The Big Ten is kind of upside down early in this strange and abbreviated season.
Indiana is No. 10 and Northwestern No. 23 in the latest AP Top 25. Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State are nowhere to be found.
The last time that foursome of former national championship programs was unranked at the same time was Oct. 13, 2013. Though that season Michigan State would finish No. 3 in the country. The other three were out by the end.
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, there has not been a season in which at least one of those four traditional powers has not finished the season in the Top 25.
That is on the way to changing.
Penn State is now 0-3 having had its streak of 63 straight poll appearances that dated back to mid-October 2016 snapped last week. The Nittany Lions were preseason No. 7.
This week Michigan got the boot after falling to 1-2. The Wolverines are unranked for the first time since the end of the 2017 season after starting the season No. 17.
Expectations were modest for both Nebraska and Michigan State and both have so far lived down to expectations at a combined 1-4. The Spartans have the lone victory. Against Michigan, of course.
Meanwhile, Indiana is poised to be the second-best team in the Big Ten East, which has spent several seasons touting itself as the toughest division in the country based on the strength at the top — Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State.
The Hoosiers (3-0) cracked the AP top 10 for the first time since 1969 after snapping a 24-game losing streak to Michigan.
Northwestern is 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2000 and back in the rankings for the first time since it finished in the Top 25 to end 2018.
Which could be the next end-of-the-bench Big Ten team to crack the Top 25? Purdue is 2-0 heading into a pivotal Big Ten West game next week against Northwestern. Maryland has won two straight, including a blowout at Penn State, but the Terrapins host No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday.
Reality check has been skeptical of Indiana, the Big Ten’s biggest upstart, but with Michigan State on deck for the Hoosiers they could set up a top-10 matchup in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 21 against the Buckeyes.
What a season?
No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)
Next: at Maryland, Saturday.
Reality check: The Buckeyes have been so-so defensively so far (5.51 yards per play allowed), but it’s hard to know how serious of a concern it is because they have been so thoroughly in control of their first three games.
No. 7 Cincinnati (6-0)
Next: vs. East Carolina, Friday.
Reality check: The Bearcats wrapped up what was expected to be a challenging three-week stretch against SMU, Memphis and Houston having outscored the AAC rivals 129-33.
No. 10 Indiana (3-0)
Next: at Michigan State, Saturday.
Reality check: The Hoosiers don’t do anything exceptionally well, but they have just two turnovers, a kicker who has made all six fields-goal attempts, and a quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. who rarely gets sacked.
No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0)
Next: at Michigan, Saturday.
Reality check: The way Michigan is playing pass defense it should be a good opportunity for freshman QB Graham Mertz to build off his excellent debut — which feels like a month ago.
No. 16 Marshall (6-0)
Next: vs. Middle Tennessee, Saturday.
Reality check: Among teams that have played at least three games, Marshall is tied for seventh in the country in sacks per game at 3.50.
No. 23 Northwestern (3-0)
Next: at Purdue, Saturday.
Reality check: The Wildcats’ defense is no joke. Northwestern has not allowed a second-half point.