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Big Ten Football Power Rankings: Week 1

Do you like lists? Do you like analysis? Then this is for you.

Florida Atlantic v Ohio State
Justin Fields’ Buckeyes lead the pack after one week of play.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Week one of college football has come and gone. Teams around the nation saw action for the first time this fall and we got to see what the teams of the Big Ten have got as the season gets underway. There were some upsets, some scares and plenty of blowouts. Let’s check where everyone sits in the officially official CQ Power Rankings after one week:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Last week: 45-21 win vs. FAU (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 7

The Ryan Day era started off with a bang in Columbus as the Buckeyes led 28-0 after the first quarter and that was basically the game. Transfer QB Justin Fields showed that he certainly has what it takes to be a star for Ohio State as he balled out, racking up 295 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns:

There’s also the matter of J.K. Dobbins, who once again appears to be massively good at running with the football. He finished the game with 21 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown of his own.

The 21 points given up by the OSU defense might not seem great, but the Owls score 15 points in garbage time to make the final score look less embarrassing. Next week could be a big one for the Buckeyes as they just might be on upset alert. They’ll welcome in-state rival Cincinnati into town and our Go-To Buckeye Guy Patrick Mayhorn doesn’t exactly expect a blowout.

For now, however, the Buckeyes sit atop the Big Ten because I won’t believe that Jim Harbaugh will be able to beat Ohio State until it happens.

2. Michigan Wolverines

Last week: 40-21 win vs. Middle Tennessee St. (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 14

Michigan played the definition of a buy game to open its season. The Wolverines’ win probability never fell below 93.3 percent (courtesy of ESPN) as they rolled over an outmatched opponent.

Shea Patterson played well, throwing for 203 yards and three touchdowns while completing over half of his passes. The Wolverines had a whole stable of guys who ran the ball pretty well as a group. The team went for 233 yards as a group on 45 carries.

Nothing about the box score really pops out. This one was just a really solid win over a team that Michigan should’ve beat. Good enough to keep them in the top tier of the conference.

Like the Buckeyes, the Wolverines have a bit of an interesting matchup next week as they’ll take on Army at home. It probably won’t be a situation where the Wolverines go down (though don’t rule it out), but the Knights could be able to keep it interesting for longer than expected.

3. Wisconsin Badgers

Last week: 49-0 win vs. South Florida (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 5

There may be a bit of a power gap between the top two and the second tier, but Wisconsin looks like it could be pretty good this season. Johnathan Taylor, first in foremost, is the best running back in the conference if not the country. He led the charge in the Badgers’ big win over a not good South Florida, scoring four touchdowns. He finished the game as the team’s leading rusher with 135 yards on 16 carries as well as its leading receiver with two catches for 48 yards. His touchdowns were split evenly as he had a pair in the air and a pair on the ground.

The thing that could limit Wisconsin is quarterback Jack Coan. He played well against USF, completing 19 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a pair of scores, but it was USF. We’ll find out how good the Badgers really are in week three when they play Michigan, but for now I’ll ride with them as the best team in the Big Ten West because of Taylor and the defense.

Next week they’ll host Central Michigan, which shouldn’t pose much of a problem. The Chippewas aren’t a weird team like Army or a potentially underrated, fired-up team that plays murder ball like Cincinnati, they’re just your run-of-the-mill MAC squad playing a team that should run them over.

4. Iowa Hawkeyes

Last week: 38-14 win vs. Miami (OH) (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 19

Like Wisconsin the Hawkeyes didn’t exactly have an exciting week as they just took care of business against an inferior team. I’d like to go on the record as a Nate Stanley Believer. The Iowa quarterback kicked off his season by completing 21 of 30 passes for 252 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Despite losing top targets Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson to the pros after last season, don’t be surprised if this is just the beginning of a big year for Stanley.

Mekhi Sargent proved himself a capable weapon, leading the Hawkeyes in both rushing and receiving. He had 14 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown as well as four receptions for 65 yards.

Up next for Iowa is another non-conference game that should be pretty boring. The Hawkeyes take on rutger in a nooner.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions

Last week: 79-7 win vs. Idaho (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 6

There were a few questions about Penn State coming into the season, one of them being what the offense would look like without former quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders. Early returns seem promising as the Nittany Lions dropped 79 points on the poor Vandal defense. Sean Clifford played pretty well and KJ Hamler should be a problem for opposing teams as the season goes on. Take it with a grain of salt because Idaho is bad, but a good start for PSU here.

Next week the Nittany Lions will get another cupcake as they’ll host Buffalo.

6. Michigan State Spartans

Last week: 28-7 win vs. Tulsa (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 26

Ah Michigan State, everybody’s favorite grinding stone football team that hasn’t had any problems at all recently. Jokes aside, the Spartan defense looks like it could be one of the better units in the conference, led by defensive end Kenny Willekes, who should be a pretty high pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Raequan Williams and linebacker Joe Bachie are also important to the defense and should be playing professionally next Fall.

Once again for the Spartans it will come down to whether or not their quarterback can make enough plays to propel the team to the next level. At least this early in the season it feels like MSU might not have the weapons necessary to make it one of the top teams in the nation, as Brian Lewerke feels like he’s a perfectly fine quarterback and not much more while they don’t have a proven running back yet, which is strange. Over the last 10 years or so the group of Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Langford and LJ Scott have kept the Spartans at the top of the conference in terms of rushing talent. At least right now there are too many questions about the running game and the offensive line as well as Lewerke himself for me to believe that this team can compete with the big boys of the conference.

Up next for MSU is a game against Western Michigan, which is ranked 63rd in the nation by SP+. The Broncos should be a fine opponent in terms of strength and maybe the Spartans will figure out the running game.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last week: 35-21 win vs. South Alabama (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 54

Another team that is ranked but has some questions, I’m not quite ready to buy into the Nebraska hype quite yet. Adrian Martinez has shown that he’s a talented player and his unit was perhaps supposed to be the strength of this team, but it certainly didn’t look that way this weekend. The Huskers needed a pair of defensive touchdowns as well as a special teams score to put away one of the worst teams in FBS. The Jaguars offense actually scored more points than the Husker offense! Heading into the fourth quarter South Alabama only trailed by a touchdown!

Martinez completed 13 of 22 passes for 178 yards and didn’t score a touchdown, but did throw a pick. He also had 13 carries for (checks notes) six yards. It wasn’t exactly an ideal start for a guy that had so much hype coming into the season.

Next week Nebraska has Colorado on the road. The Buffaloes actually sit one spot behind the Huskers in the SP+ rankings and are a team that should be one of the worst in the Pac-12 this season. If they give Scott Frost’s team trouble it may be a long season in Lincoln.

8. Indiana Hoosiers

Last week: 34-24 win “at” Ball St. (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 64

We’ve been over these guys plenty. Mike Penix good, defense a little sketchy, but still 1-0. #9WINDIANA baby.

9. Northwestern Wildcats

Last week: 17-7 loss at Stanford (0-1)

SP+ Ranking: 77

Pat Fitzgerald’s team went out to the west coast to take part in the SAT Bowl and it didn’t go the Wildcats’ way. That rockfight featured two quarterbacks getting hurt in K.J. Costello and TJ Green as well as heralded transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson playing rather poorly.

Green might miss the rest of the season which means that Johnson should be taking the snaps under center moving forward for the Wildcats, which after one week doesn’t seem terribly promising. In his Northwestern debut he completed six of 17 passes for 55 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He had a QBR of 4.2

Stanford is a good team, but that offensive performance was a brutal one for the Wildcats. Isaiah Bowser played well enough, picking up 54 yards on 10 carries, but the quarterback play will have to improve quite a bit if Northwestern is going to compete for a division title.

Next week UNLV travels to Evanston to take on the Wildcats, which should allow them to pick up their first win of the season.

10. Maryland Terrapins

Last week: 79-0 win vs. Union Dugger HS (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 41

Have you heard that Maryland beat the tar out of their week one opponent? People have been talking about it quite a bit! No, they didn’t actually play Union Dugger, but they may as well have. Their real opponent, Howard, is one of the worst teams in FCS Football. With that in mind, don’t make a big deal out of this win by comparing Maryland’s success in a cupcake matchup to IU’s failure to blow out Ball State.

I’m reserving judgment on the Terps until they play a real team, which luckily they’ll do this weekend when they host No. 21 Syracuse. Somehow Maryland is the favorite in this matchup, so we’ll see what happens.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last week: 28-21 win vs. South Dakota St. (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 39

While Maryland piledrived one of the worst teams in FCS into the earth’s core, Minnesota nearly lost to one of the best teams in FCS. Mohamed Ibrahim scored a touchdown with just under six minutes left in the game to take a seven-point lead that the Gophers held through the final horn.

Needing a late TD to avoid the upset isn’t exactly the ideal way to start a new season, especially when you aren’t starting the season with a premier matchup. Minnesota has the pieces to be an interesting, possibly dangerous team at some point, but for now they’re down here. Next week they travel to Fresno State for a 10:30 p.m. ET kick. Surely nothing could go wrong in that game.

12. Illinois Fighting Illini

Last week: 42-3 win vs. Akron (1-0)

SP+ Ranking: 69 (nice)

This was supposed to be a big year for Lovie Smith’s crew (relatively, of course). A big win is a good result, but the Illini lost top rusher Mike Epstein for the rest of the season with a knee injury, making this the third-straight year in which Epstein has missed serious time because of an injury.

Illinois still has transfer quarterback Brandon Peters leading the way on offense and he had a pretty strong debut, going for 199 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. Illinois also has a pair of capable running backs still in the fold with Reggie Corbin and Ra’Von Bonner expected to head up the rushing attack.

Akron isn’t exactly a great team, though the Zips did beat Northwestern last season, so it’s tough to tell where exactly Illinois stands. The Illini will take on UConn next week, another cupcake game against one of the worst teams in the country.

13. Purdue Boilermakers

Last week: lol (0-1)

SP+ Ranking: 65 (one spot lower than Indiana)