Not much has changed this week in the power rankings, apart from the continuation of Northwestern's freefall. After an awful performance against Minnesota, the Wildcats have found themselves plummeting six spots.
1. Ohio State (last week: 1) – While they might not always look dominant, the Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) continue to find ways to get the job done. They were tied with Iowa going into the fourth quarter Saturday before pulling away for a 34-24 win. It’s scary to think about the one-two punch they have in Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, which is arguably the best quarterback-running back tandem in all of college football. Moreover, these two have really stepped it up since the start of Big Ten play. In their last three games, Miller has thrown for more than 600 yards and rushed for an additional 254, while Hyde has averaged 134 yards on the ground. Don’t expect this team to lose any time soon.
2. Wisconsin (last week: 2) – The Badgers (5-2, 3-1) seem to have finally hit their stride. After two tough losses early in the season to Ohio State and Arizona State, they’ve had back-to-back impressive performances, including a 56-32 beat down of Illinois on Saturday. Wisconsin is fortunate enough to have two explosive running backs, Melvin Gordon and James White, who give the Badgers the No. 1 rushing attack in the conference. Over the last two weeks, this tandem has combined for an eye-popping 510 yards on the ground. While the team clearly relies on its running game, their sophomore quarterback, Joel Stave, isn’t holding them back by any means. So far this season, he’s thrown for 13 TDs while completing more than 63 percent of his passes. This team should be hoping to finish the season without another loss, but the Badgers might have a tough time in their next game against Iowa. They're allowing just 114 rushing yards per game, which is well below the 296.9 that the Badgers are putting up. Either way, something’s got to give.
3. Michigan State (last week: 3) – Maybe the Spartans (6-1, 3-0) have an argument to be placed ahead of the Badgers, but their offense hasn’t shown enough to have complete confidence in this team moving forward. They only put up 14 points against lowly Purdue and are currently ranked 95th in total offense. So, why even consider jumping them up? It’s because of their extraordinary defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation and didn’t give up a single point to Purdue. (Even though Purdue is a laughing stock, it’s hard to shut out a team in college football, let alone in conference play). Mark Dantonio has been building a defensive juggernaut since he became head coach, but for some reason, the Spartans aren't getting a lot of attention.
4. Nebraska (last week: 5) – The Cornhuskers (5-1, 2-0) had a bye last week, so they haven't been jumped considering they haven’t had the opportunity to play. A few weeks ago, a 20-point loss at home to UCLA was reason for panic, but now that the Bruins have proven themselves to be a Top 15 team, that loss doesn't seem as ugly. In fact, the Huskers' star quarterback, Taylor Martinez, is likely to return from his injury in time for Saturday's game against Minnesota, according to head coach Bo Pelini. He’s been sidelined since Sept. 20, and they will definitely need him playing at a high level by the time they face Iowa and Michigan State.
5. Michigan (last week: 6) – If the Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) had lost last weekend to the Hoosiers, they might have been put at the No. 10 spot on this list. It would have been their second straight loss to a team that they were expected to destroy, but instead they pulled out a 63-47 victory. It’s worth noting that the game was lot closer than the score might indicate. With 12 minutes left to go in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines clung to a two-point lead before finally pulling away. But six wins are hard to ignore. They have become bowl-eligible, and for that, they deserve a lot of credit. Their No. 5 slot in this ranking is very tentative, and when you consider that the rest of their schedule is brutal (they finish up with Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State), they may have a tough time winning two more games for the rest of the season.
6. Iowa (last week: 7) – The Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2) looked very impressive on the road against OSU but couldn’t manage to pull it out in the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, they have proven to the rest of the conference that they are not a team to be taken lightly going forward. What makes Iowa special is its defense, which is third in the conference behind Michigan State and Wisconsin in yards allowed per game. If this unit keeps it up and gets a bit more productivity on the other side of the ball, this team could end up with seven or eight wins by the end of the year.
7. Penn State (last week: 8) – Like Nebraska, the Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-1) had a bye this week, which will give them extra time to prepare for their huge matchup at Ohio State. While it's tough to see them putting up much of a fight against the Buckeyes, it will give the rest of the country an opportunity to see their tenacious defense, which is ranked fifth in the conference and 17th overall in the nation. The unit is led by senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who leads the conference with 8.5 tackles for a loss and senior linebacker Glenn Carson, who’s fifth in the Big Ten with just more than eight tackles per game.
8. Indiana (last week: 9) – Wait, why put a team with a losing record so high on this list? To put it simply, the Hoosiers' (3-4, 1-2) offense is ridiculously fun to watch. The unit is ranked ninth in the country and first in the Big Ten, averaging an incredible 514 yards per game. While they just lost to Michigan on the road, the Hoosiers put up 47 points in that game and stayed close until the fourth quarter. Sometimes, a great offensive performance can lead to a few upsets – which is what this team might do over its next several games – but if they can’t manage to secure a few wins going forward, their spot on this list will fall accordingly.
9. Minnesota (last week: 11) – Some might be wondering why the Golden Gophers (5-2, 1-2) aren't higher on the list, even though they just beat Northwestern on the road. It's because Minnesota didn’t play exceptionally well, either. They just happened to face a depleted roster that, if healthy, would have given the Gophers a lot more to worry about. Even so, the Minnesota defense gave NU fits. Ra'Shede Hageman had a field day with a QB hurry, three pass breakups and an interception, which was just one of Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian's three turnovers on the day.
10. Northwestern (last week: 4) – With the way the ‘Cats (4-3, 0-3) have played the last two weeks, this may even be a little generous. A huge reason behind their drop in the rankings is the sudden meltdown of the offense, seemingly caused by offensive line struggles and the loss of both Kain Colter and Venric Mark. Both were inactive in the team’s 20-17 loss to the Gophers on Saturday, and if these two studs aren’t healthy and in the lineup moving forward, the rest of the season could be a disaster for the Wildcats. Against Minnesota, the ‘Cats were held to less than 350 yards of total offense, and for the second week in a row, Trevor Siemian had a lackluster performance. He threw two interceptions and completed just 25 of his 46 attempts. Clearly, he hasn’t been able to replicate his early-season success.
11. Illinois (last week: 10) – The Illini (3-3, 0-2) need some time to recover from the blow they took from the Badgers over the weekend. In the 56-32 loss, they allowed nearly 300 yards on the ground and gave up an average of 6.3 yards per carry. In fact, the Illini now have the worst total defense in the conference and are ranked 104th in the nation. When they face Indiana in three weeks, it wouldn't be out of the question for the Hoosiers to put up 50 points.
12. Purdue (last week: 12) – The Boilermakers (1-6, 0-3) have reached that point in the year where they might as well send in their equipment manager in to play quarterback just to generate some media buzz. Despite being shut out 14-0 at Michigan State on Saturday, the performance was hailed as possibly the best the Boilermakers have played all season. They don’t appear to have a winnable game until November 23, when they play the Illini at home. Until then, expect some ugly performances and a lot of frustration on the sidelines.