Finally, we can settle on the B1G Power Rankings.
Ok, maybe “settle” is the wrong word. Lord knows there’ll be endless debate on this subject, as their should be. Their wasn’t a clear No. 1 in the B1G because the conference champ didn’t get the best bowl game.
In case you were wondering, teams weren’t ranked strictly based on bowl performances. It was a factor, but it didn’t drastically change what we saw the previous 13 weeks.
As was said all year, these rankings were based on how I’d feel betting on each team to win a neutral site game against anyone played tomorrow. That’s the way I determine who is most powerful. And not to pat myself on the back, but 10 of the 14 B1G teams finished within one spot of their preseason ranking.
Unfortunately, I was wayyyyyy off on two teams. You can probably guess them.
With 2016 in the books, here’s where each B1G team ranked:
(PR = preseason ranking)
14. Rutgers (PR: 13)
Well, when you don’t win a conference game, you don’t move off the last spot. Chris Ash knew it’d be a rough first year, and the vision will stay the same. If he and his staff can make a late surge before National Signing Day, it’ll ease the pain of a disastrous season.
13. Purdue (PR: 14)
Purdue actually had its best season of the Darrell Hazell era. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. A seven-game losing streak to end the season derailed any outside chance of a bowl game, which continued the B1G’s longest postseason drought. Jeff Brohm has his work cut out for him.
12. Illinois (PR: 11)
You could make the case for Illinois to be behind Purdue considering the Boilermakers owned the head-to-head advantage. Illinois gets the edge for beating two Power Five teams compared to one for Purdue. The Illini also played without starting quarterback Wes Lunt in the middle of the season. It was a lost year on the field, but with a full offseason, Lovie Smith’s rebuilding should take more shape in 2017.
11. Michigan State (PR: 3)
Arguably the biggest disappointment in all of college football was the Spartans. To go from a College Football Playoff team to just three wins is unheard-of. MSU lacked experience, stability at the quarterback position and defensive playmakers. That’s a bad combination. After the Notre Dame win, the close losses to Michigan and Ohio State were the only time that MSU even looked like an average Power Five team. With Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State looking like yearly contenders, this won’t be an easy turnaround for Mark Dantonio.
10. Maryland (PR: 12)
Did you scoff at people predicting Maryland would go bowling? I did. But credit DJ Durkin for winning two non-conference road games and taking care of B1G bottom-feeders to make the postseason. The Terps have a long way to go to not get blown out by the B1G East powers, but not many first-year coaches have come in and doubled their team’s win total. If Durkin continues to get some big-time DMV recruits, Maryland can make a little noise the next few years.
9. Indiana (PR: 10)
The Hoosiers met expectations in 2016, just not in the way many expected. Tom Allen’s defense carried a lackluster offense (88th in scoring) and the Hoosiers found a new identity. With Allen running the show, it’ll be interesting to see IU morph into a more traditional B1G team and abandons its Kevin Wilson-led Big 12 ways. Indiana fans won’t care about the way it gets done as long as the Hoosiers can get that first bowl victory of the 21st century.
8. Northwestern (PR: 9)
What if I told you the Cats would lose home games to Western Michigan and Illinois State and still find a way to best their preseason ranking? That happened. If not for that ugly three-score loss at Minnesota, Northwestern would be higher on this list. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad played much better in the second half, as shown by the Pinstripe Bowl win against Pitt. The Wildcats will lose two stars in Austin Carr and Anthony Walker, Jr., but Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson will still be the Cats’ foundation.
7. Minnesota (PR: 8)
Go figure that after all the Gophers went through after the regular season ended, they picked up their best win in years. Jay Sawvel did a tremendous job shutting down Mike Leach’s offense en route to a Holiday Bowl victory. Unfortunately, the Gophers were 0-4 against ranked B1G foes, which squashed their chances of being the surprise B1G West team some predicted. Go figure that there would be this much uncertainty after the second-best win total in program history.
6. Nebraska (PR: 7)
Let’s not forget that Nebraska started 7-0 and entered November as a top-10 team. A nine-win regular season after an APR-based bowl appearance in Mike Riley’s first year was solid. But just as it did with Bo Pelini, the nine wins feel a bit hollow given the performances against quality foes. The blowouts to Iowa and Ohio State hurt more than anything. Great teams don’t get blown out. Those were the humbling moments that prevented the Huskers from solidifying that top-10 ranking. Still, Year 2 of the Riley era was a success.
5. Iowa (PR: 4)
A lot of people are going to get caught up in Iowa’s Outback Bowl loss. Yes, it was bad. Against an elite defense without a quarterback who could move and receivers who could catch, Iowa struggled. That followed a three-game stretch to end the season in which the Hawkeyes finally looked like the top-15 team they were hyped up to be. Iowa beat a top-three team and destroyed its rival in November. Nobody wanted to face the Hawkeyes in the final three weeks of the season. That’s worth something.
4. Wisconsin (PR: 5)
Yes, Wisconsin was the only B1G team to win a New Year’s Six game. While the Badgers beat a talented Western Michigan team, they weren’t facing a team on the same level as Clemson, Florida State or USC. And Wisconsin did lose to Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. But still, the fact that the Badgers won 11 games with THAT schedule was nothing short of remarkable.
3. Michigan (PR: 1)
Michigan missed a prime opportunity. Point blank, 2016 was the year for the Wolverines to win the B1G. While Ohio State boasted the youngest team in America and Michigan State scuffled, the Wolverines had a veteran core that looked like national title contenders for the first nine games of the season. But you can’t lose three of four games and still claim to be one of the top two teams in the conference. You also have to win more than one game outside of your state — it was Rutgers — to be a top-two team. Injuries hurt them in the Orange Bowl, but the Wolverines never proved they were a great team when they left the Big House.
2. Ohio State (PR: 2)
In a way, Ohio State finished 2016 the way many predicted it would — a young talented team showed its upside but wasn’t quite ready to win it all again. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it took a 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal for that prediction to come full circle. OSU had a championship-caliber defense, but it was limited offensively by its youth, inability to stretch the field and odd game-planning. The good news is that with some new offensive coaches and most of the starters back, OSU should be able to bounce back in 2017. The question is whether or not the Buckeyes can survive a slew of key NFL departures on the back end of the defense.
1. Penn State (PR: 6)
If you read my post-Rose Bowl story, this surprise No. 1 was spoiled for you. Penn State was one field goal away from ending the season on a 10-game winning streak with three wins vs. top-10 teams, a B1G Championship and a Rose Bowl victory. Think about that. The Lions had by far the most offensive firepower in the B1G, and even though the defense struggled in the Rose Bowl, the unit usually put the clamps on in the second half. The Lions’ rise was arguably the story of the year in college football. Yeah, the loss to Michigan was bad. But the point remains. Put them against any B1G team on a neutral field tomorrow and I’m rolling with the Lions. Don’t be surprised if they start 2017 in this spot, too.