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Big Ten Power Rankings, Week 6: Wisconsin hangs on, Minnesota humbled

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Wisconsin still has a shot at a special season.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

1. Penn State Nittany Lions

There are serious shades of Adrian Peterson in the Nittany Lions’ backfield. Saquon Barkley’s ability to combine production and flash is truly remarkable, and has people in the know comparing him to all-time greats. Penn State is clearly the Big Ten team with the least amount of weaknesses, and its offense will blow past average teams. If the Nittany Lions can avoid mistakes against the likes of Michigan and Ohio State, they’ll be the hands-down favorite to win the Big Ten East.

Last week: Win vs. Indiana 45–14

Up next: at Northwestern

2. Michigan Wolverines

The Big Ten’s best defense lies in Ann Arbor and so the Wolverines hang on to the second spot in the Big Ten despite staying idle in Week 5. If you haven’t already, get to know the least talked-about best player in the Big Ten: Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. He possesses speed that would make SEC coaches contemplate an NCAA violation, and has the strength to wreck havoc against some of the best o-lines in the country. Jim Harbaugh will need Bush to be everywhere (like he usually is) when archrival Michigan State comes to town on Saturday.

Last week: Bye

Up next: vs. Michigan State

3. Wisconsin Badgers

Paul Chryst has a shot at having a seriously special team this season. The defense proved it can be every bit as dynamic as it was last year against a legitimate offense, a young receiving duo—Danny Davis and Quintez Cephus—can stretch the field vertically by attacking the ball in the air, and Jonathan Taylor is the real deal in the backfield.

Yet, Wisconsin is prone to cringeworthy mistakes, as the Badgers displayed against Northwestern. Sure, they overcame an awful first-half performance to take a a commanding 31–10 lead. I’m not even that worried about their ridiculously conservative play-calling in the fourth quarter, but the fact that half of the first halves they’ve played this season have been glaringly bad performances must be mentioned. Wisconsin stays put at No. 3 despite showing a higher ceiling than it did in 2016.

Last week: Win vs. Northwestern (33–24)

Up next: at Nebraska

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

Much like last week, the Buckeyes continued their dominance over lowly competition once again. Urban Meyer’s athletes are simply too overwhelming for inferior teams. We will learn more moving forward, as six of their last seven contests are against some of the better teams in the conference.

Last week: Win at Rutgers (56–0)

Up next: at Rutgers

5. Michigan State Spartans

Mark Dantonio pulled off a huge turnaround win in Week 5 against Iowa in what I believe was a must-win game to salvage the Spartans’ reputation. That they did, and they appeared to out-tough Iowa, which ain’t easy to do. With a renewed sense of grit and a relative lack of playmakers, one would almost confuse Michigan State for a Big Ten West squad. East Lansing is trending up at precisely the right time.

Last week: Win vs. Iowa (17–10)

Up next: at Michigan

6. Iowa Hawkeyes

Ill-timed turnovers cost Iowa points and, in the end, the game. They played toe-to-toe with Michigan State, although they appeared to regress to the norm. At Kinnick during the nighttime, put money on Iowa. All other times, this is a strong team with a low ceiling. Just barely above the middle of the pack sounds right.

Last week: Loss at Michigan State (17–10)

Up next: vs. Illinois

7. Maryland Terrapins

The loss to UCF doesn’t sting as much for D.J. Durkin and his Terrapins, while road victories at Texas and Minnesota are just strong enough to slide Maryland into the seventh spot this week. Also, Ty Johnson is no joke at running the ball. Please take note.

Last week: Win at Minnesota (31–24)

Up next: at Ohio State

8. Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilers find themselves at the No. 8 spot due to action around them during their bye week. Stay tuned for their matchup with the Gophers in Week 6, a sneaky important contest that will be telling for the outcome of the Big Ten West while also forecasting the current status in West Lafayette.

Last week: Bye

Up next: vs. Minnesota

9. Northwestern Wildcats

There’s no doubt that Pat Fitzgerald’s squad is a disappointment in 2017, at least thus far. The Wildcats’ loss to Wisconsin portrayed them well; flashes of brilliance, yet their mistakes turn out to be too much to overcome. Still, this is a team that can hang with the big dawgs if it can put it together for four quarters.

Last week: Loss at Wisconsin (33–24)

Up next: vs. Penn State

10. Minnesota Gophers

The boat stopped rowing in Week 5 for the Gophers. In a game that was supposed to be telling for the current state of the program, it appears P.J. Fleck has his work cut out for him. The Gophers’ strength, rushing the football, was thwarted by a middle-of-the-road Maryland defense.

Last week: Loss vs. Maryland (31–24)

Up next: at Purdue

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers

This might be a tad optimistic, but I still think the Huskers’ ceiling is higher than the team below them on this list. Mike Riley has steadied the ship against the Big Ten’s worst, with the biggest game in his tenure on the horizon.

Last week: Win at Illinois (28–6)

Up next: vs. No. 9 Wisconsin

12. Indiana Hoosiers

It seems like the Hoosiers have either matched up against excessively poor competition or against teams vying for the College Football Playoff. That won’t change in Weeks 6 or 7, thus Indiana might be the mystery team in the Big Ten for the foreseeable future.

Last week: Loss at Penn State (45–14)

Up next: vs. Charleston Southern

13. Illinois Fighting Illini

Lovie Smith’s squad was just a little bit better than the worst team in the Big Ten. That’s not a good look for Illinois.

Last week: Loss vs. Nebraska (28–6)

Up next: at Iowa

14. Rutgers Scarlett Knights

This Rutgers team is brutal for an FBS program. Chris Ash has a ways to go to make Rutgers resemble relevancy.

Last week: Loss vs. 10 Ohio State (56–0)

Up next: Bye