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Upsets, COVID-19 outbreaks affecting top teams in Big Ten power rankings

Upsets, COVID-19 outbreaks affecting top teams in Big Ten power rankings

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1. OHIO STATE (4-0)

Previous: 1. Last week: No game.

The Buckeyes had maybe the worst weekend in the Big Ten. A COVID-19 outbreak forced a late cancellation of their game at Illinois, and if they’re not able to play this weekend against Michigan State, they’ll be ineligible for the Big Ten title game. It’ll be one of the biggest stories in college football this week.

2. INDIANA (5-1)

Previous: 3. Last week: W 27-11 vs. Maryland.

The Hoosiers looked lackluster against the Terps and saw star quarterback Michael Penix suffer an injury, but they got the job done. However, he is now set to miss the rest of the season, a brutal blow. Jack Tuttle completed all five of his passes for 31 yards after Penix left the game. Tom Allen’s program will have to lean on its talented receivers and back Stevie Scott. A big one looms this weekend as IU heads to Wisconsin.

3. NORTHWESTERN (5-1)

Previous: 2. Last week: L 29-20 at Michigan State.

The Wildcats laid their first egg of the season, getting off to a terrible start in East Lansing, Michigan, and finding themselves unable to fully recover. Pat Fitzgerald’s team worked hard to erase a 17-0 first-half hole, but turned the ball over four times. Northwestern is still in good shape in terms of the West Division, which is why it stays ahead of the rest of its division mates.

4. IOWA (4-2)

Previous: 4. Last week: W 26-20 vs. Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes are still going to need help to end up on top in the West, but they’ve won four straight and mostly have looked good doing it since an 0-2 start. If they’d have found a way to nip Northwestern earlier in the year, they’d be in full control. The task for Kirk Ferentz’s program now: Beat Illinois on the road and Wisconsin at home and see what happens.

5. WISCONSIN (2-1)

Previous: 5. Last week: No game.

The Badgers didn’t play due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Minnesota, and now are ineligible for the Big Ten title game. What if Ohio State falls below the threshold, too, and the Buckeyes and Badgers match up on Dec. 19? That would be interesting. First things, first, though. Nobody has a tougher closing stretch than Paul Chryst’s team, which has Indiana and Iowa left.

6. RUTGERS (2-4)

Previous: 11. Last week: W 37-30 at Purdue.

What a night for the Scarlet Knights. They knocked off Purdue without  starting quarterback Noah Vedral, who went through warmups but was unable to play. No matter. Artur Sitkowski threw two touchdowns and Johnny Langan ran 21 times for 95 yards in a quarterback timeshare. The improvement under Greg Schiano is already obvious, even though RU is hardly a great team in his first season. They close with Penn State and Maryland.

7. MICHIGAN STATE (2-3)

Previous: 12. Last week: W 29-20 vs. Northwestern.

What an odd year for the Spartans. Three ugly losses but euphoric wins against in-state rival Michigan and West-leading Northwestern. Mel Tucker’s program has a long way to go, but there are some building blocks in place. Sophomore receiver Jalen Nailor has just 16 catches this year but is averaging a conference-best 23.7 yards per catch.

8. MINNESOTA (2-3)

Previous: 10. Last week: No game.

The Gophers were unable to play due to a COVID-19 outbreak and their game against Northwestern on Saturday has already been canceled. The two other teams that have outbreaks (Wisconsin and Maryland) each missed two weeks. Star WR Rashod Bateman opted out (again) after the outbreak started. Will the Gophers play again this fall?

9. MARYLAND (2-2)

Previous: 7. Last week: L 27-11 at Indiana.

The Terps returned to action after missing two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak and couldn’t get much going offensively. Maryland had 300 yards and turned the ball over three times. They did a good job against Indiana’s high-flying offense, but fell to .500. Two winnable games left with Michigan and Rutgers to close out the “regular” season.

10. PURDUE (2-3)

Previous: 6. Last week: L 37-30 vs. Rutgers.

The Boilermakers’ 2-0 start is a distant memory after losing a third straight, this time to Rutgers, which was without Vedral. Purdue’s defense has surrendered 71 points the past two weeks to Minnesota and the Scarlet Knights. Quarterback Jack Plummer played well and, outside of receivers David Bell and Rondale Moore, running back Zander Horvath has quietly been one of the most productive offensive players in the conference. He has 687 yards from scrimmage (421 rushing), good for third in the league.

11. ILLINOIS (2-3)

Previous: 8. Last week: No game.

The Illini lost their game at the last minute due to a COVID-19 outbreak at Ohio State. A tough closing stretch with Iowa and Northwestern is on tap before the cross-divisional weekend.

12. NEBRASKA (1-4)

Previous: 13. Last week: L 26-20 at Iowa.

Another week of being close, another loss for the Huskers. Nebraska had Iowa tied at 20 going into the fourth quarter but had a late potential game-winning drive thwarted by a sack and fumble. Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez returned to the starting lineup and was solid, but NU still has problems offensively. Nebraska has winnable games the next two weeks against Purdue and Minnesota, but can Scott Frost’s team actually win them?

13. PENN STATE (1-5)

Previous: 14. Last week: W 27-17 at Michigan.

The Nittany Lions are off the losing skid after a victory over the Wolverines. They ran for 254 yards and three touchdowns Saturday and didn’t turn the ball over, and that was enough. PSU outgained Michigan 417-286. It’s still a rough year for James Franklin and company, but they’ll try to salvage what they can against Rutgers, Michigan State and then a divisional crossover opponent.

14. MICHIGAN (2-4)

Previous: 9. Last week: L 27-17 vs. Penn State.

The Wolverines’ fall continued when they became the first team this season to lose to Penn State. That’s four losses in the past five weeks, with only a triple-OT win against Rutgers on the good side of the ledger for Jim Harbaugh’s team. Maryland and then a trip to the Horseshoe are up next.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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