The top of the conference took care of business this week and doesn't see much change, but it's the bottom half that has been switched around a bit. See who's risen and who's fallen.
1. Ohio State (last week: 1) – This past weekend, the No. 4 Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) dismantled Illinois 60-35 after sprinting to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Against the Illini, they rushed for a ridiculous 441 yards, 21 more than the Illini had of total offense. The Buckeyes are just one of two Division I schools that are in the Top 10 of total offense and defense, with the other one being No. 2 Florida State. It’s hard not to at least appreciate how dominant the Buckeyes have been this season, considering that not a single one of their games has been decided by fewer than seven points.
2. Michigan State (last week: 2) – Signature wins are hard to come by, but that’s exactly what the No. 13 Spartans (9-1, 6-0) had this weekend when they defeated Nebraska 41-28. It was only their third time breaking the 30-point mark in the Big Ten this season, as they have the third-worst offense in the conference. The only negative part of their performance was the play of their defense, which surrendered 392 total yards. While that might not seem like a lot, it's 182 more than opposing offenses average against them. So, while the defense didn’t perform up to its capabilities, the Spartans managed to pull off a critical win, which gives them a two-game cushion in the Legends division with only two games to go.
3. Wisconsin (last week: 3) – If it weren’t for Michigan State’s big win, the No. 16 Badgers (8-2, 5-1) would be second on this list. On Saturday, they defeated Indiana 51-3 which proved how great this team is on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin, which has the No. 6 defense in the country, gave up just 224 yards to a team that averages nearly 500 a game coming in. Ohio State's 441 yards would seem to be the best rushing performance of the weekend, but it doesn’t come close to the 554 yards that Wisconsin put up on the ground. No other Big Ten team this season has even come within 100 of that total. The Badgers put up 676 total yards, demonstrating why they own the No. 2 offense in the Big Ten. This Saturday, they play Minnesota, in what is arguably the Big Ten game of the week.
4. Minnesota (last week: 4) – The Golden Gophers (8-2, 4-2) had a bye this week, which will give them extra time to prepare for their huge matchup against Wisconsin. Minnesota has quickly become the surprise of the Big Ten even without being in the Top 40 in total offense or defense. So how have the Gophers won four straight conference games? It could be because of their red zone defense, which the best in the Big Ten. They are allowing opponents to score just 75 percent of the time they enter inside the 20-yard line. In order for them to have any chance against the Badgers, their rush defense, which is No. 38 in the country, must step up. Whether they win or lose, the Gophers have surely exceeded expectations this season and should be very proud of how they’ve played.
5. Nebraska (last week: 5) – The Cornhuskers (7-3, 4-2) were just the second team all season to put up more than 350 yards against Michigan State, but it wasn’t enough to pull off the upset. They hung around for most of the game and were down just six points entering the fourth quarter, before Michigan State pulled away for a 41-28 victory. With a win, Nebraska would have been tied for the lead in the Legends division with the Spartans and would own the tiebreaker. Ultimately, the Huskers fell short, even though their offense came alive against the best defense in all of college football. The 392 yards they put up was the most Michigan State has allowed all season long. Nebraska finishes off its season with Penn State and Iowa, and they should be favored in both games.
6. Iowa (last week: 6) – The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-3) had a bye this week and will take on the Wolverines this weekend. Iowa has had the toughest Big Ten schedule thus far (including Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota), so the three conference losses shouldn’t be looked at too critically. What has allowed this team to qualify for a bowl game? It’s been the defense, which is ninth-best in the nation. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 319 yards a game, and if they want a chance to finish with eight wins, their defense will have to continue to perform at a high level. Their next two opponents, Michigan and Nebraska, have pretty good defenses as well, so expect a couple low-scoring affairs in both games.
7. Penn State (last week: 8) – When a team plays Purdue these days, not too much should be made of their final stats, considering how poorly the Boilermakers play on both sides of the ball. Nonetheless, the Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-3) rolled to a 45-21 win over the weekend and put up 501 yards of total offense. They also rushed for a season-high 289 yards. Penn State isn’t bowl eligible this season because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but fans should still be pleased with the way they’ve played this year amid all the sanctions placed on the football program. The Nittany Lions finish off their season with Nebraska and Wisconsin, both of which will present the Penn State with a lot of problems.
8. Michigan (last week: 7) – The Wolverines (7-3, 3-3) were overtaken by Penn State in the rankings because of how poorly their offense has played as of late. Against Northwestern, they managed just nine points in regulation before escaping with a 27-19 win in triple overtime. They converted just three third downs the entire game and rushed for less than 150 yards for the fifth time this year. Michigan's record could easily be 4-6 if not for a few breaks at the end of games, and the game against Northwestern was just another prime example of that.
9. Northwestern (last week: 9) – The Wildcats (4-6, 0-6) found yet another way to lose a football game Saturday. For three quarters, their defense played outstanding against the Wolverines, but because of an eight-yard punt and a last second field goal, Michigan was able to send the game into overtime and eventually win. With just four wins, Northwestern needs to win out in order to become bowl-eligible, but with Michigan State left on the schedule it’s highly unlikely to happen. Since it looks like the ‘Cats probably will not be a part of bowl season, they will have extra time in the offseason to figure out what went wrong and look to improve on what has been a disastrous season.
10. Illinois (last week: 11) – The Illini (3-7, 0-6) passed Indiana in the rankings because of how well their offense performed against Ohio State on Saturday. They put up 420 yards, and while most of them came when the game was already out of reach, it’s still impressive. In fact, Illinois threw for 288 yards against Ohio State, which was just the fourth time all year that the Buckeyes surrendered more than 250 yards through the air. This team finishes off its schedule with Purdue and Northwestern, two of the weaker teams in the conference, so don’t be shocked if they wind up with five wins on the season.
11. Indiana (last week: 10) – The Hoosiers (4-6, 2-4) have fought hard in most of their games this year, but against the Badgers, they looked hopeless. In the 51-3 defeat, the Hoosiers gave up 676 yards and their offense had a season-low 224 yards. Moreover, they averaged 3.4 yards a carry and completed just 40 percent of their passes. Before the Wisconsin game, the Hoosiers had been averaging 511 yards in conference play, which makes this outcome seem even more surprising. Overall, it was the Hoosiers' worst performance of the season by far, which is a huge reason why they fall down a slot in the rankings. If they put up a fight against Ohio State next week, expect them to move back up.
12. Purdue (last week: 12) – Another week, another loss for the Boilermakers (1-9, 0-6) who were defeated 45-21 by Penn State on Saturday. Though they put up 224 yards and gave up 501, it might have been their best conference performance of the season. That basically illustrates how poor of a year this team has had. Purdue has the third-worst offense in college football, averaging a mere 222 yards per game. Hopefully for Boilermaker fans, the team will be more competitive next year and at least have a fighting chance at a conference win.