The rankings this week don't change, as there were no upsets in Big Ten play. It looks like in a usually unpredictable conference, the order of power seems to be cemented in place. Here's our reasoning as to why no one team has leap-frogged another.
1. Ohio State (last week: 1) – The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) had a bye this past weekend, which will give them an extra week to prepare for their game at Illinois. Ohio State has a leg up toward insuring itself a spot in the Big Ten Championship game, considering the Buckeyes hold the tie-breaker over Wisconsin, whom they beat 31-24. They have the No. 1 offense and No. 3 defense in the conference, averaging 530.9 yards per game while holding opponents to just 311.7. Look for them to mix it up the next few weeks against some weaker opponents and really open up the playbook. The Buckeyes are for real, and if they win out, don’t be surprised if they are in the running to play in the BCS National Championship game.
2. Michigan State (last week: 2) – Like OSU, the Spartans (8-1, 5-0) had a bye this week. Michigan State has the No. 1 defense in the country, and the margin between them and the No. 2 team (Louisville) is 33 yards per game. Not many expected MSU to be contending for a BCS bowl game when the season began, considering they finished the 2012-2013 season at 7-6. But aside from Minnesota, they have been the Big Ten’s biggest surprise. Next week, they have a huge game at Nebraska, which could determine whether or not this team advances to the Big Ten Championship game. Last year, the Spartans lost to Nebraska at home by less than a touchdown, so revenge is likely on their minds, especially considering the implications of this monumental game.
3. Wisconsin (last week: 3) – The Badgers (7-2, 4-1) took care of business over the weekend with a 27-17 win over BYU. Although the game had no Big Ten implications, the Badgers still came out strong. They gave up less than 400 total yards while racking up 200 on the ground, proving once again why they are the one of the top rushing offenses in the conference. The only reason they didn’t leapfrog MSU in the rankings this week was because they had a below-average performance on offense, at least according to their high standards. It wasn’t as if BYU has a stout defense (they are ranked 59th overall in yards allowed), so it’s a little surprising that Wisconsin didn't put more points on the board.
4. Minnesota (last week: 4) – The Golden Gophers (8-2, 4-2) continue to execute week in and week out, to the surprise of almost everyone outside the state of Minnesota. On Saturday they defeated Penn State 24-10 at home for their fourth win in a row. Over that stretch, they’ve allowed just 46 points total in the second half. Overall, Minnesota has the sixth-best defense in the Big Ten, allowing just about 380 total yards per game. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for them, as they finish off the regular season against Wisconsin and Michigan State. An upset victory for the Gophers in either of these games would surprise the college football world, but it’s not like they haven’t done that already this year.
5. Nebraska (last week: 5) – The Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-1) are hitting their stride at the right time, as evidenced by their 17-13 victory over Michigan this past weekend, which keeps them in the running to play in the Big Ten Championship game. The game itself was a defensive struggle, as neither team managed more than 300 yards of offense, but Nebraska came out on top because they dominated the line of scrimmage. Believe it or not, they held Michigan to -21 yards rushing. Currently, Nebraska has the sixth-best defense in the conference, but the unit has played especially well over its last four games, giving up an average of 286 yards. The Huskers finish off their schedule with Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa, and if they keep it up on the defensive end, they should have no problem defeating at least the latter two.
6. Iowa (last week: 6) – If it weren’t for their ridiculous defense, Iowa (6-4, 3-3) would not be in the position that they are, with a legitimate chance at seven or eight wins this year. Over the weekend, the Hawkeyes defeated Purdue 38-14, but against the Boilermakers, which has one of the worst defenses in the nation, the offensive stats are a bit deflated, so it’s not worth it to overreact to the 509 yards the Hawkeyes put up. Iowa still has Michigan and Nebraska on its schedule. Both these teams have above-average defenses, so these opponents will give the Hawkeye offense a chance to prove that its explosion against Purdue wasn’t just a fluke.
7. Michigan (last week: 7) – The disappointing season continues for the Wolverines (6-3, 2-3) who were taken down 17-13 by Nebraska over the weekend. For the second week in a row, they put up fewer than 200 yards of total offense and had negative rushing yards. It's tough to believe that Michigan has put up -69 yards rushing over the last two weeks. The offense, which has fallen dramatically from the beginning of the season, is now the fourth-worst in the Big Ten. If they don’t fix their issues on that side of the ball, the Wolverines could find themselves 6-6 by the season’s end.
8. Penn State (last week: 8) – Like Michigan, the Nittany Lions (5-4, 2-3) had a below-average offensive performance over the weekend, which is a big reason why they lost to Minnesota. Penn State also turned the ball over twice in that game, which didn’t help its cause, especially when trying to win a conference game on the road. The performance by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who came into the game as the conference’s leading passer, was especially disappointing. He threw for just 163 yards and no touchdowns.
9. Northwestern (last week: 9) – There are a couple reasons why the Wildcats (4-5, 0-5), who had a bye this week, are ahead of Indiana. One is that Northwestern had a chance to win every single one of their games this year, aside from when they went to Wisconsin. Against Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, the ‘Cats were in striking distance in the fourth quarter, and if a few things went their way, Northwestern’s season wouldn’t have been considered such a disappointing one. Another is that, unlike the Hoosiers, Northwestern is decent on both sides of the ball, and while Indiana’s offense is electrifying, it hasn’t been enough this year to compensate for their horrendous defense. Either way, if the ‘Cats don’t at least put up a fight against the Wolverines this weekend, expect them to get jumped by the Hoosiers in the rankings.
10. Indiana (last week: 10) – On Saturday, the Hoosiers (4-5, 2-3) put up a total of 650 yards against the Illini, whom they defeated 52-35. Since both defenses were ranked outside of the Top 100 going in, it’s no surprise that it was a back-and-forth contest. For the first three quarters, both teams were moving the ball up and down the field at will, and Indiana was holding onto a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Then in the last 15 minutes, the Hoosiers outscored the Illini 17-7 to pull out the victory, which will give the team confidence moving forward after a tough 42-39 loss against Minnesota the week before.
11. Illinois (last week: 11) – The Illini (3-6, 0-5) continue to struggle in Big Ten play. During their current five-game losing streak in the Big Ten, opponents have been averaging more than 500 yards of offense, and on Saturday, Indiana torched them for 650. Overall, Illinois has the 10th-worst defense in all of college football. One positive thing about the Illini is that their offense really picked it up against the Hoosiers, gaining a season-high 612 yards.
12. Purdue (last week: 12) – The Boilermakers (1-8, 0-5) are just a train wreck right now. Not only did they allow more than 500 yards to a mediocre Iowa offense, but they’ve now scored 14 points or fewer in each Big Ten game. Purdue currently has the 94th-ranked defense and the 120th-ranked offense in college football. The Boilermakers finish off their schedule against three of the weaker Big Ten teams (Penn State, Illinois and Indiana) but they will still be hard-pressed to come out on top in any of them.