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Big Ten Power Rankings, Week 2: Wisconsin has staying power, Northwestern falls hard

Bunched at the top, when will the Big Ten's elite find some separation?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

1. Michigan Wolverines (2-0)

The Wolverines made silly-quick work of UCF on Saturday, at one point leading 31-0 early in the second quarter en route to a 51-14 victory. Jim Harbaugh’s squad hosts a sneaky talented Colorado team next week, a certain step up in talent when compared to its opponents thus far. Ann Arbor leads the Big Ten in swagger two weeks into the season, and in turn has shouted a statement to the College Football landscape: Michigan is back.

Up next: vs. Colorado

Previous rank: 2

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-0)

Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes didn’t score an offensive touchdown against Tulsa until more than five minutes into the third quarter, which in part is why they slipped just a touch to No. 2. Still, the Buckeyes rocked the Golden Hurricane (sweet nickname alert) in the second half, behind an imposing defense and a stubborn ground attack, to an easy 48-8 win. It’s worth noting that J.T. Barrett didn’t throw a touchdown after tossing six the week before. Barrett will need more through the air on the road next week against the Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Up next: at Oklahoma

Previous rank: 1

3. Wisconsin Badgers (2-0)

The national media forgot about Corey Clement when ranking Wisconsin outside of the top 25 to start the season, and the senior running back used that slight as motivation to clobber the Akron defense in the first half, leading the Badgers to a 54-10 triumph. Wisconsin’s defense again proved dominant from start to finish against an overwhelmed opponent from the MAC conference. The concern: Bart Houston looks impressive through the majority of snaps, yet continues to toss two or three passes to the opposing secondary per game. This flaw looms in the background of Paul Chryst’s Big Ten West title aspiration.

Up next: vs. Georgia State

Previous rank: 3

4. Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0)

Kirk Ferentz was desperate to snap his two-game losing streak at Kinnick Stadium to the pesky Cyclones of Iowa State, and the Hawks didn’t disappoint, crushing Iowa State 42-3. C.J. Beathard played beautifully in the victory, tossing three touchdowns while running for one more. Iowa is a true force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten—and not just the Big Ten West, as some Michigan and Ohio Natives may want you to believe.

Up next: vs. North Dakota State University

Previous rank: 4

5. Michigan State Spartans (2-0)

Mark Dantonio & co. had a week of rest and game planning, which they will certainly need next week against Notre Dame in South Bend. The Spartans hold strong at No. 5 with a chance to work their up when they take the field against the Irish.

Up next: at Notre Dame

Previous rank: 5

6. Nebraska Huskers (2-0)

Nebraska appeared to be heading toward an all-too familiar fourth-quarter finish, locked in a tight contest with an under-manned non-conference foe. The Husker defense forced six second-half turnovers, though, and Tommy Armstrong tossed three touchdowns on the way to a 52-17 win vs. Wyoming. The Huskers certainly had their eye on Week 3, when they welcome the Oregon Ducks to Lincoln.

Crazy But True: Tommy Armstrong now holds the record as Nebraska’s all-time leading touchdown passer with 57, eclipsing Taylor Martinez. Both are and were run-first quarterbacks, but this is Nebraska were talking about, after all.

Next up: vs. Oregon

Previous rank: 6

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0)

Tracey Clays led his Minnesota Gophers to a walloping final against trivial competition in Indiana State, winning 54-28. Mitch Leidner bounced back from a middle-of-the-road start to the season to toss four touchdowns in a dominant offensive effort. We didn’t learn much about the Gophers and won’t until Big Ten play come October, but Minnesota’s offense looks more polished than it did in 2015.

Next up: vs. Colorado State

Previous rank: 8

8. Penn State Nittany Lions (1-1)

As the selection committee rewards strength of schedule for the College Football Playoff, this list follows suit when ranking the best in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are a flawed team: the offensive line was often abused by the Pitt defensive front in a heartbreaking defeat. Pitt is an improved team this season, and factoring in the immense hype of the matchup, Penn State almost pulled out a win after going down 28-7 to start the game. Still, this squad had a chance to rise a few spots on this list with a victory, and this loss could potentially doom James Franklin if things don’t turn around quick.

The Good: Saquon Barkley is a down right superstar in the making.

Up next: vs. Temple

Previous rank: 7

9. Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)

In a contest that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would lead one to believe, the Indiana Hoosiers displayed a balanced offense and a playmaking defense to a 2-0 start to their season. The Hoosiers are in the same boat as a number of other Big Ten teams who face little competition in the non-conference portion of their schedule, but the improved play of the Indiana defense remains a pleasant surprise for supporters of IU. Hoosier football will snag a week of rest until they take on Wake Forest after the bye.

Up next: Bye

Previous rank: 10

10. Maryland Terrapins (2-0)

If nothing else, Maryland started its season with two impressive victories, finishing off an unimpressive FIU team 41-14. However, the chemistry between Perry Hills and D.J. Moore is real, as the latter snagged six receptions for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns. We’ll learn a bit more next week when the Terrapins head down to Orlando to face UCF, but keep your eye on Oct. 8, when head coach D.J. Durkin leads the Terps into State College to take on Penn State, in what will almost certainly be a must win for the home team.

Up next: at UCF

Previous rank: 12

11. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-1)

The Illini and their sold-out crowd—which is saying something in Champaign-Urbana these days—were hyped for the primetime matchup against a talented North Carolina squad. Despite a strong start and an early lead, Illinois fell hard in the second half, losing in disappointing fashion, 48-23. Wes Lunt, thought by many to be Lovie Smith’s most talented player, performed poorly in a game when he was needed most, passing only for 127 yards on 17-of-35 for the day, which equates to an aggressively lousy 3.6 yards average per attempt. Western Michigan presents a legitimate test in Week 3, so can the Illini cut down on mistakes and give their eager fan base their second win of the season?

Up next: vs. Western Michigan

Previous rank: 9

12. Purdue Boilermakers (1-1)

Purdue played admirably against a more talented Cincinnati Bearcat team, but was ultimately outclassed in a 20-38 final. Talented quarterback David Blough tossed five interceptions, an incredible amount of turnovers for any team to overcome. Head coach Darrell Hazell needs to win games badly, and that starts next week when Nevada stops by West Lafayette.

Up next: vs. Nevada (Home)

Previous rank: 13

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-1)

When I stated last week that "Chris Ash has his hands full with the rebuilding project that is Rutgers football," I didn’t quite think his hands would be overflowing. The Scarlett Knights struggled mightily in the first half against a woeful Howard team before pulling away in the second half to pull out a 52-14 win. That tells us they haven’t had the worst start in the Big Ten through two games, but that’s about it.

Up next: vs. New Mexico

Previous rank: 14

14. Northwestern Wildcats (0-2)

Similar to Week 1, Northwestern had the worst Week 2 of any Big Ten team, finishing with a jaw-dropping loss at home to Illinois State. Northwestern was again unable to move the ball via the pass game, and to make matters even worse, star running back left the game early in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury. The Wildcats are having problems moving the ball on offense and getting off the field on defense. Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best coaches in the country, he’ll need to dig deep when Duke comes to Evanston in Week 3.

Up next: vs. Duke

Previous rank: 11