Where is Ohio State in the Big Ten Power Rankings as conference play resumes? College football Monday Madness

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Regardless of the season’s shaky start, Ohio State still stands as the standard bearer for Big Ten football.

Five consecutive conference championships. An in-conference winning streak, including championship games, that dates back to 2018 and covers 22 games. One of only two Big Ten programs to ever qualify for the College Football Playoff and the only one to do so since 2015.

And yet, the No. 11 Buckeyes resume conference play in earnest on Saturday at Rutgers in an unfamiliar position — looking up at multiple Big Ten opponents in the AP Top 25.

Sure, on a national scale, Ohio State steers into that second-tier identity. It cannot match Alabama’s stature as emperor of the SEC. It does not benefit from Clemson’s southern location and (previous) cakewalk through the ACC.

When the Buckeyes break through on a national scale, they would argue, they do so by overcoming myriad obstacles at all level.

But you won’t hear them making that case inside the Big Ten. Here, they are the bully — flush with cash (outside of the pandemic year, of course), drawing massive television ratings and recruiting at a level most league opponents cannot ever seriously consider.

We may be on the precipice of the peak of Ohio State’s recent run. A historic 2021 recruiting class is already paying dividends and could serve as the nucleus of powerhouse teams the next two seasons.

That also means the rest of the Big Ten is experiencing a moment in 2021. The Buckeyes seem more vulnerable than they have since Rondale Moore and Anthony McFarland were scorching them in 2018. A fledgling quarterback situation plus an evolving defense equals an Ohio State team still coming together while other teams across the league are settling into their identities.

How I would rank the Big Ten one-third of the way through the season:

1. Penn State (4-0)

The Nittany Lions did not win their fourth game until Dec. 19 last season. So far they have gone into Wisconsin and won while also knocking off Auburn at home. This might end up as the most balanced team in the Big Ten, with Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington emerging as a top receiver duo and Jaquan Brisker and Joey Porter Jr. leading the defense.

Penn State’s challenge to the Buckeyes’ crown must come through Columbus, though, on Oct. 30.

2. Iowa (4-0)

The Hawkeyes did not just beat Indiana, they throttled the Hoosiers. Then they went into Ames and knocked off an Iowa State team some considered a preseason playoff contender. There aren’t many defenses anywhere playing better. Only two teams allow fewer yards per play, and one of them is Georgia, and it’s happening at all three levels.

We know Tyler Goodson is among the Big Ten’s best backs, but is Iowa dynamic enough offensively if it gets on the same field as a team like Ohio State?

3. Ohio State (3-1)

A close call, because in terms of actual wins, Ohio State has not done much yet. Oregon coming into Ohio Stadium and winning without Kayvon Thibodeaux or Justin Flouwe depleted the Buckeyes’ mystique a bit. So did only leading Tulsa by a touchdown with four minutes to play. Ohio State is drifting towards the league or ordinary nations.

And yet, every week another freshman steps up on defense as that unit turns over in real team. TreVeyon Henderson’s current trajectory could soon erupt onto the national stage.

4. Michigan (4-0)

Are we sure the Wolverines aren’t simply better than Ohio State right now? Hold your judgment on the 20-13 margin of victory over Rutgers until the Buckeyes are safely out of New Jersey airspace on Saturday. Some analytics say Michigan has the best offense in the league right now, and it might not be close.

Blake Cormin and Hassan Haskins are combining for nearly 200 rushing yards per game. Skeptics would point to he flimsy schedule thus far, as Washington did not live up to its marquee expectations. A trip to Madison to face Wisconsin’s defense on Saturday could shake things up.

5. Michigan State (4-0)

The Spartans were an afterthought in Mel Tucker’s first season in 2020, and now they’re in the AP poll’s top 20. Granted, that came with a road victory over an overrated Miami team and a close call against Nebraska last Saturday. But this defense seems legit, as does Kenneth Walker — already halfway to 1,000 rushing yards.

If you believe in trap games, Michigan State comes to Ohio Stadium on Nov. 20, one week before OSU’s trip to Ann Arbor.

6. Maryland (4-0)

Taulia Tagovailoa needed more consistency in order for the Terrapins to make a jump. How about a league-best quarterback efficiency rating of 173.17 with 72.2% completions or better in every game and 332 yards or more in three of four games? He will show OSU’s defense something it has not seen this season when Maryland visits a week from Saturday.

But first, Tagovailoa and receivers Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett have to go up against Iowa’s talented secondary on Friday.

7. Rutgers (3-1)

If you think the Scarlet Knights have pestered OSU by failing to respect gaudy point spreads, that’s nothing compared to what they have done to Michigan the last couple of seasons. They went down to the last possession last Saturday. Don’t be surprised if Rutgers doesn’t catch someone on the wrong day and alter their season.

8. Wisconsin (1-2)

No shame in losing to Penn State and Notre Dame, really, but the way the Badgers are doing it is kind of ugly. Graham Mertz, who was supposed to be the centerpiece the Badgers built around, has six interceptions against one touchdown and by far the lowest efficiency rating among the Big Ten’s qualifying quarterbacks.

9. Indiana (2-2)

Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix, the runner-up to Chris Olave as preseason Offensive Player of the Year in our Big Ten poll, wilted against both Iowa and Cincinnati. The next three weeks: Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State.

10. Purdue (3-1)

A competitive loss at Notre Dame might be more notable than any of the three victories. But winning losable games was the necessary next step and the Boilermakers will be more dangerous when receiver David Bell returns from concussion protocol.

11. Minnesota (2-2)

The season-ending injury Mohamed Ibrahim suffered against Ohio State really shakes up the Gophers’ season. The loss to Bowling Green (below) doesn’t help the Buckeyes’ season.

12. Illinois (1-4)

A heads-up win over Nebraska keeps Bret Bielema out of the basemen for now, but the Illini have lost four straight.

13. Nebraska (2-3)

Competitive losses to Oklahoma and Michigan State suggest the Cornhuskers are close, and three of the next four games might be wide open.

14. Northwestern (2-2)

The Wildcats keep alternating strong seasons with forgettable ones, and regardless of where they settle at quarterback, this seems like the latter.

Where is Ohio State in the Big Ten Power Rankings as conference play resumes? College football Monday Madness

Ohio State receiver Chris Olave (2) celebrates his touchdown catch against Minnesota in the third quarter of an of the Buckeyes' 45-31 victory on Sept. 2.AP

Since Ohio State will not take an undefeated record before the playoff committee for the first time in three years, the quality of every outcome will be amplified.

Increasingly, it appears the Buckeyes have played four games that provide zero support for a playoff berth.

Some of this is out of their hands. Minnesota once looked like a solid road win within the Big Ten, especially after the Gophers went to Colorado and pitched a 30-0 shutout. Then they lost at home to Bowling Green — which hasn’t won more than four games in a year since 2015.

Beating Tulsa and Akron at home gets lost in the wash with the other filler all one-loss teams will accumulate this season. The home loss to Oregon can’t even be called a “good” one considering the Ducks were playing without three of their best defensive players.

The next two weeks — at Rutgers and home against Maryland — provide some opportunity for style points if Ohio State takes control. They also seem like two more games which could still be undecided in the fourth quarter.

Will Michigan follow Ohio State’s lead at some point this season and start a true freshman?

In the Wolverines’ case, the decision may come without being prompted by injury.

Returning starter Cade McNamara completed 9 of 16 passes for 163 yards and no touchdowns in Saturday’s 20-13 home victory over Rutgers. When the Wolverines rush for over 300 yards per game, a pedestrian passing performance does not stand out. When they can’t get the ground game on track, that passing line looks like a problem that could trip up a promising season.

J.J. McCarthy, the player OSU passed up to take Kyle McCord, is 8 of 12 for 122 yards and a touchdown over two mop-up performances this season. When analyzing starting decisions at Ohio State on Buckeye Talk, we are fond of asking, “Who bears Bama?” Will Jim Harbaugh ultimately ask himself, “Who beats the Buckeyes?”

Where is Ohio State in the Big Ten Power Rankings as conference play resumes? College football Monday Madness

Former Ohio State receiver Jameson Williams (1) scored three long touchdowns for Alabama last Saturday, including two on kickoff returns.AP

Ohio State has notably gone since 2010 without a kickoff return touchdown. Maybe freshman Emeka Egbuka, who averaged 28 yards on his first two kickoff returns this season, can break that drought.

If he does, he will only be halfway to what former Buckeye receiver Jameson Williams accomplished for Alabama last Saturday. Williams returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, then returned another 83 yards for a score, becoming the first player in Crimson Tide history to do that twice in one game.

Williams also turned a reception from Bryce Young into an 81-yard touchdown. The 2020 OSU starter transferred at the end of the spring and quickly has become an electrifying big-play option in Tuscaloosa.

Williams has turned 12 receptions into a team-high 299 yards with three touchdowns. He scored on a 94-yard pass play against Miami.

The weird thing is, it’s still difficult to see where he would fit into Ohio State’s rotation. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is beginning to realize his promise in the slot, and Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave have both turned in big performances this season. Williams already has three more receptions in four games with Alabama than he did in eight games as a starter with Ohio State in 2020.

Sometimes transfers are the best thing for everyone, and this looks like a textbook example.

UNLV nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season so far, trailing Fresno State by one point entering the fourth quarter before falling, 38-30.

Former OSU quarterback Tate Martell, though, was not involved. He was seen in a walking boot at practice earlier in the week and did not play, one week after making his Rebels debut against Iowa State.

After playing three ranked opponents in as many weeks, winless UNLV travels to Texas-San Antonio, which is receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll, on Saturday.

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Where is Ohio State in the Big Ten Power Rankings as conference play resumes? College football Monday Madness


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