There are a couple of slight changes in the rankings this week, but Northwestern isn't one of them. After seven straight losses, the Wildcats are now eliminated from bowl contention and sit at No. 9 for the fourth straight week.
1. Ohio State (last week: 1) – Is there anything that they can’t do? The No. 3 Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) are just one win away from their second consecutive undefeated regular season. They have already clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, but first they face their biggest rival in Michigan next week. This past weekend, Ohio State took care of business against Indiana with a score of 42-14, after being up 35-0 entering the fourth quarter. The only sour note for the Buckeyes was their defense, which gave up 442 yards to the Hoosiers.
2. Michigan State (last week: 2) – While No. 11 Michigan State (10-1, 7-0) isn’t known for its offense, this unit came to play Saturday against the Wildcats. The Spartans put up 464 yards, almost 100 more than its season average. MSU was especially effective through the air, as quarterback Connor Cook had a season-high 293 passing yards and completed 66 percent of his throws. The defense, which remains the best in the nation, actually had an off week. The Spartans surrendered 319 yards, which might not sound like a lot, but it is by their standards. In two weeks they will battle Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game with a chance to ruin Ohio State’s national title hopes and give themselves a spot in the Rose Bowl.
3. Wisconsin (last week: 3) – They knew that Saturday’s game at Minnesota would be a test, but the No. 14 Badgers (9-2, 6-1) were prepared and came out on top, 20-7. The game was a defensive struggle, which was new for them. In every other game it had played in prior to Saturday, Wisconsin and its opponent combined for at least 39 points. While the offense managed just 324 yards, the Badgers held Minnesota to 185. It was only the second time all year they surrendered less than 200 yards to their opponent (they held Tennessee Tech to 113 in early September). Even though Wisconsin won’t have a spot in the Rose Bowl, they could still wind up in the very respectable Capital One Bowl.
4. Nebraska (last week: 5) – The Cornhuskers (8-3, 5-2) have jumped Minnesota in the rankings after their 23-20 overtime win at Penn State. Husker quarterback Ron Kellogg III, playing in the absence of Taylor Martinez, did just enough to lead his team to victory. He threw for 191 yards and one TD but averaged just 5.6 yards per completion. The running game was what helped Nebraska survive in the brutal weather conditions. Ameer Abdullah, who is leading the conference with 1,483 rushing yards, had 147 yards on the ground. Nebraska finishes off its schedule at home against Iowa. If the Huskers are able to take them down, they could find themselves playing in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.
5. Minnesota (last week: 4) – The Golden Gophers (8-3, 4-3) don't deserve to drop more than one spot on this list just because of the loss to Wisconsin. After all, they were the first team all season to hold the Badgers to fewer than 350 yards. Minnesota’s defense played outstandingly but couldn’t get anything on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Philip Nelson’s stat line – 83 yards passing, no touchdowns, while completing just 30 percent of his passes – didn’t cut it against one of the best teams in the conference. The rushing attack, which averages 207 yards per game, was held to just 102 against the Badgers. Next week, they head to Michigan State, so this Cinderella story will likely end on a two-game skid.
6. Iowa (last week: 6) – The Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3) had a big win this weekend, as they came back from a 14-point deficit to take down Michigan, 24-21. Iowa hadn’t had an impressive win since its victory over the Gophers in late September, so the recent performance will likely provide some momentum going into its big matchup at Nebraska next week. The Hawkeye offense, which has struggled in Big Ten play this year, came alive against Michigan, putting up 407 yards, largely in part to the effort by quarterback Jake Rudock. He threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes.
7. Penn State (last week: 7) – The Nittany Lions (6-5, 3-4) nearly upset Nebraska over the weekend but came up just short. They have alternated wins and losses since their Sept. 7 win over Eastern Michigan. If this holds, they should have no problem beating the Badgers next week, right? Well, no, because Penn State will have a hard time stopping Wisconsin’s powerful rushing attack for four quarters. If the Nittany Lions want any chance to pull off this upset, they need quarterback Christian Hackenberg to have a Heisman-like performance. Hackenberg, who’s second in the Big Ten in passing yards, will probably have to put up at least 300 yards for his team to have any chance at victory next week.
8. Michigan (last week: 8) – Is Michigan head coach Brady Hoke officially on the hot seat? That remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: The Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) have drastically underperformed this season. Their lack of offense has been the most stunning part of it all. Against Iowa, they put up a mere 158 yards, which marks the third time in four weeks that they were held to less than 200. Michigan has the third-worst offense in the conference at 362 yards per game, and the Wolverines have almost no hope in their regular season finale against the Buckeyes.
9. Northwestern (last week: 9) – Some NU fans might have left Ryan Field on Saturday thinking, “Well, at least we didn’t have to be stressed out during the fourth quarter.” That’s about the only positive thing about the Wildcats' 30-6 defeat at the hands of Michigan State. Northwestern (4-7, 0-7) had one of its worst all-around performances of the season, turning the ball over three times and giving up 464 yards of offense. It’s also not a good sign for ‘Cats fans when quarterback Trevor Siemian is the team’s leading rusher with 28 yards. The only reason the Wildcats haven’t fallen on this list is because they were just the third team all season to put up more than 300 yards against the mighty Spartan defense.
10. Indiana (last week: 11) – While they were torched by Ohio State, it’s wasn’t a loss that the Hoosiers (4-7, 2-5) should feel too bad about because the Hoosiers managed to put up 442 yards against the No. 12 defense in the entire nation. Indiana was just the third team all year to throw for more than 300 yards against the Buckeyes. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld has been a pleasant surprise for this team this season, and Saturday he threw for more than 200 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. He currently leads all Big Ten quarterbacks with 21 TDs and is fourth in yards thrown.
11. Illinois (last week: 10) – The Fighting Illini (4-7, 1-6) are jumped by the Hoosiers – even though they won 20-16 against Purdue over the weekend – because of how poorly they played against the conference's worst team. They managed 380 yards of offense, making them just the second Big Ten team that failed to put up at least 400 yards against the Boilermakers. They also gave up more yards to Purdue (283) than any other Big Ten team this year. So while the Illini came out with a victory, they shouldn’t be too pleased with their performance.
12. Purdue (last week: 12) – Even its best performance in Big Ten play wasn’t enough for Purdue (1-10, 0-7) to knock off the Illini. Saturday’s game was just the third time all year that the Boilermakers ran for more than 100 yards; every other Big Ten school has accomplished that feat at least seven times. This year has been a complete disaster for the Boilermakers, who are likely to end the season without a conference win as they travel to play the Hoosiers next week.