Find Week 2’s rankings here.
1. (Last Week: 2) Penn State (3-0), W - 28-20 vs. Auburn, Next Week: vs. Villanova
The Nittany Lions move up one spot this week after a win over No. 22 Auburn on Saturday night, their second win of the season over a ranked team. Backed by a raucous White Out crowd in Happy Valley, Penn State’s defense came up with two crucial fourth quarter stops as Auburn was driving to tie the game. Penn State fans have to be encouraged by the play of quarterback Sean Clifford against a legit defense, as the senior had just four incompletions and finished with 280 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. If Clifford can continue to limit mistakes, this Penn State team has a real chance to win the Big Ten.
2. (1) Iowa (3-0), W - 30-7 vs. Kent State, Next Week: vs. Colorado State
Iowa took care of business in Week 3, holding Kent State to just 264 total yards in an another great performance by Kirk Ferentz’s defense. The Hawkeyes finished with seven sacks and a safety, while holding the Golden Flashes scoreless in the second half. Running back Tyler Goodson had a career-high 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns to lead the way for Iowa’s offense. The Hawkeyes will look to remain unbeaten when they host Colorado State this upcoming Saturday.
3. (3) Michigan (3-0), W - 63-10 vs. Northern Illinois, Next Week: vs. Rutgers
I don’t want to speak too soon but is this the year Michigan finally takes that next step under Jim Harbaugh? They have looked dominant through three games, leading the Big Ten in rushing yards per game with 350.3 and scoring defense, allowing just 11.3 points per game. Running back Blake Corum had another 100+ rushing yard performance on Saturday, finishing with 125 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan’s defense completely stifled quarterback Rocky Lombardi, a transfer from Michigan State, holding the Huskies to a measly 46 passing yards. The Wolverines don’t have that marquee win on their resume yet (Washington doesn’t look nearly as good as their preseason ranking) but all signs point to them competing for a Big Ten title, especially with Ohio State looking less-than-stellar in the early part of the season.
Blake Corum is the first FBS player to average 8+ yards per carry and score 8+ touchdowns in his team’s first 3 games since Lamar Jackson in 2016.— Jared Berson (@JaredBerson) September 20, 2021
First FBS running back to do it in more than 15 years.
4. (4) Ohio State (2-1), W - 41-20 vs. Tulsa, Next Week: vs. Akron
After a surprising home loss to Oregon last week, the Buckeyes again looked a little bit shaky against Tulsa on Saturday. Tulsa was only down 27-20 in the fourth quarter but they had no answer for running back TreVeyon Henderson all game. The true freshman ran for 277 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Henderson saved the Buckeyes in this one, as quarterback C.J. Stroud struggled, finishing with 185 passing yards and committing two turnovers (one INT, one fumble). Ohio State’s defense continues to not look right, as they gave up 428 passing yards and allowed Tulsa to go on three scoring drives of 62+ yards. Ryan Day’s offense will keep this team in the Big Ten title race all season and the emergence of Henderson should excite Buckeye fans, but until their defense gets sorted out, they are ripe for another upset loss in the coming weeks. A potential confidence-building win against Akron is on deck for Week 4.
5. (5) Michigan State (3-0), W - 38-17 at Miami, Next Week: vs. Nebraska
The Spartans proved they are for real, after a convincing 38-17 win at No. 24 Miami on Saturday afternoon. Running back Kenneth Walker III led the way for Sparty, rushing for 172 yards and adding on a receiving touchdown. Walker, a Wake Forest transfer, now leads the country with 493 rushing yards through three weeks. Quarterback Payton Thorne has been lights out through three games and threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions in the win. Michigan State’s defense forced four turnovers (two INTs, two fumbles), and despite surrendering 388 passing yards to D’Eriq King, they made just enough plays to fend off the Hurricanes. In his second year at the helm, Mel Tucker clearly has this program moving back in the right direction.
Kenneth Walker III: 372 rush yards AFTER contact— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 19, 2021
Leads college football
6. (6) Wisconsin (1-1), BYE, Next Week: vs. No. 12 Notre Dame
The Badgers had a bye in Week 3 as they prepared for No. 12 Notre Dame this weekend in one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. Former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan will face off against his old teammates at Soldier Field, in a game the Badgers opened up as surprising 5.5-point favorites.
7. (7) Maryland (3-0), W - 20-17 at Illinois, Next Week: vs. Kent State
Maryland squeaked out a win over Illinois on Friday night to stay unbeaten on the season. The Terps were led by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who finished with 350 yards and a touchdown in the win. A costly fumble deep in Illinois territory allowed the Illini back into the game, and the Terps were aided by some questionable coaching decisions by Bret Bielema. Maryland’s defense played well for most of the game, picking off quarterback Brandon Peters once and sacking him six times. Maryland’s offense is looking like one of the best in the conference and should keep them in most games this season.
8. (12) Minnesota (2-1), W - 30-0 at Colorado, Next Week: vs. Bowling Green
The Golden Gophers went out west and dominated Colorado in a shutout victory in Boulder. Minnesota’s running game and defense were the story coming out of this game. Running back Treyson Potts rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns, while backup Mar’Keise Irving tacked on 89 rushing yards of his own. The Gophers’ defense completely overwhelmed Colorado, as they held the Buffs to an eye-popping 63 total yards and allowed only six first downs in the game. This was a big win for Minnesota’s chances at making a bowl game, and with lowly Bowling Green coming to town this weekend the Gophers will likely be sitting at 3-1 heading into the heart of their Big Ten schedule.
9. (11) Rutgers (3-0), W - 45-13 vs. Delaware, Next Week: at No. 19 Michigan
Rutgers cruised past Delaware in New Brunswick to start their season 3-0 for the first time since 2012. Granted, the Scarlet Knights haven’t played anyone of consequence (Temple, Syracuse, Delaware) but considering where this program was just a few years ago you have to give head coach Greg Schiano credit for the fast start. Quarterback Noah Vedral had by far his best game of the early season, throwing for 323 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Former Badger Aron Cruickshank also had a punt return touchdown in the second quarter, the fifth return touchdown of his college career. The bad news for Rutgers’ fans is that this is likely the highest the Scarlet Knights will be in these rankings all season, as they play Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State in their next three games.
10. (8) Purdue (2-1), L - 27-13 at Notre Dame, Next Week: vs. Illinois
The Boilermakers made it a game in South Bend, but the Irish defense made some key stops and a 51-yard, fourth quarter touchdown run by running back Kyren Williams sealed the victory. Purdue outgained the Irish 348-343, as both Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell saw playing time under center. Plummer had the better day, throwing for 187 yards and a touchdown, while O’Connell threw two picks in the loss. The Boilermakers struggled to run the ball in their first game without running back Zander Horvath and only had 57 yards on the ground. Star wide receiver David Bell had to be carted off the field after a scary hit late in the game, but he seems to have avoided serious injury and has entered concussion protocol. The Boilermakers are going to be a tough out during conference play due to their effective passing attack and could realistically make a bowl game if a couple breaks go their way. An important West division matchup against Illinois is up next in Week 4.
11. (13) Nebraska (2-2), L - 23-16 at Oklahoma, Next Week: at No. 20 Michigan State
You may be wondering why Nebraska moved up two spots this week after a loss, but I think it’s well deserved. The Cornhuskers played their butts off in a hostile environment in Norman against a top-5 team in Oklahoma, losing by just a touchdown in a game they were 22.5 point underdogs. The Blackshirts held Oklahoma’s high-powered offense to a modest 214 passing yards and didn’t allow an offensive play longer than 23 yards in the game. Kicker Connor Culp missed two more field goals, after missing three last week, including a 35-yarder on Nebraska’s opening drive of the second half. Despite the loss, the Cornhuskers can take plenty of good things from their performance against the Sooners.
12. (10) Indiana (1-2), L - 38-24 vs. Cincinnati, Next Week: at Western Kentucky
The Hoosiers will be kicking themselves this week after a winnable game slipped through their grasp due to some costly mistakes in the second half. Indiana’s defense came ready to play in the first half, but a questionable targeting call on linebacker Matt McFadden completely changed the momentum of the game. The Hoosiers also fumbled inside the five as they were going in to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. A kickoff return touchdown by Cincy also hurt, as nothing seemed to go right for Tom Allen’s team in the second half. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. again didn’t look right, throwing three picks for the second time this season and looked uncomfortable when faced with any pressure. Hopefully the Hoosiers’ offense can get back on track in their game against Western Kentucky this upcoming Saturday.
Cincinnati drives since Micah McFadden's bogus targeting ejection (IU led 14-0):— Charlie Clifford (@cliffWISH8) September 18, 2021
Major letdown. #IUFB
13. (9) Northwestern (1-2), L - 30-23 at Duke, Next Week: vs. Ohio
The Wildcats fell behind 27-0 in the first half on their way to a 30-23 loss at Duke on Saturday. Pat Fitzgerald’s team came out completely flat, turning the ball over four times in the first half and looking completely overmatched. Quarterback Hunter Johnson threw three picks and lost a fumble before being replaced by backup Andrew Marty. Marty orchestrated a 75-yard touchdown drive on his first possession and nearly led the Wildcats all the way back in the second half. This is looking like Northwestern’s worst team in several years. They looked lost on offense Saturday and their typically-stout defense allowed 558 yards to the Blue Devils.
14. (14) Illinois (1-3), L - 20-17 vs. Maryland, Next Week: at Purdue
It was a disappointing Friday night for the Illini, who squandered a lead late in the fourth quarter due to some questionable coaching decisions by Bret Bielema. Illinois had the ball up 17-10 faced with a fourth and one on Maryland’s 40-yard line with 4:56 left in the fourth quarter. Instead of going for it and potentially setting up a game-sealing field goal, Bielema decided to take a delay of game and punt the ball back to Maryland. The Terps would go on to score a game-tying touchdown on the ensuing drive. Maryland then kicked a game-winning field goal after Illinois punted again on their final possession. Quarterback Brandon Peters had a rough night in his first game back from injury, completing just 10 passes for 185 yards and one interception. In a season where there likely won’t be many chances for wins, this loss will sting for the Illini.