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Big Ten Power Rankings: Bowl Season Recap

With the college football season now in the books, let’s take a look at how the Big Ten teams fared in their bowl games and get one final Power Ranking.

1. Michigan (12-2), L - 34-11 vs. Georgia, Orange Bowl (CFP semifinal)

The Wolverines were completely overmatched in their College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs put up 521 total yards and jumped out to a 27-3 halftime lead on their way to an easy win over the Big Ten champs. Quarterback Cade McNamara struggled against Georgia’s vaunted defense, and threw two interceptions and was sacked four times in the loss. Michigan’s no-show in the CFP was disappointing but I can’t say there were many other teams who could have put up a better fight against the eventual national champions. The Wolverines took a big step forward this year, beating Ohio State for the first time under Jim Harbaugh and winning their first Big Ten title since 2004.

2. Ohio State (11-2), W - 48-45 vs. Utah, Rose Bowl

Ohio State finished the season on a high note with a 48-45 shootout win over an impressive Utah team in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes had several players opt out, including top receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but it didn't matter because Jaxon Smith-Njigba more than made up for their absence. The sophomore exploded for 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 15 catches to lead the Buckeyes to the win. Quarterback C.J. Stroud capped off a breakout season with a six-touchdown performance against the Utes.

Despite the Buckeyes stumbling in games against Oregon and Michigan this year, this team is still loaded with talent and will be the favorite to win the Big Ten next season. Stroud, Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson all return, and will lead the way for another explosive offense. The defense, which struggled at times this season, should be better next year under newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

3. Michigan State (11-2), W - 31-21 vs. Pittsburgh, Peach Bowl

The Spartans capped off a surprisingly great season with a comeback win over a Kenny Pickett-less Pitt team in the Peach Bowl. Mel Tucker’s squad was without their best player as well, with running back Kenneth Walker III opting out and entering the NFL draft. The Spartans fell behind 21-10 in the second half before storming back with three fourth quarter touchdowns. Linebacker Cal Haladay had a pick-six in the final minute to seal the win right as the Panthers entered field goal range with a chance to tie the game.

With quarterback Payton Thorne and star receiver Jayden Reed returning, Sparty should once again be a contender in the Big Ten next season. Mel Tucker and his staff also signed former Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger and three defensive players from the transfer portal. Despite the loss of Kenneth Walker III, I still think this is a team that could potentially make another New Year’s Six bowl next season.

4. Wisconsin (9-4), W - 20-13 vs. Arizona State, Las Vegas Bowl

After a disappointing loss to Minnesota in the regular season finale, the Badgers got back on track with a win against Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Running back Braelon Allen continued to be Wisconsin’s best player and rushed for 159 yards in the win. Wisconsin’s defense sacked quarterback Jayden Daniels six times and allowed just 219 total yards to a pretty dynamic Arizona State offense. Paul Chryst improved to 6-1 in bowl games since coming to Madison with the win in Vegas.

The Badgers lose their top three offensive pass catchers and must replace several defensive starters in the secondary, but with Allen set to return and quarterback Graham Mertz hopefully taking another step, they should once again compete for the Big Ten West title in 2022.

5. Purdue (9-4), W - 48-45 OT vs. Tennessee, Music City Bowl

The Boilermakers outlasted Tennessee in overtime in a wildly-entertaining game at the Music City Bowl. Playing without their two best players (WR David Bell, DE George Karlaftis), Purdue used their explosive passing attack and a questionable call against the Vols at the goal line in overtime to secure the win. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw all over the Vols to the tune of 534 passing yards and five touchdowns, but also had three picks. Wide Receiver Broc Thompson picked up the slack without Bell, and finished with 217 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

This was a make or break year for Jeff Brohm in West Lafayette and the Boilermakers proved they can hang with the upper half of the conference. O’Connell returns at quarterback for next season to once again lead Brohm’s high-powered passing offense.

6. Iowa (10-4) L - 20-17 vs. Kentucky, Citrus Bowl

Hampered by three interceptions and a conservative punt decision by Kirk Ferentz, Iowa dropped a close game against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. Up a field goal on their own 45-yard line with 3:31 left in the game, Ferentz decided to punt the ball back to the Wildcats. Kentucky would go on to orchestrate eight-play 80-yard touchdown drive to give them the win.

The Hawkeyes were a good, not great team this season and will need a better offense next year to truly compete for a Big Ten title. Iowa fans will hope for Petras or Alex Padilla to take the next step at quarterback and will need a replacement for running back Tyler Goodson, who left for the NFL draft.

7. Minnesota (9-4), W - 18-6 vs. West Virginia, Guaranteed Rate Bowl

The Golden Gophers beat West Virginia using the same formula that got them eight wins in the regular season, a strong rushing attack and solid defense. Running backs Ky Thomas (144 yards, one TD) and Mar’Keise Irving (129 yards, one TD) ran over the Mountaineers all night in Phoenix. On defense, Minnesota held West Virginia to just 206 total yards and recorded five sacks in a dominating effort.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan will return for a sixth season next year, while star running Mohamed Ibrahim also returns after missing almost all of this season with an injury. P.J. Fleck should have another bowl team on his hands in 2022, but the schedule does the Gophers no favors with road trips to Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

8. Maryland (7-6), W - 54-10 vs. Virginia Tech, Pinstripe Bowl

After clinching a bowl berth in the final week of the regular season, the Terrapins made the most of the opportunity by blowing out Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa completed 20 of 24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The Terps also had a punt return touchdown and returned a fumble for a score on their way to putting up a 50-burger on the Hokies.

This was an important season for Maryland in Mike Locksley’s third year as head coach and it has to feel good to get some positive momentum heading into the offseason. Locksley’s recruiting has been about as good as can be expected for a Maryland program that is down the pecking order in the Big Ten East and Tagovailoa will return under center next year. Maryland fans have to be happy that things seem to be moving in the right direction in College Park really for the first time since joining the Big Ten.

9. Penn State (7-6), L - 24-10 vs. Arkansas, Outback Bowl

The Nittany Lions limped to the finish line, losing four of the last six games of the season including a loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl. Penn State’s defense had no answer for quarterback K.J. Jefferson (110 rushing yards) and Arkansas’ rushing attack, as the Razorbacks rushed for 353 yards and 6.1 yards per carry as a team in the game. Quarterback Sean Clifford was his usual up-and-down self, throwing for 195 yards, one touchdown, and two picks in the loss.

James Franklin’s team will lose All-Big Ten receiver Jahan Dotson to the draft and running back Noah Cain as a transfer, but Clifford announced he will return for a sixth season, his fourth as the starter. 5-star quarterback Drew Allar will enroll early this spring and might push Clifford for the starting job if the incumbent struggles in 2022.

10. Rutgers (5-8), L - 38-10 vs. Wake Forest, Gator Bowl

After Texas A&M was forced to drop out of the Gator Bowl due to COVID-19 issues, the Scarlet Knights were chosen as the replace team because they had the highest APR score among 5-7 teams. With just eight days to prepare and travel to Jacksonville for the game, Rutgers put up a decent fight, all things considered, against a talented Wake Forest team. Wake’s offense proved to be too much in the second half, as the Demon Deacons outscored the Scarlet Knights 18-0 after the break. Rutgers’ defense allowed 425 total yards and forced no turnovers against one of the country’s best offenses. Credit to Greg Schiano and the entire Rutgers program for jumping at the opportunity to play in the game, but the Scarlet Knights were overmatched in Jacksonville.

11. Illinois (5-7)

The Illini took a step in the right direction this season in Bret Bielema’s first year at the helm, winning four conference games for just the second time in the past 11 seasons. Bielema has created a familiar identity at Illinois...running the ball, limiting turnovers and making just enough impact plays on defense to get wins. The Illini could be a dark horse in the Big Ten West next season if they can find a difference maker under center.

12. Nebraska (3-9)

The Cornhuskers had another disappointing season in Scott Frost’s fourth year in Lincoln, ending the year on a six-game losing streak and notching just one Big Ten win. Nebraska lost eight one-score games and it just felt like nothing could go their way all season. Quarterback Adrian Martinez transferred to Kansas State for his final year of eligibility, but it could be a good thing that the Cornhuskers have someone new under center. Texas transfer Casey Thompson is the assumed replacement for Martinez and comes to Lincoln with lots of hype. 2022 will be a make or break year for Frost, who has yet to make a bowl game with the Huskers.

13. Northwestern (3-9)

Following a Big Ten West title in 2020, this was a rebuild season for Pat Fitzgerald’s team. Northwestern is not a program that can just reload year after year, so I wasn’t surprised the Wildcats struggled in 2021, even with Fitzgerald’s impressive resume. The Wildcats lost All-Big Ten safety Brandon Joseph to the transfer portal and still don’t have an encouraging option at quarterback heading into next season. Ryan Hilinski and Andrew Marty, both of who struggled this season, will likely battle for the starting job in the fall.

14. Indiana (2-10)

The Hoosiers ended their season with a blowout loss to rival Purdue to finish with zero conference wins. What started as a season with fairly high expectations, quickly turned into Indiana’s worst campaign since 2011. The Michael Penix Jr. experiment is over at quarterback, with him transferring out to Washington, but the Hoosiers did sign Mizzou transfer Connor Bazelak. The redshirt junior started 11 games for the Tigers this season and should compete with Jack Tuttle for the starting quarterback job in Bloomington next year.