6. Indiana

Jumping two spots in this list, as it’s clear that Indiana is playing passionate football, surprising much of the Big Ten with its performance thus far. The Hoosiers were overmatched in the loss to Ohio State, but the game was closer than the final score indicates. The Hoosiers’ defense held Barrett to under 100 yards passing and their offense was able to make plays on a ridiculously talented Buckeyes defense. Indiana has the opportunity to play spoiler when No. 10 Nebraska comes to town in Week 7, possibly a program-defining matchup for Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers.

Up Next: vs. Nebraksa

Previous Rank: No. 8

Bowl Projection: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

7. Iowa (4-2)

In a game that was full of missed opportunities and poor play, Iowa was able to save its season and pull off a 14-7 win at Minnesota. The Hawkeyes didn’t look good, but they were able to grind out a win on the back of their running game—a 54-yard touchdown run by Akrum Wadley proved to be the difference maker in game without any others.

Up Next: at Purdue

Previous Rank: No. 10

Bowl Projection: Music City Bowl

8. Minnesota (3-2)

The Gophers lost a disappointment of a game to Iowa. Mitch Leidner continues to prove he can’t be relied upon to propel the passing game in any fashion, throwing two interceptions in a very winnable game. Minnesota’s above-average defense keeps it from dropping further.

Up Next: at Maryland

Previous Rank: No. 7

Bowl Projection: Quick Lane Bowl

9. Maryland (4-1)

In their first test of the 2016 season, it became clear that D.J. Durkin and his Terrapins aren’t quite ready to hang with the better half of the Big Ten. Maryland was beat soundly in a 38-14 loss to Penn State, yet a big home game against Minnesota awaits in Week 7.

Up Next: vs. Minnesota

Previous Rank: No. 5

Bowl Projection: Heart of Dallas Bowl

10. Northwestern (2-3)

The Wildcats were on bye in Week 6 as they prepare for a matchup at Michigan State. Northwestern will hope to continue its bounce-back play against a Michigan State squad that is completely lost in a must-win for both teams.

Up Next: at Michigan State

Previous Rank: No. 11

Bowl Projection: None

11. Michigan State (2-3)

The season is very much in jeopardy in East Lansing, as Michigan State was stunned by BYU, at home, in a 31-14 embarrassment. The Spartan offense appears broken, as quarterback Tyler O’Connor was eventually pulled in favor of speedy youngster Damion Terry. Still, this isn’t solely on the offense, as BYU scored 31 points, and now a bowl appearance is in question. The upcoming home game against Northwestern is an absolute must-win for Michigan State.

Up Next: vs. Northwestern

Previous Rank: No. 9

Bowl Projection: Foster Farms Bowl

12. Purdue

Any Big Ten win is a big win for Darrell Hazell and Purdue, as the Boilermakers prevailed against lowly Illinois on a last-second field goal, 34-31.

Up Next: vs. Iowa

Previous Rank: No. 14

Bowl Projection: None

13. Rutgers

The bad news: the Scarlett Knights have been outscored 136-0 in their last two games (including a 78-0 thrashing by Michigan).

The good news: that was against two of the top four teams in the country, Michigan and Ohio State.

Moving on...

Up Next: vs. Illinois

Previous Rank: No. 12

Bowl Projection: None

14. Illinois (1-4)

Lovie Smith’s nightmare season continued with another loss in Week 6, this time to Purdue at home via a last-second field goal in a 34-31 final.

Up Next: at Rutgers

Previous Rank: No. 13

Bowl Projection: None