Big Ten power rankings, Oct. 18

    1. Michigan State (7-0; 3-0 in the Big Ten):
    The Spartans have to be feeling good having dispatched the Fighting Illini to take sole possession of first place in the conference. Kirk Cousins threw a 48-yard touchdown to B.J. Cunningham, and Dan Conroy kicked four field goals to lead Michigan State to a 26-6 win. Since the last time the Spartans opened the season 7-0 was over forty years ago, confidence is abound in East Lansing. The Spartans come to Evanston Saturday morning to take on Northwestern, who will no doubt be ready after a bye week.

    Key Players:
    When a team is held to six points and less than 300 yards of offense, the defense has certainly made its mark on the game. The Spartan defense forced four turnovers to help defeat the overmatched Illini.

    2. Wisconsin (6-1; 2-1):
    Fresh off a defeat of former No. 1-ranked Ohio State, Wisconsin finds a matchup with Iowa looming this coming weekend. Nevertheless, the Badgers can savor the victory, at least for now. A 97-yard kickoff return got the scoring started, and OSU found itself in a 21-3 hole at halftime. Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien made just enough plays, but rode the running game to victory. The game against Iowa will most certainly have bowl implications.

    Key Player:
    John Clay — Wisconsin’s feature running back — became the first player to rush for 100+ yards against Ohio State since Joe McKnight did it for the USC Trojans in 2008. Clay ran for 104 yards and scored twice during the Wisconsin win.

    3. Ohio State (6-1; 2-1):
    The No. 1 team in the nation has fallen for the second time in two weeks. A short one-week stay at the top was not exactly what the Buckeye faithful envisioned going into Saturday’s matchup. Ohio State hopes to avenge its loss next week against Purdue and will certainly be in the running for a BCS Bowl Game, but which bowl game will depend on how the Buckeyes fare in their final five games of the season. Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor struggled Saturday, completing only half of his passes for a measly 156 yards. Coach Tressel will rally the troops for what is sure to be an enticing matchup with Purdue.

    Key Player:
    Dan “Boom” Herron was the lone bright spot for the Buckeyes, running for 91 yards on 19 carries and two scores. Herron and the Buckeyes will look to refocus and maintain balance on offense come their contest against Purdue quarterback Rob Henry and the Boilermakers.

    4. Iowa (5-1; 2-0):
    A 38-28 win in Ann Arbor is never something to be overlooked. The Iowa Hawkeyes, who maintained the 13th spot in this week’s AP poll, beat Michigan and improved to 2-0 in the division, 5-1 overall. The win Saturday sets up a big matchup with Wisconsin, who is sure to see their ranking rise after beating Ohio State. On the road, the Hawkeyes rode running back Adam Robinson (31 carries for 143 yards) and quarterback Ricky Stanzi (248 yards and three touchdowns) to victory. Opponent turnovers and penalties were Iowa’s keys to victory as Michigan threw three interceptions and was flagged eight times for 66 yards.

    Key Player:
    Of course Ricky Stanzi and Adam Robinson were instrumental in the Iowa win, but the Iowa defense was the difference maker. Not only did Iowa’s defensive force Michigan quarterback extraordinaire Denard Robinson out of the game, but they also forced four Wolverine turnovers.

    5. Northwestern (5-1; 1-1):
    The Wildcats entered their bye week on a serious low note after falling 20-17 to Purdue at home. The Wildcats need to regain balance in their offense if they are to make an upset bid against Michigan State. Looking forward, Northwestern’s final six games are all against conference opponents (three of which are ranked). The Wildcats will need a team effort to beat Michigan State, but by no means will Coach Fitz’s boys lay an egg in front on what is sure to be a raucous Homecoming crowd.

    Key Players:
    The Northwestern running game mustered only 84 yards on 42 carries last week against the Boilermakers (two yards per carry). Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy need to become a two-headed monster, gouging the Spartan defense early and often. If the running game makes some noise, we’ll be in for a good one at Ryan Field.

    6. Purdue (4-2; 2-0):
    Two games after Purdue qarterback Robert Marve went down with a season-ending knee injury, freshman QB Rob Henry has led the Boilermakers to two conference wins. The running game was key again as Dan Dierking ran for 126 yards and Henry scored three times inside1the five-yard line to help beat Minnesota. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Boilermakers, who travel to Ohio Stadium to face the Buckeyes next Saturday. At 2-0 in the conference, Boilermaker Coach Danny Hope has got to be telling his boys that they’re going to get a hell of a game Saturday.

    Key Player:
    The Purdue rushing attack gouged Minnesota early and often to the tune of 230 yards. Henry scored to put Purdue up 14-0 going into halftime, and the decision to keep it on the ground — making Henry only attempt 20 passes — wore Minnesota down.

    7. Michigan (5-2; 1-2):
    Coming off a tough loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes, Rich Rodriguez and his Wolverines will welcome a bye week to regroup before they face Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions in two weeks. Quarterback Denard Robinson was knocked out of the game Saturday with an aggravated shoulder, but the Wolverines are confident that he’ll play against Penn State. Looking forward, the Wolverines’ final five games are against Big Ten opponents with the last game of the season on the road at Ohio State. Michigan will need to beat either Wisconsin or Ohio State to make a bowl game of any consequence, but that hinges on Coach Rodriguez’s team playing smart, mistake-free football.

    Key Player:
    Denard Robinson has been the spark that has made Michigan go all season long. Michigan fans are worried that their season is beginning to take a turn for the worse, much like last year’s campaign in which the Wolverines ended 5-7. Robinson will take Michigan as far as they are destined to go in the 2010 season.

    8. Indiana (4-2; 0-2):
    Coming off a win in a shootout with upstart Arkansas State (from the Sun Belt Conference) 36-34, Indiana hopes to keep the momentum going into Saturday’s matchup with the Illinois Fighting Illini. Indiana trailed 14-12 at the half, but righted the ship in the locker room to win their fourth game of the year. Defense was solid and Indiana safety Mitchell Evans turned in four tackles and two interceptions to help lead the Hoosiers to victory.

    Key Player:
    Quarterback Ben Chappell threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns and completed passes to eight different receivers. Saturday was Chappell’s fourth game with 3+ touchdowns this season.

    9. Illinois (3-3; 1-2):
    The Fighting Illini took advantage of a sleepy Michigan State team who needed at least two quarters to wake up. It was all down hill from halftime though as MSU cruised to a 26-6 victory over the Illini. At 3-3 Illinois is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the 3rd straight season. Illini Head Coach Ron Zook could be on the hot seat if his boys don’t start turning in better efforts than the one against Michigan State.

    Key Player:
    Not many positive things to say when a team only manages six points, but Illinois kicker Derek Dimke was successful on both of his field goal attempts.

    10. Penn State (3-3; 0-2):
    Coming off a loss last week to Illinois, the Nittany Lions needed a week off to regroup. At 0-2 in the division (3-3 overall) Joe Paterno and company find themselves tied for second last in the division with Indiana. Next week, Penn State travels to Minnesota to face the Golden Gophers in a battle of Big Ten teams looking for their first conference win. Rob Bolden’s maturation has been the story of this season for the Nittany Lions who are in jeopardy of not playing a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

    Key Player:
    Rob Bolden is the motor that will make this team go if they are going to make a late season run, which starts next Saturday in Minnesota.

    11. Minnesota (1-6; 0-3):
    Coming off a tough loss to the Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium, the Gophers find themselves at the bottom of the Big Ten looking up, which is never an enviable position. Minnesota has lost six games in a row and finishes the season with five Big Ten games, three of which come against ranked opponents. Minnesota fired coach Tim Brewster Sunday following the loss to Purdue; he was 15-30 (6-21 in the Big Ten) in his four seasons as the Golden Gophers head coach. One thing is for sure, if the Gophers don’t make some noise in the last couple weeks of the season, many more changes may be in the works.

    Key Players:
    Wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight caught six passes for 124 yards and a touchdown Saturday against the Boilermakers. Not much has gone right for the cellar-dwelling Golden Gophers, but McKnight and quarterback Adam Weber have combined for six touchdowns so far this season.


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