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.
The Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) fell from 10th to the 13th as they sat out a second week due to COVID-19 cases in the program.
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. 1 Alabama (6-0)
Next: at LSU, Saturday.
Reality check: Nick Saban will coach his 81st game with a top-ranked Crimson Tide team. Alabama is 72-8 in those games.
No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0)
Next: at Boston College, Saturday.
Reality check: Only one opponent has cracked 4.0 yards per rush against the Fighting Irish (Louisville), and Clemson was held to 1.03.
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. 4 Clemson (7-1)
Next: at Florida, State, Nov. 20.
Reality check: The Tigers allowed 208 yards rushing (5.2 per carry) to Notre Dame, the most permitted by defensive coordinator Brent Venables' defense since Alabama had 221 in the 2016 national title game.
No. 5 Texas A&M (5-1)
Next: at Tennessee, Saturday.
Reality check: With LSU falling apart, the only game the Aggies have left where they might not be favored is at Auburn on Dec. 5.
No. 6 Florida (4-1)
Next: vs. Arkansas, Saturday.
Reality check: Without a traditional dominant outside receiving threat, the Gators have three running backs who have combined for 27 catches for 471 yards to go with TE Kyle Pitts and versatile athlete Kadarius Toney.
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. 8 BYU (8-0)
Next: vs. North Alabama, Nov. 21.
Reality check: College football Twitter is dreaming about a hastily made matchup between the Cougars and Bearcats, but Cincinnati's only open date is the week before the AAC championship game (Dec. 12).
No. 9 Miami (6-1)
Next: at Virginia Tech, Saturday.
Reality check: QB D'Eriq King has been everything the Hurricanes could have asked for when he transferred from Houston, with three games of more than 300 yards passing and 16 touchdown passes.
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. 11 Oregon (1-0)
Next: at Washington State, Saturday.
Reality check: Early returns on QB Tyler Shough were very encouraging. The new starter passed for 227 yards, ran for 85 and looked very comfortable in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's offense.
No. 12 Georgia (4-2)
Next: at Missouri, Saturday.
Reality check: Watch for RB Zamir White, who has two straight 100-yard rushing games, to rack up big numbers down the stretch as the Bulldogs ride their running game against four very beatable opponents.
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. 14 Oklahoma State (5-1)
Next: at No. 18 Oklahoma, Nov. 21.
Reality check: Without injured WR Tylan Wallace, the Cowboys' offense was a dud as they escaped with a victory at Kansas State. The Big 12's leading receiver has two weeks to heal up for Bedlam.
No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0)
Next: at Troy, Saturday.
Reality check: Who circled the Coastal Carolina-Liberty on Dec. 5 when the two sides decided to put together a game in August?
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. 17 Iowa State (5-2)
Next: vs. Kansas State, Nov. 21.
Reality check: RB Breece Hall became the first player to reach 1,000 yards rushing this season. He is on his way to being an All-American.
No. 18 Oklahoma (5-2)
Next: vs. No. 14 Oklahoma State, Nov. 21.
Reality check: The Sooners are averaging 6.88 yards per play, a solid 18th in the country. But if they don't pick up the pace it will be the first season since 2015 OU averages fewer than 7.0 yards per pop.
No. 19 SMU (7-1)
Next: at Tulsa, Saturday.
Reality check: QB Shane Buechele, who started as a freshman for Texas, has had three seasons with at least 20 touchdown passes and has quietly put together a really impressive college career.
No. 20 USC (1-0)
Next: at Arizona, Saturday.
Reality check: Who has four better receivers than Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Drake London and Bru McCoy? Nobody in the Pac-12, that's for sure.
No. 21 Texas (5-2)
Next: at Kansas, Nov. 21.
Reality check: Too often the Longhorns' offensive identity appears to be QB Sam Ehlinger just coming up with enough plays to get by.
No. 22 Liberty (7-0)
Next: vs. Western Carolina, Saturday.
Reality check: QB Malik Willis, an Auburn transfer, has accounted for 19 touchdowns and thrown one interception.
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.
No. 24 Auburn (4-2)
Next: at Mississippi State, Saturday.
Reality check: Freshman RB Tank Bigsby has 457 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the last four games.
No. 25 Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1)
Next: vs. South Alabama, Saturday.
Reality check: The Ragin' Cajuns last six games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/
You asked, we answered: 8 key questions about the Wisconsin football team’s COVID-19 outbreak
How many Badgers have contracted COVID-19?
As of Nov. 7, the Badgers football program has 30 active cases of COVID-19 — 17 student-athletes and 13 staff members — since Oct. 21.
The program only identified one of those cases, saying head coach Paul Chryst has contracted the virus. Sources told the State Journal that offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and quarterbacks Graham Mertz (above) and Chase Wolf were among those to test positive.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said during a news conference that the program had one positive test in the first few weeks of daily testing. Then one student-athlete tested positive on Wednesday, Oct. 21, followed by 29 more people within the program from Oct. 24-Nov. 7.
Why are the canceled games no contests if the Badgers aren’t at “red/red” levels?
Because UW’s decision was based on its COVID-19 testing numbers, the games are considered no contests and won’t be counted on the team’s records.
Big Ten protocols state that games are considered no contests if they’re canceled due to a program reaching what has been called “red/red” levels. Those levels are defined as a seven-day rolling average of a team’s positivity rate over 5%, and a seven-day rolling average of a team population positivity rate over 7.5%
UW officials have stated that the Badgers are at “orange/red” levels, meaning they have an average team positivity rate between 2-5% and an average team population positivity rate over 7.5%.
Per Big Ten protocols, a program must “proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention” and “consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition” if it reaches “orange/red” levels. Alvarez said UW decided to pause its team activities and cancel the games to stop the spread of the virus and “get their arms around it.”
Will they schedule make-up games?
When the Big Ten debuted its truncated schedule calling for nine games in nine weeks, the lack of open dates eliminated chances to reschedule games during the regular-season window.
Nebraska requested that the Big Ten change its ruling about allowing non-conference games in an attempt to play a game against Tennessee-Chattanooga. The conference denied the request.
The canceled game against Purdue will also not be rescheduled.
Does Illinois’ team have COVID-19 cases after playing the Badgers?
Illinois announced Saturday morning that quarterback Brandon Peters and tight end Griffin Moore tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Oct. 29. Both players will be out of game action for 21 days.
"Contact tracing also sidelined several other players for (Saturday) and next week's game against Minnesota," a release from the program read.
Illinois lost its season opener 45-7 to UW at Camp Randall Stadium.
Will the Badgers play next week?
To be determined
UW is slated to play at Michigan on Nov. 14. If that game will be played is still being decided.
The Badgers’ pause on team activities was lifted on Nov. 6 and limited on-field conditioning work resumed.
Why do the players who have contracted the virus have to sit out 21 days?
The Big Ten requires that players wait at least 14 days from their initial diagnosis to go through a cardiac screening that can clear them to start working back toward competition. The league also built in seven more days for players to build back toward competition after being cleared in the cardiac testing.
The 21-day break from game action is the longest league protocol among the Power Five conferences.
Jim Borchers, the team physician at Ohio State who was co-chair of the Big Ten’s return to competition medical subcommittee, said experts told the conference that cardiac testing and evaluation couldn’t start until two weeks after diagnosis.
However, this 21-day layoff has come under scrutiny this week.
A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found little evidence of myocarditis in COVID-positive college athletes who had mild or no symptoms. The report didn’t recommend cardiac testing to the level the Big Ten is conducting.
Alvarez (above) told Sports Illustrated that the Big Ten should “reevaluate” the protocol.
Can the Badgers still make the Big Ten championship game?
Yes, but they can’t miss any more games.
The conference changed its divisional tiebreakers for this season, and those modifications will now be necessary considering at least two teams — UW and Nebraska — won’t complete the eight-game regular-season slate.
According to a Big Ten policy put in place this season, “a team must play at least six games to be considered for participation in the championship game. However, if the average number of conference games played by all teams falls below six, then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams to be considered.”
How are the players doing? Are they symptomatic?
UW is not releasing updates regarding individual players’ illness and has not said whether some or all have experienced symptoms of COVID-19. Michael Moll, the program's Chief Infection Officer for the Big Ten, said no players or staff members have had severe symptoms or required hospitalization.
During a Zoom call with reporters, Chryst said he felt fine physically and he completed his isolation period without symptoms.
In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, players are isolating themselves in their living spaces. UW has secured hotel rooms to separate those who live together.