1. Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin has his boys rolling, as the Nittany Lions once again completely ran through another undermatched opponent, this time against Northwestern in Evanston. Penn State sits comfortably atop the Big Ten at 6–0 with its bye week awaiting in Week 7. A marquee win is needed to legitimize the Nittany Lions’ playoff hopes, and they’ll have a shot when Jim Harbaugh and Michigan come to town in Week 8.
Last Week: Win at Northwestern (31-7)
Up next: Bye
2. Wisconsin Badgers
It took a couple years, but Paul Chryst finally found an offensive star in true freshmen running back Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers haven’t had a true game-changer since Melvin Gordon propped up Gary Andersen’s résumé, so Wisconsin rises in this week’s rankings because of Taylor. Jim Leonhard has himself a defense, but so did Dave Aranda and Justin Wilcox. What makes this Badger team different—dare I say, better—is the potential of the offense to score over 30 points against competent defenses. Much of the Wisconsin fan base has piled on Alex Hornibrook for his rough pick-six against Nebraska, but he bounced back well in the third quarter with multiple big-time passes. The Badgers hold off the Buckeyes for the second spot by the smallest of margins after Week 6; Bucky can thank their star freshmen for that.
Last Week: Win at Nebraska (38–17)
Up Next: vs. Purdue
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Since getting out-punched against Oklahoma in Week 2 at the Horseshoe, the Buckeyes have looked dangerously good against ‘meh’ competition. Still, Urban Meyer and his batch of semi-pro caliber players look completely locked in, almost as if they are out to avenge that Sooner flag which was planted at their 50-yard line. Their defensive line is starting to swallow opponents, and they’ll need to bring their momentum into Lincoln for a nighttime matchup with a desperate Cornhusker team.
Last week: Win vs. Maryland (62–14)
Up next: at Nebraska
4. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State is back.
The Spartans churned out two of the more impressive wins in the conference in back-to-back weeks against Iowa and at Michigan, shooting them up on the list. Mark Dantonio has a young team with a mean defense. There is legit hope at winning the Big Ten East in East Lansing, which is a complete 180 from two weeks ago.
Last week: Win at Michigan (14–10)
Up next: at Minnesota
5. Michigan Wolverines
Things are looking down for the Wolverines. Harbaugh’s squad was outplayed at home against its thought-to-be-down rival in Michigan State, while the loss in conference sets them back in the East division with a brutal schedule left to go. Moreover, John O’Korn didn’t look the part of a conference champion-caliber QB, as he tossed three interceptions and partook in other odd shenanigans. The Wolverines can’t afford too many more conference losses, or similar play from their quarterback, moving forward.
Last week: Loss vs. Michigan State (14–10)
Up next: at Indiana
6. Iowa Hawkeyes
We didn’t learn much from Iowa in Week 6, as the Hawkeyes beat Illinois in a comfortable manner. As stated before, this is a quintessential Hawkeye squad—tough, strong up front on both sides, and flawed at skill positions. This team will compete with everyone and there isn’t a Big Ten team in the conference that is looking forward to playing it.
Last week: Win vs. Illinois (45–16)
Up next: Bye
7. Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilers stay put after their bye week, yet it’s still fun to soak in how improved they are under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm. A stout defense and improved QB play will be tested greatly in Madison in Week 7, which will certainly be quite the measuring-stick game for Purdue.
Last week: Win vs. Purdue (31–17)
Up next: at No. 7 Wisconsin
8. Maryland Terrapins
D.J. Durkin has himself one of the more interesting teams in the Big Ten, as it’s been quite the rollercoaster of a season. Maryland was absolutely devastated by Ohio State’s pure athleticism in Week 6; the blowout drops them a spot on this list.
Last week: Loss at Ohio State (62–14)
Up next: vs. Northwestern
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Mike Riley and his Huskers played spirited football for a half against Wisconsin in Week 6, yet were out-muscled on both sides of the ball in the second. There is legit desperation in Lincoln, as their massive fan base frantically wants to be good at football again.
Last week: Loss vs. Wisconsin (38–17)
Up next: vs. No. 9 Ohio State
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The bye week came at a perfect time for P.J. Fleck and his Gophers in Week 6. They need to bounce back with Michigan State coming to town. Fleck will want to pounce on an opportunity to beat a ranked opponent at home, yet it’s unclear if the Gophers have the weapons to do so.
Last week: Loss at Purdue (31–17)
Up next: vs. No. 21 Michigan State
11. Indiana Hoosiers
This may be a tad low for the Hoosiers, but we simply don’t know how good they are, as they beat Georgia Southern in Week 6. That’ll change quickly, as their next two contest are against the two Michigan schools in the conference.
Last week: Win vs. Georgia Southern (27–0)
Up next: vs. No. 17 Michigan
12. Northwestern Wildcats
Once thought of as the West’s best shot at knocking off Wisconsin in 2017, Northwestern has wildly disappointed the pundits and overachievers that (sort of) fill Ryan Field. A losing record this early in the season has stunted the program’s direction, but put money on the Wildcats to pull out at least one upset this year.
Last week: Loss vs. Penn State (31–7)
Up next: at Maryland
13. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini were able to hang tough for a half against Iowa, on the road. That’s certainly enough to keep Lovie’s squad from the basement of the Big Ten, but they’re certainly knocking on the door.
Last week: Loss at Iowa (45–16)
Up next: vs. Rutgers
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
A bye week was very much needed for head coach Chris Ash, as we’re not really sure if Rutgers has a strength.
Last week: Bye
Up next: at Illinois