Northwestern may have gone down in this week’s rankings, but it wasn’t the only school to shift spots as the Big Ten enters a state of bowl chaos:
1. Wisconsin: Even though the Rose Bowl tie-breaker for the Big Ten is super confusing, it appears the Badgers are in the driver’s seat to Pasadena. All that stands in the way of Wisconsin heading to California are dates against Indiana, at Michigan and versus Northwestern for the home closer. The Badgers have a strong running attack, and since those three defenses aren’t exactly the powerhouse ’85 Bears, John Clay should (barring a big upset) run this team to the Rose Bowl.
2. Ohio State: Even though they have fallen under the radar since their loss to the Badgers a few weeks ago, Ohio State still has a good chance to return to Pasadena. The Buckeyes take on Penn State this weekend, and finish off the season with games at Iowa and at home against rival Michigan. Since losing to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have quietly won their last two games by a combined 101-10 margin. The Iowa game will be a huge test for this team, and will likely decide which squad heads to a BCS game.
3. Michigan State: Sparty rebounded from the Iowa loss with a resounding 31-8 victory over lowly Minnesota. To have a shot at the Rose Bowl, Michigan State must beat Purdue and Penn State, a manageable task. The Spartans technically hold a tiebreaker over Wisconsin because of their 34-24 victory over the Badgers, but a three-way tie would complicate that (Iowa holds the tiebreaker over Michigan State; Wisconsin holds over Ohio State and Iowa). An Ohio State loss to Iowa would make things much easier for the Spartans, who have a bye this week.
4. Iowa: The national rankings say that Michigan State is better than Iowa, but let’s not forget about the 37-6 drubbing the Hawkeyes put on the Spartans the day before Halloween. Iowa barely escaped Indiana this weekend, only winning with nine unanswered fourth-quarter points and a key dropped Hoosier pass. For now, the Hawkeyes still have a chance to go Rose Bowling, but they must beat Ohio State on Nov. 20 to have any shot. Iowa plays Northwestern this weekend, and you can bet they remember when the ‘Cats upset the Hawkeyes last season, handing Iowa its first loss of the year.
5. Penn State: Congratulations to Joe Paterno, who won his 400th coaching victory Saturday afternoon. Penn State has won three straight games, all of them under the leadership of Matt McGloin (he entered for an injured Rob Bolden against Minnesota, and came in this past weekend against Northwestern for a benched Bolden). McGloin finished with four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Wildcats, but the competition gets much tougher from here for PSU. The Nittany Lions head to Columbus this weekend for a date with Ohio State, and finish the season with games against Indiana and Michigan State. We’ll see if JoePa can even reach win No. 401.
6. Michigan: If you had told me Michigan would allow 65 points and still win the game prior to this weekend’s contest against Illinois, I would have asked why Big Ten basketball season started early. We all know Michigan’s defense couldn’t stop the attack of Evanston Township High School, but the Maize and Blue have an amazing offense. Led by Tate Forcier, they beat the Fighting Illini 67-65 in triple-overtime. Now the Wolverines must face Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State with head coach Rich Rodriguez’s job on the line. A win over Ohio State and Rich Rod has a chance to come back. Three losses and it’s time to pack the bags.
7. Illinois: The Illini’s four losses this season have been against Missouri, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan –- all solid teams. They probably won’t make a Jan. 1 bowl game, but they will have an outside chance if they win their last three games against Minnesota, Northwestern and Fresno State. The game against the Wildcats on Nov. 20 is key for bowl positioning, with the loser being relegated to a Nobodycares.com Bowl.
8. Northwestern: If football games were only 30 minutes, Northwestern would have a much better record this season. Well, actually they would have lost to Minnesota, which would have been pretty embarrassing. But on the brighter side, they would have defeated Michigan State and Penn State, games where the ‘Cats had 10-point and 14-point first half leads, respectively. Northwestern has been on the verge of a big upset victory this entire season, and the Wildcats have the Iowa Hawkeyes coming to town this Saturday. Some pretty magical things would have to happen for NU to reach a Jan. 1 bowl game, but a loss to Iowa would officially seal the deal.
9. Purdue: The Boilermakers got off to a quick first half lead over Wisconsin, but it was all Badgers in the second half. A Purdue upset over Wisconsin would have thrown the Big Ten race into chaos (well, more than it already is), but the Badgers rallied back and sent Purdue below the .500 mark for the season. Purdue’s passing game is ranked a dismal 114th in the nation, so it is pretty amazing that they have even won four games. Making a bowl game is going to be difficult for this team; their remaining games are against Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, and they need at least two wins against these monster teams.
10. Indiana: So much for Indiana’s promising start this year. After being undefeated in non-conference play, the Hoosiers’ offense looked great against Michigan, only to be bested by the Herculean efforts of Denard Robinson. Since then, we have discovered that Michigan’s defense gives up more points than a basketball team, and that Indiana’s offense isn’t really all that great. The Hoosiers are 4-5 on the season, and after three straight losses, a bowl game looks almost out of reach. They need at least two victories in their last three contests against Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue.
11. Minnesota: The Gophers beat Middle Tennessee 24-17 in Week 1, and they haven’t won a game since. They have fired their coach, and haven’t really been competitive in more than two games of Big Ten play. They finish off their horrific season against Illinois and Iowa, and it would be surprising if they won either game.