There are definitely some recognizable tiers emerging in the Big Ten, although the middle of the league is still very muddy. Let's take a look at how things are shaking up six weeks into the season.
1) PENN STATE (6-0, 3-0) LAST: DEF. NORTHWESTERN, 31-7 NEXT: BYE
Penn State: still very good at football! Heisman favorite and general college football demigod Saquon Barkley was held to negative yards in the first half by Northwestern, but Penn State was still cruising because the rest of this PSU team aren't just the Pips to Barkley's Gladys Knight. The defense is pretty ferocious and McSorley and the passing game (25/34, 245 yards, 1 TD) are capable of picking up the slack when Barkley has an off game. The guts of Penn State's schedule is coming up and if they can run the Michigan-Ohio State-Michigan State gauntlet without a blemish, well, they'll have earned their spot in the Big Ten Championship Game (and a presumptive spot in the College Football Playoff).
2) WISCONSIN (5-0, 2-0) LAST: DEF. NEBRASKA, 38-17 NEXT: VS PURDUE (10/14)
Wisconsin is the older brother of the Big Ten West -- they're bigger, stronger, and more ruthless than their younger rivals, but sometimes they get bored and let them hang around for a bit, which is how you get Northwestern leading Wisconsin at halftime and Nebraska tying the game at 17-17 in the third quarter. Wisconsin put together a 24-0 scoring run on Northwestern and a 21-0 scoring run on Nebraska in the second halves of those games because, again, they are the older brother here and when they decide it's time for their little brothers to get swirlies, purple nurples, or dunked in for multiple touchdowns, well, there's not much to stop them.
3) OHIO STATE (5-1, 3-0) LAST: DEF. MARYLAND, 62-14 NEXT: AT NEBRASKA (10/14)
There was some dirt thrown on Ohio State after they lost at home to Oklahoma (who has since lost at home to Iowa State, which means that Iowa State now has a transitive win over Ohio State, in case you didn't think 2017 could get much weirder -- or dumber), but that maaay have been a bit premature. Since then Ohio State is 4-0 and has outscored their opponents 210-42 and scored 50+ in three straight games. Sure, Army, UNLV, Rutgers, and Maryland is no one's idea of a murderer's row, but Ohio State still deserves some props for dismembering with so much gusto. In other words: have fun this week, Nebraska!
4) MICHIGAN STATE (4-1, 2-0) LAST: DEF. MICHIGAN, 14-10 NEXT: AT MINNESOTA (10/14)
This MSU team ain't pretty -- the most points they've scored this year is 35 and they just won two Big Ten games with a combined total of 31 points -- but they're certainly effective at prevailing in ugly rock fights. To thine own self be true, right? This week they get a Minnesota team that's already managed to lose to Maryland and Purdue, so barring a significant emotional letdown after last week's big rivalry win, they should be in good shape to be 3-0 in the Big Ten this time next week.
5) MICHIGAN (4-1, 1-1) LAST: LOST TO MICHIGAN STATE, 14-10 NEXT: AT INDIANA (10/14)
Michigan faced an angry little brother and biblical rains last week and they couldn't handle that tag team of pain and suffering. Michigan's shaky offense had been a cause of concern all season and it finally bit them last week, as the combination of a stout Spartan defense and horrendous field conditions were far too much for an inconsistent unit to handle. Now Michigan gets to lick their wounds ahead of a big night game with Penn State next week, but a date with #CHAOSTEAM is always cause for concern, and even more so in a potential trap game setting.
6) IOWA (4-2, 1-2) LAST: DEF. ILLINOIS, 45-16 NEXT: BYE
Iowa ended their two-game Big Ten skid with a visit from the Big Ten West's official slumpbuster, Illinois, which gives them a respectable 4-2 record heading into the bye. Iowa's a little lacking in the quality win department -- ISU is the best of the bunch at the moment -- and they're not going to have any immediate opportunities to address that with games against Northwestern and Minnesota upcoming. Still, just accumulating wins and avoiding bad losses isn't the worst approach for the time being.
7) INDIANA (3-2, 0-2) LAST: DEF. CHARLESTON SOUTHERN, 27-0 NEXT: vs MICHIGAN (10/14)
It's perhaps a little weird to have Indiana ahead of teams with actual Big Ten wins, but we're not going to ding Indiana too much for those two Big Ten losses because they came against Ohio State and Penn State (and, seriously, OSU-PSU-Michigan to open league play? Did Kevin Wilson take a dump on the Delanybot 9000 when he left town or something?). A 27-0 win over Charleston Southern isn't something to get too excited about, other than the fact that Indiana got a shut out! Those don't happen too often.
8) PURDUE (3-2, 1-1) LAST: DEF. MINNESOTA, 31-17 NEXT: AT WISCONSIN (10/14)
Trains > boats, apparently. The Boilermakers tried to give the game away against Minnesota -- literally, as they had four turnovers -- but the exceedingly polite Gophers wouldn't let them, graciously letting the hosts drive down for the game-winning touchdown on a drive that began with two minutes to go in the game. Let Purdue savor this one, because now they have to visit Madison and pain likely awaits.
9) NEBRASKA (3-3, 2-1) LAST: LOST TO WISCONSIN, 38-17 NEXT: VS OHIO STATE (10/14)
Nebraska tied this game at 17-all on a pick-six with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter and it seemed like an upset might be on. Instead, their next three possessions went punt, fumble, and a turnover on downs; Wisconsin's next three possessions were each 10-play touchdown drives. And that's how a 17-17 game becomes an easy 38-17 win for the Badgers. The good news is that Nebraska gets a bounce back this week with a visit from... Ohio State? O-H dear.
10) NORTHWESTERN (2-3, 0-2) LAST: LOST TO PENN STATE, 31-7 NEXT: AT MARYLAND (10/14)
The Delanybot 9000 did Northwestern no favors with its league schedule; opening with Wisconsin and Penn State, the two front-runners to be in the Big Ten Championship Game two months from now, is about as hard as it gets. In both games, Northwestern hung tight for about a half, before getting waxed in the second half (late scores made the Wisconsin-jNW score look closer). The Wildcat offense really struggled against Penn State, turning the ball over three times and only managing a scoring drive with two minutes to go in the fourth. But Maryland's defense ranks at or near the bottom in most defensive categories, so they ought to be good for what ails Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson, & Co.
11) MARYLAND (3-2, 1-1) LAST: LOST TO OHIO STATE, 62-14 NEXT: VS NORTHWESTERN (10/14)
Maryland, already down to their third-strong quarterback, lost him to injury against Ohio State, because playing quarterback for Maryland in 2017 truly is like being the drummer for Spinal Tap. Which is too bad because when they've had a healthy quarterback, the Terps have shown some definite signs of friskiness this year. Of course, a reeling Northwestern squad could be a pretty good pick-me-up for a Maryland squad coming off a pasting from Ohio State.
12) MINNESOTA (3-2, 0-2) LAST: LOST TO PURDUE, 31-17 NEXT: VS MICHIGAN STATE (10/14)
P.J. Fleck's metaphorical boat has been taking on a lot of water since Big Ten play started. Losing at home to Maryland and their third-string quarterback wasn't a good look; neither was wasting a four-turnover performance from Purdue or blowing a fourth-quarter lead with 2:30 to play. And now they get a Michigan State team that seems to be gaining momentum after outlasting Iowa and Michigan in rock fights the last two weeks. Rocks sink boats, P.J.
13) ILLINOIS (2-3, 0-2) LAST: LOST TO IOWA, 45-16 NEXT: VS RUTGERS (10/14)
For at least a few quarters, Illinois put a bit of a scare into Iowa. They had a few first half leads and it took a fake punt conversion and a pick-six for Iowa to fully take control of the game. Jeff George, Jr. made some pretty terrible throws (like that pick-six to Brandon Snyder), but he also made some pretty sharp ones and overall they showed signs of being a semi-competent football team last week. And this week they get a home against Rutgers! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Illini, especially when it's being ridden by a Scarlet Knight.
14) RUTGERS (1-4, 0-2) LAST: BYE NEXT: AT ILLINOIS (10/14)
Congratulations, Rutgers, you didn't lose last week! Sure, you also didn't play a game last week, but hey -- you gotta take your wins (or your not-losses) where you can find them. This week gives Rutgers arguably their best chance at a Big Ten win, against Big Ten West cellar dweller Illinois, although the fact that it's on the road won't help (even if Champaign isn't the most daunting road venue), nor will the fact that Illinois showed more signs of life against Iowa last week than they had previously.